Our walk today on the side of Derwent has a specific purpose. Paparazzi Cate's father-in-law, Grandad John, passed away last week. He joined us on this walk a little over two years ago on a day as clear and sunny, but not so cold, as this. We strolled along at a gentle pace enjoying the walk, the views and the conversation. It was the only time I ever met him, but my lasting impression was that he was a gentleman. We walk this way today in his memory.
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With immense good fortune, which we never take for granted, the day is as bright and clear as we could have hoped. The early frost has melted to leave us with a perfect walking day.
The toilets at Fairholmes are the prerequisite stopping spot before parking up at the side of the massive towers and hulking wall of the Derwent Dam. There is no one else here, yet. The air is deceptively chilly so we layer up before setting off, looking at least two dress sizes larger than is the case!
We pass the memorial to Tip, a faithful dog, and cross over the cattle grid. At the far side we pause to watch a squirrel bounding through the undergrowth as though its little legs are made of springs. It pauses behind a tree, watching us watching it, before it scurries away out of sight.
Although we have to walk on the road for a stretch it is no problem at this time of day. There is little traffic, although later in the afternoon the drivers will be out in their droves and those who are not too good at reversing will regret coming this way.
Looking back at the dam wall from the rear view it is impossible to see what is holding back the water, its level is so high. Another few inches (probably millions of gallons) and it will cascade over the top - always a sight worth seeing. But the reservoir itself is covered with grey ripples and deep shadows, ominous but compelling.
Once we pass Gores Farm we can walk on the edge of the wood that sweeps down to the reservoir, although we have to be careful of knobbly tree roots that twine beneath the path with the special intention of tripping up the unwary. A short way on we can see, through the trees and along the length of Derwent Reservoir to Howden Dam. The view is beautifully framed, as though the position was chosen by an artist rather than an engineer, and today it is especially magical as we can see water pouring over the dam like a sheet of lace. Close to it will be extremely loud but from this distance it is quite tranquil.
It doesn't take us long to reach the bend in the road which was the end point of our previous walk. Today, though, we have arrived here much too soon so we consult the map and decide to head west through a gate heading for access land to see what we can see. We've never been up here before.
The first part of the track has been surfaced with chippings for the forestry vehicles, but it doesn't prevent the valley having a totally different feel to its larger neighbour. It's quieter (no logging today) and has large pockets of native trees around the stream. Some of the trees - both native and coniferous - have boxes on them, possibly for bats since we can't see any holes. It is good to think that wildlife is being given serious consideration in a managed environment.
We soon reach the end of the 'road' and set off across rough ground littered with the remnants of felling. We have a wide stream to cross, and we have decision time. Do we go left and follow Alport Grain or take the right fork along Ouzelden Brook? Alport Grain wins: it's lighter, brighter and in the open whereas Ouzelden Brook is through conifers and looks seriously boggy.
First we have to cross Ouzelden Brook where its banks have kept the sunlight from the water and left the shaded grasses weighed down with heavy globules of ice.
At the far side is a stretch of dry stone wall, very old but redundant now. Its smooth flat stones are red tinged beneath heavy encrustations of moss and lichen. Close by are some tall, old trees standing guard over Alport Grain (we're still debating over the species) looking very imposing and special despite being hemmed in by ranks of conifers. At least some new native trees have been planted, their spindly forms cocooned in protective plastic tubes.
We're forced to scramble as the path (what path?) becomes indistinct (nothing new there) and then we have to cross Alport Grain to avoid a bog (recurring theme). At this side we meet another old tree, a broad trunked silver birch which must be nearing the end of a long life, its thick roots clawing upwards in an attempt to cling onto the bank. Its fallen companion lays at its side, no doubt providing refuge for small creatures and mini-beasts.
A little way upstream and we have to cross over again and negotiate our way up the suddenly steeper opposite bank. Hands and knees are employed, dignity is abandoned.
We are beneath the rocks on Birchinlee New Piece and as we walk through the deep grass and dead bracken we find a couple of pockets of snow glistening, but not melting in the sunlight. Hardly surprising, there's an icy breeze blowing down the valley.
It's lunch time and we find the perfect boulder it sit on; low down enough to be beneath the breeze but with the sun on our backs and the sound on water nearby.
We empty the secret flask and make a toast before fetching out lunch and the buns. Fresh cream lemon muffins. They look wonderful. Paparazzi Cate says they are. I don't know. I have a cold and can't taste a thing.
We sit a while and as we do a buzzard soars overhead with a lazy flap of its wings. We've seen them around here before, usually up the valley, so we wait hoping for another sighting. Our patience is rewarded when we see two more over Bellhag Tor, one of them quite a size.
It's too enticing sitting here so we force ourselves to pack up and head back, detouring slightly to avoid the acrobatics by the stream. The slight change of route opens up a whole new vista so we hurriedly scramble upwards to a vantage point and wow! We can see beyond the reservoir and Abbey Bank to where Howden Edge and the Howden Moors are covered with huge dollops of snow. It's lovely up there, but we wouldn't fancy it today. Much better to enjoy it from here.
We back track along our outward route to the cars, but know that we'll be back. We want to explore the route of Alport Grain and see if we can get up onto Pasture Tor and Bellhag Tor to make a circuit.
But for today we have achieved what we set out to do, and remembered our last walk here with a gentleman.