First of all we'd like to introduce you to Mollie.
Mollie, as you can see, is an absolutely gorgeous border collie whose hobbies include walking and chasing sticks. She belongs to a friend of PC and we are to be her occasional 'dog walkers', although we think Mollie sees herself as a 'human walker' instead.
For this week's walk we meet at the Surprise View Car Park ready to do battle with the cursed Pay and Display machine that only takes card payments. It's special trick for today is issuing tickets completely devoid of details. Good one.
It is bitterly cold and there is a scattering of snow about, so we fortify ourselves before setting off. PC was concerned that we'd had the last of the Ramblers on our last walk so had brought some Cointreau (a bottle!) to fill up the secret flask. However, the flask had already been miraculously refilled (can't walk without the Ramblers) so we have a tot of the Cointreau anyway - well, no point in bringing it all this way and not trying it! And yes, it was good and suitably warming on this chilly day.
We head off across the car park and discover that Mollie isn't too used to being on the lead. She's a real puller, but once onto the path leading to Millstone Edge we are able to let her onto a longer lead. Later we'll be able to let her run which will hopefully tire her a bit.
On reaching the Edge we see the snow on the distant hills perfectly lit on this bright, sunny day - a good deal better than on our last walk up here. It's Candlemass today and, apparently, if the day is fine we're in for more winter. So it seems that we're pretty much doomed.
Mollie takes up a lot of our attention as we're walking along the Edge. It's a long time since we've had a dog for company and we're enjoying the novelty.
The path dips down and we take a left turn, walking carefully through the snow and ice. The ground, where it is bare of snow, is frozen solid and we're planting our feet carefully so we don't slip. It would be a hard landing. Partway down the slope and before we reach the road we cross the stile in the fence line to our left. Mollie watches us and we wonder how she'll take to it, but we needn't have worried. Patting the top rail of the stile and saying 'come on' has her leaping over with wonderful agility. Only wish we could do the same.
We make our way downhill through the brittle, brown bracken until we reach the path at the bottom running alongside a stone wall. A short way along and we find the gate leading into Whim Wood. At last Mollie can have a run and she teaches us to throw sticks for her - again, and again, and again. We play along, all that bending and stretching must be doing us some good.
At the exit to the wood it's back onto the lead for Mollie and a few paces up the road before we cross to the footpath leading towards Hathersage and Scraperlow Farmhouse (a Grade II listed building looking like a mini fortress). Again Mollie astounds us as she bounds up onto the stile, takes a few paw-steps on the adjacent stone wall, then lands with an 'easy-peasy' expression on the correct side. We take a little longer.
The first part of the path is the driveway to Scraperlow, but where the drive sweeps right we continue straight ahead and soon come to the woods by High Lees. We meet one dog walker coming to us from the opposite direction, but so far that's the only other walker we've seen all day.
On this path we're glad that it is so cold as the rutted ground shows what it would be like if the mud wasn't frozen solid. It wouldn't be particularly inviting. The woods, however, are pleasant and we must make an effort to come here at a more attractive time of year.
The path leads us onto a little lane running behind houses that front onto the main A6187 out of Hathersage, and there are some snowdrops trying to flower although it's probably a little shaded for them here.
We're soon onto the road and heading down to Hathersage and their conveniently placed conveniences. It isn't very busy today, the cold must be keeping everyone indoors, now that a few clouds have started to gather the great outdoors isn't as enticing.
Soon we're on our way again, and we cross the road before turning left on the B6001 towards Grindleford. There isn't much traffic and it isn't long before we're under the railway bridge and taking the left hand footpath which is part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. This runs alongside a very cold and bleak looking River Derwent.
It's flat, easy walking and we soon come to a gate being guarded by two bay ponies. They totally ignore us as we pass through the adjacent walkers' gate, but a black and white Shetland pony comes barrelling over to us immediately hoping, no doubt, to be fed. When it realises that we aren't going to be forthcoming with treats it turns its back and saunters off. Two other, grey, ponies a few yards further on don't even bother to lift their heads to look at us.
This is a long, wide field that slopes steeply up to the left. There is a small flock of sheep up there and we suspect they may be some kind of rare breed, but our knowledge is limited, to say the least. At the end of the field we go through a new-looking gate and onto a woodland path (Coppice Wood). There is a faint glimmer of sunlight but we can't find anywhere to sit for lunch so we carry on up the well-walked left hand path leading uphill and, eventually, over the railway line. Once away from the railway bridge we find a perfectly sized boulder to sit on for lunch.
By this time we have come to the conclusion that Mollie is a little bewildered. She's plainly used to walks that go 'there and back again' rather than just keep going, as well as walks that don't last so long. And as for sitting down to eat, she obviously thinks we've lost the plot completely. However she dutifully (gratefully) lays down as we break out the sandwiches and coffee and warm ourselves up with a nip from the secret flask. The Ramblers goes down very well as a few fairy-sized flakes of snow begin to fall. We ignore them and hope they'll go away.
After coffee, sandwiches and Ramblers the buns come out. They are our 'summer buns', not because we eat them in summer (although we do, given the chance) but because they are full of summer. Fresh strawberry tarts with creme anglaise. These are from M&S and we compare them with Tesco's Finest. Well, M&S tarts have more strawberries and a creamier creme anglaise with harder pastry. Tesco have a custardier creme anglaise but crumblier pastry. All in all, they're both exceptionally good, so no complaints.
Since Mollie wants nothing to eat or drink we pack up and head on up to the path leading towards Padley Chapel. As we approach we berate ourselves, yet again, for not coming to visit the interior when it is open and once again we put it on our To Do list.
We walk past the Chapel, and someone enjoying their lunch on the steps, and head down towards Grindleford, turning left onto the Padley Wood path before reaching Grindleford Station. It suddenly seems to be a long, steep haul up here and we remind ourselves why it is a bad idea to park our cars at the highest point of our round-walks as we always have to finish on an uphill stretch when we're beginning to tire. Not that Mollie seems tired. Although she's walking sedately on the lead now as soon as we're in the woods we let her off and she wants to play 'fetch the stick' again.
We always seem to be in these woods in winter, or at cold times of year, but at least it gives us the opportunity to see the wonderful twisted shapes of branches and trees growing around boulders. At the top of the wood a group are pitching a tent! and have slung a zip wire across the water. Rather them than us.
It isn't far to go now and we're trudging up the deep, hollowed pathway towards the road. Mollie is tired but seems to sense that we're closing in on our starting point, so when we finally cross the road and reach our cars she leaps into the back of PCs car at great speed and without any prompting.
We've done the walk in pretty good time and have really enjoyed having our new friend with us. But we are left wondering what the Candlemass prediction is for a day that starts fine but ends cloudy with tiny flurries of snow. Has winter gone, or is the worst yet to come?