Sunday, 25 April 2010


Fantastic! Not only were we emerging from the enforced Easter idleness but the sun is out and the sky a clear, cloudless blue.

Parking at Monsal Head on the Little Longstone road is normally a straight forward operation, but today a long line of cars mean we are forced to park amidst a mass trespass (or organised walk to the uninitiated). Fingers crossed they wouldn't be walking our way - and a generous but misplaced invitation to join them (politely but emphatically refused) revealed their route to be different to ours. Phew.

A brief blip at the top of Monsal Head reveals that one camera was missing and the 'first time out' camera has flat batteries. This means relying on a mobile phone for photos and hoping the technological details will not be our downfall.

Too eager to set off we hit the first path we come to and, despite having been this way many times, don't realise it is the path leading down to the River Wye rather than across the viaduct -until we come to the water. A decision is made. We press on, and it's the right decision. We reach a weir, white water frothing down its steps throwing up spray which, in the wonderful sunshine, produces a perfect, personal rainbow.

We cross the footbridge and meander back upriver through a wide meadow sprinkled with spring flowers and head towards the viaduct, its towering black arches dominating the valley. A quick scramble up the valley side and we emerge onto the trail we'd initially intended to be on. This is easy walking on the remains of the old railway line, its track-bed more used to the pounding of feet now rather than the rumble of metal wheels. Trees provide shade from the sun but the April chill still makes itself felt, although that doesn't stop some people walking in strappy vests and shorts. What will they do when it gets really warm?

We stop on a bench for a drink (only cranberry juice) and to carry on catching up. So much seems to have happened over the last three weeks - to family members rather than us, of course, we seem to lead uneventful lives - but the repercussions inevitably affect us. There have been moments of pride, elation, frustration and worrying over plans for the future. The usual family mix.

We follow the path skirting the now-blocked tunnel towards Cressbrook Mill and the delightfully named Water-cum-Jolly Dale. Before reaching either place we veer uphill on a less distinct path we have used before (we think) to avoid a couple of undignified scrambles. This path keeps us high above the River Wye and looking down we can see a solitary swan gliding across the water among coots and other waterbirds. The looming limestone crags behind provide a dramatic backdrop although people walking on the path beneath in bright colours spoil the effect.

Our path dips and rises with the contours of the hill but we are constantly climbing. Soon we reach a vantage point above the aptly named Millers Dale (although there is another Millers Dale, or perhaps continuation of this one, to the west). We admire the view in the, admittedly, cold wind. We've been here before, on a good day and on a bad one where it was impossible to see more than a couple of yards ahead, but we've never been able to see so far or so clearly. We can even see the damned cement works at Hope on the horizon!

Finding a sheltered hollow to sit in keeps us out of the wind, so we break out our leisurely lunch. Today is not a day for hurrying. The views, the weather and the conversation are a perfect mix. Even the buns, calorie free fresh cream scones (no calorie count on the box means they must be calorie free) seems extra special. We spot a pair of buzzards on the opposite side of the valley, one constantly calling to the other with its long, drawn out cry. They circle slowly, lazily, and are soon directly above us. We look up to admire the banding under their wings and marvel at the graceful, effortless ease with which they catch the air currents. Higher they go, circling endlessly. Then to the right another buzzard becomes airborne and one of the pair goes to meet it as its partner carries on upwards. Soon they are only specks in the endless sky.

Still looking skywards we see a few vapour trails, an unfamiliar sight these last few days after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano. Man is obviously reclaiming the skies. A pity the airspace isn't left to the buzzards.

We spend far too long over lunch and despite not wanting to move on, we must.

The path skirts the hillside and descends steeply to the old railway track and Litton Mill. We cross the river, running deep and clear, and walk through the old mill complex, now houses and apartments, before joining the riverside path.

One house has a wild, unkempt garden facing the river and we pause to admire the profusion of pale yellow primroses growing there. A little way on and we stop again to stare at the banks of delicate white, nodding anemones sprinkled liberally over the woodland floor like icing sugar. Totally enchanting.

The river is full of large fish, trout, and an angler waits for us to pass before trying his luck with them.

Walking is easy. The strength of the sun is concentrated in the high-sided valley and it has become really warm. We spot a face in the limestone rock face to our left; two eyes, a nose, a thin-lipped mouth, and wonder how long it has been watching people walk this way whilst they have passed by, oblivious.

Soon we're under the looming crags at Water-cum-Jolly Dale and crossing the bridge over the thundering weir. Then it's a brief climb up to the path and back onto the Monsal Trail.

We're running late and have to push the pace as we reach the final climb out of the valley to Monsal Head. Back at the cars we have only a brief time to reflect on a brilliant day before, reluctantly, heading home.