Sunday, 21 October 2012



We've missed a week again - PCs fault, or rather the boat's fault (long story) - and we seem to have missed the best of the weather. Last week it was glorious, this week considerably less so.

Undaunted by the heavy overnight rain, plummeting temperatures and brisk wind we nevertheless continue as planned and meet at Alport. Sadly we don't have Mollie with us this week as PC couldn't get Mollie's house door open (dodgy key), something that will have to be rectified.

There's ample room for us in the tiny car park and we spend a little time layering up. It really is that cold, so out come hats and gloves too. We also have a quick nip from one of the secret flasks (Ramblers Restorative - mmm). Once we're ready we head down the road to have a look at the river running under the road bridge. On our last visit the river was so high that the arch of the bridge was barely visible and the water had risen up the stonework, but now it is running smooth and clear, the water flowing freely under the arch and the stones of the riverbed stand out as though they are under glass.

We cross over to the other side and set off down the path at the side of the telephone box. Looking back we have a perfect view of the bridge from this side, so PC fetches out her camera. A few paces further along and we are greeted by some brown fleeced sheep in the adjacent field, either very friendly or curious, so again it is time for a photo-stop. (I've tried really hard to find the breed - but do you know how many different breeds of sheep there are in the UK? And there doesn't seem to be a way of searching for a 'small brown sheep', so many apologies for lack of information, but if I manage to identify them at a later date, I'll add it.)(It could be a Balwen Welsh Mountain, or a Zwartbles.)

This path is wide and easy to walk. It follows the small river through fields which are, fortunately, free of livestock (cows). We pass the occasional dog walker then come to a very picturesque

stone bridge next to a high, overhanging wall of limestone rock, just below the village of Bradford. Beneath the rock is a conveniently placed bench, a perfect spot for anyone needing a rest of just wanting to sit and enjoy the view. But we press on, following the river towards Youlgreave.

The path bends and brings us to a stile - bit of a squeeze with the added obstacle of a small gate too - next to a bridge. We're then out onto the road (it may be Mawstone Lane, or Hopping Lane, or something different!) to admire the bridge before crossing over and following the Limestone Way along the side of the River Bradford.

This is an extremely lovely spot; there's a small clapper bridge over the river leading to a bench should anyone want to take advantage of it, but we go through the gate and follow the river.

We're in a wide expanse of a field which slopes steeply up to the village on our right with the clear river on our left. And the sun is starting to shine! We amble along until we come to a small weir just as the sun strikes it, so out comes the camera again to catch the sunlight sparkling on the water. And to our surprise, at the top side of the weir is a pool for swimming! It must be wonderful to take a dip here in the summer, luxuriating in the cool, fresh water although we suspect it may become rather crowded.

We continue, pause to admire the hefty sheep (these are far from cute and look as though they would be capable of inflicting some damage if they took a dislike to you) then pass through another gate before consulting the map. A local gentleman walking his dog stops for a few minutes to chat and confirms that we're on the right route. We let him go on ahead as we're enjoying a steady pace.

The River Bradford is on our right now with a wooded hillside on our left. The river appears to be running slower here, and is wider, but is still crystal clear. The river weed is a lush, vivid green and there are ducks and moorhens dabbling in the water.

Upstream there are a number of weirs and wide ponds, presumably for fishing, but today there are only birds fishing.

Because of the flat terrain we are able to walk a long way in a short time, and we soon reach another bridge crossing the river. Again we study the map, and although the path across is one of our options we decide that, for now, we'll carry on and hunt out somewhere for lunch. Naturally all the benches, of which there are so many downstream, have gone.

We reach a wide river crossing with an intriguing stone enclosure on the left. Naturally we explore but despite looking around we can't quite work out what it is supposed to be. There appears to be a number of 'rooms' or 'pens' and at the far side a stream of water runs into the enclosure then underneath it. We wonder if it is an old sheep-wash, or possibly the remains of an old mill (a mill for Middleton was mentioned in the Doomsday Book), but non the wiser we continue on our way. (Sorry, but again my research hasn't managed to come up with anything conclusive.)

At the far side of the river crossing we have an option; straight up along a very wide but gloomy path which we assumes climbs to Middleton village, or a narrower path running along the side of the water again. We choose the latter, and the path proves worthwhile. The river, narrower and less obvious, runs in a reed and weed bed which appears to be wide and marshy. A spring gurgles out from the rocks to our right and we soon reach a very rickety bridge over the small river.

Bravely PC goes first, and I follow. We push our way along a narrow path with overgrown vegetation on either side of us, then ascend some metal steps and turn right at the top. A short walk takes us into Rowlow Dale (not named on the OS map) and we find a perfect limestone rock on which to sit and have lunch. The sun is out and we have a lovely view of the very narrow river (or is it just a stream now?) and its extremely old clapper bridge.

We start off with a sample from PC's secret flask (cointreau) before settling down to our coffee, sandwiches and bun. The bun is PC's choice today and a concession to healthy eating; apple tarts with custard and fresh cream. Admittedly, there isn't a great deal of apple, but the custard and cream are suitably calorific.

Whilst enjoying our second coffee a damsel fly (or is it a dragon fly) hovers around then lands on PC's leg. Luckily it stays still for long enough to have its photograph taken before scooting off again.

We pack up ready to set off back, but first amble down to the small bridge to have a look. Carved into it are words from a poem, and we puzzle over it for a while, struggling to make much sense of it. However, a bit of research has led me to this website: which catalogues a number of boundary and marker stones erected as a Millennium Project throughout the Middleton and Smerrill area, detailing the inscriptions and giving some detail. This small bridge is 06: Clapper Bridge on the site's menu, and the whole site is worth looking at.

We retrace our steps and head back the way we came, negotiating the metal steps (spotting some fossils in the rock as we descend) and the rickety, narrow bridge. Eventually we reach the larger stone bridge over the river and discover another inscription, this time by Wordsworth. Again, have a look at the above site which gives details. The bridge is 03: Bradford Bridge. (Note how low the river is in the photographs.)

Crossing the bridge we climb upwards a little way then take a fork in the path, turning right so that we are once again walking along the side of the river. This bank is clearly not so frequently used but it provides a good contrast to our outward walk.

There is a small clearing where a large tree has come down, only an upended stump and a few wayward branches remain, but the stump is cloaked in a massive growth of fungi. We clamber up the slope for a closer look and for PC to photograph it. There is more fungi growing nearby, it looks like a strange white goo but on closer inspection it resembles the curds of a cauliflower. Odd!

We continue and soon the path begins to ascend the slope towards Youlgreave. We've never been to this village before and as we emerge from the woods into the sunshine it looks at its most attractive. Even the allotments are neat and tidy.

We walk down the village street, then debate on whether to continue towards the church where we will turn right towards the river, or turn right immediately (King Street) which we think leads to a footpath. After meandering down the narrow lane (barely wide enough for a bicycle and reminiscent of Robin Hoods Bay) we push our way onto a path through some seriously overgrown weeds. Squeezing through a narrow gate we come to the footpath on a steep downwards slope.

This is a seriously bad idea, but we have reached the point of no return. Clearly this path is rarely used, despite the waymarkers, and we soon discover why. It is slippery, steep and loose underfoot. Negotiating it is hazardous, as PC finds out when she sits down involuntarily!

Eventually, though, we manage to zig-zag our way to the bottom and vow never to return even if the path at the riverside is flooded and we have to wade! Fortunately, that isn't put to the test, the path is not underwater but it is virtually non-existant and we push our way along until we reach safe ground again.

We're back on track now, retracing our outward journey along the first part of dale beneath Youlgreave where the hefty sheep are eyeing us suspiciously. At the end we cross the tarmac road, go through the narrow stile with the gate and take the path to the bridge next to the limestone rock and bench.

Here we cross the river and walk up the narrow, grassy lane. At the top we turn right onto a footpath which crosses some fields high above the river. We have some lovely views of the dale beneath us and the trees, some of which are just starting to take on their bright autumn colouring.

The last field we cross has three disinterested horses dozing in it then we're out onto the main road. It's only a short walk here down to the cars where we sit, minus hats and gloves, in the afternoon sunshine.

It has been a lovely walk, and a treat to visit somewhere different. It hasn't been too challenging, and PC's foot seems to be on the mend. In the end the weather wasn't too bad, a couple of very brief showers of rain soon cleared and we've been left with a superb autumn afternoon.

We keep our fingers crossed as we plan to see some more autumn colour on our next walk.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


We can't believe it. We've missed a couple of weeks during which the whole area has been experiencing rain of biblical proportions, and we've chosen to walk on a gloriously sunny day without a rain cloud in sight! 
We'd already altered our plans to avoid slogging through quagmires so we meet up in the Over Haddon car park (Pay and Display but it has toilets open until October) slightly dismayed to discover numerous other cars parked here and a group hike being organised. We hang back and let the hoards leave whilst PC fills her secret flask with cointreau and Mollie sets herself up with a couple of biscuits. We're already catching up on news and gossip as we pay our parking fee, shoulder our rucksacks and set off down the steep road towards Lathkill Dale.
PC's foot is a little better, and we're hoping it continues to improve, so we take it steady down the tarmac road. A couple of walkers with a pair of collie dogs pass us and reach the bottom before we do.

For the first time in ages we can see the River Lathkill in full flow. Sparklingly clear water is gushing down the frequently dry riverbed and the shallow ford isn't quite so shallow at the moment. We've already made our mind up that we won't go right through the nature reserve and Lathkill Dale, nor cross the footbridge which leads to Meadow Place Grange, rather we're going to follow the river downstream towards Conksbury.

The path is narrow here beside the river, and the river itself is squeezed tight, making it rush and boil ferociously. Fortunately Mollie shows no inclination to dip her paws as there would be a serious risk of her being washed away. We go through a gate where the path moves away from the river, then upwards on a slippery limestone path, always worse in the wet. At least there are some fence rails to help.

By now we're in an elevated position and through the trees we can see how the river has widened as it approaches a series of weirs with a backdrop of limestone cliffs. The water is crystal clear but the prolific underwater weed lends it a beautiful green hue which is enhanced by sunlight.

The path dips down through meadows then runs alongside the river and its weirs again. A solitary swan is cruising along the water at a stately pace oblivious to people a few feet away.
It isn't long before we reach Conksbury Bridge, a Grade II Listed 18th century road bridge, but with medieval origins. It is a lovely bridge and since it carries the road from Bakewell to Hartington there is a fair amount of traffic for such an out of the way place, and a lot of drivers stop off just to have a look at the view. Who can blame them?
We find a series of 3 benches nestling under the trees at the side of the bridge so decide to stop for a quick drink. Out comes the secret flask (perfect) followed by some coffee. We can afford to linger, our planned walk isn't too far and we don't really want to rush back towards 'real life'! However, Mollie doesn't like being so close to the road and is very nervy whenever a car passes, so we pack up our things and press on across the bridge (pausing to admire the river up and downstream) and up the hill towards Conksbury.

We're only just level with the site of Conksbury Medieval Village when we decide to check the map, and cross the road to a footpath sign where we can stand in a wood so that Mollie feels safe. After checking the map we abandon our original plan (a walk we've done previously but in reverse) to follow the path we have now found. Never been on it before, so it appeals to our sense of adventure.
The path takes us through some woods and to open fields which dip down towards the river again. We haven't walked far before we come to a narrow lane, which we cross. To our left the lane goes over a pretty bridge over the river, to our right is a beautiful stone house called Reaper Lodge.
We follow the path along the edge of fields with the winding river away to our left. The fields closer to the river are waterlogged, and one has a sizable lake in the middle of it.

It isn't long before we discover how wet this part of the walk can be. We pass through a crush-stile onto a narrow, fenced path only to see the path ahead totally submerged. A walker is making his way carefully towards us wearing wellies, so we decide to wait to hear his verdict. When he reaches us he admits that he thought his wellies were going to be swamped at one point, so we don't have much chance in our hiking boots. However, the rest of his walking group are apparently making their way through the adjacent field so we decide to do the same. We pass the group and are warned that we have to climb a gate or fence at the other end. No problem!

Of course, we hadn't taken account of Mollie deciding to be extremely dim-witted when we reach the gate. I go over the fence first, but Mollie won't follow. We try to encourage her to go under, over or through, but she appears to have brain block. In the end PC picks her up (no mean feat) and hands her over the gate to me before climbing over herself. Mission accomplished.

We're now in Alport, a village we have never visited before, and are immediately taken with how pretty it is. The name of the village apparently derives from 'Portway' (or Port-weg as the Anglo-saxons called it), an ancient, pre-roman trackway running from SE to NW and still used by pack horse teams up until the end of the 18th century.

The River Lathkill runs under the bridge and we spend a few minutes watching a dipper as it ducks and dives under the deep, fast flowing water before crossing over to the other side of the road. There's a red telephone box here - a fast disappeared British monument - and the start of walks along Bradford Dale. The bridge wall curves around and we notice that, set into it, is a stone pillar. It looks like the bottom part of an old cross and although there is a photo of on: I can't find any information about its date nor any other details.

We decide that we'll return to Alport at another time to explore further, but for now we must be on our way. We walk north out of the village then turn left onto the appropriately named Dark Lane which rises steeply from the road and is shrouded by trees. We're surprised at how quickly we climb and we soon have excellent views all around.

The top of Dark Lane - which is only a track but is open to traffic (beware the dreaded 4x4 brigade) - levels out and approaches a cattle barn. Here our plans change again. We had intended to plough straight on across the fields, following the straight line of the lane until we came to Noton Barn Farm close to Over Haddon. But there are cows in the fields. Lots of them. And right across the path. My aversion to cows kicks-in big time so instead we go through a gate (just into the cow field, but they are some distance away so we're safe) then turn sharp left to go through another gate into a field of sheep - much safer. From here the path takes us diagonally across a couple of fields to the Conksbury road.
When we reach the road we have the option of going straight on, and so directly to Over Haddon, or down the road to the bridge and back along the side of the river. Since the path across the road has been ploughed up and looks as though it will be very heavy going, we choose the second option and walk down the road instead.

We still haven't had lunch so we decide to sit on the single bench at the side of the river for a while. Except that the bench is already occupied! We carry on towards the weirs and find, instead, a fallen tree up on the hillside. Perfect.

We settle down on the natural seat and fetch out lunch; sandwiches, coffee and buns. Today the buns are a little on the large side - fresh cream apple turnovers with lots of apple and lashings of cream. A hopeful duck waddles up from the water, ignoring Mollie as it focuses on the buns. No chance! Not even Mollie will get a lick of cream.
It is extremely pleasant sitting here, and warm too. We can look down at the river and the path which has more walkers out now that the weather is holding good. And we have time to linger, to chat, to look at photos. Filled to the brim with buns and coffee there is very little incentive to move on!

But move on we must, eventually. We descend to the path then retrace our steps along the side of the river. When we reach the footbridge we stand in the middle to watch the water rushing beneath our feet, but Mollie isn't too keen. Then all we have to do is make the steep but steady climb back up the road to Over Haddon and the cars.
It has been a wonderful day in glorious weather, made better by us being able to cover ground we haven't been on before. And we've manged to find the start for our next walk too.