Thursday, 10 March 2011


It's a late start this morning due to an accident on the M1 which has closed the motorway and sent all it's rush hour traffic my way, doubling my journey time. Still, the sun is shining - or it was when I set out, but by the time I manage to meet up with PC I've driven through a number of heavy showers and the sky isn't quite so bright any more. And there's a strong breeze blowing. Not that it will stop us.

We trudge down the busy roadside to the familiar Cutthroat Bridge and go through the weighted gate which is being swung on its hinges by the wind. Ominous.

Our route takes us along the footpath heading NE so our first obstacle is Highshaw Clough, an attractive stream running down to join Ladybower Brook. The difficulty is in the rocky drop down to its crossing point, which we achieve with a reasonably amount of agility and no witnesses. Once on the far side of the brook we pause on a wall for a quick break. A nip from the secret flask (Ramblers Restorative) and custard tarts. They're not our usual high calorie fare - those buns come later - but a treat is needed after the long haul to reach here, and they do a wonderful job of replenishing our enthusiasm and sugar levels.

Off we go again at a good pace. The track is well defined and easy to follow, and once we have scrambled over a large ladder stile we know why. At the far side of the stile, nestling in the protection of two walls, is an old stone milepost: Sheffield on one side, Stockport on the other.

We wonder if this track was, in fact, the old 'main road' or turnpike. It seems highly likely. During the reign of William III an Act was passed stating that in remote or rural areas signs should be put up for travellers as they were often unable to ask for directions. Back i the 1700s it would have been the middle of nowhere, and a signpost would have been more than welcome. There is another milepost further along the A57 which is, in fact, Grade II listed! I can't, however, find any more information on this lovely example.

Once past the milepost and across some boggy ground we go through a gate, turn N then NW onto a track that takes us up onto the moors. As soon as we manage to ascend a few feet the wind hits us, rolling off the moors like a wave and hammering us in the face. It's as though it wants us to turn around, which we do, but only briefly to admire the view back towards Stanage Edge and to fasten up our coats.

Walking along this relatively easy gradient is like ploughing uphill through treacle. With every strep we're not only having to contend with the slope, but the relentless and ever increasing force of the wind. For once we're grateful for the grouse butts that line this walk and we stagger from one to another seeking a few moments respite from the elements. At least it isn't raining, and the few light showers trying to fall are whipped away before they can make any impression on us.

This is a 'heads down and trudge on' kind of walk, but being forced to stare at the ground only means that PC sees something she thinks interesting.

Shouting at me (she has to shout to be heard over the wind) to "Look" I peer at what I think, at first, is a large leaf then realise to my horror that it's a frog sunning itself. I make a rapid detour to avoid it as PC hunkers down to take a photo and chides me saying, "It's not a man-eating frog, you know." But you can't be sure, not out here, in the wilds!

In our next refuge (grouse butt) we see, far below, a large group staggering up in our direction. Some poor school kids being dragged out on a field study - today of all days. Poor them. We decide to head away from the path for a while as the group is bound to move faster than us and eventually catch us up, which we don't want so close to lunch time.

We cross the brown, springy heather and shelter behind a tall, turf-topped wall which is clearly another place for shooters to hide before bravely filling small birds with lead shot.

But as we sit down we're grateful to be out of the wind (more or less) while the sun is shining and there's a brilliant view to enjoy.

We empty the last dregs from the secret flask (that didn't last long) then enjoy a coffee before tucking into our sandwiches. Then we fetch out second buns. Fresh cream scones, something of a stalwart on our many walks, and they are always enjoyed. They're followed by another coffee which, since the wind has sneakily turned, is in danger of being blown out of the cups. We're liberally splattered with coffee flavoured spray - talk about storm in a tea cup.

Suitably full and in danger of needing an after-lunch nap, we pack up our things and head back across the heather towards the path, our way guided by a tall standing stone which, when we approach it, appears to be a natural feature.

The track isn't as steep here but that's just as well because the wind is, if anything, getting stronger. It's taking a huge effort to make progress and otherwise unnoticed leg muscles are beginning to complain.

Close to the top we see three people coming along the broad ridge from our right, reach the moorland cross-roads then choose to descend down to the Ladybower valley. It's a sensible option but not one we can take as we turn left to head South along Derwent Edge.

If we thought it was windy before, we were mistaken. It's gale force up here. We're forced to lean into it just to keep standing and it's impossible to make ourselves heard. Looking down to Ladybower reservoir we can see angry white-tipped waves on its inky surface.

When we look up we can see, rolling in from the direction of Alport, a grey curtain of heavy rain heading towards Derwent Edge, but we judge that it's going to miss us, thank goodness. But as we watch its rapid progress a rainbow appears behind the massive Wheel Stones and arcs all the way towards Bradfield. Magical. Somehow PC manages to take some photos despite the wind trying to rip the camera out of her hand.

We head off again, fighting for every footstep. We can only every remember it being as windy as this once before on a walk, and that was years ago when we were on Stanage Edge, and had to come down before we were blown down. Fortunately the wind isn't blowing off the edge here so we're relatively safe, but it's little comfort whilst trying to cross rocky ground.

The path dips slightly and, absurdly, the wind drops to almost nothing. But we can hear it thundering against the rocks of the edge. I think it sounds like waves crashing into a rocky coastline, PC reckons it sounds more like helicopters coming in to land. It's probably a cross between the two.

As soon as we leave the calm of the dip we're forced back into the gale. At the Hurkling Stones we decide to skip the path completely and head across the heather and short cropped grass to meet our return path. Going downhill with the force of the wind behind us is a bit like moonwalking, and suddenly a gust takes my feet from under me and I sail gracefully (honest) through the air and land quite gently, cushioned by the wind that toppled me. Getting up isn't easy, but I'm unhurt. I wonder if it counts as unaided flight!

On the path the walking is easier. The wind is behind us and its strength lessening slightly as we descend. Three bikers come up the path towards us, very macho and very determined. We wish them luck as they pass. Ten minutes later they cycle down behind us, and as they pass they admit that they couldn't cope with the wind. Can't say we blame them. But why didn't we ask for a piggy-back down the slope. What a missed opportunity.

By the time we reach Cutthroat Bridge again it is only mildly breezy. It's hard to imagine how bad it is up at the top. At least we've made it, although we expect some aching muscles in the morning.

As we drive away from our rendezvous point the heavens open and the rain falls. But it doesn't matter now. Excellent timing all round.