When Helen Moat joined Wanderlust's online community she had no idea about the doors it would open or the people it would introduce her to. She wonders where myWanderlust will take you?
“Look, a mountain hare,” Ian said.
The hare was scarpering up a heather bank, its plump body covered in a thick white coat with just a hint of summer fawn coming through. Its long brown-tipped ears were alert and twitching, sensing danger from the humans below. I stopped in my tracks and held my breath. I’ve walked in the Peak District many times over the years and I’d never seen a mountain hare.
All around us, wet snowflakes drifted down and caught the bracken, a scattering of cotton wool balls on the moorland. There, then gone: too warm to settle. Above us, there was an eerie landscape of bog, blackened peat gathered around hags – clumps of higher ground. We continued on past groughs – the water-eroded channels that make pathways through the moors before disappearing into nothingness.
This is Bleaklow, one of the biggest expanses of moorland in England’s Dark Peak. Most of it is less than 2,000 feet, but it’s a challenging place to walk as there are few paths and little in the way of defining features. I was glad to have a qualified mountain guide with me. It’s not difficult to get lost in the waves of Bleaklow moorland, especially when the mist rolls in.
Ian and I hadn’t come here to look for the mountain hare though. I’d asked him if he would take me to a place few know of. I’ve heard many stories about this place and now I was about to see it.
Wind back to October 2011. I was in the French Basque Country when I stumbled on myWanderlust one evening – Wanderlust magazine’s community website. I joined immediately. Here was a community of like-minded people: passionate about travel and exploration, sharing travel tips, experiences and photos. Little did I know back then that myWanderlust was going to give me so much more than I’d signed up for.
I soon became involved with a second community of writers (The Itinerant Writers Club, run by Liz Cleere) – nearly all of them myWanderlust members. Some had won multiple prizes in competitions. They became peers and mentors: People like Jenny Knowles, Helen Watson and Ian Howells (Howellsey). Last summer I finally met three of them down in London at a Bradt event: Liz Cleere, Jean Ashbury and Julia Hammond Johnson.
It had felt like we’d known each other all our lives. It was great to meet these warm, funny, intelligent, strong and independent women, who’d all done amazing things in their lives. I met some of the Wanderlust team that evening too – including Lyn Hughes, founder of the magazine, Hazel and Simon.
Ian Howells wasn’t there that evening, but he was part of our writing group. He’s travelled extensively throughout his life and has some incredible stories. We’d agreed to meet up as I wanted to write a piece on his job as mountain guide.
We headed on up towards Higher Shelf Stones. Ian stopped to point out match head lichen (with their fiery red tips) and the pointed star moss. We laughed at the red grouse with their stubby wings, flapping comically – like “clockwork birds”, Ian observed.
And in the distance somewhere, the soft plaintive call of the curlew. We rounded the rise and there, strewn across the groughs and peat hags, was the wreckage of a plane: an engine here, a pair of rusted wheels there; bits of undercarriage and mangled metal trailing into the distance like confetti on the expanse of moorland.
Blood-red poppies and pale wooden crosses contrasted the dark peat, with wisps of white mist drifting through the fuselage. It was a ghostly place; the crash site of a US Boeing B-29 Superfortress that had come down during a routine flight from Lincolnshire to Cheshire in 1948 – one small human error had resulted in the death of the entire crew of 13 men.
We left the crash site and headed downhill towards the Pennine Way, chatting about our travels until we reached the road at Snake Pass. I’d had a great morning out on the hills, thanks to Ian’s intimate knowledge of Bleaklow and hillwalking expertise. As I left Glossop, I thought about that impulsive signing up to myWanderlust back in 2011, the people I’ve met from the site and how they’ve enriched my life. The website had given me much than I could ever have imagined back then.
Helen Moat has won several travel writing competitions, including runner-up x 2 with The British Guild of Travel Writers and highly commended in the BBC Wildlife Travel Writing competition. She is currently writing the Slow Travel: Peak District for Bradt Guides.You can find more of her travel pieces on her blog.
Ian Howells is a qualified Mountain Leader and myWanderlust member, offering private guiding in the Peak District, Lake District and Snowdonia. You can find out more about his guided walks on his website.