The looming grey clouds which promise rain can't dampen our enthusiasm. Another week's walk has been forcibly crossed from our diaries and we need to make up for lost time.
We've parked at Upperdale Farm and decide to pull on all our waterproof gear when we feel the chill of the wind sweeping down the valley. We're hardy souls, but not daft. We set off down the road towards the old mill, now fancy dwellings rather than an industrial space. As we veer off up the right hand road we pause to look at the mill pond. In the centre, on a raised nest, is a coot. Then we see, to the right, its partner swimming in the water with three tiny balls of fluff. It's amazing how fast they can swim; surely they can only be a day or so old given that mum is still on the nest. We watch them for a while, daft grins on our faces, before setting off up the road reflecting that it's seeing such gems that add a special something to our walks. We pity those who forge forward with their heads down seeing only where they are
When the road turns a hairpin bend we take the footpath straight on, going through a gate which, last time, had been guarded by young bullocks. Fortunately there were long gone and we passed through with ease (and a steady pulse rate. I don't do cows).
Over to our right the sheer cliffs of Ravenscliffe loom, and to our left is a wood full of anemones.
We walk steeply downhill and come to the bridge at the entrance to the Cressbrook Dale nature reserve. Today the river bed is bone dry, grass and weeds growing amongst the rocks, but on our last visit we'd had to paddle to the bridge which only skimmed the fast flowing water by a few millimeters and was in danger of becoming submerged. On that occasion, the valley upstream had been turned into a series of small lakes complete with resident ducks. Today we cross dry shod.
Once over the bridge we are in a botanical haven. The trees are not yet in full leaf which means that the anemones are thriving, and we have to stop to photograph a clump of pink flowers which are showing off in the middle of their white
family members. There are bright yellow celandines and in the numerous clearings cowslips are blooming. The dry river bed is home to blackthorn, its white flowers promising a bumper crop of sloes in the autumn. Later on in this season there will be ramsons and meadowsweet, their leaves fresh but their flowers not ready yet. Deeper in the wood it is clear that trees get little light, and that the air is moist. We stop to stroke one tree which seems to be wearing a soft, furry overcoat of moss which has turned its bark green.
The rain has turned to a determined drizzle and we have to be careful over the
limestone rocks which have become slippery underfoot. There is only once spot which could cause any problems but we're careful. Now the woodland has given way to open valley bottom, and we spot our first orchid. Of course, we have to take a photograph of the vivid purple beauty, but the camera is being uncooperative. By the time we've finished the poor specimen must be in contention for the most photographed orchid in England.
We stop for a coffee. The rain has passed over, the view is lovely and we've found somewhere comfortable to sit. A couple of walkers come down from Tansley Dale and stop to talk about the wild flowers. Apparently Tansley Dale is awash with cowslips. The couple seem unsure of exactly where they're heading, they only have a guidebook and no map, but they set off anyway. We pack up our rucksacks and head further up the valley.
We walk past Peter's Stone (or Peter's Rock, it depends whether you believe the map or the marker post) to peer down the valley towards Wardlow Mires then double back on a path that takes us up towards Peter's Stone, an impressive limestone outcrop believed to resemble the dome of St Peter's in Rome. More sinister, though, is the fact that it was apparently the site of the last gibbet in Derbyshire in 1812. We didn't know that when we decided to picnic amongst the orchids at its base!
Our lunch spot is chosen in blissful ignorance of past associations and we enjoy our picnic complete with fresh cream slices - just enough jam, just enough cream - which we eat with sticky relish. We finish off with coffee and a sip from the flask to keep the chill at bay. The clouds are gathering again and the temperature is dropping. It's too cold to sit for long so we set off back.
We had planned to take the uphill path which then drops down to the bridge, only to vary the route and views on the return, but sitting down in the cold has made hips stiff so we return on our outward path.
When we reach the awkward rocky part of the path we find a small group sitting on it eating their lunch totally blocking the way! There is no other way around so they have to move their belongings for us to pass and immediately settle down once we've gone. They'll be in for a shock as there are more people out walking now. We muse over the foolishness of some people as we head back to the bridge. The sky has brightened again although the sun resolutely refuses to shine. At least it isn't trying to rain anymore.
We cross the bridge and head left along the side of the dry river bed. Why doesn't this river have a name on the map? Is it because it's only a part-timer? Here the banks are smothered in ramsons, the pungent flowers still curled up deep in their buds. In a few weeks the air will be a solid wall of garlic scent. Lovely.
There are a few bluebells out, especially close to Ravensdale Cottages, but they stop abruptly. Perhaps in a few years they will have managed spread, although the ramsons are probably tough competitors for the available space.
We only have to walk back downhill now and along to the cars. It hasn't been a particularly long or strenuous walk, but we both feel tired. It doesn't stop us planning for next week though when we go hunting for bluebells (we hope).