Saturday, 19 November 2011



On planning today's walk we realised that, although it is one of our favourites, we had never done it in reverse.

To remedy this oversight we meet up in Castleton (good loos) then drive along up the road to park near the Speedwell Cavern car park (no parking fees on the road except for weekends and bank holidays). We're quite giddy with excitement, the sky is brilliantly clear and blue with hardly a cloud in sight. And the shadows cast by the early sunlight are nothing short of spectacular sending the limestone sculptures of the rocks into sharp relief.

Another relief is that PC has brought a rucksack today - no need for me to carry double then!

And one more thing PC has brought is a bottle of Cointreau. No, the plan isn't to drink our way down it through the day (though it is tempting) but to fill up the secret flask. However, there's no need. There's still plenty of Ramblers Restorative in the flask, and it doesn't do to mix spirits, so instead we have a nip before we set off. Gorgeous. Just like breakfast orange juice, but with a glow.

Glowing, we set off along the footpath which crosses the field between the road and the Speedwell Caverns site. The grass is sodden with early morning dew so we get a little damp, and at the top we come out onto an area which is being tarmacked. As we gingerly tip toe across the still warm and springy surface someone hurries out of the shop opposite to stick signs on the footpath gate to say it is shut. So we were just in time, then, but we were given some resentful looks by the workmen.

Now it's all uphill. We usually come down Winnats in the afternoon at the end of our walk, and it is really good to see it in different light and from a different perspective. We notice things we've not seen before, like a huge fallen gatepost which would make a wonderful seat for weary walkers. We, naturally, aren't that weary, though the uphill is keeping us warm (or maybe that's the cointreau).

In a surprisingly short length of time we find ourselves at the top of the pass and adjacent to Winnats Head Farm. That was pretty painless but we don't congratulate ourselves too soon, we've plenty more uphill climbing to do.

We cross over the road and head for the footpath crossing Windy Knoll. There are two horses in the adjacent field, dozing in the sunshine, but they both manage to perk up when they see us, ever hopeful that a stray polo mint may come their way. They're disappointed, so we give them a consolation pat and continue on our way.

The disused quarry on our right is in deep shadow as we head for the gate onto the road. Up to now we've been discussing all things educational including recent parents' evening, prize giving events and the ways schools seem to want to celebrate mediocrity over genuine achievement. It's good to be able to let off steam (my turn this week) as we are then able to approach life with an enhanced sense of calm. It just shows how beneficial walking can be. Once across the road we're starting the long, steady climb up the slopes of Mam Tor. Since we're still talking (to be honest, we rarely stop talking) we hardly notice the steepness of the slope and we're at the base of the 'staircase' to the Mam Tor summit before we know it. We pause for a breather and to admire the far reaching views. And the view of the cement works!

Now we start the steady climb up the well maintained steps up the hill.
Inset into some of the steps are small brass plaques - we see a torq then one of a roundhouse. We've never noticed this one before (probably because we've always been going downhill and gathering speed) and it is particularly fine, so PC takes a picture.

Again, it takes us very little time to reach the summit but rather than go up to the trig point where everyone and their grandmothers seem to be gathering, we skirt the top hunting for a hollow in which to sit out of the wind and enjoy a coffee. Yes, the sun is shining and the sky is clear, but up here there's a stiff breeze blowing. We're unsuccessful on the Edale side of the slope so we cross over to hunt out somewhere on the Castleton side. We drop down a way to where the side of the hill has slipped away, peer cautiously over the edge, then find a convenient sitting place where the hillside has dipped but not yet fallen. We hope our weight won't provide the incentive for it to head downwards!

Naturally the secret flask comes out. After all, we have something to celebrate, we've done all the climbing well before lunch and with relatively little effort. We must be getting fitter, so a couple of nips of the Ramblers Restorative is our reward. Then we have a coffee and a natter (yes, we're still talking) whilst enjoying the view.

It's a wonderful wide vista from here and we can see for miles. The only blot is the ugly cement works - how on earth did they get permission to build such an eyesore? In its heyday Peveril Castle, whitewashed to stand out and be noticed, would have been considered ugly (and very threatening), but in no way could it compete with the monstrosity of the cement works.

By the time we've mused on the landscape, spotted a heron wading in a large puddle and watched a group of children way below us, no doubt on a geography field trip, we've passed enough time to consider getting out the sandwiches. Maybe it's a bit early (but not before noon, we don't want to upset the Picnic Police) but it seems preferable to eat now while we're comfortable than try to find a better spot. However, once the sandwiches are eaten we decide to wait a while for the buns (extreme willpower in force here) so we pack up and set off once more.

It's a long steady walk down towards Hollins Cross with us going against the flow of people. Most of them are puffing on their way up, which makes us feel quite smug. We have spectacular views to Lose Hill and Back Tor but by the time we reach Hollins Cross all we can think about are the buns. So we fine ourselves a wind free hollow on the Edale side and settle down. The buns today are fresh cream apple turnovers; just enough tart in the apples to balance the sugar on the top of the pastry and one of our five a day! They go down extremely well, along with another coffee, and we're glad that we waited a while for them.

After a long, lazy break we go back up to Hollins Cross and take the path that leads to the Hollowford Road. We've never been on this stretch of the path before and we're glad we're not doing it in the wet. Although it has been paved and repaired the steps are uneven and, in places, narrow which means we have to watch where we are putting our feet. It's also quite steep and is one of those cases where it is probably better going uphill than down. A couple pass us in a bit of a lather; they have half an hour to get to Castleton to catch their bus. We wish them luck and dawdle to let them get well ahead of us.

We come off the moor and onto the narrow gully which is the top part of Hollowford Road. It's narrow and running with water, but much better than the one and only time we'd been on this path before when it had been extremely muddy and very wet. At the bottom we come out onto a tarmac lane and pause to read an information board pointing out landmarks and explaining that we'd been on the 'coffin road' from Edale to Castleton from the time before Edale had its own church.

We wander down the road and are soon, seamlessly, back in the centre of Castleton. As we walk through the village we look in a few of the shops selling their Blue John jewellery before heading up the road towards our cars. The sun is dipping behind the hills now and the warmth is suddenly sucked out of the day. All the wonderful shadows and contrasts are gone and Winnats Pass is mired in gloom once again.

We're pleased we've done this reverse walk, it's meant that we've been able to look on it all with fresh eyes. And what's even better, we aren't even tired.

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