Friday, 5 February 2010

Cutthroat Bridge

Unbelievable. The night before our walk it started to snow, and it meant it. Is it just our bad luck or are the elements conspiring against us? Distress texts were sent and we resolved to wait and see.

By next morning a tentative thaw had started and from 8 am a flurry of texts followed. We'd walk, but delay setting off because getting out of our respective homes would be difficult.

Intrepid and desperate travellers that we are, we braved the snow and fog to finally meet up at 11 am. Not surprisingly, there were hardly any other vehicles in the large lay-by near Cutthroat Bridge but we bravely layered up our clothes and had a quick, warming mouthful from the secret flask before setting off.

The cars thunder down this road even when visibility is poor so we were cautious as we walked down the narrow footpath to where we could safely cross to the ominously named bridge. We pause for photos and to admire the monochrome landscape smothered beneath an ethereal duvet of fog.

We trek up the rocky path noting that others had been here before us leaving their footprints in the once pristine snow but we soon lose interest in them as we concentrate on negotiating our way across the boggy, rutted moorland bridleway that reaches across the moor. There is a tantalizing smell of smoke, we discover later that a large patch of heather has been burned back, and apart from our own voices only the disgruntled complaints of a few grouse can be heard.

We are, in fact, retreading our very first walk together. Back then, it doesn't do to think how long ago that was, we were joined by our two dogs and the weather was kind. Now it's just the two of us and the weather is pretty grim, but that doesn't stop us enjoying it.

Eventually we reach the junction of paths close to Whinstone Lea Tor, but the spectacular view down to Ladybower Reservoir and beyond has been swallowed up. If it wasn't for a signpost, and our unerring sense of direction, we could be anywhere. We can see nothing and no-one. We are completely alone.

Turning south towards Lead Hill we find a convenient boulder to perch on whilst eating lunch. We always try to find a scenic spot for lunch, and this is a really good one - usually. To make up for the lack of view we opt for doctoring our coffee with a hint of rum, then after our sandwiches the buns make a welcome appearance. Fresh cream chocolate chip muffins; a meal in themselves and of sufficient calorific value that, should we be lost on the moors for any length of time we would be able to survive.

Following the reverent demolition of the buns we embark on a deeply important discussion on the merits of various flavours of muffins, bemoaning the lack of choice - most have a chocolate bias - and wrinkling our noses at the disappointment of lemon muffins with their glow-in-the-dark, additive-rich fillings of goo.

After exhausting this topic of conversation, not having come to any conclusion other than that we will have to sample more, we continue on our way.

To our surprise we discover another set of footprints in the snow leading off in the direction we intend to go. There is only one set, someone travelling alone, and we deduce that the person must be a man (or a woman with huge feet). We have no idea where he came from, certainly not from the path we'd been on, so he must have made his way up here by one of the other routes.

The footsteps lead on as we negotiate the hazards under the snow: rocks, mud, bogs and puddles with icy coverings that creak and crack ominously under our weight. Some dirty grey sheep, startled by our appearance, startle us in turn but after eyeing us suspiciously they amble off after refusing to pose for photographs.

As the ground starts to sweep away to our right the path becomes harder to discern, even though the anonymous footprints continue. Snow has been blown onto the hillside in deep drifts which covers rough and dangerous ground and every step forward is taken with extreme care. With holes in the snow showing uncertain ground beneath and the angle of the slope increasing alarmingly we call a halt and retrace our steps for a few yards to a sheep track. The sensible animals had taken a route across the heather and we do the same, skirting the undoubtedly dangerous path and rejoining it again further along. Looking back we congratulate ourselves for our sensible decision, and take a photo to prove where we'd been.

We soon discover, however, that we'd lost the footprints we had been following - or he had lost us. Had our trail-blazer fallen to an uncertain fate and was, even now, lying in a frozen heap somewhere beneath us? We peered through the gloom and assured ourselves that the snow hadn't been disturbed enough to warrant worry. We continued.

Some distance further on and within earshot of the A57 the mysterious footprints even more mysteriously reappeared. Strangely cheered we ponder over what had happened, concluding that the person had taken a long detour before rejoining the path. On closer inspection we surmised that the walker may have been out the previous day after the snow had fallen (in the dark?) since the prints were iced over and that the walker had been weary as each footstep had clearly been dragged. Mmm. Watch out Sherlock Holmes, you have competition.

We haven't long to go before the steep descent down from Ladybower Tor. In good weather this can be uncomfortable to negotiate but in the snow it seems easier. The insect repellent in my rucksack causes a certain amount of hilarity (I like to be prepared for any eventuality, even 'tundra mosquitoes') and someone is still sniggering as I decide on a slightly more speedy descent. Yes. I slip down. Twice. Sympathy was in short supply, as were dry trousers.

We squelch along the muddy path at the rear of the pub and around to Ladybower Wood. The metal gate here can be a bit tricksy with a high step for weary legs if only the person gate is opened, but we open the whole thing and stroll through effortlessly (closing it securely behind us, of course). A gentle gradient lies ahead but it always has us slowing down and removing excess clothing. Perhaps we are running out of energy, but I can feel the muffins weighing heavily so maybe I'm carrying too much weight (of one kind or another). A cyclist has ridden this way, the tyre tracks are clear in the snow, but no one else has come along. Who'd be daft enough to be out in this weather?

The fog has started to lift and we come to a small ford crossing our path. In summer this is usually narrow and shallow but now it is a few yards wide feeding a lovely waterfall complete with clumps of frozen spray. With a little acrobatic scrambling a suitable photo is obtained.

The sky is glowering. Even though much of the fog has lifted the day is closing in early and rain clouds are gathering. The stark landscape has changed over the last few hours, much of the snow has melted and everywhere seems dirtier and more threatening.

For the last few hundred yards we are on the same path as on our outward journey. Just as my trousers have dried out I manage to slip down, again. I know I'll feel that one in the morning.

We reach the cars as it starts to drizzle, it's a gentle nudge to persuade us to get moving. Sadly, we won't be walking for the next couple of weeks, school holidays intrude inconsiderately, so we make our plans and leave with a hope that next time the weather will be kind to us.