Saturday 8th December - It's a fair way home
The advertised leader was unavailable for the published, circular walk from Fairholmes to Alport Castles. The indomitable Martin Vincent, aided and abetted by the valiant Dianne Scolari, however, generously stepped into the breach and together they led us on a worthy alternative ramble from Fairholmes, via Derwent Moors, towards Moscar and back via Ashopton. Given that they had not had the time to do a reconnaissance and iron out any wrinkles, this was a demonstration that, if you trust your map, your judgment and your fellow walkers, the wonders of L’Oreal, Nivea or Hyaluronic Acid may not be needed. Martin and Dianne led with good humour, consideration, skill and the navigational assuredness of homing pigeons.
Although the weather forecast suggested that this was going to be a day best suited to ducks, ten of us defied the threat and bravely arrived along the banks of Ladybower Reservoir ready to rumble. As it happened, once we set off, while the winds continued to blow quite strongly, the skies turned from black to blue and suddenly the sun had got his hat on. Visibility was good and we enjoyed some breath-stealing, sunlit views. So it remained until our lunch stop, by which time the skies had darkened again and soon it was sandwiches in the rain at the picnic tables at the Ladybower Inn. The ‘cats and dogs’ eased slowly as we returned to our cars but drowned rat syndrome had affected us all.
Having taken advantage of the splendid facilities at Fairholmes Visitor Centre and walking past the ever impressive dam wall of the Derwent Reservoir, we headed along Derwent Lane in respectful search of the “lost village” of Derwent. The “lost village” was deliberately flooded between 1935 and 1943 to make way for Ladybower but it has been much in the news recently because very low water levels have permitted its re-emergence and thousands of tourists have visited the site. Sadly, among the visitors were some vandals and souvenir collectors. Stone was either thrown into the mud or taken away, and a few callers even scribbled their names or left messages on the exposed parts of the ruins. We found our quest and were soon pleased to uncover evidence of a church and what looked like a distant hump-back bridge. Then, just as we were congratulating ourselves on our Sherlockian deductive powers, a local befriended us and enlightened us with her knowledge and photographs on her mobile. She informed us that, owing to the autumnal rains, some of the village, including the remains of the former Derwent Hall, had again sunk under the rising water levels and our “hump back bridge” was, in fact, a former pump house. As Nebuchadnezzar could attest, “pride precedes a fall.”
Resuming our walk, we began to climb Grindle Clough and part of the way up we found ‘shelter’ from the winds and enjoyed our sunny elevenses in a rebuilt barn with a wooden carved lintel, depicting its former use on a packhorse trail. A further, sustained climb in the direction of Wheel Stones followed our break. As the winds gathered strength, we continued to climb, walking east, along the path of the numerous grouse butts on Derwent Moors in the direction of Moscar and slowly our descent began, dropping 100 metres in a just over a kilometre. Then, approaching Moscar House, and after we investigated some harrowing equipment, we turned south and came down a watery, boggy section, losing another 40 metres in the process. Now, as we shadowed the westerly route taken by the double line of wooden electricity poles, it became obvious that dark, menacing clouds were gathering in the distance and moving in our direction. More imminently, however, were the little challenges of crossing some fords with their streams swollen by recent and overnight downpours. No one fell in.
In Ladybower Wood, an example of now scarce upland oakwoods that once widely covered the gritstone edges and moorlands in this part of the Peaks, we found an informative post with the word “trees” etched on its side. However, inside the post, rather like an old railway signal, was an arm that could be raised and it gave some helpful guidance about how to recognise rowan, birch and sessile oak. Very quickly thereafter, we descended further to arrive at Ladybower Inn. The spits and spots gathered momentum. Then the rains began in earnest and continued, in varying strengths, for the rest of the afternoon.
Eventually, we had to leave the Inn and venture outside again. We retraced our steps briefly and then climbed to find ourselves at the back side of the pub, on a high path running parallel to the road below. Views over Ladybower were misty but hypnotising. We passed by another “lost village”, Ashopton, before joining the western path along the side of the reservoir and returned to our vehicles. We were wet but with a sense of pleasurable tiredness and achievement. The walk had been one of two halves.The morning landmarks and views were engrossing and we had been blessed with sunny, though windy, weather. The afternoon weather was against us but there was still interest, together with more fresh air and moderate exercise. We had good company all day. Well-earned thanks are owed to Martin and Dianne for conjuring up such an enjoyable walk and at such short notice too.
Saturday 1st December - Let's keep it local as winter is near
Dull, damp and gun-metal grey weather seems to have dogged the last few Saturday walks, but despite the unwelcome persistence of miserable mist and mizzle, eleven jolly adventurers, and Archie in a fetching purple rainproof, assembled outside St. Bartholomew’s Church, in Maltby, keen to enjoy the day’s offer of an easy, 11 mile leg-stretcher in the attractive rural environs. A few of us had the good sense to park on the roadside and walk down to the church, but a few too many decided to park on the rough open space adjacent to the church hall, causing a degree of incommodiousness to nearby householders. An upstairs window opened. Pleasantries were exchanged. An incommodious car moved. A delicate diplomatic incident was averted. Goodwill prevailed and the church hall toilets were opened for our convenience.
The pre-walk briefing was delivered, in the drizzle, with considerable panache by our experienced leader, Ash Wilson, who outlined the main highlights of today’s “classic” Ramblers walk. So, with appetites whetted and coats damp but hearts warm and spirits high, we started off south-west, following the often wooded line of Maltby Dyke, better known locally as Maltby Beck, towards our first objective - the dramatic remains of Roche Abbey. Although we reached the ruins in just less than an hour of leafy, muddy walking, the monastery gatehouse offered a dry sanctuary in which to have our tea-break and chocolate ceremony, after which Dianne captured our interest and imaginations, sharing her impressive knowledge of the Cistercian monks at Roche (1147-1538) and the monkey business that led to the dissolution and despoliation of the monasteries. Interestingly, you will not be surprised to learn that Robin Hood attended Mass at Roche Abbey or that Lancelot “Capability” Brown landscaped the area, demolishing buildings and moving large amounts of earth to be able to turf the site and plant trees to make an attractive parkland. Roche Abbey was thus effectively buried for 150 years and only in the 1920’s was it excavated and returned to its present condition, with, in particular, the surviving parts of the walls of the north and south transepts still affecting in their ruined splendour.
After elevenses, we ambled along the northern and eastern sides of the the site, impressed by the monks’ management of the beck – building many bridges, situating their latrines so that waste was washed away, damming the stream to make it flow faster and making ponds for fish. Next, we walked through King’s Wood and near Colonel’s Holt. Dianne dazzled us again. Apparently the Holt was named after Colonel Anthony St. Leger who took an estate at nearby Firbeck, where he bred and raced horses. Subsequently, in 1776, he established a two-mile race for 3-year-old horses, on Cantley Common in Doncaster. This was to become the St. Leger Stakes, the fifth Classic of the Flat season. (There is a prize of clogs for those who can name the other four and it may help if you are called Alec.)
Before long, the sight of the lofty and elaborate spire of the mostly 14th century Church of All Saints in Laughton-en-le-Morthen hove into view. This distinctive spire, a dominant landmark sited on a hill once shared with a Norman motte and bailey castle, can be seen in Lincolnshire on a clear day. We circled the village, crossing over the ominous Hangsman Lane to approach the church again from the south. The church was preparing for its Christmas Fair later in the day, but we, no doubt giving a convincing impression we were wet, lost souls, were generously invited in to have a look around and enjoy some comfort from a warm beverage. (Donations were welcomed.) We soon learned of a facility that might appeal to other Ramblers whose walks do not have easy access to refreshments en route, namely that Gill Ramsay, The Bean Rover, (07540 327856) will travel in her land Rover to provide crafted coffees and other good stuff by prior arrangement. As we left the church, Dianne shared her considerable learning about how the village came to be named.
After we left the church, it was but a hop, skip and a jump to reach our lunchtime destination – The Travellers Rest at Brookhouse, which has a restaurant, bar and gardens. Sandwich eaters found shelter, tables and chairs in a handy marquee before joining the others inside the main building and sampling the warm welcome and further beverages. Green and Black’s roasted almond dark chocolate also made an appearance, although rather a brief one given how quickly it was consumed.
As is often the case, there was a hill to climb after our lunchtime relaxation. First it was up a lane, then further up and over some fields but our benevolent leader regulated the pace appropriately until we all spontaneously speeded up, like one of those fast-moving Benny Hill chases, to escape the menacing, intrusive interest that three large horses took in us and Archie. It was a relief to be able to close a gate on them and then make progress through some more, horse-free, open fields and pleasant woods before we reached Carr and then Hooton Levitt, one of four villages in the county to carry the style of Hooton. (More clogs to be won if you know the other three villages without consulting Google.) Then, we enjoyed a rather leisurely, half-mile descent on firm, man-made terrain to reach our starting point again, by which time the mizzle had just about stopped. This was a very enjoyable outing. Thank you Dianne. (There isn’t really a test next week, is there?) And thank you Ash for skilfully and cheerfully leading this engaging and pleasurable walk. TJ
Saturday 24th November - Much to Admire from Redmires
Although the weather on the drive from Doncaster to Sheffield was grey, cool and damp, it was only when we reached Crosspool and climbed towards Redmires Reservoirs that the mist started to gather and then slowly and steadily thicken. By the time our cars were neatly parked, all in a row, visibility was down to about 80 metres (87 yards for those of you who have not been metricated). This cold and rheumy mist hung around our shoulders like a clammy, clagging mantle for the rest of the morning, restricting our views and vistas but it did not dampen our spirits. Instead, in a speech reminiscent of Henry V before Agincourt, our walk leader and seasoned rambler, Steven Ruffles, addressed us, ‘his band of brothers’, in rousing terms, explaining how we were about to do battle with the unfriendly elements (wind, fog, possible rain), the challenging terrain (hills, mud, watery peat-bogs) and an abnormal timetable that required us to eat our sandwiches much earlier than usual. Then, having counted us to be eighteen in number, with Alfie, a tireless Springer Spaniel, he concluded his pre-walk briefing with more stirring words that galvanised us even further, “ we few, we happy few, regret that ramblers now a-bed in Doncaster shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here and did not walk with us upon this Black Saturday.”
Suitably uplifted, we followed our inspiring leader on a testing climb, along a gravel path, to find ourselves at the intriguing Stanage Pole, a well-known landmark and VIP (Very Important Pole) on Hallam Moors. It first appeared on maps from 1723 but its origins are probably much older. It is on an ancient packhorse route, carrying mainly salt from Cheshire, known as the Long Causeway and would have been a useful guide and reference point for travellers over the centuries. Today’s incarnation is made from a larch tree trunk and standing at a height of 438 metres (1437 feet) above sea level, it denotes the border between modern Derbyshire and South Yorkshire but possibly goes back to the times when the ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria shared this boundary. We spent some time examining the pole and the surrounding, supporting boulders, arrayed in bits of deeply-inscribed graffiti (letters and dates) from times past.
Very soon we were on Stanage Edge, a gritstone escarpment popular with all sorts of walkers, runners, mountain bikers and rock-climbers. It is over 1.8 km long (a mile or so) and up to 20 metres high (66 feet). Some climbers daub it “the finest crag in Britain”. In fine weather conditions, it does offer breath-taking, stunning views of the Dark Peak moorlands and the Hope Valley, but today, if the mist had been any deeper and denser there might have been a minor re-enactment of that fateful scene in Hardy’s novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, when a couple of hundred sheep accidentally hurl themselves off the cliff. We had other sorts of fun – re-creating the moment of Keira Knightley’s iconic, windswept stance (in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice ) on a particular rocky outcrop, searching for and finding Robin Hood’s Cave and enjoying the boundless pleasures offered by a trig point.
Having followed the flat, boulder-strewn path south-east for a while, we then descended some steep, demanding, gritstony passages to reach sandy, clay coloured tracks that eventually led us to Upper Burbage Bridge (no ice-cream van today!), where, in close proximity to the first of the impressive river tunnels under that bridge, we had our welcome elevenses, early sandwiches and a generous choice in the chocolate-sharing ceremony (mint Aero or dark almond). Re-energised, we walked along Burbage Rocks a short distance before veering off, across boggy Burbage Moor, in the direction of those distinctive, wind-sculpted rocks, known as Ox Stones and another trig point nearby. After so much open moorland, it was a pleasure to see – for the mist was slowly starting to thin - trees in Lady Cannings Plantation, a commercially managed, coniferous, woodland on the edge of the Peak Park, close to Ringinglow.
Our pub stop was at The Norfolk Arms, an inviting country inn, where we all eventually gathered for a beverage of some sort, a seat and/or a bit of a warm. Opposite the inn was a commanding Grade II listed octagonal building, apparently a former turnpike road toll house, built about 1778, no doubt erected with the profits from the road that was constructed twenty years earlier. When we left the pub, we emerged into unfamiliar brightness. The mist had gone. There was some occasional sunshine and a bit of blue sky to gladden our hearts. (We’re not hard to please.) Someone began to sing the Barbra Streisand/Frank Sinatra classic “On a clear day...” Down the road we went, towards Sheffield, before we scrambled north, down dale and then up hill to follow a delightful, babbling Porter brook that eventually led to a circular metal toposcope on a stone plinth, near Greenhouse Lane. Again our attention was captured by this feature, erected with American connections, and showing, inter alia, which direction we could follow if we wished to go to Chicago.
After encountering some more steady climbs across open fields and mastering a variety of stiles, we reached Rud Hill and its weather station, but from afar – yes, we could see glorious distances now - it looked like a motte and bailey castle. Then it was a slow descent over scrubby, boggy moorland again, with waymarked paths running parallel to Stanage Edge, from which we could see one and a half of the group of three Redmires Reservoirs (imaginatively named Upper, Middle and Lower), one being fairly full, a second being half empty and the Upper entirely empty, owing to extensive reconstruction works. A little further on and suddenly our roadside car parking sprang into view. We had no hesitation in thanking Steven effusively for his flawless and considerate leadership throughout the day and the two backmarkers who also fulfilled their role in an exemplary manner. It may have been a walk of two halves owing to the weather conditions, but it was all entirely interesting and enjoyable.
Saturday 17th November - Christmas is nearer than you think
When, almost two hundred years ago, John Keats penned those famous lines about autumn being the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, he was probably experiencing conditions such as we enjoyed today walking in glorious open fields, by a sprinkle of reservoirs, along country lanes and through woodland and moorland from Langsett Barn to Bolsterstone and back. After prolonged efforts, the shy, weakening sun did finally emerge through the clouds, but much of the morning’s and early afternoon’s distant vistas were only dimly visible as if through a veil of mizzle, punctured fleetingly, now and then, with shafts of piercing light lancing through the haze. The greenery on the trees had converted to their seasonal russet hues and golden tints, while underfoot there were often soft and pampering carpets of colourful fallen leaves. Fallen apples lay on the ground, berries bedecked the bushes and calves suckled in the fields. Ken Dodd would have registered how tickled he was by the general ‘plumptiousness’ all around.
Altogether, eighteen of us and Archie, the well-behaved Spaniel, turned up for the moderate 10 miler, arranged by Margaret Freestone, our adroit and accomplished leader, who outlined the walk, the timetable for the day and warmly welcomed Lillian and Rasha to the assorted group of more regular members, all gaitered, gartered and girded and keen to be off. So set off we did, and as we gathered at the Waggon and Horses, kindly motorists did allow us to cross the busy A616 Sheffield-Manchester road to reach the Bank View Cafe, also known as “the Spotty Cafe” because it has sported pinky-red polka dots since the Tour de France passed by in 2014. Soon we were climbing over stiles of various types and heights, squeezing through kissing gates of various widths (only just, for those of us carrying large rucksacks) and navigating muddy, watery tracks of various depths but all the while relishing the lovely surroundings, especially the cascading rivulet we stopped to admire just before we reached the attractive hamlet of Midhopestones, complete with its commemorabilia of the second leg of the 2014 Grand Depart. Not long afterwards, we passed by a residential Outdoor Activity Centre, offering over twenty pursuits such as canoeing, a climbing tower and ‘weaseling’ (answers on a postcard, please) before fully encountering our second, much depleted, reservoir of the day, Underbank, where we stopped to savour the scenery, the milieu and our elevenses. A nearby, lonesome fisherman did not seem to be having much luck.
Leaving the handsome wooded paths of Underbank behind us, we were soon on well-defined tracks over Whitwell Moor and beginning our first major ascent of the day, a steady few hundred metres of inclination, but our leader was considerate both with a sensible pace and allowing for rests at appropriate stages. When we approached Hunger Hill we could see Broomhead Reservoir in the misty distance, and, along our path, but in someone’s private gardens, a number of engaging sculptures, including a magnificently hewn, giant stone harp with ‘Cead Mile Failte’ inscribed in green on the soundbox. A shamrock on an iron gate led some to tentatively conclude that perhaps there was a Celtic, possibly, some suggested, an Irish connection. Next we travelled down Heads Lane and that led to busy, crowded Bolsterstone, bustling with lots of children and excitement because of its Christmas Fayre in the Village Hall and musical events in the Church. Our generous leader allowed us a longer than normal lunchtime to allow us to choose from, or adventurously combine, various options. We had time to have a bite to eat (Water Buffalo burgers proved a big attraction). We could sample the tearooms in the village hall along with the multiplicity of come-hither stalls of motley merchandise. The entertaining, youthful choirs in the Church were another possibility. The local pub was also open. A few, however, chose to relax and recline on various empty benches, and, contentedly eating their own snap, watch the Village People. (They were sadly disappointed: the sailor, cowboy, policeman, leatherman, Native American and construction worker were not to be seen.)
Given the variety of Bolsterstonian enticements, not everyone gathered at the appointed time after lunch but once the eighteen had reassembled, we returned, revitalised, to our ramble in high spirits and with rucksacks now stuffed with items such as cuddly dogs, miscellaneous jams and cakes, and, for some, raw buffalo burgers and sausages. We retraced some of our steps until we arrived just beyond Hunger Hill again where, as the sun began to appear, we veered off left to visit the trig point (at 359 metres) and this white, concrete pillar provided minutes of fascination, instruction and amusement. Setting off again, this time in the direction of Midhope Reservoir, we walked alongside walls, over some challenging stiles, across fields and moorland, all with some interesting livestock and tree configurations on the way. A few further slopes were conquered and it was not long before we found ourselves at the dam wall of Langsett Reservoir again, the waters calm and tranquil, and with a leap and a bound and a small ascent, we had completed our circuit, returning to the car park. It was an invigorating outing, well led throughout the day and we had loads of fun along the way. Thank you, Margaret.