One Saturday morning in November 2016 I packed a flask, sandwiches and chocolate and drove across to Derbyshire. I parked on a dirt track on Kinder Road which comes to a dead end and from there you can trek up paths to Kinder Scout moor. I’d heard there were the remnants of a wartime bomber up on the tops but I had no map to find it. The reservoir was looked on by many hills like sleeping giants so the bomber could be anywhere. Needle in a haystack stuff.
As I got up passed the reservoir I spotted some tendrils of snow in the on the higher hills, extra white like toothpaste or blobs of Tippex. I decided to go up to the snow, eat a snowball and then come back down to the car before the sun went behind a hill. I had an apple for food but decided I’d only consume it if I found the bomber.
Once I got away from the reservoir and into a valley there was near silence. I heard the odd croaking grouse and trickle of water but nothing else. It was a little unnerving so I put on an audio book. I passed two women on a narrow path one who had slipped in mud. As I got higher I found the area and slipped myself. I had to wash my hand in the stream. I passed a boy and his dad and asked if they knew where the bomber was. “It won’t be easily visible wherever it is; they’re always on the top in the middle of nowhere,” the glum dad uttered but he was wrong. Later I passed a man with a map and purposeful stride and he told showed me on the map where the bits of the plane were.
“Go up this valley and turned left and walk about a mile - you can’t miss it,” he said but he was talking to me who can miss a pooh in a sewer and is hopeless with directions.
It was all up, up and up. I was wearing three layers of clothes and sweating profusely. I could feel it tricking down my back. The dashes of snow higher up were starting to look appetising. Like cowboys in the films I knelt by the steam, cupped a hand and drank from the stream.
When I reached the snow I was so hot I took off two fleece layers and the sweat on my back was refreshingly cool then uncomfortable cold. A walker was approaching so I asked for the bomber and I heard “you can’t miss it” again.
Once on a plateau of the moor and onto the Pennine Way pathway the volume went eerily down to near nil. No wind or breeze meant sound travelled well across the near-silence. I could hear conversations between two men climbing up some rocks. They were so far away they were just red and orange dots yet I could still hear their words. The conversation was boring though - about ropes and ledges and I didn’t hear one line sprinkled with the tiniest bit of colour such as “we’ll bury the corpse here but I’ll have to saw its head off to make sure it fits in the hole,” or “oow…with my haemorrhoids I can’t ride a horse anymore,” or “I stopped going there when I found a kipper stuffed behind the radiator,” or “he never took his helmet off to kiss me.” Once I overheard someone say “all that custard blocked my filters.”
I walk another fifteen minutes and found the crash area. These remnants of aircraft are normally amidst gorse and peat away from paths but the walkers had been right when they said “you can’t miss it” as it was about twenty feet off a path. Little was left - two main portions of debris about 20 feet away from one another.
A Wellington Mark III X3348 bomber was carrying a crew of six men when it crashed on 26th January 1943. It had flown to the French port of Lorient to unleash bombs. It took off at 4:51pm laden with 3,240lb of incendiary bombs in nine 360lb clusters. Returning to base it crashed here at Blackden Edge. Oddly every man survived and only one of the crew needed hospital treatment. Two men walked down to Little Hayfield to summon help. The following Sunday papers featured the crash.
Despite having enough Heaven-sent luck to escape death two of the crew would die soon - one died in June 1943 and one in January 1944, both flying sorties over Germany.
Why did they crash? If they could see the moor well enough to perform a crash landing why didn’t they avoid the moor altogether?
I ate the juicy apple I’d promised myself. I’d kept it clean by putting it in a dog’s pooh bag. For a photo here I was stood on some of the plane holding up pooh bag as though to say, “Now I’m at the bomber I can eat this apple.” A hill-runner was passing and threw me a quizzical look. I would speak to him about 90 minutes later.
I’d looked at photos of the wreckage on a website but there seemed to be more than I could see now. Odd rogue pieces were strewn about but had someone stolen them? Surely peat and time don’t suck everything under.
Time to head back down to the car before the sun fell behind a hill. Slowly I snaked my way along path and turned right to follow the steam that zigzagged its long route down to the reservoir. This was the best part of the day - quiet, the walk was all downhill and the views across to distance hills were alluring. I had an aniseed ball and sucked it. I had another a drink of water from the stream and it was so cold I felt its icy finger hit the bottom of my stomach.
A woman of about 70 years passed me on the way up - another hill runner but in purple and pink running pants and a good deal of facial make-up. Her bum wasn’t even worth a one out of ten as she had two legs like stilts and seemingly no bum to sit on.
Eventually I got back down to the reservoir and there was not a soul there - just some ducks on the water. I was walking on a dirt track that was so shrouded in darkness I was wondering if this was where I’d parked the car. Nothing looked familiar. Cold had slipped down the hills and I was blooming cold. I was glad when a runner’s feet were behind me but before I could ask if this road lead to Kinder Road he asked if I was up at the bomber about ninety minutes ago. I said yes and could see this was the man who jogged passed as I was taking so photos. He told me rather neutrally that I shouldn’t stand on the remnants of the plane and further ruin it. I said the parts left were stainless steel and would be there in another century. He seemed okay with this but said he ran passed the wreckage most Saturdays for ten years and there was little left. He said someone had propped up the base panels and he’d kicked away the props then thrown them in the gorse.
I was relieved to eventually see the shape of the car under a milky light. I got in and had a lump of walnut cake with coffee and sighed audibly.