It's time to boldly go where we've never been before. We tend to avoid the White Peak area, primarily due to the abundance of cows and a surplus of walls to negotiate, but it's winter and we needed to find somewhere easy to reach, and hopefully easy to walk. And with luck all the cows will be indoors.
So we meet up in the main car park in Bakewell. It isn't a starting point we've used before, although we have managed to touch the edge of this lovely Derbyshire town (or is it a village?) on other walks, especially when we've used the Monsal Trail, but this time the town will be our main point of contact.
We pay our parking fee, pleased to note that it is a little cheaper than some other Derbyshire Pay and Display car parks, and pull on as many layers as possible. Overnight it has become very windy which, in turn, has made it seem very cold.
We take the path down towards the River Wye, cross a bridge, then follow a path running beside the river and past the huge tented-roofed cattle market. Then we have to study the map. It should be a straight-forward walk along a footpath, but the parking area for vehicles visiting the weekly market has obliterated the path, and other parts are roped off. There is a path at the far side of the hedge running parallel, but we choose to stick to our planned route, though we walk on the tarmac road instead. Signs are, to say the least, minimal, but as the tarmac curves to the right we manage to spy a walkers gate over to the left. We have to step over ropes to get to it, but we're on the proper path.
A little way along and a local dog walker is behind us, but they take the parallel path on the far side of the hedge which angles uphill. We assume that they want to keep our of our way, which may be true, but we discover later that they probably intended to keep our of the mud!
Now we're away from the market area the views are improving, but we're starting to pay the penalty for a choosing a low-level walk in winter. The river is only a few yards away to our right, and the ground underfoot is muddy. We tip-toe elegantly around the sloshy bits, but it isn't pleasant. At times it is hard to see a path underfoot (although it's obvious where it is, sandwiched between the hedge and river) and at a particularly wet and boggy section we're relieved to see a narrow footbridge. From here we cross a stile, another boggy field and some broad steps up to join the drier path. Not that this is easy. Being on a slope the churned path is very muddy and we struggle to keep upright. At last we reach the end and come out onto a tarmac bridleway/drive.
We pause to look around, but admit that so far we aren't terrible thrilled with the walk. We're used to far reaching views and wide open spaces, whereas all we've had to contend with is mud. Still, the sun is making an effort and if we can gain some height all may not be lost.
We follow the path uphill and, just before it turns sharp left, look down on the final abandoned section of railway line that forms the Monsal Train. Here it is a narrow path terminating at a bricked up tunnel. It doesn't look very appealing. We continue along the path then pause again to check the map - we seem to be doing a lot of that today. Whereas the tarmac continues straight on there is a path to the right which is the bridleway we need to follow. This goes through a gate then turns right again to follow the fence line uphill.
We're really climbing up now and with the brightening sky we're beginning to get some good views across the Wye Valley towards some very obvious earthworks buried beneath green grass. Through another gate and we know we're somewhere above Haddon Hall although all we can make out is a solitary building that must stand somewhere in the grounds, the Hall itself is hidden from view.
The path is very distinct here, and easy to walk. The sun is shining and the wind has eased, and it seems that the day is going to turn out OK after all. There's a wall ahead which forces the path left. Directly in front is another wall which seems - after consulting the map - to indicate the line of a path, road or driveway directly to Haddon Hall from the farm here. There's no public access, so we can only guess.
We walk between a hedge and the high wall which shields Bowling Green Farm from view, and continue uphill. This is still a bridleway so it is easy walking, broad and firm underfoot. The path dips down, and we ignore the track to the right which would take us towards Rowsley. Instead we go left and pause to enjoy the view down the valley (with Coombe Farm) towards Bakewell. This is more like it. A squirrel, disturbed by our presence, takes flight from its hiding place and scoots out of the way.
This track is very reminiscent of Forestry Commission paths, but we soon reach the end and have to make a decision. The path we thought we'd take is left, but although it is a public bridleway it seems to end at Coombe Farm and we doubt the farmer would appreciate us walking through his yard. We don't want to turn back (all that mud!) so we decide to take the obviously well-used bridleway straight ahead and uphill through Rowsleymoor Wood. We're making good time so we reckon we can easily cope with this slightly extended route.
Part way up the path we see evidence of wind damage - a huge tree has had one of its heavy high branches split from the main trunk leaving creamy white timber exposed. We walk under the fallen branch and push on up to the top of the path, which turns left and levels out. Ahead is an ornate sign inviting us to walk along a Permissive Path in Manners Wood. We decide to accept the offer.
This is a wide, level and easily walked path shielded by trees but offering tantalizing glimpses of the views beyond. It is probably an especially lovely place in Spring. Eventually we find somewhere to sit for lunch, up the slope a little and using a ground level branch to prevent us sliding down.
Out comes the secret flask with the Ramblers - it is our first walk of the New Year after all and we need to celebrate it in a suitable fashion - followed by coffee, sandwiches and our New Year Bun. It's the old stalwart, the fresh cream scone, but no worse for being familiar. The scones are eaten with alarming speed and relish before we finish off with another coffee.
Time to pack up and move on, so we continue on our way. At last the path splits, and we take the downward section which leads us to a couple of streams which we have to negotiate before depositing us on the edge of Bakewell Golf Course. After reading the signs exhorting us to take care we set off, only to see another sign next to a bell telling us to ring it to warn golfers of our presence. We race for the bell (well, lumber purposefully) and I win, giving it a loud ring to warn the non-existent golfers. I think we're the only people on the course!
However, once we've left the course and are following the path down to Bakewell, we look back and see a handful of golfers, so maybe they were just keeping out of our way.
We cross over the Monsal Trail bridge, then along the side of a field of sheep before seeing some animals in the adjoining field which we debate over. Are they llamas, or alpacas? We settle on alpacas, not that we have any specialist knowledge of them and are just as likely to be wrong as right.
At the bottom of the path we meet the road and it's only a short way to the car park. We've made excellent time, and it has turned out to be a good walk after all, leaving us time to go to look at an interesting arty shop on the edge of Bakewell before we leave. Next time we'll return to Bakewell, weather permitting, to walk the other way.