MILLSTONE EDGE TO HATHERSAGE
It's hard to believe that exactly one week ago we were slathering on the suncream and worrying about the heat. Now, we're prepared to be battered, blown and soaked. Yes, autumn is well and truly here, and we're daft enough to be out experiencing it in all its fury.
We've driven through a few heavy showers to reach the Surprise View car park but the sky is clear as we struggle into our gear: extra jumpers, fleeces, waterproof coat and trousers. Add a scarf, woolly hat and gloves and the ensemble is complete. Then we turn around. The thick, dark clouds on the horizon look less than friendly, and the severe winds bring them and the accompanying rain towards us with alarming speed, so we retreat to the shelter of the car. PC has a moment of sparkling inspiration and brings a sample of her Sloe Gin with her.
As the wind rocks the car and the rain hammers down we cosily sip PC's brew. It is excellent, though different to mine. Less syrupy, slightly different taste. Odd really, as we used the same sloes and the same recipe, but we think she may have added more gin. Nothing wrong with that!
As last the clouds clear so we do battle with the ticket machine - credit cards only - but we know what we're doing this time after the last debacle. Then it's time for the off.
We are battling against heavy winds as we wander up the path through the heather towards Millstone Edge. The Surprise View here isn't very surprising at all. Another band of rain is sweeping in obscuring everything. Hoods up, heads bowed we plough on as the torrent hits us. Wow, it really means it. Not only are we being bullied by the wind and soaked by the rain, but we have the added discomfort of hail. Hail! In October. Urgh.
It's hard to keep our feet as we crest the high point of the edge opposite Mother Cap and we can feel the stinging hail though layers of waterproofs and trousers. A couple of walkers pass us from the opposite direction, heads bowed, and our cursory greetings are whipped away on the wind. We hope the whole walk isn't going to be like this.
As the path descends close to Over Owler Tor the rain stops, the wind eases and the sun comes out. It would be glorious if it wasn't so cold and our fingers weren't freezing inside sodden gloves.
Crossing the moor though the bracken and heather is easy, and we now have the far reaching view that eluded us higher up. Naturally, the eyesore of the cement works is prominent, especially when a stray ray of sunlight illuminates its stark pale presence. It really isn't a good advert for the Peak District.
We reach a small group of wind beaten trees and pause to inspect what appears to be a buried cairn and mound. We're at a point where 'the wood that wasn't there' would have been. I really must get around to writing about that.
We continue straight on as though heading to Higger Tor, but follow the path down towards the road. The drop from the stile here is a bit severe unless you have very long legs or are extremely agile. We can admit to neither. Then it's up the road a short distance, discussing Stephen Fry's autobiography, before crossing over to the path on the other side which marked on the map but has no sign post.
When we last came this way it was even colder and the deeply rutted track had a series of treacherous ice covered puddles along its length. The deep ruts are still there, and you have to walk carefully, but it seems that those who have caused the most damage (vehicles) have now been stopped by gates. The second part of the track is easy to negotiate and in the dip of the hills it is wind free and quite pleasant.
We pass Callow on our right and Mitchell Field on our left before reaching the road which runs from Hathersage to Stanage and beyond. There are a number of bends on the road which mean we have to be careful, but we also find a perfectly positioned bench up and to the right. It is too tempting to ignore so we climb the few steps up to and sit down, giving a thank you to Peter Townend in whose memory it has been erected.
We intend at first only to have coffee, but it is almost lunchtime and we know that picnic spots further on are pretty much non existent, so after our first drink we fetch out the sandwiches, and then the buns. We've gone retro today, and PC has brought for our delight some Apple Charlottes (although Tesco calls them Apple Custard Tarts or somesuch). It takes us back years to our childhoods when we would be able to buy these treats at the corner shop, not in packets but delivered by the bakery each day. Nostalgic, and good. We manage to finish them as another wave of heavy rain hits us and as it abates we finish off the coffee.
The walk down towards Hathersage is enlivened by PC trying to take a picture of an uncooperative goose, and a swan behind a fence that hisses at her when she turns her camera on it instead. Obviously not happy to be thought of as second best to a goose.
In Hathersage we make a detour to the loos, then we walk up the hill and out of the village, enjoying some good views across the fields towards Abney. It's sunny again, gloriously so, and we're looking forward to getting back onto high ground.
We're out of the village proper now and cross the road to a footpath which runs steeply up between some houses, easily missed if you're not looking for it. It's shaded here, but steep so we get warm very fast. However, we do manage to keep the pace up and make it to the top, where there's a stile into some woods, with only the briefest of pauses. There are two paths, one ahead, one to the right, and it is the one ahead we need. We take the right hand one. It does end up in the same place, but not without petering out half way leaving us to tread warily at the side of a stone wall.
As the path climbs out of the woods it starts to rain again, so wait for it to pass. Although the individual trees do not seem particularly ancient the woods themselves feel old. There is a fine gnarled, many trunked sycamore specimen and a lovely beech whose leaves have already turned into golden medallions of autumn. Why this tree alone has turned so wonderfully when the rest have not is a mystery, unless it is perhaps in a chilly spot where it catches the cold winds.
Breaking out from the woods we enjoy and fantastically clear view of Winyards Nick on the horizon. We wonder if this would have been a landmark back in the iron age to guide travellers towards Carl Wark and Higger Tor, neither of which are visible from here. We're intrigued.
Pressing on we walk across an open field and see, to our left and to our great surprise, a large house. It looks very 'Jane Eyre' but there's no name for it on the map.
Our route takes us down the driveway of the house, then across the minor road where we decide to go through the splendidly named Whim Wood rather than slog across the moor, a prudent move given the next wave of incoming rain.
It's a very pleasant walk through the wood, hugging the wall on our left, and although we're climbing we're sheltered from the rain and the extremes of the wind. At the top of the wood the path becomes a little indistinct but not too hard to follow, and it brings us to a wall and a gateway leading to the more open but still wooded land directly beneath Millstone Edge.
Ignoring the right hand option which would only take us back to the main road, we turn left and prepare for a steep clamber up to the edge. As it is, the path isn't too bad though the shoulder high bracken means you have to keep our eyes on where we're going. At least we don't have to actually climb the edge.
A stile leads us onto another path which in turn takes us up towards Over Owler Tor. We're retracing our steps now but the views behind us are spectacular.
Up a little higher and we're back on the top of the edge - and again being hammered by the wind and rain. Surely it can't have been like this up here all day! We detour from the path to take a more direct route through the heather towards the car park, arranging where to meet next week as we walk. There isn't much time to stop and chat now, dark grey clouds are looming and we've only just managed to take off boots and waterproofs before the rain hits us, so it's straight into the cars and away. We're a little soggy around the edges and windswept and hoping that the weather is a little kinder next week.