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!

A circuit by the River Wye

9th February 2014

One thing that strikes me about Britain is how you find the same river names turning up in different places. Those that come to mind include the Ouse, the Derwent and the Wye. There is every possibility that some have come upon this post looking for the Wye that rises near Pumlumon in Wales between ducking and diving across the border between Wales and England before reaching the Severn estuary near Chepstow. As it happens, I quite fancy spending some time near Tintern and such places, but that has yet to happen. Pumlumon, where the Welsh Wye rises, has remained untouched by my footfall too, so that’s another possibility.

Derbyshire’s Wye and Preceding Occasions Spent Beside It

What this piece features instead is another River Wye, the Derbyshire one that rises near Axe Edge before dropping into Buxton and winding its way towards Bakewell before then going on to join with the River Trent. It is a river that I have been near more often than I had realised. The reason behind that discovery is that all my visits to Buxton have put be not far from its course without my realising it. There have been a fair few of those since my cycling there on a Saturday in August 2000. That was the first and only time that I did so and the steepness of the route followed by the A537 not only convinced me not to return the same way that even but also triggered the start of my hill wanderings and ensure that buses have been used since then.

Speaking of buses, further forays have been facilitated by them and one January day spent going further than Buxton to stop at Miller’s Dale, Tideswell and Bakewell. It was a sort of poking around the Derbyshire Dales that a guidebook had inspired. Getting home from Bakewell even might have involved more bus journeys with one taking me as far as Chesterfield before another got me to Sheffield where trains took over travel duties. There must have been a change in Stockport, though I scarcely can recall it now. Well, it was more than a decade ago and many things have gone through my mind since then.

My first real walk on the Monsal Trail was on an overcast Easter Monday in 2001 when I embarked on an out and back journey from Monsal Head. When I initially tried to recall memories of the walk, it worked better for the outbound trot and I was unsure whether I returned on foot or not. However, I now reckon that I must have retraced my steps on foot as well. With these things, you need to be careful that later memories are not getting mixed with earlier ones.

A Saturday during July 2001 again saw me following the Monsal Trail with a then new camera, a Canon EOS 300 film SLR, and with a lot of sunshine around too. The starting point was Miller’s Dale and I remember the diversions that took me around by places like Cressbrook and how narrow the river valley got in places. Since then, former railway tunnels have been reopened, so the whole trail becomes a very reasonable cycling excursion for anyone. It was a delight to see the Monsal Viaduct with sunshine upon it, though it’s best to remember that photographing the dale from Monsal Head is best done in the morning with the sun in the east. Otherwise, lens flare and undesirable exposures will stymie your efforts. From Monsal Head, I did not follow the trail all the way into Bakewell but instead deviated to visit Ashford-in-the-Water before continuing to my destination. It was a good walk and that remains worth repeating.

Tideswell saw me visit again in December 2005 before I continued towards Litton and a descent into Cressbrook Dale to reach Monsal Dale. There again was a diversion towards Ashford-in-the-Water on the way to Bakewell. It remains a memorable day in spite of greasy ground conditions. A passing fellow walker tumbled to soil white woollen gloves, so my use of walking poles was far from daft. Apart from saving knees from wear and tear, they also steady you and stop most if not all accidents caused by slips.

Another Encounter

Last year, I was reminded of how long I had left Derbyshire without so much attention and I redoubled my efforts. Thinking through those memories, some faded, again makes me keen to explore old haunts and reinforce those memories with new ones. That was partly why I got myself over to Bakewell on the penultimate Saturday in April of last year. Apart from the prospect of some sunshine, the need for some me time following a recent life event was another motivator.

Bridge over the River Wye, Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

All Saints' Church, Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

What resulted was a circuit from Bakewell that took in Ashford-in-the-Water and Monsal Dale. Before leaving Bakewell though, the presence of sunshine allowed me some photo opportunities that I never had to the same extent before. For instance, I only ever got near Bakewell’s main bridge over the Wye in declining light, so that needed addressing. Then, there was the churchyard that I only remember visiting under overcast skies. With a day ahead of me that allowed plenty of time for walking, I was not to overlook chances like these.

Not far from Bakewell’s parish church, I found a useful public footpath for getting to Ashford. The sun ducked behind clouds while I was crossing fields but it was not as if I were being deprived. One thing about the Derbyshire Dales is that once you are above the dales themselves, the countryside is largely level up there like a plateau and the photos end up needing panoramic compositions unless interesting skies are what you get over you. Along with many fields, roads such as Standedge Road and Crowhill Lane were crossed too with navigation across a tilled field after one of these feeling uncertain until I reached the next one along. Bumbling around in someone else’s field is not my idea of a walking, especially with sharp words ringing in my ears as happened one December Saturday afternoon around Sedbergh. None of that rancour spoiled this day though and I followed the lane until I saw a path down by a mast that dropped me onto the A6 near Ashford-in-the-Water. The descent was steep yet steady and plenty of views of the lie of the land below me occupied the mind while navigation was steadied by a useful wall. These types of things get called handrails and are invaluable.

Holy Trinity Church as seen from beside Sheepwash Bridge, Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire, England

Sheepwash Bridge, Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire, England

Getting across the A6 was less tricky than it might have been and I got to spend some time around Ashford. As luck would have it, the sun was playing hide and seek on me with the clouds so I needed to wait before I had the light needed for the sort of photos that I had in mind. Thus, I was delayed around Ashford’s church and chose a lunching spot in view of the Sheepwash bridge, a packhorse structure where lambs were pinned in at one side (the left of the picture) and ewes driven across to wash their wool before shearing began. These days, the Wye is more likely to have trout than sheep in its waters. Its older use would generate an amount of commotion anyway and I wonder how modern minds would have perceived such a practice with all its guile and herdsmanship. Photography and strolling appears to be its main uses now as it is closed to motorised traffic. When I was making the most of the midday sun, folk were ambling about and that may not be to everyone’s taste, so the early morning light that falls on the bridge from the east causes anyone making use of that to have little or no human intrusion in their compositions.

From Ashford, it was back across the A6 again to make my way towards Monsal Dale. There were two choices: a lower level path to Lees Bottom that strayed not far from the A6 and a less direct course around by Sheldon and Deep Dale. Because I did not fancy being beside road traffic any more than was needed, I went for the Sheldon route. There was a range of reasons why this part of my walk was busier than that from Bakewell to Ashford. Even going uphill did nothing to dissuade some. Was it down to the time of day or the location? That is a question that I cannot answer, but there was no grumpiness with there being plenty of space to share on the way towards Sheldon.

Deep Dale, Sheldon, Derbyshire, England

While passing through Sheldon, I was on the lookout for a public footpath that would lead me towards Deepdale. It looked as if I had found it, but something about its aspect left me getting cold feet. Lack of waymarks and a missing stile certainly did not help and visions of blundering in fields returned me to the road again. Others were more brave than me and I left them to go their way while I trod Johnson Lane with views of Magpie Mine to my left.

After turning right onto a busier road, I found my way to the unmetalled byway of Wheal Lane that led towards the path through Deep Dale. This is managed as a nature reserve for the preservation of its wild flower habitat by an organisation who I never encountered before: Plantlife. The clouds that had filled the sky as I journeyed around by Sheldon were breaking and I began to hope again for seeing Monsal Dale in good light after giving up on the idea. In the event, I need not have worried, for cloud cover steadily dissolved over the remainder of the day.

That lower level path from Ashford-in-the-Water was crossed again, and some folk needed directions from me and I hope they sent them the way that they wanted. Before crossing the A6 at Lees Bottom, I stopped at a useful public convenience. This was without running water by design, a strange thing to many, and hand sanitiser was available instead of the soap and water that most of us would seek. That I wasn’t the only one thrown by this became obvious when someone else needed the results of my perception.

Monsal Viaduct from Monsal Dale, Little Longstone, Derbyshire, England

Once on the other side of the A6, the path into Monsal Dale beckoned and I remained concerned about a rogue cloud blocking the sun for the final landmark that I had in mind for a photo: Monsal Viaduct. The bank of clouds had broken, but some shenanigans were going on over my head that kept me on my toes. Thankfully, nothing ruinous was to come of it and I remained keen to get to my objective. What became clear was that it was not that far away from the A6 even if you feel that you are nowhere near it when at Monsal Head. Sometimes, it takes a walk for that sort of thing to become clear and I also noted a useful bus stop for a future incursion around here.

First though, I needed to get through woodland before being released into pasture not far beyond a weir that I also visited. This was a path that was well visited and I had to share the views, which hardly was surprising given how well Monsal Dale is known and how near roads it is. Quite what John Ruskin would have made of all the visitors is a question that I cannot answer, but there was plenty of clearance was the making of photos. That meant that the valley remained peaceful and alluring of a sunny day near the end of April.

Congregational Church, Little Longstone, Derbyshire, England

The recently reopened Headstone Tunnel was a tempting walking prospect but my not wanting to waste sunshine was enough to keep me out of there. Instead, I retraced old steps to get up to the hotel above me. A delightful sight lay below me and it was one that needed a morning outing to make the best of the scene with a camera. There by the roadside, I dallied a while and partook of an ice cream before continuing by road to Little Longstone before crossing a field to rejoin the former railway line again. This route may not be anywhere as necessary as it was on my first trots around here but it usefully remains in existence anyway.

Bridge over Monsal Trail just to the east of the former Great Longstone Station, Great Longstone, Derbyshire, England

Once up on the trail, the number of cyclists using the amenity had greatly increased from what it was before and I had every intention of following it all the way back to Bakewell. That resolve remained until I passed what formerly was Great Longstone station, but something beset me that never happened on the trail before: it began to feel like a slog. Looking back now, this almost feels like a lack of gratitude, given the steady sunshine that I was being bequeathed at the time. Maybe, I thought I should have been going faster given the good surface and there was concern that the same hardcore surface wasn’t so friendly on my feet too. Also, familiarity might have bred contempt so it might be an idea to follow it by bicycle in the future and that sounds a delightful idea now as I write these words.

Eventually, I decided to leave the Monsal Trail for another bridleway near Toll Bar House. It was better than getting grumpy and the green lane appeared to offer a more direct route into Bakewell too. Even with a hummock ahead of me, the new surroundings kept me interested and steady progress saw its results with Bakewell coming into view below me. Eventually, I was deposited not fat from the town centre and made for a waiting bus to start my journey home. That was a busy double-decker and, given the day, there could be no surprise at that. Clearly, others had good taste in weather and countryside so I hope they enjoyed their day out like I did.

Travel Arrangements:

Bus service 58 from Macclesfield to Buxton and bus service 177 from the latter to Bakewell. Bus service 218 from Bakewell to Sheffield and travel by train from there back home with a change in Stockport.

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