Sunday, 13 May 2012


We had a plan. A good one. Then we heard the weather forecast, and the pelting rain hammering on the windows overnight, so we had a rapid re-think and the plan changed. Instead of exploring the heights of Kinder Scout we opted for a safer option - meet at the side of Ladybower and see if inspiration strikes.

It's no longer raining when we pull up in our usual car park so we're feeling hopeful. The bluebells aren't out yet (PC has a thing about walking through the bluebells) so the suggestion of doing a complete circuit of Howden and Derwent reservoirs is accepted as a good alternative to Kinder.

As we get ready Mollie decides to decamp and visit a group of walkers getting ready at the other end of the car park. Endless calls and shouts fail to bring her back so PC has to go and fetch her and although Mollie looks sheepish she is clearly unrepentant.

Finally we're ready, after a brief debate as to whether we need the umbrella today. It was such a success on the last walk that I'm persuaded to take it (rain forecast, apparently, for lunch time so we'll need the shelter) so it's fixed onto the back of my increasingly heavy rucksack. I really must empty it out sometime.

First stop is Fairholmes and we're already surprised at how many walkers and cyclists are out today. Either the poor weather hasn't deterred them or they were all planning different walks but have made the same decision as us to avoid potential problems.

Leaving Fairholmes we've decided to walk the route anti-clockwise so we make our way down towards Derwent Dam. Even from a distance we can see the foamy, white wall of water completely blanketing the dam. Wow! It's a long time since we've seen this amount of water coming over the top, and it's a sign of how much rain we've had that the reservoirs are full to brimming. Closer to the wall we can even feel the spray coming off it. Impressive, and just a bit scary too.

The steep steps at the side of the dam are familiar but no less unwelcome but we're soon at the top and on the level roadway skirting the side of the reservoir. Now it's easy walking and a familiar outlook which means we can spend our time constructively - talking about everything from Art to University.

By the time we reach Abbey Tip Plantation we've lost all the foot traffic (we will only see one more walker on this side) and only have to contend with the few cyclists who circuit the reservoirs. And here we have a swathe of late daffodils, all a bit knocked and battered from the recent heavy rain but they are a lovely, cheerful sight. The daffodils have just about ended everywhere else so these are a treat.

We cross the bridge where the Abbey Brook flows into the reservoir. It's running very fast today but the banks of gloomy rhododendrons don't make it a good photo opportunity.

 Around the next corner and we're in sight of Howden Dam, and close enough to hear the thunderous rumbling of water pouring over the edge. Yes, Howden is full to bursting and its dam wall is, like Derwent's, a solid sheet of white. We choose not to take the small side path which leads to the base of the wall instead keeping on our planned route.

We're under a sparse canopy of trees here, insufficient to shelter us from the fast approaching rain that we can see coming from the direction of Alport and Bleaklow, blocking the view with a grey mist. Luckily, though, the brolly doesn't have to come out as the shower is short-lived and hardly makes us damp. It looks as if this will be the order of the day from now on - brief showers and an overcast sky.

We round the corner at the base of Howden Clough (the water here looks particularly grim; scummy with debris floating on it) to take the slight incline before the level returns as we walk past Ronksley Wood and out into the open at Cold Side. Here we can see the River Derwent rushing down to the reservoirs, and spring lambs running around the hillsides with their mothers, managing to look unbelievably cute.

The Slippery Stones Bridge is in sight now (it takes its name from the large slabs of stone that were the only means of crossing the Derwent in the past. The bridge dates from the 17th century and was classified as an ancient monument so when the valley was flooded the bridge was dismantled, stored and rebuilt here in 1959) so we hasten down to it, cross over - admiring the fast flowing river as we do - then settle down on the western bank of the river for lunch.

First its a nip from the secret flask. We don't need it to warm us up, but we do deserve a treat! (Mollie isn't forgotten, she has her biscuits.) Then it's a cup of coffee followed by sandwiches and the bun - very light doughnuts with fresh cream and oozing jam, all patriotically wrapped in a Union Jack box! Excellent - could have eaten more than one though. After a second coffee - and a very light shower of rain - we pick up our rucksacks again. How come mine doesn't feel any lighter?

This is such a familiar section of the walk for us, but this time we haven't even made the halfway point of the walk whereas we're usually on the way back to the cars by now. Naturally there are more people about now even though the clouds seem to be gathering.

We cross over the broad bridge at the base of Linch Clough noting that the water is very high, then it's up to the gate onto the long, narrow road skirting the west of the reservoirs. There are a few cars parked here, not many, and most of the drivers and passengers are sat inside rather than getting out and enjoying the fresh air while they can.

The road is long and winding which makes this side of the reservoirs much longer than the east. Added to the distance is the number of cars driving up today, we don't think we've ever seen so many on one day, and since they aren't walkers they go to as far as the end of the road, maybe park up for a while, then drive back so we have to avoid them twice. Some are very courteous but others don't seem to notice us and drive past fast (and we are very noticeable). To add to the problems the rain has decided to make a more determined effort. It isn't prolonged but the showers are heavier and longer. Still not bad enough to use the brolly (it will stay in the car next time) but we've donned waterproof coats and hoods.

We pass  a clump of gorse bushes in full, yellow bloom and stop for a sniff. It was only back at Easter that I realised that the flowers had a wonderful coconut scent - so I shared this we PC and we stand sniffing as a couple of cars passed us giving us strange looks.

When we reach the eastern side of Howden Dam we can see the spray from the edge being blow upwards and backwards - it would be easy to imagine a whale 'blowing'. It takes a while for PC to get a good shot of it, and when we drop down to the house at the side of the dam (Beavers Croft, a holiday cottage) she takes some more pictures across the lovely gardens to the dam.

The high rainfall we've had recently is very evident from here onwards. Water pouring off the hillside is reaching the tarmac road and running in rivers along its length. Sometimes it manages to cross over where it rushes down to the reservoir, but in other places it pools into mini fords. Sporadic rainfall is adding to it.

We press on, pass the remains of Tin Town (constructed for workers building the dams then demolished afterwards) which are easy to miss, especially if you are in a car. Then it's the final haul along to Derwent again. We're tiring, the hard, solid surface of the walk is beginning to take its toll, and Mollie is seriously muddy. Glad she won't be in my car.

There are quite a few people parked at the top of Derwent Dam admiring the cascading water, but we can ignore it now as we detour down to Fairholmes for a pre-journey-home stop. It's tempting to sit on the benches, but they're wet and getting up again could be a problem anyway.

Strange how the last few hundred yards to the cars is the hardest of the lot! However, we make it and gladly remove rucksacks and walking gear. It's been a long haul today (one source says 16.7 km) and we're out of condition having missed a few walks these past weeks. Next week is going to be a miss, too, and our schedule will be erratic for a while. Exam season is on us - GCSEs and A levels - so we'll have to squeeze our walks in when we can.

We've managed to miss the worst of the weather, but only just. On the way home I drive through some torrential rain storms and consider how lucky we've been!

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Right, the Easter break is over and it seems half a lifetime since we were last walking so we're especially keen to be out today. However, it is raining, and has been doing so for quite a few days and at a considerable rate. We fully expect to get drenched.

We drived through heavy rain, light rain, drizzle and threatening clouds to arrive at Monsal Head, parking up on the road rather than using the car park and falling foul of the parking fees and potential to outstay our (paid for) welcome. Our first discussion - after the 'yippee, we're free' moment of glee - is a debate as to whether we don waterproof trousers now or later. We look up at the clouds and choose now. Within a few minutes it's raining again.

Along with our gear today I've included a large umbrella. It might seem a strange thing to take hiking but if Nicholas Crane (Coast) can do it, so can we. But with more style. There is a method in the madness here. Any downpour leaves us cowering beneath hoods that cut off all decent conversation, drip water down our faces and obscure vision. Also even the best waterproof coats let in some wet when constantly chafed by rucksack shoulder straps. Hopefully the brolly will prevent this. PC reckons it will be ideal for sitting under at lunchtime - she certainly has her priorities straight.

Off we go, a spring in our step, to Monsal head and after the briefest of pauses for a photo we head off. Only once we passed through a gate and are still on relatively level ground do we realise that we've taken the wrong path. Duh! Too busy talking and not enough paying attention. And it isn't as though we haven't made the same mistake in the past, so no real excuses other than that we're so giddy with excitement at being out. We backtrack quickly and take the proper path down to the viaduct. Mollie is let off the lead to scamper in front terrorizing stones as we need to be careful on the slippery limestone.

At the bottom of the track we're out onto the Monsal Head Viaduct, and we're in for a surprise. Headstone Tunnel, closed for so many years, is now open! A couple were coming through as we looked on and we stopped for a chat. It appears that the other tunnels along the trail have been opened too with lights (on at dawn, off at dusk) in the longer ones. There is a possibility, in winter particularly, that the tunnels may have to be closed at short notice, and for anyone wanting further details please check the following website:  It gives information for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

On with our walk, we cross the viaduct and turn left through a gate and start to climb uphill along a rubble strewn path. It's raining, but not too bad so we keep pausing to enjoy the views behind us. After a while we pause for a bit longer, to remove a layer of clothing. It's warm work walking uphill.

We pass through a small belt of trees and out into the open, still climbing but we know the top isn't too far away. Four soggy walkers pass us going downhill, and these are the last people we'll see until returning to the Trail at the end of our walk.

Once we're at the top of the climb we know we've done the worst of the walk. We've reached the easy-to-walk track that will take us towards Brushfield and skirts the aptly named area of High Field. It's pretty exposed up here and the rain is coming in bursts. The brolly is being put to good use, but it's a good job it isn't windy.Across the valley is Fin Cop Iron Age Hillfort (plenty of info on the web) but it is pretty much shrouded by sheets of rain. Closer to us, however, is a field with cowslips so PC goes into photographer mode and is down on her knees to capture them on film.

Back on the track we have to skirt a few path-wide puddles but none present much of a problem. The rain can't really make up it's mind and we seem to be having a couple of minutes clear then a couple of minutes wet. So far, though, we haven't had a deluge.

We come to a crush-stile next to a gate, and after I've squeezed through the crush PC calmly opens the gate for the easy option. We ignore the left hand path to Brushfields Hough, which we've taken in the past, this time carrying on straight ahead. The track dips a little and takes us towards some trees. Now it starts to rain as though it really means it. Perhaps we shouldn't have mentioned not having had a deluge.

At this point we're somewhere above Taddington Dale and the main A6. Although we can hear some traffic noise (not much over the sound of the rain) we don't pause to attempt to look at the map - the map-cover is liberally covered with raindrops obscuring all details beneath.

  We go through another gate to find ourselves on the approach to Brushfield, a very attractive collection of farms and cottages, all very neat and tidy. One in particular has a small but beautifully tended garden which makes us pause in admiration. At the end of the driveway we turn right and are once more going uphill. We pass Middle Farm holiday cottages (they look very nice) and continue along the track to Top Farm. Despite the lack of signposts we guess we're on the right path, following it behind the farm buildings to come out above High Dale. The rain has stopped again giving us some excellent views.

It's a straight, easy path again with a few dips and rises although in one dip the whole path is covered in water. We manage to skirt it on a high verge that is very muddy and are soon at the other side. A quick wipe of the map-cover to check the map and at the top of the track turn right to climb over a stile (one of the awkward ones with a tiny gate on top). We've just entered Priestcliffe Lees Nature Reserve (SSSI). The only nature we can see at the moment are a small flock of soggy sheep running away from us.

We're in a long, narrow field with a series of humps and hollows, which may be evidence of past lead mining. The path takes us downhill, through another stile then into another, larger field with more humps (fewer hollows). These are lead spoil heaps and provide a special place for wild flowers, which we see straight away when we spot clumps of wild yellow pansy. Even on a soggy day their small flowers are so cheerful.

This is a perfect spot for lunch, especially since the rain has stopped, so we find a suitable vantage point to sit down overlooking distant Litton Mill with Millers Dale on the right and Tideswell Dale to the left. Out comes the Ramblers - we've earned it today - followed by sandwiches and buns. Our post holiday treats are lemon scones - plain scones with lemon curd and fresh cream. Yum. As we start on our first cup of coffee the rain starts, so up goes the umbrella and we sit there snug and dry waiting for it to pass. We wait, and wait, and wait. After the second cup of coffee the rain eventually abates so we pack up our gear ready to set off.

Within a couple of minutes the sun is out; full, bright spring sunshine that makes us start to steam. But not for long. A couple more minutes, on the slippery downward slope, and it's raining again. By the time we reach the stile leading to the Monsal Trail at Litton Mill it's pouring. Five more minutes and we've crossed the trail to descend to the bridge spanning the very wide, full, fast flowing River Wye - and the rain has stopped again.

We turn right at the end of the bridge over the river and walk past the old mill buildings to take up the path at the side of the river. The last time we were here the river was calm and clear, not so today. It is an angry river, although a brown and white Dipper doesn't seem to be the slightest bit troubled as it skims the fiercely flowing water to land on a rock in the middle of it all.

This path is wide, level and so easy to walk, perfect on a good day for just about every member of the family, but fairly popular at any time. We don't even wonder why there are no other walkers on this path today, until we round the bend towards Water-cum-Jolly Dale and find that the path has disappeared. It is all under water. Not a happy prospect near the end of a walk!

At first we scout next to the cliff to see how deep the water is - very. Almost up to Mollie's belly. Then PC decides to try the submerged hedgerow/verge next to the river and pond. It's one of those hold-your-breath moments as she slowly feels her way along, using her walking poles to guage the depth. She sees clear path ahead, around the bend, but there's a lot more water to get through first and we don't know how bad the path is further on. I'm not keen as we still have quite a distance to go.

Then a walker on the opposite side, high up on the cliff, shouts down to us that the path is completely submerged further on too. Thank you walker in the blue jacket, you saved us finding out the hard way. We now have no choice but to back-track and make our way to the road. It's going to add a considerable time to our walk, but it can't be helped.

However, a little way back I spot a sign at the side of the path (unnoticed in the opposite direction) and it's pointing out an alternative route for 'when the path is flooded'. Obviously a regular occurrance. The alternative, though is a steep uphill climb over slippery smooth limestone. This calls for good boots, stamina and handholds. Mollie, naturally, thinks it's a perfect place for finding stones and rolling them downhill. Under our feet. One way to become a very unpopular dog!

 The climb is short and sharp but we're soon well above the river. The path leads us to a stile (a fence rail with a stone on either side - handy if your legs are long, not so good if they aren't) and a field skirting Cressbrook Hall. Wow. What a gorgeous house. We've seen it before from the opposite sideof the Wye valley, but it is far more impressive close up. The path passes a sloping bank on which there are primroses and in a wooded area we see the first bluebells of the year.

The path takes us around the edge of the hall then down a steep step to follow it through the light woodland towards Cressbrook Mill. We're walking through ramsons here though they aren't in flower yet so their heady garlic scent isn't apparent. It seems that the path will take us right down to the water's edge again but instead it veers left and leads us out onto the road instead. No problem with cars today, though, as there is a 'road closed' sign higher up.

We walk down the road and choose to take the path through the Mill towards the huge pond at Water-cum-Jolly Dale to see how high the water is. Very! It's pouring over the weir in a torrent and we can see - or rather, can't see - where the path is completely submerged. It will take a time for that to clear.

We cross over the bridge, aware of the sheer volume of water rushing beneath our feet, then climb up the steps to the path. It's raining again - naturally. Soon we're heading back towards the Monsal Trail along the single-file track on the hillside. No one on it today - not surprising given the weather although it is more likely because the tunnels are now open and people don't have to negotiate this stretch.

Once back on the trail we're passed by two cyclists (are they cyclists if they are laying down on their bikes which have 3 wheels) whizzing along at a cracking speed. We walk along at a more sedate pace although it doesn't take long for us to reach the final climb up towards Monsal Head.

The sky has cleared at last and as we make our way back to the cars we're debating on where to go for our next outing. We're still undecided, so it will be a surprise for everyone. Just hope that the weather improves.


Sorry everyone, but we are having real problems with the new 'improved' Blogger.

We have a walk ready and waiting to upload, but the new style site is making life extremely difficult - refusing to save, preview and allow changes as well as photo issues. Is anyone else out there having problems?

Please bear with us. We aren't the most technically competent of people, but isn't the site supposed to be easy to use? Fortunately, help is forthcoming from more able family members so we hope to resume normal service soon. Fingers crossed.