Thursday, 16 November 2017

The High Peak Trail and Gratton Dale

Saturday 8th April 2017

At the start of my walk through Lathkill Dale I had walked along a section of the High Peak Trail and my interest had been raised such that just two weeks later I returned to the Peak District during another fabulous weekend of weather. I caught the train to the station of Cromford and after walking along the road for a spell came to the Cromford Wharf where the Cromford Canal has its northern terminus. As I made my way along the canal early morning mist lay in the Derwent Valley and it was gorgeous to be out walking at this early hour through the peaceful tree-filled landscape. Soon the railway and the River Derwent came alongside as I continued this pleasant walk beside the canal until I reached High Peak Junction where the old Cromford and High Peak Railway started beside the Cromford Canal before climbing into the Peak District. Therefore it was at this point that I came off the canal and joined the start of the High Peak Trail as it sets off up the first of several steep inclines.

The Cromford and High Peak Railway was one of the first railways to be built, in 1831, and has many characteristics that were not repeated in later lines. The gradients on the line, required to get over the plateau of the High Peak, are exceptionally steep for a railway with this initial gradient at one in eight, and also since the line was built on the canal principle of following contours it has many tight curves that were later to create problems for train operations. The railway has long since been abandoned but it now makes for a great walk as I toiled up the steep gradients under leafless trees and onto the open plateau of the High Peak under cloudless skies. The High Peak Trail takes a route just outside the southern edge of the Peak District past terrain that is largely unexplored by me, which I felt was a shame, especially when passing Black Rocks, a popular picnic location and prominent hill overlooking Cromford.

The views into the Derwent Valley were great, though hazy, however some of the views from this section of the trail is of quarrying, past and present, but the view at my feet was fabulous with celandines and dandelions lining the trail with many other wild flowers promising many other wonders to appear later in the spring and bring further delight. Eventually I passed into the Peak District and the scenery became the usual High Peak rolling hill and drystone wall and became rather repetitive after many hours walking so it was a relief when I eventually reached the car park at Friden that I had used two weeks previously and finally left the High Peak Trail venturing down Long Dale. This valley seemed to be full to overflowing with celandines that were covering the grassy floor making for a pleasurable walk as I passed by the bare grassy sides of the valley. Upon turning into Gratton Dale trees now filled the valley and many more wild flowers decorated the scene and while the path through the valley had clearly been recently very muddy, fortunately the warm weather had almost solidified the ground sufficiently to ease walking.

This valley was a fabulous place to walk and I was disappointed when I reached Dale End where I took a track that took me through celandine covered fields to the village of Elton. After passing through the village I joined the Limestone Way where celandines continued to accompany me as I made my way around the village of Winster and over a hill to Upper Town and Bonsall where I left the Limestone Way and took a track around Ball Eye Quarry. This track was also teeming with celandines especially on the steep descent into the village of Cromford. I seemed to have been overloaded with celandines on this walk and lining this path above Cromford there must have been more than anywhere else. Unfortunately by this time I was getting concerned about getting to the station in time to catch the train so I almost ran down the hill barely noticing all the celandines as I rushed past and through the village of Cromford, but I actually got to the station in plenty of time to catch the packed train.

I must have covered a long distance on this walk, at least twenty miles, and through maintaining a brisk pace for much of its duration completed the whole walk in eight hours. There were some great sections of this walk, but there were also other moments like the second half of my time on the High Peak Trail where the time seemed to drag. I love walking at this time of the year if only because of the wild flowers that can be seen, and this walk was especially spectacular for wild flowers. I must have seen millions of celandines and that is the defining characteristic of the walk and what I remember most about it.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Lathkill Dale

Saturday 25th March 2017

I write this blog once a week describing a walk that I have done recently during my holidays, however since these holidays are all concentrated in the spring and summer by the time I’m getting towards the end of the year I don’t have any walks left to put on the blog. Fortunately my holidays are not the only walking that I do as a bit of good weather on a Saturday is all the incentive I need to grab my rucksack and head out for a walk. Just after the start of spring this year just such conditions had brought me out to a small car park in the Peak District beside the High Peak Trail, which is a trail that follows the course of the old Cromford and High Peak Railway. Heading north and passing the Friden brickworks I was striding confidently and briskly along the track eating up the miles. It was great walking to be in the Peak District again and after the long winter to be able to really stretch my legs again with the great Peak District views before me of rolling hills, dry stone walls and blue skies. The sun was shining brightly even though at this early hour it was still rather cold. Just after passing the site of Hurdlow station I finally came off the old railway line and headed across a couple of fields, over the Buxton Road and along the Hutmoor Butts track towards the village of Monyash.

Passing just to the north of the village I entered Bagshaw Dale at the western tip of Lathkill Dale. I have walked through Lathkill Dale many times going back many years and it has held special memories for me over all those years. I felt that I hadn’t been through Lathkill Dale for quite a while so I was eager to renew my acquaintance with this extra special valley walking the entire length from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever done the western tip before as I usually turn off before reaching the end, which is a shame as it is an amazing place. The limestone walls close in spectacularly creating a dark and very cold environment with ice in amongst the boulders that litter the bottom of the valley. There was an eerie and claustrophobic feeling between the narrow rocks walls but the valley soon opened up again though still with a rough, rocky surface underfoot as I slowly made my way down the valley until I eventually reached the river coming out of the rock face on the side of the valley.

At this time of the year the water was overflowing the sides and flooding the bottom of the valley pouring over the grassy floor and often encroaching onto the footpath but I did not find this much of a problem for me. Celandines decorated the grasslands adding a delightful sparkle to the surroundings that are dominated by limestone. On reaching the junction with Cales Dale the number of people increased significantly and taking advantage of this attractive location I stopped to have my lunch. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful in the sunny weather and brought to mind many previous visits to this location since I was a child. Beyond this point the valley plunges into woodland and the path improves so that I was now able to simply enjoy the surroundings under leafless trees and with many delicious wild flowers at my feet. This was a wonderful walk through the woods at the bottom of a spectacular narrow valley beside crystal clear waters in lovely sunshine. Many other people were also walking through the valley and justifiably so as Lathkill Dale is one of the best limestone valleys in the country.

After passing the Over Haddon road the valley opens out with a series of weirs created to aid with fishing and there were many people to be seen engaged in this activity. My walking was now even more sedate as the river slowly turns to the south until it reaches Conskbury Bridge where the delights sadly end. The valley has now broadened with relatively gentle gradients on the western slopes of the river and this is where the footpath now passes until it reaches the road at Alport. Now I turned away from the River Lathkill and changed my plans as my progress through Lathkill Dale had been so slow I didn’t have time for my planned, though possibly overoptimistic, excursion onto Stanton Moor. Whenever I have done a walk through Lathkill Dale in the past I have almost always also included a walk through the neighbouring smaller valley of Bradford Dale and I could not resist the temptation to once again pass through this stunning valley that is enclosed by trees with several old weirs along its length that add to the beauty of the surroundings.

Turning off the main path at the western end of the valley I followed the stream through open farmland and into a narrow wooded ravine, signposted as Rusden Wood, which was covered in celandines and wood anemones with the slender stream winding a course through the idyllic scene. This was a gorgeous, spellbinding place but I didn’t know how I had got there even though it was totally enthralling. I had been trying to head towards the end of Gratton Dale, but eventually I realised that I had turned west when I should have gone east and so was now nowhere near Dale End. Rather than going out of my way to head towards Gratton Dale I decided to leave that valley for another day and took a track over Gratton Moor and down into Long Dale not far from my car. The weather by this time was really warm and it had been sunny all day making for excellent conditions for walking and I had made the most of them with an excellent walk in the fabulous Peak District.