We're back after half-term but it seems to have been a much longer break. And we'd waiting until the last minute to plan this walk given the uncertainty of the weather at this time of year. But we needn't have bothered. The forecast is good and we're raring to go.
We park up in the Chatsworth Car Park at the Calton Lees end of the estate (close to the garden centre) and are pleased that the little man isn't in his hut demanding money. Probably too early in the year and his wages would undoubtedly come to more than the parking fees even though there seems to be an organised walk congregating here this morning.
Avoiding the growing group of walkers (we're solitary souls) we have a quick catch-up with events, show off the buns (later, later) and tog up. The waterproofs are packed, just in case, and Mollie is let out of the car. She turns her nose up at the prospect of dog biscuits but seems excited enough as the prospect of a fun walk.
We head off across the road and after a brief stop at the garden centre loos we walk in the direction of Calton Lees. There are a few snowdrops flowering on the narrow verge as we approach the few houses that make up this tiny hamlet. The path we need is the bridleway which runs straight ahead and, very gradually, uphill. At the side of the path are some trees and a wide, fast running stream. We're well and truly into catch-up-on-all-the-gossip mode now, which is fine as we don't have to do any map reading or stop to enjoy the views just yet.
Mollie seems to be pacing herself this time but she is very interested in drinking from puddles. We come up to a lovely stone water trough fed by a stream from the hillside so we take Mollie to it. She isn't interested, which shows that it isn't only horses that you can take to water, but not make them drink! She's far happier with the puddles.
As the path climbs we can look back over the widening views towards Beeley Moor. Pausing to enjoy the scenery gives us the opportunity to remove a layer too as it has become appreciably warmer.
We follow the path between the houses at Calton Houses, enjoying the sight of huge clumps of snowdrops while being spied on by a large fluffy black cat. Mollie doesn't see the cat, which is probably just as well.
At the top of the path we come to a gate, go through it (or in Mollie's case, under it) and turn left. The path skirts the woods at Calton Plantations then doubles back at the other side before heading across an upward sloping field. To begin with the path is very clear, but this is deceptive. Before long it peters out and we play guess-which-way-we-need-to-go-now, a common game that we're becoming quite proficient at. After a brief consultation with the map we see that we should be heading to the edge of some woods with a tumulus on our right. Yes, we can see the tumulus up ahead and set off confidently, only having to veer off course a little when we see the gate in the fence line.
We're right on the edge of the woods now, and the sun has come out, and there is a small wall with some very flat stones on top just at bum height. It really is an opportunity too good to miss so we sit down, break out the Ramblers and relax. Mollie has found a dog biscuit on the floor (fallen from my pocket) and devours it greedily so we toss her some more and she eats the lot. Contrary dog!
We sit for a long time enjoying the sun, the company, the mellowing effects of the Ramblers, the silence (OK, apart from our constant chatter) and that away-from-it-all feeling. Who needs exotic locations?
We debate staying in our comfy spot for lunch but decide to press on so we walk through the woods following the path as it brings us out at the top of Manners Wood where we have a view (through the trees) of the far side of the Wye Valley. It's very easy walking ahead, but there are some muddy patches we have to avoid, and we are definitely going downhill. Eventually we have a steep stretch that is just a bit slippery and we end up where we'd walked a few weeks ago, at the welcome sign to Manners Wood and the path leading towards Bakewell Golf course.
Ignoring that route we turn left and are soon going downhill once again, but this time the path is narrower and decidedly muddier. At one point - the boggiest, naturally - we meet the only other walkers we've seen since leaving Calton Lees and we have to splosh past each other.
At the bottom of the slope we emerge from the woods onto shingle roads and turn left through a gate and onto the bridleway leading to Rowsley. The sun really is shining now and it is so hard to believe that it's February and not May. I can't remember having ever removed so many layers at this time of year before! We are getting a little concerned that we haven't eaten yet but, just as we're beginning to fret, we see a huge tree trunk inviting us to sit and enjoy the view. So we do.
Out come the sandwiches, flask and buns. Yes, they're fresh cream scones along with a small pot of jam each (cherry for PC, strawberry for me). It feels so good to be sat in the sunshine having a picnic. Even Mollie is enjoying the last of the biscuits.
It is extremely tempting to while away the whole afternoon here, but since we've never done this walk before we can't be exactly certain how long it will take for us to get back, so we hoist our rucksacks onto our backs and continue on our way. We pass through the woods called Bouns Corner and as we turn right onto the walled track heading downhill we pause to admire the moss covered stones. Clearly there is little sun and a lot of moisture here as the moss is thick, springy and very strokeable.
It's a long track down towards Rowsley and this part of the village is very charming. The most we see of the village is when driving through, but here, near the church, it is quiet and tranquil. There are some farms at the bottom of the lane and at the side of one we notice the old green metal signpost for Calton Lees and the path we need to take.
Here it is seriously muddy, churned up by walkers, tractors and other farm machinery. Possibly even cattle too, but I don't want to think about that. The wide track goes under the old railway arch and continues ahead, easy to follow but still very muddy. On the right is the River Derwent flowing deceptively fast and deep.
Eventually the mud runs out and walking becomes easier again. Amongst the trees close to the river are a few clumps of snowdrops, whether naturalised or planted deliberately it is hard to know. Eventually we go over a gate and are in a long, broad field which follows the river. It is flat, mud-free and basking in the sun. When we come to a wall we realise that we haven't been following the proper path, a common occurrence it seems as the farmer has helpfully put up a sign directing walkers up the wall-line to the proper path.
Once on track again we go through the wide gap in the wall and continue straight ahead through all the sheep, some of them stamping in annoyance when they see Mollie. She, sensibly, ignores them. Ahead there is another stile to negotiate then a short, sharp uphill stretch. At the top we can stand by a tree and enjoy the wonderful views bathed in warm afternoon sunshine.
We go through a gap in the wall (thank goodness we don't have to climb the ladder stile next to it) then follow the wall down to Calton Lees. Fortunately we can go through a gate here instead as the stile doesn't look very welcoming (unless you have abnormally long legs). As we wander through the hamlet we are forced to stop and admire a beautiful garden complete with stream, summerhouse and swathes of snowdrops and bright yellow aconites.
It isn't a long way back to the car park now and as we get closer we realise that the sunshine has brought people out in droves. I bet the Duke wishes his little man was collecting parking fees after all.
It's really hard to head off home when the walk and the whole day has been so good, but duties call. Next week our walk will have to be much shorter - both in time and distance - but we don't intend to miss out altogether and are keeping our fingers crossed for another fine day.