Day two of my trip to the Peak District began early. I was out of the hotel before 8 a.m. as I had a sixty minute drive through the glorious Derbyshire Dales to reach High Peak country. My mission today was to find a plane wreck… macabre, I know, but I’ve always been an avid watcher of Air Crash Investigation (more for the engineering side than a gruesome interest) – so, when I read that the Peak District had quite a history of plane crashes and delved deeper, and learned of this particular story – the USAF B-29 Superfortress that crashed in 1948 – I knew I had to make this hike!
My journey starts at a handy lay-by on the A57 – just past the old Snake Pass Inn. There’s more parking further on (meaning less of a walk) – some lay-bys and also parking half-on/half-off the A57 if you don’t mind the risk of your car getting beached! However, a couple of extra kilometres walk meant I was able to park comfortable in the knowledge I wouldn’t get stuck AND enjoy a meander through the pine forest of Lady Clough.
Once I had emerged from the forest, I scrambled up a steep path designed more for gravity-defying sheep than humans (especially ones recovering from patellar tendinitis, like me…eeeeek!) and emerged onto the A57… I walked for maybe a kilometre until I reached the Doctor’s Gate. (Note: There is limited parking here if you want to skip the tree-hugging!) This was where the real hiking began! After picking one’s way for a short distance you find a ‘paved’ walkway that takes you for a short distance on the Pennine Way and towards Bleaklow.
This was where my dormant hiking skills were put to the test. As I tottered my way (thank the goddess I put my hiking boots on!) along a sketchy path on the side of the steep valley, I was conscious of the fog rolling in. Map-reading skills were also in demand, now, in order to navigate via the waterfall, across the ford, and continue up the hill towards the Higher Shelf Stones and, ultimately, the trig point atop Bleaklow Hill.
The trig point at the top of Bleaklow Hill is 621m. It wasn’t too steep a climb up to the top, but boy, was it windy! There’s a reason it’s called Bleaklow! And around 150m north-east from here lies the crash site.
On 3rd November 1948, the USAF B-29 Superfortress named ‘Over-Exposed’ of the 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, crashed whilst descending through cloud on a routine flight from RAF Scampton to AAFB Burtonwood. The remains serve as a memorial to the 13 crew-members that tragically lost their lives that day.
To walk amongst the wreckage, in swirling mist, was tremendously moving. That same fog, so atmospheric, was doubtless the major contributory factor in the crash. I was pleased to have found the site, but sad, at the same time, that the very fact of the crash had made this particular part of the Peak District ‘a place to see’. A star-spangled banner is attached to what was the landing gear, snapping in the stiff wind, with a wreath of poppies laid beside it. ‘We will remember them’ was never so apt a phrase.