Friday, 16 March 2012


A bit of a departure from the normal for us this week, visiting parts we've never reached before. Not that they're far away, quite the contrary, but somehow we've never ventured here.
We meet up in the large car park in Eyam, across from the museum (worth a visit if you can avoid school-trips), and with large, pleasant public loos. Except that today they are closed for improvements. We pay the parking fee, consoling ourselves that the high charges are still a fair return for a full day's outing, and prepare to leave.

It isn't a particularly bright start to the day, low lying mist and fog have lain over much of the route here, but there has been a few promising patches of sunshine which we hope will gather strength as the day progresses. Even as we are pulling on our rucksacks the sky seems to be clearing, although that doesn't stop PC putting on gaiters and tying her heavy waterproof coat around her waist - just in case.

We walk out of the car park and turn left around the little corner shop to go through the village. We're still pretty early so the tourists keen to partake in a little plague history are few and far between. We have to keep crossing the road to keep on the pavement which, for some reason, doesn't keep to one side. Mollie fancies a trip into the church yard (probably to get away from the road, she has an aversion to traffic) but we persuade her to carry on with us.

Past the school and we take the 'high road' where the road splits, then once we reach the point where the road rejoins the 'low road' we cross over them both to a small tarmac path on the far side (Mill Lane). Behind us is a group of walkers, studying their maps and chatting. We don't really want to be caught up by them, although they seem
unsure as to which way to go.

A little way up this lane we come to the Lydgate Graves. Since church burials were suspended during the plague this became the burial site for plague victims, George and Mary Darby (father and daughter). There is a web site for Eyam village if anyone is interested at: which gives more information.

We pause to take a photo then continue on our way. By now the sun is out and it seems pretty obvious that the waterproofs aren't going to be needed. A little way on and we have a choice - there is a footpath straight ahead (with the possibility of cows in the fields) and a lane to the left which is a 'route with public access' (which usually means 4x4s). With minimal debate, and a promise to retreat if cows are encountered, we take the path straight ahead. Through a few gates next to some attractive cottages and we're crossing an open field with views towards woods on our left.

Soon the open field narrows through a narrow crush-stile for narrow people (with an option to divert over a broken down wall) into an enclosed track. By now, however, the group of walkers we'd seen back in Eyam are closing in on us at a fair pace, but they are strung out so we don't feel inclined to slow down to let them pass. When we reach the end of the track and go through the next gateway (fortunately not so narrow) the group have stopped somewhere and are nowhere in sight.

Ahead the path goes straight and slightly uphill towards the Eyam Boundary Stone which, in all honesty, could easily be overlooked if it wasn't for the indentation around it made by many reverential feet. We pass the boundary stone and walk up the slightly higher rise named The Cliff. Calling it The Cliff does seem an over-exaggeration but the views are pretty good. Behind us the walkers have caught up again and are now debating the finer points of the boundary stone.

As we set off down the hill towards Stoney Middleton the hoards descend upon us so we stand aside to let them pass. They seem very intent on getting somewhere very quickly so it seems better to let them get on with it. Once they're out of earshot we continue on our way, meandering down the hill at a more seemly pace, then through the gate at the bottom. We've now joined the 'route with public access' that we chose to ignore earlier. We take the looping back road at Stoney Middleton and pass near the church which, if it wasn't for the walking group clustered in a huddle in the churchyard, we would have photographed.

We press on, cross the A623 which isn't too busy at the moment, then on up the steep hill between the village cross and the pub. By now the early mist has more or less burnt off and the sun is shining. We're only a few yards up the steep slope (bet it's murder in winter) when PC calls a halt to the proceedings to allow her to remove a couple of layers. Yes, it's warming up.

This is the part of Stoney Middleton you seldom see. From the main road at the bottom the overriding impression is of a dark, gloomy village, flanked by glowering cliffs and best passed through as quickly as possible. However, here the perpetual shade of the valley bottom has been exchanged for an open aspect which only improves the higher up the hill you go. By the time we turn left onto the footpath towards Coombs Dale we are able to stop to enjoy the broad distant views from our vantage point. There's still some haze in the distance making Froggatt Edge indistinct, but there's still plenty to look at.

We keep on the obvious path, pass through a field gate then on until we come to another new gate. It seems that this walk, new to us, is popular enough to have had it's gates and stiles upgraded. Through the gate the path remains obvious, sweeping down to our left, although we had hoped that the right hand path (on the map) would have been clear on the ground. Since it isn't, and the terrain makes it impossible to see it anywhere, we decide to the follow the left hand path as it will still take us to where we want to be.

Down across an open field, then a couple of stiles and a dried up stream bed and we're in Coombs Dale. This is a really pretty, wooded spot with a stream on the right and a few carefully placed benches. We make for one and sit down, not particularly in need of a rest but determined to enjoy a nip of Ramblers. The secret flask is emptied (must remember to refill when I get home) and we savour the drink as we watch Mollie play with sticks and stones whilst failing to notice a rabbit hopping nearby.

We stroll on a little further marvelling at the quiet. This dale is right on the edge of Stoney Middleton and easily accessible so we expected to see a few locals walking here, but no. We eventually come across the path we had hoped to take at the top of the hill, and a quick peek to see how clear it is shows the bottom of it (this end) fairly distinct but where it goes from there is anyone's guess.

We keep to our path and as we reach some beautifully structured cliffs with the stream running beneath we spy another bench, and decide that fate has placed it here for us. We sit down and fetch out lunch. Sandwiches, heavy salad, coffee and the buns. A very healthy option this week. Fresh Cream Apple Tarts with a custardy base. Surely these must count as one of our five a day! They are devoured with alarming speed (why don't buns last longer?) and since we can feel a chill here in the partial shade we decide to pack up and carry on.

This kind of walking is so easy. Yes, we see a herd of cyclists, a couple out walking, then two singles, but that's it for other people. We can stroll along without having to bother about finding our way (although a slight miscalculation in the map reading does mean that we're not as far on as we thought) and we're hardly taxing ourselves.

As we reach the end of the woods I see cows ahead but PC reassures me that they are all safely behind a fence. Fine for her to talk! When we get closer we see that one of them has escaped its boundary and is standing on our side!. I walk past at an increased pace whereas PC stops to take a photo. She has no fear.

It's at this point that I make the discovery that we aren't as far on in our walk as I'd thought, but the sun is shining, the cows are behind us and all feeling right with the world. We've plenty of time and we don't have to rush.

The path here is stony and is leading us gently uphill with the shape of the valley becoming more distinct as we leave the last vestiges of the woods behind. There's a barred-off mine entrance on our left leading to Sallet Hole Mine, now disused (I believe). The next stretch of the walk is known as Rough Side and soon we're at the top of it and going through a gate to a junction of paths. This is Black Harry Gate and we'll be turning right and walking up Black Harry Lane.

Who was Black Harry? Well, it seems that he was an 18th Century highwayman who preyed on travellers and mule trains crossing the moors. Tradition has that he met his end on the Gallows Tree, Wardlow Mires, where he was hung, drawn and quartered for his crimes, but it is equally possible that he was executed at York. And it is more likely that he took his name from the lane, rather than the lane being named after him, since this was one of his favourite haunts.

So much for Black Harry, we press on up the lane which is steep(ish) and bounded by drystone walls. From here there are excellent views of the rolling limestone plateau. Looking back we can see the enormity of the Blakedon Hollow, a 'lagoon' constructed in the 1970's (after demolishing Black Harry Farm) to take the waste from local fluorospar workings.

The lane levels at the top for a while before starting to descend to meet the minor road from Stoney Middleton To Cavendish Mill. We cross the road and are now heading downhill toward the Darlton quarry. The shadows are lengthening now but the sun is still warm and we're still meandering at a steady pace. The quarry comes into view, not pretty but essential to the local economy, and there is an explanatory board for anyone who is interested.

The lane narrows to a path and we have to be careful as it emerges onto the main driveway of the quarry. A lorry passes us, then we take the narrow, steep and slippy path through the trees to the main road. There, we're back at the side of the A623. Now it's a trek up the B6521 road to Eyam. At least there's a walkway, of sorts, at the side of the road, but that only extends halfway up. After that we have to be cautious of traffic coming towards us, and there is quite a bit of it.

Soon we're up at the top and on the level again. Eyam village is busier now, the plague visitors are out in force, but we're intent on getting back to the cars, even though it would be good to linger.

It has been a brilliant walk, great weather, varied terrain, different things to see, and not much of a strain. We're wondering how long our luck will last, surely we're due a deluge soon! Fingers crossed it won't be next week.

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