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: http://www.derbsyshireheritage.co.uk 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.