Sunday, 10 March 2013


The weather couldn't be more different this week from last. Instead of sunshine with pockets of crispy snow we have fog, drizzle and a bitterly cold wind to contend with. And PC's unerring ability to lose her way!

We eventually meet up in the lay-by near The Grouse Inn on the A625 (Froggatt to Fox House) after PC has enjoyed a scenic drive-around in the area courtesy of her SatNav! The fog is pretty widespread and has been for some days, and though there is a cutting wind blowing it isn't actually clearing the murk.

It doesn't take us long to layer up then head up towards the pub where there is a stile into the adjoining field. We've been here in spring/summer and the field is a beautiful meadow, but today it is covered with a layer of farm-muck. Fortunately it has been down a while so there it isn't actually unpleasant, but it was probably a bit grim when it was first spread.

We cross the fields diagonally then pass through a gate onto a path at the top of Hay Wood. After getting our bearings (we've been here before and have found the multitude of paths criss-crossing the wood quite confusing) we head more or less straight ahead on a narrow path that starts to go downhill almost immediately. It's fairly muddy and we're careful not to slip. The trees surrounding us are mainly birch; tall, thin and spindly.

At the bottom of the path there is a rough crossroads and again we go straight on and continue descending. It is very pleasant in the woods, we're out of the wind and the fog seems to be clinging to the tree canopy rather than filtering down to us, but it is very popular. We've already seen more people out walking in the first half hour - mainly dog walkers - than we tend to see on a whole day's outing.

The downward path continues until it is following a wide stream, then we go through a gate and onto a lane with a little more substance to it. At the first house PC spots a clump of snowdrops at the entrance to the driveway, so goes up to photograph them. Once satisfied we continue between a number of cottages and a moss-covered drystone wall.

At the bottom of the lane we come to the village's 18th Century 3-arch bridge crossing the River Derwent, but rather than cross over we take the gate into the adjacent flat meadow and follow the footpath across it, which is part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. We cross over small but deep stream, a bit muddy on the far side, then follow a path to a gate where, on the other side, we are in woods again.

We don't walk far before we cross over yet another stream and pause at some boulders on the far side to sample one of my treats - not a nip from the secret flask today, but I've some of my Blue Russian (home-made Blueberry Vodka). I've tried it before, but I wanted PC's opinion, and I'm pleased to say that she considered it a success!

After the break we continue through the woods, then across a few fields (thankfully livestock-free) before coming to a gate and an extremely narrow crush-stile. Folk must have been a lot thinner in the days when these were first erected!

We follow the lane (Spooner Lane) to the bottom of Froggatt where the cottages cluster close to the river. We ignore Froggatt Bridge for now and go through a wooden gate when leads us to a path at the side of the river. We haven't been walking for long before we pause for PC to take a photograph of the bridge, and as she is preparing her camera I spot something on the other bank. A water vole! Ratty himself from Wind in the Willows. We are entranced, watching the well camouflaged wee beastie as it scuttles up and down the river bank, eventually slipping into the water and swimming gracefully downstream a little way. It is such a joy to see this rare and elusive creature, and we are seriously tempted to stay watching it for far longer than necessary, but eventually we move on.

Further along we find swathes of snowdrops at the side of the path, and PC is in her element! They look wonderful, and despite being white they do brighten up the monochrome day.

The path continues at the side of the river to New Bridge near Calver Sough, we climb up the stone steps onto the road, cross over the river then take the path along the opposite bank of the Derwent.

It is very different here, with marsh and wet-lands and a newt pond. We haven't gone far before we find a suitably placed bench where we sit down for lunch. We have a lovely view of the river and bridge as we eat our sandwiches, drink the coffee and enjoy the buns. This week we have fresh cream doughnuts with enough jam in them to dribble out stickily.

We know we are lingering for too long, so as soon as we have eaten we pack up (rucksacks lighter) and continue along the path. It is a broader path here and more open. We soon pass the spot where Ratty had been exploring, but no sign of the vole now, then we're at Froggatt Bridge.

Once across the bridge we retrace our way, meeting a four-month collie pup out with its owner. Mollie and the pup - young and (not too) old - sniff and make friends. We walk along Spooner Lane, renegotiate the narrow crush then cross the fields and into the woods. Soon we come to a right hand footpath which will give us some height, and the path higher in the wood is well marked on the map so we're feeling very confident.

We should have known better! After climbing the clear path turns right, which is fine, but then begins to deteriorate into a series of muddy quagmires. We manage to keep following the route though, the path appearing and disappearing from time to time with us making a few detours to avoid  the mire.

Arriving at a fence and wall we cross the stile (if it can be called that) then follow the barely visible path at the other side. It skirts a wall, then we cross a stream via a very high stone culvert/bridge before continuing until the path peters out. We press on, encounter a vast area of swollen water/mud and are forced to pick our way the best we can, holding onto overhanging branches and using partially submerged stones so we don't sink without a trace.

Eventually, after crossing another stream, we come to a broken section of wall with a clear path at the far side. We take the path which, naturally, disappears into nothing. We've come too far to turn back so we take our bearings, decide that we know what we're doing and where we're heading, so push on uphill through the trees and brambles.

Our endeavours are rewarded when we eventually reach a clear path - one marked on the map! As we reach it PC spots three deer amongst the trees ahead and to the right of us. They aren't far from the road, and they are moving away from us, but they do seem quite large. We weren't even aware that there were any deer around here.

On this path the walking is easy, but it is starting to rain. We continue until we come to the ragged crossroads we encountered this morning, so we turn uphill but then take an easier path that leads us past what was possibly an old quarry before passing a small car park and finishing at the gateway out of the woods. Then it is a short stroll across the fields and back to the cars.

The fog still hasn't lifted, but we aren't too bothered. It has been a good day, we've been pretty well sheltered and we have seen some interesting wildlife.

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