A trot through three counties4th March 2012
In 2011, most of my walking trips took me outside of England with both Scotland and Wales featuring strongly. The first outing of the year took me to Wales and trips to other Celtic countries followed before any sort of hike took place on English soil and took until April before it took place. It was July when what might be called a more extensive trot through the English countryside and that took me from Wooler into Scotland. A Friday outing in December was an exclusively English affair when I visited the part of Shropshire’s hill country near Church Stretton.
Part of the reason for that delay was how busy my working life in the early months of last year and it was to be a continuing theme for the rest of it too. With that in mind, I have been playing with ideas that involve explorations of the countryside that lies not far from where I live. As if that weren’t enough encouragement, a quick journey over the hills to Buxton on the second day of this year reminded me of how glorious the hills between there and Macclesfield appear when the right light falls on them. It was as if it ensured that I got out among them when the next opportunity arose.
That came a week or two later and took me from the Cat and Fiddle Inn to Buxton using the upper reaches of the Dane Valley Way for much of the walk. Thinking about the walk since reminded me of how many walks started from or ended at the Cat and Fiddle Inn over the years. With that in mind, I was planning a preamble for this piece that recalled them but it grew too long and became a posting in its own right.
The track south from the Cat and Fiddle Inn is one that I have traversed a few times before but never with the type of weather that I had on my most recent stroll. The quality of the light falling on the surrounding countryside was enough to have me stopping and admiring the surrounding countryside. Naturally, a camera was set to work too and the passage by Danebower hollow may have taken longer than it otherwise might. Well, I had grey skies the first time that I passed this way and plenty of clouds abounded the same time around. Neither were frustrating but they seemed to ensure that I made the best of near perfect photographic conditions.
Though I wasn’t certain that reaching the A54 should have taken as long as it did, that didn’t mean that a course deflection wasn’t about to happen. Noting the time that I had until sundown and the distance to be covered, I decided on deviating around by Three Shire Heads. This is home to a well-known packhorse bridge and I fancied having a go at photographing it in what I considered to be good light. That meant forsaking the frozen ground of higher reaches for more waterlogged parts as I followed the River Dane towards the bridge. It was a reminder of how soft the going was the first time that I passed this way but I was rewarded when I got to the bridge that was my objective.
Others were about enjoying lunch around there, and who could blame them? It’s a good place for such an activity and there are plenty of nooks and crannies where you can stay awhile too. Though it isn’t near any conurbation in particular, I was to be surprised by how many folk had gone and congregated in the vicinity. That’s not to say that the area was overrun though and none really in the way of my photographic efforts.
The waterlogging of the Dane Valley Way south from the A54 encouraged me to a different course on continuing to head towards Buxton again. That involved following public footpaths by Panniers Pool and Blackclough until I reached the Dane Valley Way. Though I can understand that a long-distance trail following the course of a river should try and keep as close to the watercourse as possible, I must admit that my deviation seemed to me as being the more pleasurable as it took to higher and sounder ground though there was some sogginess in places.
For the sake of completeness, I decided on returning to my southward turning point again. If time was an issue, I wouldn’t have bothered, but there’s never any point in rushing things either. Doing this took me by the now unused Reeve-edge and Danebower quarries and revealed that the Dane Valley Way leaves the course of the said river for its later stages, hence the comment that I made earlier. The first of the quarries that I passed were north facing so plenty of frost remained on the stones that littered the ground. That’s not to stay that the path was icy though but a spot of due care and attention was in order too.
That last observation especially applied to the crossing of the Dane on steeping stones. If there was less water, fording might have been an option, but that wasn’t the case, so careful steps and studious use of walking poles got me over and back as required; the latter proved to be the easier crossing of the two so it must have something to do with the positioning of the stones because I doubt that it had anything to do with practice.
A quick and back trot made good a missing piece of a long-distance trail. The river crossing added ups and downs to this too, but there was a time for taking stock before proceeding towards Buxton in earnest after a diversionary amble. That revealed that I should make my destination before the light failed completely so I set off again.
On approaching the steeping stones, I passed more walkers who had stopped for a spot of lunch nearby. A few words were passed about the crossing before I was on my way again and I mentally noted how much quieter was their lunching spot in comparison with that of others. Putting Reeves-edge Quarries behind brought me past another walker that I had seen stopped at Three Shire Heads earlier; this one was altogether quieter than the other two, though.
Quietness was to pervade for much of the remainder of my walk too, with the Dane Valley Way twisting and turning its way above Blackclough and with Knotbury Common across the valley from me. Oddly, the trail drops down to the road near Orchard Farm when there is an alternative right of way that cuts out the attendant descent, re-ascent and road walking altogether. Nevertheless, I stuck with the trail though route finding was a little bereft of waymarking and correspondingly dependent on my map reading skills until the road was reached. To my relief, all was done without a hitch. It was then a matter of continuing past both Orchard Common and Cheeks Hill. This stretch was to be shared with other walkers who were out and about and with no perturbations, either.
The source of the River Dane is a soggy bog but it was partially frozen, so its crossing wasn’t as muddy an affair as it might have been. Still, the course of the path was unclear thanks to constant erasure by the wet ground, a phenomenon that I have perceived elsewhere. Thankfully, this is all Open Access Land so no one is going to pick an argument with you about following a line on the ground and the road was reached soon enough.
That brought views towards the Cat and Fiddle Inn and reminded me of the sort of course that I had taken. Then and after I had left the road to cross Axe Edge Moor, I reckoned that I was making out the back of both Shining Tor and Cats Tor with both throwing the Goyt Valley into shadow. It was yet another reminder of how often I have trodden these parts over the last decade.
As I was crossing Axe Edge Moor, the declining height of the sun could not be missed and it was a reminder of the coming end of the day. Looking to me right, I thought that I was making out the trig point marking the top of the hill and looking straight ahead drew my eyes towards the dropping down of the A54 as it approached Buxton. That told me that my walking destination for the day wasn’t so far away, a reassuring thought at that point in the day.
Crossing the A54 took me to the next stretch of the trail, though I now wonder is I followed it so exactly; sometimes it’s best to follow things in spirit and not to be overly concerned with complete precision. Another crossing of the same road, got me onto a byway and public footpath that needed a stop for map reading to be sure of my course. The A53 (Buxton-Leek road) was the next thoroughfare to be crossed before that in turn was left for Grin Low Road. The HSE laboratories near Harpur Hill lay in the near distance I was seeking to head to Grinlow Country Park instead.
The latter is owned by the local council and proved to be easy to find and had an open public convenience too. The next stage of my walk proved to be a little confusion when it came to route finding because of all the micro-detail on the ground. Though I had scotched in the idea in my mind, I ended up taking Solomon’s Temple (also known as Grinlow Tower), a folly. There were good views from the top of this even in the declining light so I quite fancy the prospect of returning to it sometime. As if to prove how frozen the ground was underfoot, I even embarked on an unplanned slide when my boots lost purchase on it. All stopped very quickly and no one took any notice of my little adventure, so there was no embarrassment either; the views must have been as appealing to them as they were to me.
With that little reminder of frozen ground, I picked my way back to the trail that I was following with more care. Light really was failing as I dropped down to Poole’s Cavern and a snow-covered field looked like a car park, though that deception was short-lived. Once in the real car park, I decided that there was no more time for dawdling because of when the next bus to Macclesfield was leaving. Due to keeping a keen eye on time, I made it too and that was thanks to a little shortcut that I discovered on the second day of 2012. Not only was it the cause of getting me out there in the first place but it also helped to get me home a little sooner in the day too. Hopefully, it will continue to help with future outings too.
Bus service 58 from Macclesfield to Cat & Fiddle Inn. Same bus service from Buxton to Macclesfield.
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