Thursday, 28 June 2012


A Wet Return After An Unexpectedly Long Break

It feels as though it's been forever since we last managed to get out on a walk (or posted on the blog), and it's been a grim few weeks. My father died in May, which would have been hard to deal with at any time, but his death fell right in the middle of school exams which made it particularly difficult for everyone. Now, however, despite still having a lot of sorting out to do we seem to be returning to something like normal. The exams are over (GCSEs for mine, A levels for PC's - and NO, they are NOT getting easier despite the media/political whinging) and we are all breathing a huge collective sigh of relief. Of course, now we have to wait for results day...

But for today we are determined to chill, and given the amount of rain falling on the drive to Castleton, chill is exactly what we will experience.

After a brief stop in the car park (excellent loos but coach loads of school trippers) we drive up towards Winnats Pass and the side of road parking spaces (free in the week, charges bank holidays and weekends). Then it's time to don all our wet weather gear. Admittedly we are currently in a 'window' without rain, but we're not expecting it to last. We debate on whether to take the brolly or not, PC has become a huge fan of it as a lunch shelter (she doesn't have to carry it!) so I relent and drag it out of the boot. Then we're off. Freedom!

This is a walk we've done before, but never in this direction, and we've chosen it because of its relative ease and time constraints. We set off up towards Winnats Pass, grateful that there is a pavement and surprised at how many cars are emerging from the mist on the pass. We haven't gone far before it starts to rain - the 'window' was obviously a small one.

The low cloud clinging to the tops of the cliffs looming over the pass stops looking pretty and begins to turn ominous, a long smothering blanket of grey. By the time we've passed the entrance to Speedwell Cavern the rain has turned torrential and the umbrella goes up. This could be distinctly unpleasant, but we're distracted by the amount we have to talk about and catch up on.

It's hard going today, a sign that we've lost a great amount of our fitness with the enforced break, but the weather (and balancing a big umbrella that we're both trying to stay under) isn't helping. We're actually walking in the misty murk now so even if the rain does stop (no promises there) we're still going to get a soaking. Good job we have all our wet weather gear.
Not much point stopping to admire the view - there isn't one - but we do have to be careful as we pick our way over the limestone outcrops near the cattle grid at the top of the pass, they are extremely slick and slippery in the wet.

By the time we reach Winnats Head Farm we can no long pretend that it's misty. This is fog, and not very pleasant when we need to walk a section on the road.

We follow the left hand main road then go through the gate on the left on the path signed Rowter Farm. We're into serious fog now, and are only aware of a farm truck coming towards us because we can hear it, it's invisible until it's almost on top of us. The rain has eased a little, not that it's much consolation. The sheep are looking as soggy as we feel. At least the track is straight and easy to walk on.

We pass the farm on our left (can't see it through the fog!) and continue straight on through a gate. There's a field full of buttercups on our right, and swallows skimming over the surface, but all we can see ahead is fog. We continue, we can't go wrong, surely. 

When you can't see where you're going everything seems to take so much longer and we begin to doubt that we're on the right path. Then, ahead, we see cows. I spot them first (my natural aversion to them obviously means that I am attuned to their presence) and we're a few yards further along before PC sees them. Fortunately they're behind a wall and gate, but PC stops to photo them. There haven't been many photo opportunities today.

Still the path seems unfamiliar, though we reason that we can't have gone wrong. After skirting some seriously large puddles we wrestle with another gate and find the left hand turning that we wanted. Of course we were on the right path, we knew it all along!

We wonder if this bit will be tricky - thick fog and a barren field to cross. But fortunately the wide, grassy path is clear enough (it is part of the Limestone Way) and we're able to progress confidently, brolly held aloft. The path slopes down and we're on the familiar, one-way track leading down towards Cave Dale and Castleton.

It's lunch time, but the rain is hammering (nothing new) and we would like somewhere a little sheltered before we stop to eat. Before we start the descent into Cave Dale we clamber up to our left and find ourselves a comfortable(ish) ledge to sit on with rocks behind us. After much juggling we manage to position the brolly over us and fetch out our supplies.

Naturally we start off with a warming nip from the Secret Flask. It's a mixture of Ramblers and Cointreau (long story) and is very good, just what we need to brighten up a chilly day. We follow this with the first cup of coffee (looks strange but tastes fine) then the sandwiches. Talk about working up an appetite. It's PCs turn to supply the buns and she's brought wonderful, gooey, rich chocolate muffins. They are excellent, and we'd almost forgotten the joys of eating special buns out in the open. What a treat. We finish off with another coffee, and despite the continuing rain we pack up to go, conscious of having to be early.

The walk down Cave Dale is interesting. The path, slippery limestone at the best of times, has deteriorated into a river bed, something we'd suspected might happen, so we're having to be especially careful. The Dale does look wonderfully atmospheric, though, with Peveril Castle perched high on the rocks like an avenging eagle.

It doesn't take us too long to reach the bottom of the Dale, which is always dark and gloomy, then we're out into Castleton.

A group of schoolchildren are huddled around the cross, soggy papers in hand, looking very miserable. We march straight past heading back to the cars.

Naturally, as we head back the rain eases, and by the time we reach the cars the sun is even making an effort to emerge. Meanwhile we're steaming as the temperature increases. (It doesn't last, by the time we're driving home it's pouring again.)

Despite the weather it has been a good, much needed, therapeutic walk. Fingers crossed we'll be out again, somewhere, next week.

And if you were wondering where Mollie is, she's off on her holidays with her owners. She'll be back soon.