To start with the lay-by at Yorkshire Bridge is closed. The County Council's end of year rush to spend their road repair budget has targeted this lay-by (among many other stretches of the drive here!) which means driving up to the Heatherdene car park (excellent toilets but now a Pay and Display) and re-planning. Fortunately there is a lay-by a little higher up near the fishing centre, so we duly head there to park.
Already it is getting windy, blowing papers out of PC's car boot which then have to be chased down the road and recaptured. And it is pretty chilly, but the sky is clear and if it is going to rain it won't be soon.
On this stretch we meet some other dog walkers (one with a very friendly Jack Russell terrier) and a couple of small groups of hikers - looks like it could be a busy day.
When we come out on the small side road we turn right and pause on the bridge over the River Derwent to admire the view before turning left and looking for our next footpath. This path, on our right in a few yards, climbs upwards and brings us out onto the old railway line which now runs level and straight for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
It is pleasant, easy walking and despite the wind it is also quite mild. We are able to indulge in conversation without being troubled with map reading or too much of a view.
The trail (it is the linear Thornhill Trail apparently) dips to cross a minor road, then rises again at the far side. We spy a bench with a rather ugly pictorial monument next to it and decide to pause for a nip of Ramblers. OK, so we haven't been out long, and we were late setting off, but we feel the need! We sit, enjoy our drink and a chocolate treat, then some coffee, and as Mollie eats her biscuits we are greeted once again by the fussy Jack Russell terrier.
It is tempting just to sit here and gossip, we aren't that far off lunchtime, but if we stay we won't get going again so we press on.
The trail isn't too long, and it is straight, but we keep our eyes open for a path on our right which will take us up to the Thornhill road. Before we reach it we meet, yet again, the Jack Russell looking far dirtier than before. Mollie is ecstatic and greets the terrier like a long-long love. It's owner wryly informs us that the dog has rolled in something smelly and will be having a bath as soon at it gets home!
We soon reach our right hand path, a short but robust climb up a field, and emerge onto the road. Here we turn left and begin to walk towards the village of Thornhill, admiring the last of the snowdrops, the first of the daffodils and the hellebores which are flowering in abundance. The road loops around to the right and, ignoring the left hand turning, continues straight on, past the small church and to where the road becomes 'unsuitable for traffic'.
At least we know that we are unlikely to be dodging many cars on here even though there are some isolated houses. Once again we are looking for a right hand path, one we have been on before but in the opposite direction, and eventually we spot it half hidden in a hedge. It's a pretty steep stile from this direction - the field it leads into is a good 4 foot higher than the road - but we manage it before pausing to take our bearings.
Clearly not a terribly well used route we do manage to make out where the path leads to, which is across several fields and a number of stiles and extremely narrow crushes. One is so narrow at the bottom that Mollie cannot squeeze through and we have to take her along the field wall to a broken-down section where she can hop through easily.
We wait at one stile for a flock of suspicious and scraggy looking sheep to scamper out of our way before we proceed to the end of the path and a narrow gate which leads to a boggier section of path. Not too bad, though, as it hasn't rained much recently.
Emerging from this we come to a vague 'crossroads' where, after a brief debate, we plan out the rest of our walk, heading left and following the signpost pointing towards Win Hill.
This first section of the path is very boggy although some stepping stones have been considerately laid. Further on though the path has been churned up by less-than considerate cyclists. Surely they should be aware that cyclists are not allowed on Public Footpaths!
The path starts to climb a little but as we enjoy the opening views we are both quite surprised at the height we have reached with minimal effort. Of course, before long we do have a steeper stretch to negotiate, but overall it is a pretty painless ascent.
We can certainly feel the breeze up here, but it is sunny and it feels wonderful to be out. As we continue in a generally uphill direction the path runs along Thornhill Carrs - steeply up to our left, steeply down to our right. Mollie spots some sheep meandering along the right hand bank and trying to hide beneath a stunted tree. It isn't working.
Further on we decide it is time for lunch, so we find a comfortable spot sheltered from the wind and with wonderful views ahead. I have a traditional 'heavy salad' whereas PC is on the sandwiches. Mollie, of course, devours her biscuits then looks longingly at us as we eat our buns. Today's choice, an early Easter treat, fresh cream hot cross buns. With jam in them too. They are extremely good and Mollie is disappointed not to be asked to help.
As we finish our coffee we become aware of the chill; darker clouds are looming and the temperature has dropped. We pack up and return to the path which leads us straight to the base of the final climb up Win Hill. But that isn't our destination today, instead we head down, but rather than negotiating the steep Parkin Clough path we veer off on the track that angles away from it to the left. It still goes downhill and, as we hoped, meets the straight(ish) and gently descending path through the woods.
It's very easy walking now, an easy meander, and being in amongst the trees keeps off the wind. Soon we come to a gate on our right which, once through it, takes us down a rutted track to the road which runs alongside the western edge of Ladybower. Not far now fortunately as there is a distinct feel of rain in the air.
It doesn't take too long to reach the gate leading onto the dam wall, but not before I have skirted, and PC has studied, three frogs, two of them in a very amorous position!
We cross the walkway over the dam, the wind whistling through the railings and making a musical hum to accompany us. Soon we are on the road and walking back to the cars. We have enough time to take off our walking gear and sit for a while to plan our next walk, then the heavens open. Talk about lucky. Another 5 minutes and we would have been soaked.
So, despite not having had any particular plan for today, it has all turned out rather well. Fingers crossed that our next walk (semi-planned) is just as good.