Last week must have been a fluke so it's a good job that we aren't exactly expecting bright sunny skies and sub-tropical weather. And although it is clear, more or less, we can see potential rainclouds on the horizon and when we emerge into the open at our meeting place we are hammered by a bitterly cold wind. Thankfully we've brought extra layers, just in case.
Today we're pretty close to the edge of the National Park boundary and we've parked our cars at the small, high car park at Shillito Wood. (Grid ref 295 750). It's wonderfully deserted as we arrive, but by the time we're organised three more cars have pulled up.
We spend a little time debating on today's buns. In an uncharacteristic rush of indecisiveness I'd been unable to choose our treat this morning, so ended up bringing three kinds of bun for PC to make the final decision. What a shame there's only room for one each in the rucksacks, I'll have to eat the others later!
There are lovely views from the car park and there's also a handily placed information board which we wander over to so as to take in a few details. Apparently this is part of an old route across the moors.We turn around and set off through the woods, allowing Mollie off the lead to run off some of her energy.
The peaty path here is quite deep underfoot and heavily churned up by horses' hooves so it's much easier walking on the grass between the trees.
A little way into the wood is an old stone cross, 13th or 14th century and attributed to Beauchief Abbey. It is known by various names, Shillito Wood Cross, Bole Hill Cross and Shepherds Cross, but would have provided a way-marker in the days before maps, road signs and tarmac roads!
We walk through the wood then emerge onto the road at the bottom and crossing over to the gate at the other side which leads onto Ramsley Moor. The path is smooth and wide, but wet and muddy in places. At the side of the path is a carved stone, relatively new, and as we look at it and read the words (PC commenting on the carving that 'hands are hard to do' - I'll take her word for it) we are unaware at that point that we'll meet up with more of this stones on our walk. (There is a web site and more detailed guide to the stones, if anyone is interested, at: www.artsinthepeak.co.uk/cs )
Despite the path being wet it is easy walking. The moor is a fairly barren place, all dead dried out grasses and patches of bog. The land rises up to our right, and there's another cross up there, and the correct line of the path goes there too but we follow the easier track which curves around and takes us over a small stream which runs into the larger, (nameless, so far as I can find out) stream which runs beneath Hewitts Bank. The path runs through some trees, mainly birch to our left and fenced off mixed woodland to our right, and here the path deteriorates dramatically. Deeply churned and extremely boggy we're forced to bank-hop to keep our feet dry. Mollie, naturally, doesn't care and splashes straight through the middle of it all.
The sogginess extends quite some distance before we rise up out of it and by now we can almost see the end of this stretch of the walk. Luckily the sun is trying to break out, not that it is much warmer, so we debate a while on what to do. Our original plan, we now realise, would have us returning to the cars far too early, so after a quick consultation with the map, and some hasty calculations, we decide that we should press forward and extend our planned walk by - well, quite a lot actually.
We go through the gate (why are gateways always so boggy) , cross over the rocky track called Carr Road, and clamber over the opposite stile that leads us through Greaves's Place with Smeekly Wood away to our right. This is a less used path than the one across Ramsley Moor (the gates are locked shut so access is only via the stiles - no horses, bikes or 4x4s) so we're dry shod now as we climb slowly uphill. We keep looking back as the higher we climb (it's not a hard climb, more of a gentle but persistent gradient) the more of the rear view opens up to us.
Eventually we come to a stile onto the main A621 - if it can be called a stile. The step has disappeared, leaving a short post to balance on. Mollie seems confused, so I go over first, showing all the agility of a world class gymnast (thank goodness no cars were coming), Mollie seems to get the idea and follows. Then it's PC's turn and she's cursing even though it's not much of a struggle for her.
We cross over the road and are faced with a stile of stone steps then a tarmac track onto Big Moor. We haven't gone very far before we come upon a large stone waymarker (with Shefield on one side, and something illegible on the other) accompanied by one of the new stone carvings. This is a very cold, bleak and desolate place, and we don't hang around.
The tarmac path leads us towards Barbrook Reservoir and it's accompanying works buildings. However, the reservoir is almost empty and looks to have been like that for some time. We walk along the eastern edge of the once-reservoir with the intention of finding the stone circle nearby. At the northern corner I head off onto the moor looking for the circle, with PC providing the line of sight, essential since I have to avoid a huge area of undrained bog. Alas, the circle could not be found due to the very deep, tussocky grass (we weren't the only ones looking for it, a group of four were hunting around and seemed to be equally unsuccessful). It's a shame it has become buried by the grass as it is apparently one of the largest in the Peak District (see http://www.megalithic.co.uk/ Barbrook 3 for more details and photos).
I struggle through the grass to join PC and Mollie and we wander back to the bank of the defunct reservoir to make use of its wall as a comfortable seat on which to relax and eat lunch out of the ever present wind. Sandwiches (PC) and heavy salad (me) are eaten first then out come the Chosen Buns. Fresh Cream Banoffee Pies, and we even have forks to eat them with. No calories written on the packaging, so they are fat, sugar and everything-free, and we're even getting one of our 5-a-day (well almost). They are positively healthy - and very yummy too. We finish off with coffee and are feeling more in need of a nap than getting up and walking again.
But we have to make an effort, so we set off down the track past the reservoir works and southwards. We're following the line of Bar Brook now and even though there isn't much water in the reservoir there's plenty in the brook. We'd seen a sign warning us of machinery and we finally spot a digger way over to our right, almost out of sight - too far away to be much of a hindrance to us.
The brook leads us towards another, smaller and unnamed mini reservoir which is very reminiscent of tarns in the Lake District. On the edge of the outflow are two ducks participating in, what can only be called, extreme bathing. They are submerging and splashing about whilst avoiding being swept over the edge. When we get closer they swim off, trying to look nonchalant, but we'd seen them. At the base of the outflow is a pretty little copse of trees which must be a welcome shady spot in summer.
We continue on the path, and come upon yet another newly carved stone, along with one a little way down the bank, but after trying to decipher the words we give up. We're out for a walk, not for mind-stretching activities. (Check the web site above if you're interested.)
A little way further, though, and we are rewarded with the discovery of another Stone Circle. This one is very clear and easily accessible so we spend a little time looking around it before continuing. The light is slanting across the moors now and we have left some of the barrenness behind us as the vista ahead opens up.
The track leads us to a stile next to a white gate back onto the A621, and across the road we have the same to negotiate again to return onto Ramsley Moor. The path is at a slight angle to the road and curves gently around until it reaches Ramsley Reservoir. We pause to look around, remarking how good the views have been today for relatively little effort. Yes, we've walked quite a distance but it hasn't exactly been difficult. No hard climbs at all.
Ramsley Reservoir, like Barbrook, is almost empty, and we climb the stile to walk across its dam, then over another stile to reach the short stretch of path which takes us to the road. Then we've only a short distance on the wide road verge to walk before we're back at Shillito Woods and the cars.
This has been an extremely rewarding walk and one that we're sure we'll be repeating at some time in the future, and for next week we're planning a trip into the great unknown (for us, anyway).