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.

Monday, 9 May 2011


Since the beginning of the school holidays we've been experiencing hot, sunny, dry weather so it was quite disappointing to wake up to grey skies for our first walk after the Easter break, but by the time we met up at Monsal Head it looked as though we might be lucky. So we packed the sun cream along with our waterproofs - just in case.

As always, we have to stop at Monsal Head to admire the view down the length of the valley before we walk down the sloping path to the viaduct. Once on the viaduct we have to stop again, this time to admire the view to Caer Paravel (PC having one of her artistic turns) although today the rocky crags she likens to the fictional castle do look very fortress-like.

Once across the viaduct we take the gate to the left then head uphill on the bridleway which, in turn, leads onto the old quarry road. Here we see our first wild bluebell, so PC duly captures the shot for posterity. Later on we see many more, but this little gem is special.

It's quite a steep track so we have a few pauses to study the sloping hillside at Upperdale across the valley. At this point we're discussing crystal therapy and by the time we reach the top of the slope our conversation has turned to aromatherapy.

We're soon through the gate across the track and we sneak over the broken-down drystone wall on our left to get a better view of Monsal Dale below us, where the river is surprisingly high given the lack of recent rain, and the iron age settlement of Fin Cop across. An archaeological dig has been taking place at Fin Cop which has lead to the discovery of bodies thrown into a ditch, an event reported in the national press and which may lead to a re-think about the use of these sites in ancient times.

Back to our peaceful walk where we can amble easily on the level hill-top track. Easy walking makes for easy talking but even we're amazed by how soon we reach the turn that takes us through the farmyard at Brushfield Hough.

There are cattle in a barn happily eating and mooing, and PC gets closer to take a photo. I, naturally, keep as far away as possible.

A sharp left turn between two buildings, through a gate and we leave the farm behind. The path follows the farm track for a short distance before heading over a stile in the wall. For a change I'm struggling (with sciatica) as PC bounds over the stile like a graceful gazelle. (Well, perhaps not quite like a gazelle, but you get the picture.)

We've made such good time that we hunt out a place to sit for coffee, and park ourselves on a grassy stretch of the shrubby slope overlooking the A60. Except that it doesn't actually overlook the road as there are too many trees in the way (thankfully) and we can hardly hear any traffic either. We're surrounded by birds, flowers, trees and industrious insects including some small black and white striped bees.

By now the sun has come out and as we sit with our coffee we fetch out the sunglasses too. It's too good a place to move from, so we natter (exams, education, dreams, Prof Brian Cox - not necessarily in that order and not, I hasten to add, related to each other in any way!) and soon we realise that it's actually time for lunch.

Out come the sandwiches and the buns. These are apple and cinnamon muffins from BBs - currently considered to be the best muffins ever, though we're open to suggestions and tastings for other contenders. With the last of the coffee finished we make ourselves comfortable, lay back and soak up the sun whilst allowing our conversation to ramble on, and on, and on.

It would be very easy to stay here and snooze in the afternoon calm, but eventually we manage to drag ourselves upwards and onwards - or downwards as it's all downhill from here.

We enter the woods and sweet perfume of bluebells rises up to greet us. We see great swathes of them beneath the trees and risk injury from low branches as we push through the undergrowth for a better view and some photos before getting back on track.

By this time we're talking books and literature - what an enlightening day we're having!

At the bottom of the hill we turn left to follow the river. There are often cattle grazing here but fortunately (for me) there are none today. We pause to look at the half buried remains of an old water wheel, but detour to avoid a fisherman who doesn't seem to be having much success. The river is clear and tranquil and PC spots a trout in the shallows - a long way from the angler.

We startle a moorhen in a tree - yes, honest - and pause to admire the shy peach-coloured geums growing prolifically in clumps and marsh marigolds in the middle of the river.

We cross over the river at the footbridge beneath the weir, but not before pausing to admire the spectacular water cascading over it. Then it's the start of the slow uphill climb towards Monsal Head. In the woods there are more bluebells, geums and sinister green arums.

By the time we reach the top there are plenty of people about. We don't stop though, we spent too long earlier and now we have to get going.

We don't walk in the White Peak as often as the Dark Peak, but maybe we're missing something. Today the flowers have been so special - and the cows have been behind fences!