Thursday, 21 March 2019

Dimminsdale and Calke Abbey

Saturday 17th February and 10th March 2018

Ever since I first encountered the nature reserve at Dimminsdale, on the border between Leicestershire and Derbyshire, I have made a point of returning every year to see the stunning display of snowdrops that are extra special at this time of the year when everything else is still hibernating for winter. Last year was no different as I parked at the southern end of Staunton Harold Reservoir as I had before, but this time I headed away from Dimminsdale at first onto a permissive path described as the Staunton Harold Ridgeway that affords stunning views over the valley. Unfortunately I was more concerned with staying upright as the ground was very muddy as I followed the edge of a field and there were not many opportunities to admire the view. Coming off the fields the terrain improved as I entered a small area of woodland and started to descend on a delightful path perched high above the steep valley slopes. When I came out of the trees I beheld a wondrous sight down to the stately Staunton Harold Hall and Church.

I had never taken this route before and was quite taken by the view before me that looked spellbinding despite the heavily manufactured gardens when I usually prefer wilder surroundings. Feeling somewhat as if I was intruding I descended the steep grassy slopes and crossed the causeway between the ponds and walking past the front of the hall tried to have a look around Staunton Harold Church. This is owned by the National Trust, but it didn’t seem to be open so I walked back past the front of the hall and paused beside the northern pond to take a few pictures before moving on around the back of the hall. There I found the Ferrers Centre for Arts & Crafts and Staunton Harold Nurseries & Garden Centre. After a brief stop at the garden centre where I resisted the temptation to buy anything I continued on my walk passing through the Marie Curie Cancer Care Field of Hope. I remember walking through this field a few years earlier when it was full of daffodils, but I was now a few weeks too early.

Another muddy field brought me to Heath End on the route of the National Forest Way and Ivanhoe Way. Both of these head straight towards Dimminsdale but I was delaying the delight as I headed across the road and onto a path into Calke Park. This was just as muddy as the path I had encountered earlier so that I was beginning to despair. The purpose of this walk had actually been to reconnoitre a route for when I took some people from work for a walk a few weeks later, and so far all I’d found was mud. In the event on that occasion we had headed straight into Dimminsdale where I showed them the delights of the wondrous displays of snowdrops that still looked amazing despite clearly being past their best. Three weeks earlier I hadn’t stayed in Calke Park very long as being unable to contain my anticipation any longer I had headed back to Dimminsdale where I found a bountiful display of snow drops at their best covering the ground. After taking many photos my patience was rewarded as the setting sun finally came out to spotlight these delightfully delicate flowers.

Three weeks later after visiting Dimminsdale we had made our way along good cyclepaths into Calke Park avoiding the muddy fields that I had encountered earlier. Despite the Beast from the East having passed through Britain only a week or two earlier these paths were easy to walk on and relatively dry as we headed through Poker’s Leys wood and joined the route of the National Forest Way. Upon reaching the Ticknall Tramway tunnel we turned off the trail and plunged through the long, dark tunnel to enter the limeyards. I had first entered this fascinating area the year before and was keen to show it off to my work colleagues who joined me in exploring this former lime quarry. We had a good look around the area where the lime was prepared in deep kilns and the bridges that still remain as part of the tramway that took this lime off to the nearby Ashby Canal and around the country. Eventually we turned south out of the limeyards to rejoin the National Forest Way now heading into the heart of Calke Park.

Passing Betty’s Pond and Mere Pond we followed the National Forest Way around the deer sanctuary where we could see the deer all huddled close together keeping warm in the cold weather. The path now descended all the way down to Staunton Harold Reservoir and following the trail we walked along a road passing the entrance to Dimminsdale Nature Reserve and back to the car park where we had started. I love snow drops so was overjoyed to see them at their best last year, and although it was a shame my colleagues were not as lucky they were still impressed at the tremendous displays of snow drops that can be seen at Dimminsdale.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Return to the Chiltern Hills

Saturday 23rd June 2018

Last summer, several months after my Easter holiday in the Chiltern Hills and beyond, I returned to these fabulous rolling wooded hills. Parking in the village of Stokenchurch I immediately joined the route of the Chiltern Way that I had followed the previous April, but after passing underneath the motorway branched off and headed south through a wonderfully wooded valley that provided me with pleasant walking under tall trees with dappled shade and rich overgrown plants, although mostly nettle. It was a great to be walking in such warm weather and bright sunshine and through lush woodland. The weather last summer was great in its sustained, settled conditions that aided many walks to be done and I was eager to make the most of it. After a while I reached a crossroads of paths and even though I checked my map I still took the wrong path that gradually climbed out of the valley, which should have told me immediately that I was going the wrong way, but it wasn’t until I reached some houses on the outskirts of Ibstone that I knew I had completely gone the wrong way. Rather than retrace my steps back into the valley I walked along the road for a bit before descending back into the valley on another footpath to rejoin the path at the bottom of the valley that I should never have left in the first place.

Eventually the valley began to the broaden and just before I reached the road at Gravesend I turned right and took a path that climbs steeply up over Turville Hill and steeply down the other side into the lovely little village of Turville. This descent was so steep I was worried about my knees after the pounding they had sustained while I was in the Lake District not long before, but I had no problems with my knees failing to complain about such a short, though sharp descent. Upon passing through the beautiful village of Turville I was now back on the Chiltern Way (southern arm) as I gradually climbed beside a gorgeous meadow filled with many wild flowers especially ox-eye daisy that got me excited and full of joy that I was back in the Chiltern Hills. The wonders came thick and fast but when I reflected on the walk several hours later for this blog I wished I’d made notes of the highlights as I was walking when I was passing them. It could be my age, though I’ve never had a great memory, but although this was an enjoyable walk I can’t remember much that happened at this point in the walk.

This was a lovely walk with the weather not too hot, and certainly not as hot as it had been last summer, which made for a much more pleasant walk. Continuing along the Chiltern Way I passed Southend Farm and through the foxglove-rich Kildridge Wood to enter Stonor Park. The centrepiece of this deer park is the grand Stonor House that looks an amazing place and made me feel really inappropriately dressed. According to Wikipedia this was the location for the Bladen safe house in the Bond film The Living Daylights, although I didn’t know this when I passed. It looked like it was being used for a wedding so even though I was on the public footpath on the side of the hill quite some distance to the south of the house I still felt like I was intruding. Passing out of Stonor Park and through the village I eventually reached the turning where I came off the Chiltern Way and onto the Oxfordshire Way heading north through Pishillbury Wood. Further on, after passing through meadows rich in wild flowers, I reached College Wood, which I had passed through a couple of months earlier when I remember it was full of infant bluebells, but that were now sadly long gone.

Turning right I was now back on the Chiltern Way (northern arm) and a route that I had taken previously, but just for one field. At Hollandridge Farm I kept on the Chiltern Way whereas previously, going in opposite direction, I had headed along Hollandridge Lane. Passing through Fire Wood and a meadow full of purple flowers that to me looked like some sort of vetch/pea I eventually headed into Blackmoor Wood and rejoined the route that I had taken at Easter. Ground that had been muddy just a couple of months before was now completely dry including the rutted path in Commonhill Wood that I remembered straddling either side of the deep mud-filled rut at Easter was now an easy walk uphill. This path brought me up to Ibstone Common not far from the point where I had come into Ibstone by mistake earlier in the walk, but now no mistake was made as I continued along the Chiltern Way retracing my steps of last Easter to head down into Hartmoor Wood and eventually back to Stokenchurch.

This walk wasn’t particularly long, but it was good taking advantage of the good weather and to reacquaint myself with the delights of the Chiltern Hills especially the wild flowers that grow abundantly in this area. It was amazing to see the difference in the condition of the paths between Easter when the ground was very muddy and on this walk, just a couple of months later, when the ground was bone dry. It was the woods that were the delight in spring, but now as summer had come it was the turn of the meadows to show their best and in the Chiltern Hills there are fabulous displays of wild flowers that will always keep drawing me back.