Sunday, 28 February 2010


It had snowed again. Although the valleys were more or less clear the hills were not and the slow thaw was adding the extra excitement of fog. Oh joy! Our usual mix of determination, desperation and sheer bloody-mindedness meant that we were not to be deterred from our walk as we headed up to the Surprise View car park above Hathersage. I received a text as I was driving up the hill out of Grindleford: 'Some bloody surprise view.' That summed it up perfectly.

Nevertheless, at the car park we togged up in our many layers, added waterproof trousers on top to guard against the misty drizzle and ambled over to the ticket machine to pay for our stay. Flummoxed, we stared at the machine with furrowed brows. It did not accept cash, only cards. OK. So where were we to buy these special parking cards? We read the instructions. It didn't say. We puzzled over this for a full five minutes before the light-bulb moment occurred. Credit cards. We had to pay by credit card. Of course, Paparazzi Cate didn't have a credit card with her, but I did so we followed the instructions very slowly and very carefully and managed to acquire our tickets. Perhaps we'll think about buying an annual parking ticket. It might save on confusion.

We crossed the busy road to reach the familiar track down to the river but as soon as we were through the tight kissing gate we had to step aside for a group of walkers toiling up the hill. Fancy being out walking on a day like this, who - apart from us - would be so daft.

The path cuts deep into the moor and as we walked along we wondered if it could be man-made; we are relatively close to Carl Wark. Leaving speculation aside we discussed the recent half-term break as we slithered and slid down the muddy track.

At the water's edge we paused to watch a small flock of birds (sparrows or chaffinches possibly) hopping about on the opposite bank before setting off on the familiar route down to Nether Padley. Our path kept us well above the water, swollen with snow melt and thundering ominously. We had entered the woods and the trees, stark without their green leaves, closed in and blocked out the feeble winter light. Although, in places, the path was wet and muddy, for the most part it was stony and boulder-strewn so we needed to watch where we put our feet. We paused to take a photograph of a waterfall that, in good weather, is a mere trickle, but the snow speckled ground didn't give enough contrast and we're disappointed with the result.

Soon we'd dipped down past the houses in Nether Padley. We decided on a slight detour to visit Padley Chapel and were rewarded with a sign saying it will be open twice a week from the end of March. We resolve to come again soon. On this visit we contented ourselves with the exterior, and despite the heavy rain that decided to join us, a clump of emerging snowdrops in the shelter of the chapel wall made us smile.
Around the back of the chapel are the ruins of the old Padley Manor gatehouse, and we happily wandered around trying to piece together how it would have looked. In places mature trees are growing over the walls; nature reclaiming the stone.
Too early for lunch so we backtracked towards Grindleford station to take the easy route up to the road rather than the slippery woodland slope. We discussed the merits of prom dresses and what they shouldn't be (not long, not poofy) before reaching the road. After a short stretch we're in the woods again and looking for somewhere to stop for lunch. The prospect of soggy sandwiches in the pouring rain is not an appealing one, nor the dubious comforts of moss encrusted boulders amidst the rotting undergrowth in the perpetual damp. We pass the log we used on a previous walk, it was a precarious perch at best, and wonder briefly where the squirrel is that came to nosey at our food that last time.

The rain stopped quite abruptly and we found a moderately comfortable spot. Out comes lunch, coffee and buns. Banoffee Pies. Big ones. With fresh cream and a chocolate disc on top. They were given due reverence before being demolished.

Afterwards we both declared that we were too full for a second cup of coffee, so we decided to save it for later and instead take a fortifying nip from the secret flask to set us up for the rest of the walk.

To avoid undue acrobatics in the mud whilst trying to cross the stream feeding the waterfall we go onto the road for a few paces before returning to the wood over a wall stile with narrow steps. We're thankful that no one can see us.

At the top of the wood where the trees thin out we step through a gap in another wall and into a different landscape. On this side the snow is everywhere, from where we have come there are only a few pockets.

We headed through the trees and squelched through bogs following the line of the water until we came to two gate posts at the side of the river. They have clearly been there a considerable length of time but we can discern no purpose for them. Did they lead to a bridge? If they did, there is no evidence of a bridge on the opposite bank. Puzzling over this we plough on. At least there is now a view as the fog has started to clear.

Over the bridge and across what is known as Lawrence Field we headed for the prominent boulders where we could sit, finish our coffee and look at some photos. The dark clouds begin to loom ominously again - very Wuthering Heights - so with the coffee finished we headed back to the cars with fresh bounce in our steps guaranteed to fool anyone into thinking we're super-fit.

As we were planning our next walk the rain started again, and it meant it. Time to head home, and hope that the snow is gone by next week.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Cutthroat Bridge

Unbelievable. The night before our walk it started to snow, and it meant it. Is it just our bad luck or are the elements conspiring against us? Distress texts were sent and we resolved to wait and see.

By next morning a tentative thaw had started and from 8 am a flurry of texts followed. We'd walk, but delay setting off because getting out of our respective homes would be difficult.

Intrepid and desperate travellers that we are, we braved the snow and fog to finally meet up at 11 am. Not surprisingly, there were hardly any other vehicles in the large lay-by near Cutthroat Bridge but we bravely layered up our clothes and had a quick, warming mouthful from the secret flask before setting off.

The cars thunder down this road even when visibility is poor so we were cautious as we walked down the narrow footpath to where we could safely cross to the ominously named bridge. We pause for photos and to admire the monochrome landscape smothered beneath an ethereal duvet of fog.

We trek up the rocky path noting that others had been here before us leaving their footprints in the once pristine snow but we soon lose interest in them as we concentrate on negotiating our way across the boggy, rutted moorland bridleway that reaches across the moor. There is a tantalizing smell of smoke, we discover later that a large patch of heather has been burned back, and apart from our own voices only the disgruntled complaints of a few grouse can be heard.

We are, in fact, retreading our very first walk together. Back then, it doesn't do to think how long ago that was, we were joined by our two dogs and the weather was kind. Now it's just the two of us and the weather is pretty grim, but that doesn't stop us enjoying it.

Eventually we reach the junction of paths close to Whinstone Lea Tor, but the spectacular view down to Ladybower Reservoir and beyond has been swallowed up. If it wasn't for a signpost, and our unerring sense of direction, we could be anywhere. We can see nothing and no-one. We are completely alone.

Turning south towards Lead Hill we find a convenient boulder to perch on whilst eating lunch. We always try to find a scenic spot for lunch, and this is a really good one - usually. To make up for the lack of view we opt for doctoring our coffee with a hint of rum, then after our sandwiches the buns make a welcome appearance. Fresh cream chocolate chip muffins; a meal in themselves and of sufficient calorific value that, should we be lost on the moors for any length of time we would be able to survive.

Following the reverent demolition of the buns we embark on a deeply important discussion on the merits of various flavours of muffins, bemoaning the lack of choice - most have a chocolate bias - and wrinkling our noses at the disappointment of lemon muffins with their glow-in-the-dark, additive-rich fillings of goo.

After exhausting this topic of conversation, not having come to any conclusion other than that we will have to sample more, we continue on our way.

To our surprise we discover another set of footprints in the snow leading off in the direction we intend to go. There is only one set, someone travelling alone, and we deduce that the person must be a man (or a woman with huge feet). We have no idea where he came from, certainly not from the path we'd been on, so he must have made his way up here by one of the other routes.

The footsteps lead on as we negotiate the hazards under the snow: rocks, mud, bogs and puddles with icy coverings that creak and crack ominously under our weight. Some dirty grey sheep, startled by our appearance, startle us in turn but after eyeing us suspiciously they amble off after refusing to pose for photographs.

As the ground starts to sweep away to our right the path becomes harder to discern, even though the anonymous footprints continue. Snow has been blown onto the hillside in deep drifts which covers rough and dangerous ground and every step forward is taken with extreme care. With holes in the snow showing uncertain ground beneath and the angle of the slope increasing alarmingly we call a halt and retrace our steps for a few yards to a sheep track. The sensible animals had taken a route across the heather and we do the same, skirting the undoubtedly dangerous path and rejoining it again further along. Looking back we congratulate ourselves for our sensible decision, and take a photo to prove where we'd been.

We soon discover, however, that we'd lost the footprints we had been following - or he had lost us. Had our trail-blazer fallen to an uncertain fate and was, even now, lying in a frozen heap somewhere beneath us? We peered through the gloom and assured ourselves that the snow hadn't been disturbed enough to warrant worry. We continued.

Some distance further on and within earshot of the A57 the mysterious footprints even more mysteriously reappeared. Strangely cheered we ponder over what had happened, concluding that the person had taken a long detour before rejoining the path. On closer inspection we surmised that the walker may have been out the previous day after the snow had fallen (in the dark?) since the prints were iced over and that the walker had been weary as each footstep had clearly been dragged. Mmm. Watch out Sherlock Holmes, you have competition.

We haven't long to go before the steep descent down from Ladybower Tor. In good weather this can be uncomfortable to negotiate but in the snow it seems easier. The insect repellent in my rucksack causes a certain amount of hilarity (I like to be prepared for any eventuality, even 'tundra mosquitoes') and someone is still sniggering as I decide on a slightly more speedy descent. Yes. I slip down. Twice. Sympathy was in short supply, as were dry trousers.

We squelch along the muddy path at the rear of the pub and around to Ladybower Wood. The metal gate here can be a bit tricksy with a high step for weary legs if only the person gate is opened, but we open the whole thing and stroll through effortlessly (closing it securely behind us, of course). A gentle gradient lies ahead but it always has us slowing down and removing excess clothing. Perhaps we are running out of energy, but I can feel the muffins weighing heavily so maybe I'm carrying too much weight (of one kind or another). A cyclist has ridden this way, the tyre tracks are clear in the snow, but no one else has come along. Who'd be daft enough to be out in this weather?

The fog has started to lift and we come to a small ford crossing our path. In summer this is usually narrow and shallow but now it is a few yards wide feeding a lovely waterfall complete with clumps of frozen spray. With a little acrobatic scrambling a suitable photo is obtained.

The sky is glowering. Even though much of the fog has lifted the day is closing in early and rain clouds are gathering. The stark landscape has changed over the last few hours, much of the snow has melted and everywhere seems dirtier and more threatening.

For the last few hundred yards we are on the same path as on our outward journey. Just as my trousers have dried out I manage to slip down, again. I know I'll feel that one in the morning.

We reach the cars as it starts to drizzle, it's a gentle nudge to persuade us to get moving. Sadly, we won't be walking for the next couple of weeks, school holidays intrude inconsiderately, so we make our plans and leave with a hope that next time the weather will be kind to us.