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.