Andrew's epic journey along England's backbone

ANTICIPATION set in from the moment Andrew Bibby stepped on the train one Saturday morning in July.

"The Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield is one of the few railway journeys in England you can make where there is a sniff of the outdoors as soon as you enter the carriage," he says.

With walkers and cyclists for company, his destination was Edale and the start of an epic journey along the backbone of England.

Bibby, an author and journalist who lives in the Yorkshire Pennines, walks the route of the Pennine watershed, heading initially for Kinder Scout and ultimately for Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland.

The subsequent book is not primarily a walking guide, he points out. It's partly a travel book, partly a traditional celebration of a fine stretch of countryside with some beautiful landscape photographs but, a little more ambitiously, "a way of interpreting the northern English landscape".

His walk explores the area's history, wildlife, ecology and culture.

So, for example, the 1932 Kinder mass trespass becomes well-trodden territory, while the erosion of the peat bogs of Bleaklow, a vital store of carbon, becomes a pressing issue for today.

"Bleaklow is a landscape which walkers either love passionately or find intimidatingly hostile," says Bibby. "Whatever your views one thing is clear, however, and that is that this landscape is no longer 'natural'.

The blames rests with the trampling of visitors, overgrazing and industrial pollution over 150 years.

Emissions that floated from factories in neighbouring towns and cities were deposited by the wind on the high ground of the Dark Peak and Bleaklow is now one of the most contaminated areas in the world in terms of pollution from heavy metals, particularly lead.

"The moors are certainly in need of a little care and loving," says Bibby, welcoming the 5m Moors for the Future restoration project, which is based in Edale.

Yet, despite tackling some specialist territory, he emphasises that his mission was broad on his journey "through this special area of England".

He says: "Whatever the subject, I try to tackle it gently. And I will have failed if I don't convey to you my own fascination with what I discovered."

The Backbone of England, by Andrew Bibby; photographs by John Morrison (published by Frances Lincoln Ltd, 20).