Friday, 24 February 2012


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.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


First of all we'd like to introduce you to Mollie.

Mollie, as you can see, is an absolutely gorgeous border collie whose hobbies include walking and chasing sticks. She belongs to a friend of PC and we are to be her occasional 'dog walkers', although we think Mollie sees herself as a 'human walker' instead.

For this week's walk we meet at the Surprise View Car Park ready to do battle with the cursed Pay and Display machine that only takes card payments. It's special trick for today is issuing tickets completely devoid of details. Good one.

It is bitterly cold and there is a scattering of snow about, so we fortify ourselves before setting off. PC was concerned that we'd had the last of the Ramblers on our last walk so had brought some Cointreau (a bottle!) to fill up the secret flask. However, the flask had already been miraculously refilled (can't walk without the Ramblers) so we have a tot of the Cointreau anyway - well, no point in bringing it all this way and not trying it! And yes, it was good and suitably warming on this chilly day.

We head off across the car park and discover that Mollie isn't too used to being on the lead. She's a real puller, but once onto the path leading to Millstone Edge we are able to let her onto a longer lead. Later we'll be able to let her run which will hopefully tire her a bit.

On reaching the Edge we see the snow on the distant hills perfectly lit on this bright, sunny day - a good deal better than on our last walk up here. It's Candlemass today and, apparently, if the day is fine we're in for more winter. So it seems that we're pretty much doomed.

Mollie takes up a lot of our attention as we're walking along the Edge. It's a long time since we've had a dog for company and we're enjoying the novelty.

The path dips down and we take a left turn, walking carefully through the snow and ice. The ground, where it is bare of snow, is frozen solid and we're planting our feet carefully so we don't slip. It would be a hard landing. Partway down the slope and before we reach the road we cross the stile in the fence line to our left. Mollie watches us and we wonder how she'll take to it, but we needn't have worried. Patting the top rail of the stile and saying 'come on' has her leaping over with wonderful agility. Only wish we could do the same.

We make our way downhill through the brittle, brown bracken until we reach the path at the bottom running alongside a stone wall. A short way along and we find the gate leading into Whim Wood. At last Mollie can have a run and she teaches us to throw sticks for her - again, and again, and again. We play along, all that bending and stretching must be doing us some good.

At the exit to the wood it's back onto the lead for Mollie and a few paces up the road before we cross to the footpath leading towards Hathersage and Scraperlow Farmhouse (a Grade II listed building looking like a mini fortress). Again Mollie astounds us as she bounds up onto the stile, takes a few paw-steps on the adjacent stone wall, then lands with an 'easy-peasy' expression on the correct side. We take a little longer.

The first part of the path is the driveway to Scraperlow, but where the drive sweeps right we continue straight ahead and soon come to the woods by High Lees. We meet one dog walker coming to us from the opposite direction, but so far that's the only other walker we've seen all day.

On this path we're glad that it is so cold as the rutted ground shows what it would be like if the mud wasn't frozen solid. It wouldn't be particularly inviting. The woods, however, are pleasant and we must make an effort to come here at a more attractive time of year.

The path leads us onto a little lane running behind houses that front onto the main A6187 out of Hathersage, and there are some snowdrops trying to flower although it's probably a little shaded for them here.

We're soon onto the road and heading down to Hathersage and their conveniently placed conveniences. It isn't very busy today, the cold must be keeping everyone indoors, now that a few clouds have started to gather the great outdoors isn't as enticing.

Soon we're on our way again, and we cross the road before turning left on the B6001 towards Grindleford. There isn't much traffic and it isn't long before we're under the railway bridge and taking the left hand footpath which is part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. This runs alongside a very cold and bleak looking River Derwent.

It's flat, easy walking and we soon come to a gate being guarded by two bay ponies. They totally ignore us as we pass through the adjacent walkers' gate, but a black and white Shetland pony comes barrelling over to us immediately hoping, no doubt, to be fed. When it realises that we aren't going to be forthcoming with treats it turns its back and saunters off. Two other, grey, ponies a few yards further on don't even bother to lift their heads to look at us.

This is a long, wide field that slopes steeply up to the left. There is a small flock of sheep up there and we suspect they may be some kind of rare breed, but our knowledge is limited, to say the least. At the end of the field we go through a new-looking gate and onto a woodland path (Coppice Wood). There is a faint glimmer of sunlight but we can't find anywhere to sit for lunch so we carry on up the well-walked left hand path leading uphill and, eventually, over the railway line. Once away from the railway bridge we find a perfectly sized boulder to sit on for lunch.

By this time we have come to the conclusion that Mollie is a little bewildered. She's plainly used to walks that go 'there and back again' rather than just keep going, as well as walks that don't last so long. And as for sitting down to eat, she obviously thinks we've lost the plot completely. However she dutifully (gratefully) lays down as we break out the sandwiches and coffee and warm ourselves up with a nip from the secret flask. The Ramblers goes down very well as a few fairy-sized flakes of snow begin to fall. We ignore them and hope they'll go away.

After coffee, sandwiches and Ramblers the buns come out. They are our 'summer buns', not because we eat them in summer (although we do, given the chance) but because they are full of summer. Fresh strawberry tarts with creme anglaise. These are from M&S and we compare them with Tesco's Finest. Well, M&S tarts have more strawberries and a creamier creme anglaise with harder pastry. Tesco have a custardier creme anglaise but crumblier pastry. All in all, they're both exceptionally good, so no complaints.

Since Mollie wants nothing to eat or drink we pack up and head on up to the path leading towards Padley Chapel. As we approach we berate ourselves, yet again, for not coming to visit the interior when it is open and once again we put it on our To Do list.

We walk past the Chapel, and someone enjoying their lunch on the steps, and head down towards Grindleford, turning left onto the Padley Wood path before reaching Grindleford Station. It suddenly seems to be a long, steep haul up here and we remind ourselves why it is a bad idea to park our cars at the highest point of our round-walks as we always have to finish on an uphill stretch when we're beginning to tire. Not that Mollie seems tired. Although she's walking sedately on the lead now as soon as we're in the woods we let her off and she wants to play 'fetch the stick' again.

We always seem to be in these woods in winter, or at cold times of year, but at least it gives us the opportunity to see the wonderful twisted shapes of branches and trees growing around boulders. At the top of the wood a group are pitching a tent! and have slung a zip wire across the water. Rather them than us.

It isn't far to go now and we're trudging up the deep, hollowed pathway towards the road. Mollie is tired but seems to sense that we're closing in on our starting point, so when we finally cross the road and reach our cars she leaps into the back of PCs car at great speed and without any prompting.

We've done the walk in pretty good time and have really enjoyed having our new friend with us. But we are left wondering what the Candlemass prediction is for a day that starts fine but ends cloudy with tiny flurries of snow. Has winter gone, or is the worst yet to come?