We meet in the layby at Alport, the pretty village close to Youlgreave, and as we pull on our layers we catch up with all the news since before the New Year. It seems forever since we were last out!
The weather has been pretty grim these last few weeks so we are hoping that we haven't picked a walk that is too muddy. We have been on part of the route in the past, but much of it is completely new to us so we don't really know what to expect.
In a field adjacent to the path are two very noisy, bossy geese who seem to be less than pleased to see us. PC chats to them as she tries to persuade them to pose for a photo (yes, honest) but I eye them warily and am glad that we aren't any closer.
The path follows the course of the River Lathkill (or is it now the River Bradford?) and we pause to admire the attractive packhorse bridge
but instead of crossing over the road and entering the Dale we turn left and walk up the road a little way. There is an old stone building in the field to our left, and just beyond it a signpost pointing across the field for the Limestone Way. This is the one we want.
To say that the Limestone Way is one of the major Derbyshire walking routes we are quite surprised to find that the path across this field, and subsequent ones, is not heavily used. It is well signed, though, which is an advantage when crossing fairly featureless fields.
We do have a couple of sections of mud and waterlogged ground to tip-toe through, and when we come to Bleakley Dike we find that one of the rickety stepping stones to the stile-gate is completely submerged beneath fast flowing water. Good boots a necessity!
In the end the ploughed field isn't quite as bad as we had feared - the farmer has 'reinstated' the path but it is still extremely claggy underfoot and at the far end we have to spend a while remove excess mud (and weight) from our boots.
Around the next bend in the path we have yet another wet and muddy section to negotiate, and a choice of routes. The Limestone Way turns sharply left to enter an unnamed wood, whereas the other path takes us through Harthill Moor Farm and adjacent to Castle Ring, and ancient earthwork. We decide to follow the Limestone Way so avoiding the farm, even though we don't have Mollie with us today.
The wood is quite dank and it is chillier here, not that we would call it particularly warm in the open. Still, we spy some rocks which look inviting enough to sit and have a drink (a nip of Ramblers to keep the chill at bay) and a huge triple chocolate chunk cookie to keep up going until lunchtime.
It is too cold to sit for very long so we continue on the path and reach a minor road where we decide to turn right, continuing on the Limestone Way, since we are well ahead of time. There is a farmer muck-spreading in a field at the top of the lane, but fortunately not in the field we plan to cross.
We spot what looks like some standing stones away to our left, and also have our first glance of the very impressive Robin Hood's Stride which we are now keen to visit.
We debate as we walk as to whether the stones are standing stones, a stone circle or the remains of a farm building, but we check the map and after a while they come into clearer view and they are, without doubt, a very impressive stone circle.
Ahead of us the most impressive rocky outcrop called Robin Hood's Stride (also known as Mock Beggar's Mansion or Hall) with its two pinnacles (Weasel Pinnacle and Inaccessible Pinnacle).
The sandwiches are typically boring but we have a small bottle of vino to help them down (long story, but not a celebration) and after the wine we have ginger muffins which are suitably gingery and sticky. The warming coffee is more than welcome after our lunch, and with the sun shining it is very tempting to stay for while, but we must press on.
We return to the path which is gouged deep between the Stride and the area which leads to Cratcliffe Crags. It is still the Limestone Way and is probably the route of the old Portway. We plan to return another day to explore the side near Cratcliffe Crags, and to find the Hermit Cave there.
We pass the turning the Birchover and continue until we spot the Bridleway sign across the road, and go onto the path gratefully. It is very muddy across this field but we are pleased that we don't have to paddle across Ivy Bar Brook since there is a double bridle-gate and bridge.
From here it is uphill, and slippery. Where the path narrows it is extremely churned up by cyclists and it is hard to keep our footing. Clearly no horses have used this track for a while as the overhanging hedgerows wouldn't allow mounted riders (or anything other than small ponies) to pass safely.
At the top we come out at a gate and cross a large sheep field with clear lines of old ridge and furrow ploughing. Sadly the lack of sun means there aren't any shadows cast so our photos come out flat rather than interesting. Shame.
The lane continues gently downhill and soon we find ourselves (as planned - always a relief) on the track next to the river on the way back to Alport. A short stroll now (and an absence of geese this time) and we are back at the cars.
The weather has turned dark and gloomy, it will undoubtedly rain later, but we have succeeded in having a very good walk and opened up new possibilities for us in the future.