Sunday, 15 May 2011


Todays walk was destined not to happen. We'd arranged, re-arranged, cancelled and swapped to get this walking day, then at the last minute it was almost stopped in its tracks, but with a late start we eventually arrive at the small, tucked-away car park in the lovely village of Over Haddon above Lathkill Dale.

With a poor weather forecast and a chill wind we put on another layer of clothes and pack the waterproofs before setting off. On leaving the car park we are warmly greeted by one of the locals; a very friendly fluffy cat who insists on being stroked, tickled and generally made a fuss of before we are allowed to continue.

Then we're walking down the steep, winding road to the dale bottom. We pause to admire the wayside flowers, campion, forget-me-not, cow parsley, and it's so obvious that we're in the White Peak again. Down at the bottom of the road is a huge swathe of blue flowered comfrey - otherwise known a knit-bone. Might come in useful for PCs husband!

We're crossing over to the other side of the River Lathkill today for the first time but we have to stop to read the signs on the gateway of the riverside cottage. They clearly have dogs as the normal "Beware of the Dog" sign is replicated in numerous languages. Our favourite is "Chiens Lunatiques". Says it all!

Crossing the river is a bit of a let down, as the river has completely disappeared, something it is prone to do during excessively dry weather. The ford is a mere puddle but we still go over the footbridge from where we have a superb view of the dry river bed smothered in lush, wild flowers. Landscape designers take note, nature does it better.

We follow the track uphill through the woods accompanied by extremely loud birdsong - another sure sign we're in the White Peak. Through the trees we can see the impressive rocky hillside, as well as hundreds of wild flowers including bluebells.

Then, on the side of a tree PC spots some fungi looking like an exotic bunch of very expensive flowers. The bank is too steep to clamber up, but she still managed to get a photo.

We keep stopping to admire the flowers (honest) then, where the path turns back on itself we see a wonderful array of bluebells dotted with lacy cow parsley and button-bright pink campion. Magic.

At the end of the track we come to a gate which takes us through into a field. There is serious cow potential here, not that PC is bothered, she's too busy taking photos of the clouds, but I'm a bit apprehensive.

Luckily, the cows seem to be in distant fields so we cross the cropped grass towards the appropriately named Meadow Place Grange. The path takes us between farm buildings (still no cows - phew) and in front of the house.

A large group is approaching the Grange on the path from either Youlgreave or Middleton, but we take the left hand farm track instead. It must be quite annoying for those who have footpaths running close to their homes or through their yards. Years ago, when these paths were established, they were only used for locals - mainly for work or for visiting - but now, with walking such a national hobby, hundreds of people can pass through in a week. It's no wonder farmers get annoyed, especially when walkers don't respect property or the rules of the countryside.

Anyway, we walk along the farm track discussing Pride and Prejudice - the 'proper one' as done by the BBC. And our talk naturally drifts onto other adaptations of books too. We stop as a large bird flaps out of cover across the field from us, and we recognise it as a buzzard. Brilliant. Sadly, it keeps hidden, so we move along.

There is a buried medieval village hereabouts at Conksbury, but the greenery is too lush and we're too close to be able to make out the lumps and bumps that signify its position.

We reach the road and turn left where it takes us steeply downhill to Conksbury Bridge, which is extremely picturesque with is very low arches. Surprisingly, there is plenty of water here.

Crossing the bridge we take the path running alongside the river and are followed at a discreet distance by a male swan as we approach its mate which is sitting on its nest in the middle of the river.

A short distance upstream and we find a convenient bench on which to sit and eat lunch where we can (just) see the swans, as well as watch some black and white ducks, and some very fast ducklings.

Scrummy danish pastries and cinnamon swirls to eat bring the ducks and swan up close, but they're out of luck. They probably sense our reluctance to part with food as they paddle away without bothering to wait for the non-existent crumbs.

After lunch we continue to saunter on the path upstream. It is really easy walking here with the path wide enough for pushchairs and probably even wheelchairs.

It opens out into a wide green space where the river is broken by a number of weirs, and when we climb up above the weirs we can see their eerie construction beneath the clear, blue-tinged water. They look like something out of Tomb Raider.

The path keeps high above the water now, but the water is gradually diminishing so that, by the time we reach the rugged (and potentially slippy) part of the path the river has, once again disappeared.

Once back on the level we're walking through shoulder high clumps of comfrey again which means we're almost back to the footbridge. All that is left for us to do is walk up the steep winding slope to the car park - much harder than walking down - and reflect on how lucky we've been that the promised rain never fell.