Wednesday, 29 June 2011


We'd felt a sense of panic when our normal walking day had to be suspended, but luckily we were able to rearrange and we chose to walk up Win Hill. Fine, except we haven't as much time as usual. Are we up to it?

The last few days have been unusually hot, but the forecast is for rain, so we've come prepared with sun cream and waterproofs. No lingering in the lay-by today, we need to get a move on, so from our parking spot on the road next to Ladybower we're soon on the way. Then PC realises she's forgotten her walking poles so she has to go back for them. While I wait I check out the best route.

Off again and we're crossing the dam. The earth-bank wall is covered with blanket of yellow flowers looking bright and cheerful.

At the other side, the water isn't too high.

At the far side of the dam we turn right then take the track that climbs up to the left. It's quite rocky underfoot, and in places a bit soggy after the heavy rain and thunderstorms of last night, but we're able to push on at a good pace.

On reaching the top we come to a gate, go through it then pause to remove a layer. We're down to shirt sleeves, a rare event this year!

We turn left on a broad track which starts to climb slowly but steadily through the trees. There's no one else about and we have the path to ourselves. The conifers aren't planted too closely together here, so the woods aren't too dense or gloomy, and there's a broad expanse of grass and bracken at either side of the path.

We're surprised at how easy the walking is and how soon we meet the path on Parkin Clough, where we turn right and climb steeply uphill. We once walked the whole length of Parkin Clough, from bottom to top, an unrelenting slog where we debated who was going to be Sam and who would be Frodo. Not sure we ever came to a decision.

Anyway, we climb up through the trees, through a gateway in a drystone wall, then up again. We're in the open now and having plenty of stops. Ahead is the much eroded and repaired path up to Win Hill. I'm not sure whether I like the stone 'steps' or not, but they are a necessity on such a well used route.

Looking back the extensive views across all the Edges are beginning to emerge. Sadly, we also get a full frontal view of the cement works. What an eyesore!

We're on the last push to the summit now where we stop to enjoy the 360 degree panorama. It's too early for lunch but we decide to sit down for a coffee just as a group of teens reach the trig point after walking up from Hope. We find a spot a little way from them where we can sit and savour the view, the coffee and the contents of the secret flask.

It's very pleasant sitting here, though we've had to put our layers back on as it is quite breezy. There are a few more people about - Win Hill is a bit of a people magnet - but it's still relatively peaceful.

However, we're watching the clock so we pack up and set off again. A slight error of judgement (no, we aren't lost!) means we have to scramble around some rocks to regain the path, which doesn't actually go over the summit but skirts it, but we're soon back to easy, level walking again.

We leave the path, even though it is tempting to keep straight on, and take a narrow track through the heather. This starts to take us downhill and eventually we come to a gate in a wall leading to a partially felled plantation. The cut off tree trunks make a tempting seat so we decide to stop for lunch. We remember stopping here some years ago, in the pouring rain, but before the trees had been taken down.

Buns today are a little scrambled due to the heat, but after some improvisation of cutlery and plates we manage to due them justice. Fresh cream strawberry tarts with creme anglaise. They may not look as good as they did in the shop but there's nothing wrong with the taste. Perfect.

It would be too easy to sit here all day. We've lost the breeze, the sky is very slightly overcast which makes it comfortable, and the birds are singing their hearts out. But our eyes on the time we have to pack up and move on.

The path keeps us going downhill, in place a bit slippy and precarious, but we're descending rapidly. In no time at all we've reached the bottom track which hugs the contour of the reservoir. The banks at the side of the track are filled with airy grasses and foxgloves, and there is a sweetly scented honeysuckle twined around a hawthorn.

In no time at all we're back at the dam and heading back to the cars. We can just see the peak of Win Hill over the tops of the trees, and we congratulate ourselves on having managed the walk and a couple of stops with time to spare.

Friday, 24 June 2011


I get a text as I sit in the car in the lay-by near the Grouse Inn near Longshaw. It's PC. She's in Baslow and the Grouse Inn isn't where she thought it was. After a hastily composed reply with directions I wait until I see her car steaming up the hill. Sadly, she brings the rain with her so we delay our start and sit out the heavy shower before setting off.

To say it's only just after Midsummer's Day it's pretty grim. Cold, windy, showery. Waterproofs are likely to be needed.

Crossing the first few fields at the side of Grouse Inn we are confronted by the wonderful sight of an old fashioned meadow full of summer flowers. The photo can barely do it justice, as the flowers look even better at close quarters. In the second field there is even a flush of spotted orchids, their pyramid spires peering out above the long grass. What a pity we don't see more meadows like this.

At the corner of the field we pass into the woods, and debate on which way to go. The last time we were here we took a wrong turn almost immediately and ended up on a meandering mystery tour. This time, though, we get our bearings and set off on the right track. It slopes steeply downhill between steep banks and beneath a green leafy canopy. It's easy to imagine this being a very old path.

We're in Hay Wood, which we only find out as we exit it and are on the track behind the nice houses of Nether Padley. The path takes us onto a tarmac road which we only follow for a few paces before veering right onto a path uphill again. We're in Oak Wood this time, and there are plenty of dog-walkers' paths criss-crossing the main track which climbs steadily uphill.

At the top we come to a familiar looking gate in a stone wall, and once through it we're pretty sure we've been here before. Of course, now it starts raining, so we shelter beneath a broad tree and wait for the shower to pass. And wait. And wait. In the end we decide to put on our waterproofs and venture out.

We (foolishly) ignore the indistinct track to our left instead choosing to go straight ahead through a gate and across a sheep field. Luckily the rain soon passes, the sheep ignore us and looking back we have the most amazing views.

By this time we've realised that we're on the wrong path but choose to carry on instead of back-tracking. We'll manage to sort out a route.

At the top of the field we go through a gate and walk behind the high drystone wall. We find some large bilberry bushes laden with fat, juicy ripe bilberries, so we have to stop for a healthy snack.

Then we follow the track uphill and into some trees which eventually bring us out at the back of the Grouse Inn. Not what we'd planned, but making the best of it we carry on, go through a couple of gates and out onto the road. So ends the first loop.

It's only a short distance along the road to the entrance to the Longshaw Estate. Here the path is wide, clear and very easy to walk on. Within a relatively short distance we find a conveniently place bench made from a fallen tree trunk, and we settle down for lunch. Out comes the coffee, the sandwiches and the buns. The secret flask is employed for purely warming purposes (the wind is really chilly) and it gives everything a rosy glow. However, even the contents of the secret flask can't compete with the fresh cream strawberry scones. Delicious. After a brief debate, citing examples from various sources, we come to the overwhelming conclusion that Morrisons definitely have the best buns.

It's time to move on, and there are more walkers about now on this popular path. It's straight, easy to follow and with no chance to make a mistake. PC stops to photograph some wonderful old trees and we walk a little faster when we spot a herd of cattle. There are far reaching views across to Higger Tor and Carl Wark, and close to there are the huge clumps of invasive rhododendron bushes.

The path takes us to the Lodge, where we pause for a few minutes, then we skirt around the back, past some children building shelters in the woods (it looks fun) and follow the wide track towards the Wooden Pole. We find another bench, and stop again to finish off the coffee. An inquisitive old Red Setter comes to see what we're doing, but is disappointed when we have nothing to give it.

We rejoin the path, but instead of heading to the Wooden Pole we veer right and take the track past the car park and through a narrow gate back into the woods. Here we make a slight error of judgement when we end up following a sheep track instead of the proper path. Well, it's an easy mistake to make. However, after having a lovely tour of the top of the Longstone Estate, we follow a fence line down hill to arrive - yes, back on the track that we came in on. So ends the second loop.

From here it's easy going. We retrace our steps, emerge onto the road then walk along it past the Grouse Inn and to our cars. Typically, the weather has eventually cleared up and there is the promise of some sunshine.

We feel as though we've walked quite a distance today although we haven't actually managed to go very far. Not that we mind. Despite the weather, it's been good to be out.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


With half term over - and the worst of the revision for GCSEs and AS levels behind us - we were fighting to get out walking again.

Naturally, delays are inevitable when we're desperate, so our meeting time turns out to be much later than planned. Never mind, the main car park at Castleton isn't too full since it's only just rained - and pretty briskly too - which means that most people are keeping away, for now. The car park has probably the best views in Castleton of Peveril Castle as it glares down on the village from its vantage point.

The original castle was built soon after the Conquest and is named after William Peveril who became The Bailiff of the Royal Manors of the Peak. The castle was passed from father to son through successive generations but in 1155 - one year after acceding to the throne - Henry II took the castle into his own possession and in 1176 the present stone keep was constructed. Since then it has either belonged to the Crown or the Duchy of Lancaster. It is an English Heritage site. Although now it is only a romantic, evocative ruin in its heyday it would have been alien, imposing and downright intimidating.

We set off hoping that it won't rain again, but prepared for the worst. The clouds are pretty gloomy. I'm taking hiking poles today (not my idea!) but so far I'm only carrying them as we walk through the village and up the road next to the church (and The George pub - will have to go back there sometime soon).

There's no need to map read as we head for a gap, a car's width, between some cottages to our right. As soon as we're off the road the whole atmosphere changes. The trees arc over the path and slabs of limestone studded with greenery rise up beside us.

We push open the gate and Cavedale opens up ahead of us - enclosed by cliffs - stark and wonderfully picturesque. The monotonous guttural caw of the crows only adds to the atmosphere.

It's uphill - a lot more of the uphill than we remember - so I use the walking poles. Still not sure if they're a help or a hindrance, but they make my arms ache.

It's the time of year for schools' geography field trips, so we aren't too surprised to see some 'land art' - limestone rocks and stones spelling out the names of young loves. It's likely that the stone names will outlive the youthful infatuations!

There's no one else in the dale yet, but we can hear voices from above. Looking up see people up on the castle walls peering down at us. It's quite sobering to think how it would have been when the castle was at its most active - no doubt we'd have been used as target practise.

A little way past the castle and there's a cave, barred and padlocked now, and we can hear a generator or pump working somewhere deep below ground. PC remembers stopping at this cave for a coffee many eons ago!

The dale narrows quite a bit here and underfoot it's very rocky. There's a trickle of water working its way downhill after this morning's rain, but we've been up here in the past and almost paddling.

We continue to climb to the gate at the top of the dale, then decide impulsively to head around on a track to see the castle from a new vantage point. We follow the drystone wall, hop over it where the sheep have demolished it, and find ourselves somewhere to sit for a break. A prolonged break.

We really couldn't have found a better spot. The castle is at eye level to our left, the woods are in front of us and we can see almost the full length of the steep sided dale below us. Magic.

So we sit and talk, and have a drink, and sit and talk some more until we realise that it's past noon. Pragmatic as always we fetch out our sandwiches and coffee, but hold back on the buns to add some incentive to continue. We do toy with the idea of lounging here all day then just ambling back to Castleton, but the hoards are reaching the dale and although most don't make it to the top we don't want to get caught up with them all. So we pull ourselves up, repack our rucksacks, return to the gate and carry on up the valley.

As expected, there are very few people here even though the walking is easy - the worst is behind us. We see a bird dart into a crack in a broken down wall, and hear the frantic cheep of young before the bird re-emerges but we don't go closer for fear of disturbing them.

Despite the sun coming out it is quite cold, the wind is channelling down the valley, but apart from a few ominous clouds and a couple of drops of rain the weather isn't bothering us. We have an interesting and very curious discussion about cloud-watchers. It clearly takes all sorts!

We have to go through a field of cows, but fortunately they're keeping their distance (they know I have the walking poles) and soon we're on the track that runs from Winnats to Pindale, and turn left.

This is very easy walking, level but high enough to have decent views all around. The beauty of this part of the walk is that we know we're unlikely to see anyone at all. The few people that do reach this point tend not to take the route we're following.

One thing we begin to notice is that where there is an absence of drystone walls there's lots of new-looking fencing.

However, before we think too much about it we see a herd of calves clustered close to the fence in a field next to the track. They're a little shy and skittish but very cute (especially as they're behind a fence) and I even manage to approach and touch one of the braver ones. Bravery ends there as both calf and I rapidly exit in opposite directions!

As we walk on we begin to get a feeling that something isn't quite right. Last time we were here there was a huge quarry spoil heap to our left, and now there isn't. We pause, consult the map, and puzzle over it. Surely we can't be lost. Looking at the sparse grass in the fields we deduce that the spoil has gone, been spread out and the land reclaimed.

Sure enough, a little way on we see a sign-board that confirms our suspicions. The former site of Dirtlow Rake has been levelled and returned to pasture, removing a million tonnes of waste and importing soil from Hope in the process. It has opened up views of Mam Tor and the surrounding area as well as restoring valuable agricultural land. A pity the even larger limestone quarry at Bradwell and the monstrosity of a cement works at Pindale are still around to blight the landscape.

We follow the track downhill, and it's getting worse as rain run off has gouged deep channels in the surface and dislodged stones making it hard to walk on. We skip onto the adjacent road instead and soon we see a couple of orchids growing on the verge. A few yards further and there's a field with clumps of the deep purple gems.

Undeterred by a stone wall PC decides to get up close for a shot.

Her agility and athleticism have to be commended, and with the bionic hip giving no trouble at all she gracefully scales the wall and returns triumphant after achieving a memorable photo.

After that we're starting to show signs of bun-deprivation, so as soon as we find somewhere to sit off the road we detour and unpack the coffee and fresh cream scones. What we don't realise is that we're sat on the local anthill - something that soon becomes apparent - so our break is short lived, the scones eaten and coffee drunk with unseemly haste, and we're back on our feet again for the home run.

To our left is a short-cut path across the fields which takes out the steep, severe loop in the road. What we don't realise until we reach it is that the path is obviously little used because it is so steep. Sheep watch us smugly as we carefully make our way down the slippery grass. Maybe it would have been better to take the road after all.

It isn't far to Castleton now and after we've passed the first few houses we pause to admire (with PC coveting) some huge plant pots in a beautiful small cottage garden. Very colourful but very tasteful too.

We know we're back in the village now, the sun has brought out the crowds. Sometimes we forget that the Peak District is a popular holiday destination, and June is a holiday month. For us it's 'local' and we'll be out at any time of year, commitments permitting.

The car park, naturally, is full to bursting point but we, thankfully, are leaving the hoards behind. Just enough time to plan our next walk, in two weeks, then drive off into the sunny afternoon.