Monday, 21 April 2014


Third time lucky for this walk which has been planned before but never managed. Today, though, the weather is clear and the forecast good. There is no way that we're not making it up to Alport Castles, despite PC's trepidation.

As usual we meet up in Fairholmes car park, surprised at how many people and cars are already there. Then we realise that for some this is already the start of the Easter holidays; no doubt it will get busier over the next couple of weeks. We have already decided to split the driving and make it a two-car walk, mainly to cut out around 2 miles of tedious road walking, so all the gear plus dog is put into my car and PC sets off first to park up at a small lay by near Birchenlee. Then we carry on in my car to park close to the start of our path to Alport Castles.

We can't believe how good the weather is, the sun is even shining for us although there is a distinct nip in the air. Still, it makes a change not to have to pile on the layers of clothes before setting off. Neither of us bothers with a coat, a first for this year!

Straight away we are through the gate and off the road, crossing the small bridge over the wide but shallow River Westend just before it feeds into the Howden Reservoir. Although there is a level forest track following the river we immediately take the 'high road', climbing up quite steeply through the trees on a well-worn path signposted with one of the old, green signs.

It's a steady climb and we are both feeling very optimistic. We are getting high up with relatively little effort. And we do prefer to get the climbing over with early on in our walks when we are fresh; there is nothing worse than a steep finish when your legs already feel like lead!

In a surprisingly short time we are emerge from the trees onto the open moor and are immediately taken in by the wonderful, far reaching views. This is somewhere we have never been before, despite years of walking around here, so we are making the most of it. As we climb higher, albeit on a softer gradient, we continue to pause to look back and take in the sights. The reservoirs, Howden Edge, Derwent Edge, Crow Stones Edge all gradually pull into view and we can't keep the smiles from our faces as we enjoy it all.

We pass some shooting butts and as the ground starts to level out we become a little suspicious. Surely we aren't near our destination already.

A few hundred yards on and to our absolute amazement we have arrived at Alport Castles. And what a view we have! Absolutely stunning, we had no idea it could be as good as this. Of course, we do have the weather for it (although it is distinctly cold now and we have pulled on coats and scarves) and we take a multitude of photographs. It is only just noon but since there is a small section of dry stone wall simply waiting to be used as a wind-break we decide we may as well make use of it and settle down for an early lunch where we can revel in the views.

A nip of Ramblers from the secret flask gives us a warm, inner glow and that is followed by scalding hot coffee. PC really knows how to heat the coffee! Sandwiches are rapidly consumed then we have the buns. Today, raspberry cheesecakes. They are so yummy that there is little left in the wrapping for Mollie to enjoy. Our second coffee is poured and we allow ourselves to linger as more walkers come up for the view and all but one return the way they have arrived. 

We pack up and vacate our places, only for them to be filled by the next couple who walk up to the castles! As we walk around the edge PC notices a bird swooping and diving. We know there are Peregrines and ravens up here (and a bird watching hut), but the bird turns out to be a kestrel, and it is dive-bombing a raven whilst making high-pitched screeching noises. Clearly it isn't happy with the bigger bird being in the vicinity and we watch for a while until all goes quiet. A shame we don't see any Peregrines, nor get a good close up of the raven, but it is still a pretty special experience.

From here is it a steady, almost easy walk across the narrow but distinct moorland path. We pass the path leading down to the Alport Valley and, ultimately the Snake Pass in the distance, but continue on ahead. We must keep stopping, though, to admire the views ahead, behind and all around us. This is a walk we will definitely be doing again!

Part of the path becomes a little boggy and we are glad there have been a few dry days of late, and a little way on the path has been flagged, no doubt to reduce the effects of erosion on the peaty moor. 

This is a lovely stroll, and although the sun has gone in and the wind is still chilly, it is pleasant, easy walking. There are sheep, birds and us. By now we can see no more walkers which is a treat on such a bright day.

This is undoubtedly the easiest section of the walk with its almost imperceptible downhill slant. We pass by Pasture Tor and Bellhag Tor which we have walked to in the past from the opposite direction, but today we barely notice them. 

Soon, though (too soon!) we are dipping down more rapidly, have the choice between a ladder stile or a gate (we choose the gate) then are walking through rough sheep pasture, descending all the time until we hop over another stile and walk down to the lane leading to Lockerbrook Farm. We see our first lamb here, but it quickly disappears from sight with its ewe as we turn left onto the track.

This is our final stretch of the walk, a long bridleway that can be a little rough underfoot in places. As it passes into pine woodland the fresh enticing scent of the trees is all around us, a once smelled never forgotten scent. Eventually the path descends more steeply then curves sharply before reaching the road. 

We're here, back on the road next to Derwent reservoir, and it hasn't taken us anything like the amount of time we expected it to. PC's car is in the lay-by waiting for us, so we load it up and drive the two miles to my car. As I swap gear around two men walk up to the vehicle in front of mine carrying bags of litter. They have clearly been up on the moors, and been cleaning up other people's mess as they go. They deserve a lot of credit for doing that, it is a shame so many people think it is OK just to drop their rubbish anywhere they choose. 

Still, it is time to go, and for a while as well. Not only does Easter interrupt our walking but PC is off sailing again. With good luck and a fair degree of determination I will try to do some walking on my own, hopefully with a greater degree of success than I managed last year.

But for now, we have managed to finish on a wonderful walk which will keep us going for a while.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


We really aren't having the best of luck with our planned walk. Postponed from last week (because of PC's poorly car, now better) we were hoping to do it today, but no such luck. The area has been in the grip of murky smog for some time now and it still hasn't cleared, so no point climbing up high or exposing ourselves to moorland when seeing more than a few yards ahead is all we can hope for. So, another change of plan.

First of all, though, I have to go and buy a new pair of walking socks (forgotten mine) and PC has to buy herself a sandwich (forgotten the food!). Fortunately the little shop at Fairholmes is suitably stocked.

We debate for a little while on how to do the walk, the complete circuit of the Howden and Derwent reservoirs is quite a long one and the road walking can be tiresome, so we decide to cheat a little bit. Everything is loaded into my car (rucksacks, waterproofs, dog) and, leaving PC's car in the small dam car park we drive in my car to a small parking spot at the old 'Tin Town' site. This is where the workers who worked on the dams lived and a small information board shows photographs and gives some details.

The weather may be pretty grim but at least under the trees the fog is a bit thinner, although we are hard pressed to see across the water to the far side. We walk along the road feeling quite smug that we have been able to cut out some of the tedious walking.

We are getting closer to the Howden Dam wall when a car stops at the side of us. Apparently a sheep has been attacked by two terriers and the occupants of the car have stopped to chase the dogs off, but are worried about the sheep. We discuss briefly what the options are and eventually direct them to Fairholmes as the warden there will undoubtedly know who the sheep belongs to. We, meanwhile, will keep our eyes open for the injured sheep and any stray dogs.

It doesn't take long to reach the sheep, it is on the opposite side of the fence and although it looks a little stunned it doesn't seem injured. There is no sign of any dogs other than Mollie who is happily walking on her lead.

Unable to do anything else, and feeling that the sheep is probably just shocked and will recover, we continue our walk. At the dam wall we see the water tumbling over the edge giving the sound of a constant waterfall. 

Past the dam we continue on our way with the murk parting in places to give us a glimpse of a view, but nothing too spectacular. There are a few cars driving along the road today, but they don't seem to be stopping at the far end as they are soon driving past us in the opposite direction.

We pass the sharp bend in the road with the path leading up to Alport  and continue slogging on. It isn't the best of stretches of road, especially without any view to liven things up.

Before long, though, we are on the last leg of the tarmac road and a car pulls up. Yes, it is the same people as before. The news is that the warden has phoned the farmer, but that the sheep was moving around when they last saw it.

We press on to the turning circle and nab the bench through the gate. We're hungry and although it isn't lunchtime yet we decide to have a snack. A warmer of Cointreau first from PC's secret flask, then a choice. Birthday buns (yes, I'm 21 again) - three lovely cupcakes, one yellow, one pink and one chocolate. I choose the pink one, PC goes for the yellow and, yes, we share the chocolate one (well, we weren't going to give it to Mollie, were we?) Followed by a cup of coffee (gingerbread latte as a treat) we feel suitably refreshed and ready for the next leg of the walk.

Now we are off the tarmac it feels so much better, even if the weather hasn't improved. In time we reach the bridge and our turning point, but a good photograph is out of the question even though PC tries.

Then we are on the way back on the rugged track. There are always fewer walkers on this side of the reservoir although it does attract the cyclists who like to do the circuit. Today, though, we only meet a couple.

We are surprised at how soon we reach the Howden Dam again, this time from the 'other side', and it sort of creeps up on us as we don't see the towers until the last moment. There is a bench here, but it isn't terribly inviting so we decide to press on to find somewhere else for late lunch.

We find another bench, eventually, near Abbey Bank, and settle down for lunch. PC brings out a celebratory bottle of plonk (lovely) and no sooner is it poured than a hoard of walkers arrive, seemingly intent on joining us. Eventually their leader arrives and urges them on a way, much to our relief.

The wine goes down very well and is followed by PC's bought sandwich and my salad. (Trying to be good today, and failing). Then come out more buns from PC's rucksack. They are superb, and I am glad I only had a salad! The remaining coffee has stayed warm in the flask so finishes off a good meal. Of course, there is now the temptation to snooze and let it digest.

Once we are sure the hoard of walkers has gone we set off again at a more leisurely pace. Clear, simple walking on a broad track offers no excitement and few distractions given that the sky has barely cleared, although we are just able to see my car parked in the trees on the far bank.

Within a short space of time we are on the final stretch, descending the steps at the side of Derwent's wall, crossing the grass in front then climbing again up to PC's car. We all pile in, and a short drive later I am deposited at my car and readying for the journey home.

It has been a good walk, and it always feels a challenge to circuit the dams. We know we sometimes cover greater distances but maybe that the flat unforgiving surface underfoot is what makes it so tiring.

We plan our next walk (again) and hope it will be third time lucky.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


You know what they say about the best laid plans? Well, today we practised it.
We had an excellent plan to do a long walk high above Derwent, mainly because we had a very early start and nothing to rush home for, which meant the luxury of time. However, our plans were scuppered.
First of all the weather. The sun of the previous days had given way to a misty drizzle and low hanging cloud over the hills with fog on lower ground. Not a safe option when we wanted to get high up. Nevertheless we met at Fairholmes car park with a vague hope of rescuing some sort of plan from the dismal weather.
Then the second spanner threw itself into the works. PC's car was acting up to the extent that she was worried that she wouldn't be able to get it back home after the walk. So we decided that it would be safer for her to drive it straight to the dealership (in Sheffield) and I would follow to make sure she was safe, and pick up any pieces on the way if necessary!
Once her car was deposited at the garage and PC, Mollie and the contents of her car boot were transferred to my car we made our way back out of Sheffield, our early start a mere memory.
So, by default, we decided to go to Damflask. Mollie needed her walk, we needed fresh air and it isn't too far from where PC lives making it easy to drop her off afterwards.

So we pulled up at the side of the road on the dam wall and looked over at the grey expanse of water and the incoming clouds which promised more rain.
We set off around the reservoir with no clear intention of how far to go although we hoped to stay out for our lunch. Then PC realised that she had left her sandwiches (egg - they'll smell lovely later!) in the car. I promised to share mine, which was probably just as well as we had 2 buns each today.

We made our way along the road then onto the narrow path running next to the water. There were enough dog walkers and joggers about despite the drizzle. A small flock of Canada geese pottered around at the water's edge, positively welcoming the threat of rain.

There were plenty of birds flitting around in the wooded margins between the water and the road, most of them well into their nesting and courtship rituals of Spring, although it doesn't feel terribly Spring-like today.
Our late start means that we haven't been walking for too long before we are ready for lunch and we luckily spot a perfect bench looking out over the water. Here we have a nip of Cointreau, coffee, a shared sandwich and two fresh cream eclairs each. Well, they aren't very big and they do make up for the disappointment of the curtailed walk.
As we sit we suddenly see a nuthatch poking its head into a hole in a tree directly in front of us. How on earth had we missed it? But by the time the camera is out to take a photo it has gone, and although we wait some time for its return, it doesn't.

But the rain returns again, along with hail and sleet, and we decide that we had better head back. It's no fun getting soaked.
So we return Mollie to her home, and I return PC to hers before heading back to my own. With some luck we might be able to go for our long walk next week.