Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Last of the summer time

22nd November 2010

At the end of October, I managed to drag myself out of doors for a trot in the Derbyshire Dales. The plan was to walk south along the High Peak and Tissington trails, both part of the Pennine Bridleway network. These are former railway lines that have been converted into useful trails for walkers, joggers, cyclists and horse riders. Temptingly, there are places along the way that offer bicycle hire and refreshments that are operated by the Peak District National Park Authority. Typically, these were situated where railway stations once stood and signage usefully told you how far you were from the next one. Those staging posts include Hurdlow, Parsley Hay, Hartington, Alsop en le Dale, Tissington, Thorpe and Ashbourne with each offering car parking for those seeking only to wander part of the way.

That railway past means that ups and downs are curtailed, so easy progress is assured, even if it makes them more attractive to those for whom walking in the countryside is not such a regular activity. Nevertheless, anything that gets more sedentary folk moving in the outdoors has to be a good thing. As it happened, that’s what brought my attention to them after what has been a reduction in my explorations of the countryside after that change of job during the summer.

As ever, it took the prospect of what for October felt like a rare sunny day to draw me out for one last hurrah before the onset of winter time and its final demolition of any sense of our having some evening light. For about half the walk, there were blue skies and sunshine, but clouds grew more plentiful the further south that I went until it completely took over the sky to give a grey end to the day. That’s never to say that I was disappointed by this though it would have been nice to have had some pleasing sunshine for any glimpses of Dovedale that I was allowed.

High Peak Trail Near Sparklow, Derbyshire, England

From Pomeroy’s pub, it was a matter of picking up a public footpath to reach the old railway. Once on it, I played with the idea of an out and back hike to the start of the High Peak Trail. In the event, that was left for another day and any misgivings that I may have had were quenched well before I reached Ashbourne. As I journeyed south, there were other leisure seekers out on the trail with me, but that’s not to say that there weren’t any quieter interludes because there were plenty of those too. Navigation was going to be a real issue though I was checking the map to see how I was going and useful mileposts highlighting the distances between the former train stations.

What expands many of my trip reports are recollections of the route and the impressions that my surroundings made on me. For the first part of my walk along the High Peak and Tissington trails, it is difficult to do much like this. The surrounding countryside was pretty rolling pasture without move in the way of indentations so I wasn’t rooted to the spot engaged in photography as often as sometimes is the case with me. The fact that it was easy to walk quickly and that a good distance lay ahead of me might have helped me pass from staging post to staging post until I met the junction of both trails. That speedy progress is a reminder that these are cycling trails too and the landscape allows you to glide through it, perhaps more easily than it ought to do in some respects.

Beyond the junction of the High Peak and Tissington trails, it was straight into a cutting and then onto an alignment that was raised above the surrounding landscape and away from the A515. That feeling of elevation was to remain the case for much of the distance and the old signal box belonging to Hartington station came into view soon enough. Once through there and its surrounding nature reserve with its attendant strollers, it was onto the long stretch to Alsop en le Dale with the trail nearing the A515 again, much like it is around Parsley Hay.

Misplaced young backpackers ended up being redirected, by me of all people, around Biggin with the skies having turned from blue to grey. The terrain does show some light buckling around there but I am amazed by the more striking indentations that I seem to have missed. A look now at a map causes me to marvel at how well hidden the likes of Long Dale, Biggin Dale and Wolfscote Dale seemed to be from me. They look so close to the line that I was taking and wonder why I never noticed them; was I travelling through cuttings when I might have been savouring their delights? As it happened, it was to take until I was beside Dove Dale before I noted any major impression that had been made on the High Peak plateau. Some good walking trips could be made of exploring these natural cuttings and I’ll be keeping those options in mind. They may even yield pleasing photos, too, and that’s a ruse that I often use to get me out of doors.

After a crossing under the A515, Alsop was reached earlier than expected and it was from then on that my legs began to feel more leaden. As I drew nearer and nearer to Tissington, I was on the lookout for Parwich but it stayed hidden like so much else earlier in the hike. There must be something about the way that the landscape keeps things hidden around this part of the world and makes you go into its dips before you truly can say that have been. At Tissington, a short refreshment stop was in order though I wasn’t drawn into exploring the village itself. After, the day was remaining resolutely grey and I’d rather see pretty places with sunshine falling upon them.

Though I did wonder about catching a bus from there, I set off to reach Ashbourne. A certain feeling of fatigue made me wonder at the wisdom of my decision. Could it also have made me that little bit more impatient too? As long as I had a map to tell me how I was doing, this could be contained but an OS Explorer 24 doesn’t extend all the way to Ashbourne and I didn’t have OS Explorer 259 to take over after Thorpe. Knowing that there never was any chance of getting lost staved away any pangs of navigational panic. It simply had to be a matter of putting one foot after another and letting the end of my walk come when it did.

It helped that I took a nibble of the Ashbourne end of the Tissington Trail and there was no problem reaching the town centre through the former railway tunnel. That piece of recce resulted from a trip around by a cold grey Buxton that took me to an Ashbourne blessed by blue skies and bright sunshine, a different place to where I finished my walk in the sense that it now was a grey as Buxton was on that other day. The hike had been a long one after which it took several days for my legs to recover but it was an introduction to a part of the world that I ended up ignoring for so long. The next phase is to go exploring those hidden dips to see what delights lie within them. It looks as if I won’t be disappointed.

Travel Arrangements:

Bus service 58 from Macclesfield to Buxton, bus service 42 to Pomeroy, bus service 108 from Ashbourne to Macclesfield.

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