We'd made it, our first walk of 2010. Baslow Car Park had been chosen as our starting point because of its two major attributes: easily accessible in bad weather and a loo. It hadn't been easy to get to for the last fortnight when our previously arranged New Year jaunts had had to be cancelled due to snow, and today the loos were closed. Ah well.
Our destination today was Chatsworth, an easy stroll for this time of year, and we know it well. We'd even be able to leave the map (and some of the emergency gear!) in the car.
After our New Year greetings and proclamations of need and desperation (to be walking, not for the loo - that would come later) we set off with the bulk of our winter walking clothes disguising the bulk of our post-Christmas waistlines. Perhaps a new weight-loss competition is on the cards with a weekly Trial By Weighing Scales. Eventually one will be deemed the loser and have to pay for lunch out.
Never mind that now, Chatsworth beckons.
We amble along the path to the park, our 'warming up' pace faster than usual due to the flat terrain and eagerness. We reach the do-it-yourself revolving gate and after a brief tussle emerge in one piece on the other side. A brief debate on route follows before we set off uphill. We have learned from much experience to get the uphills over with as early as possible as we're usually too knackered to cope with them later. Although, in fairness, steep downhills can be pretty painful on tired legs, not that we're expecting to be too tired today.
Passing the odd pheasant, sheep and a rabbit (or hare) in the distance we talk (a lot) about what has happened since our last outing in early December. We have a lot to catch up on, mainly the Christmas and New Year holidays and various events arising from both with our respective families. Oh yes, we talk about the weather too. Or rather, the snow. Lots of it. Which lasted for ages and stopped us getting to where we wanted to be getting to (including walking). Neither of us cope well with being cooped up indoors without the prospect of a walk to keep madness at bay.
We soon reach the dry stone wall at the top of the slope, surprised that we're not out of puff, and head for the steps into the woods. It isn't the easiest of stairways to negotiate, but at least there is a hand-rail of sorts. With much creaking and groaning (from us, not the hand-rail) we athletically heave ourselves onto higher ground and congratulate ourselves. That wasn't too bad.
On reaching the estate road at the top of the woods we are almost mown down by a tractor but survive the encounter and set off on our circuit. The walking is easy here following metalled tracks. We bypass the hunting tower. There is a car parked outside. Is it being lived in now? We remember walking all the way around it and surveying the wonderful view from its 'front garden', but today we don't intrude.
It doesn't take us long to come to one of the large lakes at the top of the ducal estate. Today it is almost completely frozen over, the ducks paddling aimlessly in a small area of clear water. As soon as they see us, though, their heads turn to us like miniature radars. Sitting on a bench to enjoy the view encourages the more motivated to come and investigate.
Since this is to be such an easy walk we decide that it's time for a break - elevenses. A cup of coffee, a small warmer from the secret flask (Christmas vodka - just the thing to keep the winter chill away) and a bun. We don't usually have a bun at this point in our walks, but we've another bun for lunch so we can treat ourselves. Besides, we need the energy. Walking can be hard work (even though it hasn't been so far).
The ducks watch us with forlorn hopefulness. Surely they can tell from our determined attacks on the cream scones (yes, the buns are fresh cream scones - yum) that we are seasoned professionals not easily parted from our buns. One desperate duck nibbles at our boots but to no avail. When we leave they squabble over the pitifully few crumbs we leave behind.
The sun is making an effort to come out now. Still in the woods its mellow slanting light through the trees is magical. We stop for Paparazzi Cate to take some photos, after a 'comfort break' behind a convenient rhododendron. There are even some small mounds of snow in sheltered spots but they are as grubby and forlorn as the sheep in the nearby fields.
Hardly anyone is out today. Down near the river there will, no doubt, be plenty of people but up here, which isn't very high up nor very far away from anywhere, we've only seen a total of five other people. Perhaps the cold weather is keeping them away, it can't really be much above freezing, but if you wrap up warm it's wonderful.
We meander down through the woods. The sun is still filtering through although there's no warmth from it and as soon as we're off the tarmac the paths are muddy. With graceful agility we leap over puddles and boggy bits whilst limbo dancing beneath low rhododendron branches. What a pity no one can see our athleticism.
A choice of paths in front of us causes no heartache, despite the lack of map. We take the little used right hand track and consider ourselves fortunate as a tractor (possibly the same one as before) hurtles down the left hand track a few moments later. We're above the Chatsworth farm yard/adventure playground area now and can see down to the main house car park which appears to be undergoing renovation work.
Ahead of us is a gate. Locked. At the side of it, steps in the wall. The wall must be in the region of 6 feet high. We look at each other and accept that there is no other option. Athletic agility forgotten we clamber over the wall with an accompaniment of groaning knees (me) and creaking hips (her). No applause when we safely put our feet on terra firma again, though we deserve it. We'll have to settle for a cream scone instead.
There are some horses and donkeys in the field next to the path, they pretend to be startled by our appearance (we couldn't have taken them by surprise, we weren't quiet enough) and canter up and down their field. The donkeys and a shetland pony eye us up hopefully but lose interest when they realise we aren't about to feed them.
There are far ranging views from here and on a distant hillside we make out the letters E R in some kind of hedging. Without the map we can't quite work out where these initials are situated but we might see if we can get up close to them at some time.
Negotiating some hoof-churned mud between a couple of stiles over wire fencing could have proved interesting for onlookers, but we emerge at the far side intent only on where to sit for our late lunch. Eventually we settle down on a bank where we can shiver in the weak sunshine and enjoy a partial view of the house. Our second scone and coffee go down very well.
We don't linger, it's too cold, but it's all downhill from here.
We spot a herd of red deer. Most of them are laying down and aren't as interested in us as we are in them. We try to walk quietly so as not to disturb them and Paparazzi Cate is rewarded with some photographs.
Beyond the red deer is another herd, the deer smaller in size and lighter in colour. We think they're fallow deer, but these aren't laying down and seem much more alert. As we walk they keep their distance from us, constantly moving, although one fine antlered specimen does take a few paces in our direction to stand and stare before lazily rejoining his group. We take heed of his non-too-subtle warning, snap a few pictures and go on our way. Within a few minutes the whole herd is out of sight, swallowed up by the dips in the ground and the mature trees.
It doesn't take us long to reach the path by the river, and people. Swarms of them out for the afternoon even though the sun has disappeared and the cold is closing in. Too soon we're back at the car park, not weary but satisfied. Sanity has been restored.
Sadly, we see a man from behind changing out of his boots. What a pity he doesn't pull his trousers up properly. No wonder the sun has gone in!