Friday, 4 November 2011



We're back after the enforced absence caused by school holidays and we've got a good one planned. Or rather, we'd planned a different good one, but you know what they say about the best laid plans...

Our original intention had been to go up onto Howden Edge - a long and pretty tough walk given the time constraints and our fitness (lack of) levels. However we'd decided we were up to it, until the torrential rain of the two previous days and nights planted the seeds of doubt and watered them thoroughly.

We meet up at the Fairholmes Car Park under glorious blue skies, avail ourselves of their excellent facilities, then return to our cars for the long winding drive along the western side of the reservoirs (this road is not open all the time although there is a bus service for walkers when the road is closed to traffic). On the way something becomes very evident. We have hit upon the perfect time to observe the most glorious autumn colour, something we hadn't expected to experience this year. So when we finally reach the end of the road (literally) and park up we decide on a change which will enable us to make the most of the sunshine and trees. We'll walk around the reserviours.

Naturally, being seasoned hikers we load everything into our rucksacks, just in case the weather changes or we get lost and have to camp out for a week. PC chooses the direction - clockwise - to make the most of the way the light is illuminating the trees.

We follow the bridleway, broad and easy walking, to the Stepping Stones bridge, and whilst PC stops to take some photos we realise that the sun has disappeared. Undeterred by this minor hitch we decide that it makes no difference, and it might clear up later, so we cross the bridge and continue on the bridleway which doubles back and climbs slightly up onto Cold Side (marked 'cycle route'). Below us the fledgling River Derwent is starting to broaden out, and the contrast between the dark green conifers, golden leafed beech, yellow birch and russet moors is stunning. It's a shame that the sun has gone, but the scenery is no less spectacular for it.

A few cyclists pass us, but there are never very many walkers on this part of the circuit - it's a long way from Fairholmes on foot and most people who drive up the valley as we have done tend to pause for long enough to admire the view only before heading back. So we're finding it extremely peaceful as we catch up on news and discuss everything from school awards to medical students.

We pause frequently to watch the changing scenery and colours, as well as take photos. We pass the path that leads up to Howden Clough, which would have been our downward route had we gone onto Howden Edge, and when we reach the stretch of woods known as The Coppice it's time to remove a layer. And naturally, since the rucksack has to be taken off, I delve for the Secret Flask and we treat ourselves to a swig of Ramblers' Restorative. Oh yes, that is so right, like a burst of sunshine in the stomach radiating out to all points and vying with the copper and golden leaves for brightness!

Suitably restored we trek on ignoring the light shower of rain that does absolutely nothing to dampen our spirits. It only lasts a few minutes and by the time we reach Howden Dam it has stopped. Here we meet the first of the walkers up from Fairholmes who are already turning back. It's funny to think that this is as far as we made it a few months back when PC was getting started after her hip operation. We're certainly doing a lot more today!

As we round the inlet where Abbey Brook joins Derwent we realise how low the reservoir is. There are huge swathes of greenery on the muddy ground which should, at this time of year, be underwater. This newly reclaimed land stretches almost all the way across the valley with only a thin river of water (and the mud) separating the two sides. It will take a lot of rain to re-submerge this area.

We're halfway down the length of the Derwent Reservoir on the eastern side and we're beginning to feel heavy legged and tired. There's no way we can stop to eat yet, we aren't even half way around, and we are wondering if we're tackling a bit too much for our first outing in 3 weeks, but we remain stoically silent about our discomforts (we'll only admit it later) as there's absolutely nothing we can do about it other than turn around or press on. We choose to press on, distracting ourselves with 'what we did on our holidays' which, for PC, seems to have involved a lot of water!

The rain makes a few more attempts to get going but it hasn't really managed very much and we soon reach the steps leading down at the side of the Derwent Dam. We've been here with the water gushing over the top but today the stones are dry. It will be some time before the water levels are high enough to produce the spectacular waterfall.

Once across the grassy field at the base of the dam wall we turn sharp right and up the steep, stepped path to reach the western road. It makes us puff a bit, but the good thing is that we have managed to push our way through the 'walkers wall' and no longer feel as though we're on our last legs. Good job too. Although we've past the turning point of the walk and are on the way back, we aren't yet half way around as the western road is considerably longer than the eastern track.

At the side of the dam wall there are relatively new information boards about the dam busters and mention of the Derwent Dam museum. We've never heard of it - but a quick trawl on the internet reveals that it is situated in the west tower of the Derwent Dam (yes, I know, we were stood right next to it) but it is only open on Sundays and on Bank Holidays, 10am - 4pm. Admission is free, although they welcome donations and they have an interesting web site (http://www.derwentdammuseum/).

There are a few more cars driving along the road now than earlier, so we have to be careful until we pass Gores Farm where there is a wide verge to walk on. We haven't walked far before the rain starts again, and this time it seems to be more determined, so we pause to drag on our waterproof coats. As soon as we're togged up and walking again it stops. Typical. But we decide not to bother removing our waterproofs because we've seen something interesting. A bench which beckons two very hungry hikers. (Us.)

Yes, we've sat here before, and enjoyed the same view - give or take some sunshine, tree colour, fungi etc - but today it seems especially welcome. First it's coffee, then sandwiches, then the buns. Oh, how we've waited for the buns. Today they are especially low calorie (honest) cream doughnuts. Plenty of jam in the bottom, and a convenient shape for eating. They go down extremely well, and very quickly. A second cup of coffee follows then we're packing up ready to go. No time to linger today. We still have a long way to walk, and if we sit for too long we're likely to sieze up!

We have cars coming at us both ways now, those intent on reaching the end to take a photo, and those that have taken their photos and are on the return. But there aren't too many of them. The rain is making more of an effort to keep going and although we're having drizzle then dry, it isn't they type of weather to encourage people to come out for a drive.

We turn the corner near Birchinlee and have a straight run towards Howden Dam. Here the trees are particularly spectacular, and PC stops to take lots of photos of their sweeping black braches laden with glinting golden leaves like pirate treasure.

It's a short haul up a slope at the side of the Howden Dam, then it's the long road along the narrow valley that ultimately leads to Westend Moor (although the road doesn't go that far). The worst thing about it is that we know we have to walk up the full length at the other side too. And it's raining again. Really raining. That doesn't stop us pausing to admire the cathedral arches of beech trees above the road at Hern Side, a marvellous sight despite the rain.

This is a long haul, especially now the rain has set in. The sky is dark and it feels like dusk rather than the middle of the afternoon. There are no cyclists, no cars and we passed the last walkers a while back. We're certainly on our own.

At the bottom of the road we cross the narrow stone bridge and double back on the opposite side of the valley. We know it isn't too far to go now and despite everything we manage to push the pace a little. When we round the point between Ridge Wood and Nether Wood Plantation we know that the end isn't too far away. It's a straight, easy stretch and our two lonely cars have never looked so welcoming.

Yes, it's been a long tiring walk. We're pretty much soaked and our feet ache, and we'll probably not be able to move like normal human beings in the morning. But we both have that silly smile on our faces that confirms that it's been a wonderful day's walking, with autumn colour that we'd have been daft to miss. Will we do it again? Definitely - but not until we've had a while to recover.

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