Given the absence of bluebells we decide to follow Plan B. We park facing the northern arm of Ladybower Reservoir and set off walking up the steep bridleway which runs beside Ridges Coppice and up Hagg Side. We stop a few times, to admire the view of course, which is opening up in spectacular fashion under a clear but cold sky; the reservoir in the foreground, Derwent Ridge behind topped by the distinctive Wheel Stones, Salt Cellar and White Tor. Pity about lack of photos, though. We're suffering from camera absence. Ah well, it gives us an excuse to re-visit this walk again in the near future.
This bridleway is a bit of a slog and our muscles aren't warmed up yet, but the incline soon changes that. We're not lot before we lose the backward view as the woods close in on both sides. Drifts of white oxalis pepper the ground beneath the trees, delicate rather than spectacular, but little else grows here as the conifers swallow all the light.
Once at the top of the bridleway we turn right, without pause for breath, along the path running above Open Hagg. It's easy strolling and again the views are fantastic.
Behind us the path to Crook Hill is dominated by looming grey clouds but scanning around we can follow the long ridge running from Lose Hill to Mam Tor, then the ranges of Edale Moor and Kinder. It's lambing season and we pass dozens of ewes with their lambs, most laying down and trying to remain invisible - snow white on green!
We cross a stile and set off on the hardcore track heading towards Lockerbrook Farm, only to pause at a permissive path on our left. It's tempting. It leads up onto Bellhag and Pasture Tors - places we'd noted on our last visit to the area with every intention of reaching them at some point. It's no good. The walking is proving too easy, the weather is great and we're so glad to be out that we succumb to temptation without any effort to resist. Our plan, if it can be called one, is just to walk up and enjoy the view, then return on the same path and resume where we left off.
Avoiding the high ladder stile in favour of a gate - securing it carefully behind us - we head off through a field full of sheep and lambs. We're careful not to disturb them as we follow the gentle uphill gradient.
With every step the impressive views unfold - although we try to ignore the blot that is the cement works - and again bemoan the lack of camera. We WILL have to come here again. We can see over the trees to the Derwent Edge and beyond to Stanage Edge and Howden Edge.
As we continue onto open moorland we are walking above the A57 Snake Pass which seems to be a thin, insignificant thread below us. There's a distinctly chill wind blowing up here but after passing Bellhag and Pasture Tors (neither of which we can see as their rocky outcrops are below the ridge line) we find a comfortable spot to sit which is sheltered enough for us to enjoy a coffee, and a warming nip from the other flask.
From this vantage point we can spy out another potential walk, a linear one following the course of a Roman road, and we make a note of it for the future.
With the coffee break over we set off again, pretty certain that we won't be back-tracking. When the moorland path becomes paved we strike out north-east across open land. There's no path, just a few narrow sheep tracks and clumps of coarse grasses. As the land dips the wind drops suddenly. There's no-one else in sight and probably no-one in earshot either. Apart from the birds it is wonderfully, eerily silent.
We pause to consult the map and take our bearings - it would be easy to become lost here - but we can spy the far distant turrets of Howden Dam, the narrow cut of Alport Grain in front of us with the groughs draining Rowlee Pasture feeding into it from our left. We are exactly where we want to be, and know precisely where we are heading.
This is brilliant walking. No-one and nothing to disturb us and a feeling of being out in the wild. We hop over the start of Alport Grain, here it is only a few inches wide, and climb up and down the groughs, grateful that they are dry as it hasn't rained for days.
We reach the line of a tumbled wall and settle down for a picnic. We eat our lunch and drink the coffee. A slight panic follows when PC yells something about a bomb, but it's only her desperation for the buns which she thinks I've forgotten. Crisis is averted when the fresh cream eclairs are brought out, but they are hard to eat when you're almost crying with laughter!
We've been sat for long enough for the birds to ignore us, despite the noise we must be making, and there are dozens of different calls. Most we don't recognise although the curlews are very vocal, as is another that PC thinks sounds like a sad Clanger.
At last we have to move on and using excellent navigational skills (with a smidgen of luck) we approach a gate in a fence which surrounds Birchinlee New Piece. We are a little concerned, it looks as though it's a sheer drop beyond the fence, but once through the gate we can see that the route is passable, but with care. We face the option of a serious steep downhill walk (or slither) or abseiling off some rocks. We choose to walk.
Fortunately the fence is extremely sturdy and it provides essential handholds as we make our way down the hillside. Thank goodness it isn't wet, or we'd be skiing. Eventually we can make out a faint track to our left which leads us to a single hawthorn tree beneath a rock face richly sculpted by wind, rain and rock falls.
We have to be careful now. There are plenty of rocks beneath our feet but they are buried beneath a thick carpet of bracken, bilberry and heather. We manage to clamber up onto the narrow ridge that stands proud of this small valley, and we look down warily. The view is brilliant, apart from the revelation that there are cow grazing in the valley bottom. But there's no turning back, I'll face the cows - somehow - when I get to them.
It's difficult to find the best way down. There isn't a path, just a hint of a track, so we take our time testing each step. We have to go up first, then once we've reached the highest point on the ridge we start descending. It isn't easy, until we discover how to sledge down on our bums. Easy with well padded derrieres, you just have to be wary of the prickly bits.
The going gets easier when we reach the woods surrounding Ouzelden Clough, and I'm determined to stick to the woods to avoid the cows, risking injury on felled trees on the far side of the brook rather than walk too close to them. The cows are supremely indifferent to our presence, but I feel better taking no chances even though PC is far braver and walks quite close to them.
Soon we're back on a man-made track and all we have to do is walk back to the cars by the side of the reservoir. The water seems very low and a heron is fishing in the shallows. We're back amongst civilization; cars and walkers, but we're feeling very pleased with ourselves.
It's a fair distance to the car park, but it doesn't take us long. Beyond Fairholmes we dip into the woods just to see how advanced the bluebells are. Not very.
We reflect that this has been an immensely satisfying walk, and no matter how often we come to this area we frequently manage to find somewhere we haven't been before. It's just a pity that we didn't have the camera - hopefully there'll be a few photos in the archive!