Monday, 9 May 2011


Since the beginning of the school holidays we've been experiencing hot, sunny, dry weather so it was quite disappointing to wake up to grey skies for our first walk after the Easter break, but by the time we met up at Monsal Head it looked as though we might be lucky. So we packed the sun cream along with our waterproofs - just in case.

As always, we have to stop at Monsal Head to admire the view down the length of the valley before we walk down the sloping path to the viaduct. Once on the viaduct we have to stop again, this time to admire the view to Caer Paravel (PC having one of her artistic turns) although today the rocky crags she likens to the fictional castle do look very fortress-like.

Once across the viaduct we take the gate to the left then head uphill on the bridleway which, in turn, leads onto the old quarry road. Here we see our first wild bluebell, so PC duly captures the shot for posterity. Later on we see many more, but this little gem is special.

It's quite a steep track so we have a few pauses to study the sloping hillside at Upperdale across the valley. At this point we're discussing crystal therapy and by the time we reach the top of the slope our conversation has turned to aromatherapy.

We're soon through the gate across the track and we sneak over the broken-down drystone wall on our left to get a better view of Monsal Dale below us, where the river is surprisingly high given the lack of recent rain, and the iron age settlement of Fin Cop across. An archaeological dig has been taking place at Fin Cop which has lead to the discovery of bodies thrown into a ditch, an event reported in the national press and which may lead to a re-think about the use of these sites in ancient times.

Back to our peaceful walk where we can amble easily on the level hill-top track. Easy walking makes for easy talking but even we're amazed by how soon we reach the turn that takes us through the farmyard at Brushfield Hough.

There are cattle in a barn happily eating and mooing, and PC gets closer to take a photo. I, naturally, keep as far away as possible.

A sharp left turn between two buildings, through a gate and we leave the farm behind. The path follows the farm track for a short distance before heading over a stile in the wall. For a change I'm struggling (with sciatica) as PC bounds over the stile like a graceful gazelle. (Well, perhaps not quite like a gazelle, but you get the picture.)

We've made such good time that we hunt out a place to sit for coffee, and park ourselves on a grassy stretch of the shrubby slope overlooking the A60. Except that it doesn't actually overlook the road as there are too many trees in the way (thankfully) and we can hardly hear any traffic either. We're surrounded by birds, flowers, trees and industrious insects including some small black and white striped bees.

By now the sun has come out and as we sit with our coffee we fetch out the sunglasses too. It's too good a place to move from, so we natter (exams, education, dreams, Prof Brian Cox - not necessarily in that order and not, I hasten to add, related to each other in any way!) and soon we realise that it's actually time for lunch.

Out come the sandwiches and the buns. These are apple and cinnamon muffins from BBs - currently considered to be the best muffins ever, though we're open to suggestions and tastings for other contenders. With the last of the coffee finished we make ourselves comfortable, lay back and soak up the sun whilst allowing our conversation to ramble on, and on, and on.

It would be very easy to stay here and snooze in the afternoon calm, but eventually we manage to drag ourselves upwards and onwards - or downwards as it's all downhill from here.

We enter the woods and sweet perfume of bluebells rises up to greet us. We see great swathes of them beneath the trees and risk injury from low branches as we push through the undergrowth for a better view and some photos before getting back on track.

By this time we're talking books and literature - what an enlightening day we're having!

At the bottom of the hill we turn left to follow the river. There are often cattle grazing here but fortunately (for me) there are none today. We pause to look at the half buried remains of an old water wheel, but detour to avoid a fisherman who doesn't seem to be having much success. The river is clear and tranquil and PC spots a trout in the shallows - a long way from the angler.

We startle a moorhen in a tree - yes, honest - and pause to admire the shy peach-coloured geums growing prolifically in clumps and marsh marigolds in the middle of the river.

We cross over the river at the footbridge beneath the weir, but not before pausing to admire the spectacular water cascading over it. Then it's the start of the slow uphill climb towards Monsal Head. In the woods there are more bluebells, geums and sinister green arums.

By the time we reach the top there are plenty of people about. We don't stop though, we spent too long earlier and now we have to get going.

We don't walk in the White Peak as often as the Dark Peak, but maybe we're missing something. Today the flowers have been so special - and the cows have been behind fences!