Saturday, 18 March 2017

Five Dales Walk

Saturday 23rd July 2016

After a dull, wet start to July last year it was a relief when the sun finally came out for the last week or two of the month and I was able to go for a walk with the Peak District beckoning me so I drove up the M1 to Miller’s Dale Station that lies on the disused railway line between Matlock and Buxton. The walk that I ended up doing was actually one that I’d originally done way back in 1998 and was based on a walk that I’d found in a book of my father’s called ‘On Foot in the Peak District’. To make a change I decided to do the walk in the opposite direction, so from the station I headed into Monk’s Dale, which I remembered from nineteen years ago was really tricky underfoot. After the recent wet weather it was very damp and slippery at the bottom of this dark, narrow, wooded valley, but it was also gloriously overgrown underneath the dense canopy with moss everywhere and vegetation encroaching on the slimy rock path from all directions. As magical and eerie as the place was I spent most of my time concentrating on keeping a secure footing rather than absorbing the fabulous surroundings.

Beyond a road the valley continues into Peter Dale, but after a short rock-walled ravine the valley deteriorates into a broad grass-covered valley that had been churned up by grazing cattle and made the surface almost as difficult to walk upon as in Monk’s Dale, but without the compensation of trees and plants. When I reached a second road I was in no mood to continue into Hay Dale so I turned right onto the road and followed it out of the valley and over the hill into the picturesque village of Tideswell. On reflection I think I must have taken the first road in 1998 and missed out Peter Dale, which in the end wasn’t worth the diversion, and is not included in the five dales of the title. After passing through Tideswell and the smaller village of Litton I turned off the road and dropped into small Tansley Dale that soon leads into the pretty Cressbrook Dale. Tansley Dale was covered with little meadow flowers and there was a stunning arrangement of wild flowers at the junction between the two dales that frustratingly was at the same time as problems with my camera.

Cressbrook Dale is as wooded as Monk’s Dale and had a little of the damp conditions underfoot, even though it’s not as narrow. It was still great surroundings to be walking in until I reached a couple of cottages that heralded the start of more road walking. So far on this walk I felt like I had been encountering either slippery rock within dark, damp valleys or walking along a dreary road and this road took me down to Cressbrook Mill. On the other side of the mill is Water-cum-Jolly Dale, which is a well-known valley that I have walked through many times since I was a child. The scene of the wide expansion of the river below a dramatic limestone cliff face that is very popular with climbers is a very familiar one. However for some reason I wasn’t particularly enthused by this stage of the walk, maybe because it is so familiar, or because I’d already been depressed by the road walking and by the wet conditions underfoot elsewhere.

The valley soon becomes Miller’s Dale and eventually I reached Litton Mill where I once again encountered a road that I had to walk upon, though there are some dramatic cliffs that loom above the road and the grass verges are filled with many wild flowers. This road eventually leads to the village of Miller’s Dale where I had parked my car, however rather than climbed up to the station I continued beside the river to enter Chee Dale. I remember doing a walk a couple of years ago through Monsal Dale to Miller’s Dale and Chee Dale, and now I was really just copying that walk for the simple reason that I love Chee Dale. This valley is even narrower than Monk’s Dale and just as damp underfoot, so I think with hindsight this walk would have been better if done after a long dry spell as these narrow valleys hold onto moisture for a long time making walking at the bottom of them slippery if there has been rain recently. I still loved walking through Chee Dale as there are some really spectacular sections that require a bit of scrambling where the valley enters a narrow ravine with sheer rock walls either side.

The path is forced onto stepping stones on the edge of the river at this point as the valley is so narrow the river fills the entire valley bottom. Normally I am able to take in the awesome surroundings, but on this occasion my mind was mostly on trying not to slip on the damp rocks. Eventually the valley opens out and splits into Great Rocks Dale and Wye Dale, but this was as far I was going to walk so I climbed up onto the Monsal Trail and followed the course of the old railway line all the way back to Miller’s Dale Station. On paper this should have been a good walk, but maybe it wasn’t sunny enough, or dry enough underfoot. My original walk, of 1998, had not gone through Chee Dale, but I felt motivated to tag that diversion onto the end of this walk simply because I hadn’t really been enjoying the walk up to that point, and always love Chee Dale.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Ivanhoe Way, section seven

Saturday 2nd July 2016

Just one week after my aborted walk on section six of the Ivanhoe Way I was back at the car park for the Billa Barra Local Nature Reserve to resume my circuit of the long distance trail. Unfortunately this is not a particularly interesting section as it passes through many farmers’ fields that I find rather dull mainly because of a lack of wild flowers. The weather was no help with largely overcast skies and only an occasional bit of sunshine. Soon after starting I turned off the road into a delightfully wild area that has a wonderfully abandoned look about it, just north of the village of Stanton under Bardon. The course of a mineral railway for the Old Cliffe Hill Quarry passes through this area that is being reclaimed by nature to produce a fascinating area to wander, but is sadly far too small and I was soon passing between the back of the village and allotments. A track follows the edge of the village to enter a typical National Forest Wood after crossing a road.

The ground underfoot in this wood was particularly wet and boggy leaving my shoes saturated by the time I emerged from the wood and entered the first of the arable fields that typifies this part of the Ivanhoe Way. Just before reaching the village of Bagworth I encountered the National Forest Way, which heads north towards Bagworth Wood with a variation of the Ivanhoe Way. Since I had taken that route while on the National Forest Way I decided to head straight on, passing under the Ivanhoe railway line and into the village of Bagworth. There I was joined by the Leicestershire Round trail that follows the Ivanhoe Way for the next five miles almost all the way to the end of section seven at Shackerstone. I was captivated by the lovely, little blue flowers that filled the first couple of fields out of Bagworth and curious about what there were until I discover a label identifying them as linum usi, or in other words, flax and used to make linseed oil.

After passing through another young wood: Underhills, that has a picturesque pond in the middle of it, the trail passes through more dull fields. On the approach to the village of Nailstone I had to battle through several fields of dense, overgrown oilseed rape so that although some ox-eye daisy started appearing in gaps between the rapeseed I was greatly relieved when I finally reached All Saints Church in Nailstone. This ended section six of the Ivanhoe Way, but I didn’t stop there as I continued on passing a charming arrangement of poppies in an overgrown road corner on the outskirts of Nailstone. Before reaching the hamlet of Odstone I could see a field that was full of red flowers, presumably poppies, but frustratingly there was no way that I could get there as there is no public access. It was annoying that I couldn’t get a closer look at what must be a charming wildflower meadow.

There was nothing else of interest in section seven of the Ivanhoe Way until the Leicestershire Round finally parted company to take a different route into the village of Shackerstone as I came off a farmers track to follow a footpath through more oilseed rape to eventually bring me into Shackerstone where the preserved Battlefield Line Railway has its base. The Ivanhoe Way ends in Shackstone, however since I had started my circuit on section four I had not finished yet, but I had finished for this walk. Now I needed to get back to Billa Barra so I joined the Leicestershire Round heading out of the village, briefly beside the Ashby Canal before rejoining the Ivanhoe Way back towards Odstone. I wasn’t going to stay on the Ivanhoe Way all the way back to Billa Barra as I parted company in Odstone taking an easy footpath that passes Odstone Barn Farm until just before I reached a sewage works.

The path between a stream and the access road for the works was completely overgrown with deadly hemlock, stinging nettles and thorny bramble. Unfortunately such overgrown paths are not unusual. After crossing a main road I entered a large wood that is part of the National Forest and encircles Ibstock Grange. In Workman’s Wood there was no sign of a path and I had to battle through tall grass until I could cross a fence into Battram Wood where I could continue easily through the wood to the far end at Pickering Grange Farm. On passing an old clay pit I saw many ox-eye daisies in an area that appears to have been left to go wild, and as always it doesn’t take long for nature to produce a fabulous display. After crossing the Ivanhoe railway line again I encountered another heavily overgrown path that follows the railway line into New Cliffe Hill Quarry.

At one point I saw a bank of spotted-orchids that had me enraptured. I love these flowers that until the week before on Bardon Hill I had only ever seen on rare moments in the Highlands of Scotland, but I was now seeing great swathes of them in Leicestershire. The weather gradually improved during the afternoon so that by the time I was walking around the edge of New Cliffe Hill Quarry it was sunny with clear views over the largely flat terrain to the south as I walked past fields that had recently been cut for silage with the black plastic bales still sitting in the fields. This walk ended with a circuit through the woodland that has been created to screen the quarry and is a familiar route, but a nice end to a long walk. Overall this wasn’t a great walk, and the Ivanhoe Way was particularly poor, but there were moments of interest and there is something about a really long walk that is invigorating.