Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Having missed a week's walking desperation has me turning up at Ashford in the Water's tiny car park ridiculously early. It is foggy and I have a long wait. An uncharged camera and milk boiling over conspires to make PC late. Ah well, by the time she arrives the weather is picking up a little and we can at least see where we're walking to.

We set off through the village and over the picturesque medieval Sheepwash Bridge which spans the River Wye, pausing long enough to take a photo (I had brought a camera though wasn't quite sure how to work it) and admire the ducks braving the cold water.We cross the main A6 and walk along it for a short distance before turning off onto the road leading to Sheldon, although we are soon taking a footpath to our right which follows the winding river.

By now our initial giddiness at being out has passed and our talk has turned to more serious things. Radley handbags. Women will understand, men undoubtedly won't.

The level path isn't as muddy as we had expected as we pass Little Shacklow Wood on our left and head towards the derelict water powered bobbin mills. Here bobbins were made from the local ash woods to be used in the cotton making industry, such as at nearby Litton and Cressbrook Mills.

Today a group of anglers are parked outside the mills preparing for a day on the river, so we walk on by without pausing and take the broad track that runs behind the buildings, admiring the rusted waterwheels and old stonework.

We have now entered Great Shacklow Wood and are hoping to enjoy the autumn colours as the sun is now breaking through. Before the path begins to climb we come across a large pond playing host to numerous water birds. This pond is the collection point for Magpie Sough, the drainage tunnel from Magpie Mine high up on the hills behind us beyond Sheldon. Although blocked in the 1960s it has since been cleared to run freely again.
From here the path begins to climb, quite steeply in places, and it's time for us to pause to admire the golden trees - and remove a layer or two. Time also to test the contents of the secret flask. Yes, all in order.

The flask obviously helps as we reach the top of the path sooner than anticipated before dropping down to the head of Deep Dale where there is evidence (although we didn't see it) of a settlement and cave shelter. There is also evidence (clearly visible) of cows. Lots of them. But since they aren't to be seen I concentrate instead on the views - excellent behind us over the River Wye towards the Fin Cop settlement on the far hill, and closer to the stark white limestone amongst the green and brown vegetation. The path is dry but rough underfoot as cloven hooves have dug up rocks and pebbles. At times this supposedly dry valley can be a quagmire but despite recent rains it isn't bad today. But it is warm now, so we remove yet another layer. As we press on PC suddenly instructs me to 'Keep Walking'. Naturally, I stop and looking around see a herd of cows on the slope directly above us. Resisting the urge to scream and run I remain calm and, with PC uttering soothing words to me all the time, we press on only a little faster than usual.

Danger passed we spy a large clump of blackthorn with fat juicy sloes still on the branches. It hasn't been a good year for sloes so this is an opportunity not to be missed. We down rucksacks, rummage for something to put the sloes in, and start picking. It's very therapeutic - despite the vicious thorns - and brings out the self-sufficient peasant in us. It doesn't take too long to gather enough to make a bottle of sloe gin each, and PC decides to have a go at making some herself. We'll taste and compare when they're ready - all in the interests of serious study, naturally.

It's turned cooler again but we're buoyed up by the thoughts of the gin - and of the raspberry gin, raspberry vodka, gooseberry gin, and mixed berry vodka all underway at home, plus the gallons of cider and Ramblers' Restorative (the contents of the secret flask) already made. We start making up names for them all, until we see more cows ahead. What is it with this walk and cows?

This time I'm not feeling so brave so I manage, with agility borne of desperation, to climb over a wall and squeeze under a wire fence to avoid them. Seeing my gymnastics PC decides the cows are less of a threat and walks right past them. They don't bat an eyelid but I know that they would have charged us and stampeded if I'd been there.After our adventures we're feeling hungry so find a hollow of ground and settle down for lunch. We have to pull on coats and jumpers as the sun has gone and it has turned chilly. Heavy salads are followed by welcome coffee and the buns. Today's offering: Lemon Muffin Cheesecakes. Mr Morrison has done us proud. They are sooo good. Biscuity base, fluffy cheesecake with lemony centre topped by muffin pieces. Bliss.

Feeling extremely full, but cold, we press on through a close-cropped field of sheep to the gate which leads onto the unmade Wheal Lane. There are cows (again!) in the field to the side of us, but they're behind a stone wall so pose no threat. At the top of the track we emerge onto Flagg Lane, a minor road which runs between Moneyash and Buxton. Here we debate what to do next. We can follow the road then turn left into Sheldon, or we can cut off the corner and go through fields. The road is the least appealing option, but the potential for a bovine ambush in the fields cannot be ruled out. Finally we decide to go the field route, with PC volunteering to be the cattle wrangler if necessary. I, of course, will be sprinting in the opposite direction!

There are cows in the first field, far enough away not to be a problem, but we cross at high speed anyway and squeeze through a tight crush-stile. We're both pleased to be able to get through so easily - shows how slim we are. The next few fields are fine and we're becoming blase, despite the increasingly dodgy stiles we have to negotiate. Then, with only two fields to go we see them. Cows. Hundreds of them. All across our route.

After some dithering we set off across the first field. These cows are only young, curious and a little afraid. I'm over the stile in record time but the next field is more problematic. It's full of friesians, all in the bottom half, next to the road and our escape route. Across the field is an electric fence. If it is switched on we'll not be able to get through anyway, and the thought of walking all the way back is even more daunting (at the moment) than the prospect of walking though cows.

We approach the fence cautiously. It doesn't appear to be connected. PC risks electrocution by tapping it with her stick. No, she's still alive so we limbo underneath the wire (honestly) and face the cows. Some of them are looking at us and others wander onto our path.
Decisive action is required which involves walking at speed with PC between me and the beasts, head down and trying not to see them. As we approach the gate the cows are milling around but I've spotted a gap and am sprinting for the stile before PC even knows I've gone. onto Johnson Lane taking out the camera before PC is over the stile. Photographic evidence is essential.
With the cows now behind us we walk up the lane into Sheldon as the sun shines on us again. A good omen.

There are a number of cars parked on what appears to be the village green,a group of walkers, and we wonder what the villagers think of having their space commandeered in such a thoughtless manner.Then we see them. More cows, this time being herded up the main street. I don't believe it! I take refuge behind a bench as PC stands suicidally in the middle of the road to take a picture

Once the cows have passed we walk though Sheldon, a pretty unspoilt village. It still seems to be a predominantly farming community although there are some lovely cottages and it was once home to miners working at the nearby Magpie Mine. There is an interesting looking pub, the Cock and Pullet, which has been marked down for a future visit.

As we walk we discuss the possibilities of alcoholic jams and marmalades, debating which liqueur will go best with which fruit. Experiments are in order.

The road drops down and we round the bend before taking the path off to the left which runs along a grassy, sloping field with the woods ahead of us. With the afternoon sun shining the leaves on the trees in Little Shacklow Wood seem to be glowing. This is early autumn in all its glory. We skirt the edge of the wood and as we do the vista opens up ahead of us so that we can see a huge distance.

We leave the wood and start to descend steeply across open ground towards the River Wye. It's hard on the knees but soon we're at the bottom and able to retrace our steps to Ashford. With the sun shining we pause for more photos at the bridge, then it's a quick walk back to the car park and the end to another very satisfying day - apart, of course, for the cows.