Setting has always been a key feature in my books. From the Cascade mountains and wilderness of Desolation Point to the small town in Maine that I created for Tumbledown, location has been as much a character as any of the humans in the cast. With No Good Reason and the Dark Peak series, I’ve come full circle back to the Peak District where my first novel Snowbound was set. Although I enjoyed every minute of research I did for my two America-based books, returning to an environment I know and love and can describe with the confidence of someone who’s walked its muddy footpaths has been like putting on a pair of comfy slippers and settling down with an old friend.
My wife and I spend a lot of time hiking in the Peaks (rather conveniently, for my crime-thriller purposes, the Dark Peak is the area most local to us), so here are a few snaps from the last year or so to give you a photographic primer for this new series of books.
I tend to change the names of locations, which means I can manipulate the surrounding geography to suit my purposes, but these are the rocks I had in mind for Sanne’s impromptu scramble in the early chapters of No Good Reason. Very reminiscent of the rocks on the book’s cover (which are actually from Stanage Edge), Laddow becomes Laddaw in the novel but pretty much everything else about it stays the same. The Pennine Way meanders close to the cliff edge, and the rocks look spectacular and damn scary no matter what time of year you visit. Needless to say, there’s no way in hell you’d find me scrambling down them.
The Peak District covers 555 square miles and is a protected National Park. In 1932, a group of ramblers embarked on the Kinder mass trespass, heading up onto Kinder Scout (the area’s highest peak) in defiance of the local laws, to protest about the lack of access for hill walkers. It would take another 17 years for anything to come of their act of civil disobedience, but hikers now have the “freedom to roam” once they’re across the open country boundaries.
Also enjoying the right to roam, the Peak District sheep are renowned for their attitude. Legend has it that they’ll steal the butties right out of your hand, although the reality is a little less entertaining: mainly they just run away.
Yep, there are some. Many of them are muddy, narrow, and bloody tricky to find. The Pennine Way (which stretches 268 miles between Edale in the Peaks to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders) is the famous long-distance trek in these parts and it’s paved or signposted in places, but if you want wilderness and navigational challenges then the Peak District really is for you. Way markers are heaps of stones, the bogs will suck you in down to your thighs, and the weather can change at the drop of a hat, leaving even familiar paths shrouded in disorientating mist. All good fun, then.
“G’back, g’back” is a familiar cry on the moors: not a warning, but the cackle of the red grouse, whose sole intention in life seems to be scaring the crap out of unsuspecting hikers. These idiot birds launch themselves out of the thickets as soon as you approach, give you a heart attack, and then scarper.
Peat-Hags and Groughs
A common sight – and obstacle – on the plateaus, peat-hags are the mounds left behind where water has created a channel (the grough). They’re an absolute swine to navigate around and through, and can hide some very wet patches of peat.
Inspiration for Names
I might play fast and loose with the geography of the area, but a lot of my place names can be found on a local Ordnance Survey map. The name of Rowlee, the main village in No Good Reason, was taken from an area around Derwent reservoir, while Corvenden Edge, home to Laddaw Rocks, is a play on Crowden where the actual Laddow Rocks are located.
The Snake Pass
The wiggly, treacherous road that links Manchester to Sheffield, the Snake Pass is a dangerous but spectacular route, best avoided on bank holidays – when the bikers will all be falling off it – and in inclement weather (when it’s likely to be shut by snow!)
The Kissing Stones, the Boxing Gloves, the Salt Cellar, the Woolpacks, and the Cakes of Bread are just a few of the rock formations to be found on the hills of the Dark Peak. Great for clambering up, sheltering between, and picnicking upon, the rocks give shape to the summits, and are often named so literally that they act as obvious way markers.
Four Seasons in One Day
The weather in the Peaks is notoriously changeable, something that can make a hike very tricky to pack for. Layers – lots and lots of layers – are the key, and it’s not uncommon to start a walk in shirt sleeves and end it wearing gloves and a woolly hat, but the seasons up there are truly spectacular.