Revisiting Lathkill Dale2nd December 2017
Currently, I have been catching up with quite a bit of reading. Between books bought with good intentions that were left unattended and magazines that have lain in wait for attention, there has been a backlog awaiting clearance. Among all this is a collection of writings by the renowned Scottish outdoorsman John Muir, a profound inspiration for the National Parks system that you find in the U.S.A. today. There have been others like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Fiona Reynolds’ Fight for Beauty. Some have proven easier to read than others with John Muir’s Picturesque California lying between these in difficulty. Such is the lucidity of his writing that it seems a shame to rush through it, so taking it slowly is undoubtedly what I am doing. The evocative descriptions need to be relished and allowed to soak into memory, especially in tumultuous times like what we have today.
Though I have yet to visit them myself, Muir’s detailed descriptions of the glaciated landscapes of the High Sierra strike a chord with me. In one sense, they remind me of the glens cut into the Cairngorms plateau in Scotland, but there is another landscape that also comes to mind for similar reasons. It, too, feels like a sort of plateau with valleys cut into it, though the outline is far less lofty and dramatic.
To give you a hint as to where these are to be found, the valleys themselves are called dales, but this is not Yorkshire but Derbyshire. Recent years have seen me explore them more since they are not so far away from where I now call home. Some can be very narrow and their names include Dove, Wolfescote, Biggin, Monsal and Chee. All of those named have seen me explore them at some point or other, with some reflecting the names of the rivers that flow though them while others don’t.
One of their number that I have not mentioned so far apart from its appearance in the title of this piece is Lathkill Dale. My first encounter was on a hike I did in December 2013 just before a Christmas visit to Ireland. Though limestone outcrops abounded on slopes around me, there was no winter sun to make them more photogenic. While sunshine did appear later in the walk, I always fancied the idea of a reprise on a brighter day.
That second visit followed a trip to Iceland whose account on here took a fair bit of time to write. It was not so much having to withdraw everything from an unwilling memory as has bedevilled other recent trip reports, but the fact that there was so much to be recalled. The account here requires more effort, but the previous Icelandic outing has its uses.
A hike around Landmannalaugar thrust me into countryside wilder than I had encountered before then so the chance of sampling something more familiar had its place. The contrast between dusty mountainsides and leafy valleys could not be more striking. It is the latter to which I am accustomed so I was happy to be among them again.
My walk began in Monyash and, following arrival there, I spent some time around its parish church before continuing onto Lathkill Dale. The way that I went is hazy to me now for it is a faint recollection that I followed part of the Limestone before dropping down through Fern Dale, but that could be imaginary. It maybe that I followed the road towards Bakewell before picking up a public footpath that did the same, much as I did on that December Sunday in 2013.
As I went down the dale, milky skies bubbled up with clouds that obstructed the sun at times. That limited chances for photos but did nothing to take away from the wonder of seeing the limestone outcrops that line the sides of the dale. When they were fully lit by the sun, any wait was more than well rewarded. It was sights like these that delighted me on walks around Dove Dale, Wolfescote Dale and Biggin Dale so I was little surprised that they did the same for me here
Woodland strolling was my lot for the next section of my stroll. Back in December 2013, the River Lathkill was swollen and barely kept within its banks. The dryer time of year meant that it was not as readily seen as on that previous visit and I was glad of the tree cover. Though I have something of a love/hate relationship with woodland, what it takes in views is given in shade from strong sunshine so I was resigned to my lot, and I soon enough came to break where others were gathered by the riverside. The promising weather had drawn others out and about so I was happy to share in between interludes of solitude.
After Conksbury Bridge, I went to the other side of the river and frequented quieter parts. The approach to Alport was where I enjoyed some winter sunshine the last time around, but there was more time under cloud cover on this occasion. After Alport, I chose to follow Dark Lane and started to feel the summer heat as I rose above the surrounding dales. Beyond some farm buildings, a public bridleway conveyed me across Haddon-Fields and down to the banks of the River Wye. Views over Haddon Hall opened out before as did a curious sight of a field of what appeared like wheat, barley or oats being harvested like grass silage. It might have been a mistaken impression so I continued to enjoy other more familiar sights.
To get to the banks of the River Wye, I needed to get across the A6 near the gates of Haddon Hall. Once past that difficulty, I strode along the footway beside the estate wall until a public footpath directed me to quieter surroundings again. Like the River Lathkill, the Wye was swollen on my winter visit but was quieter on this late summer outing. After a stretch of woodland, there were more fields to be crossed on the final approach to Bakewell. It was mid-afternoon so I was glad to be reaching my destination given the heat. After spending a little time pottering around there, I started on my way home and that offered a fleeting trot around Buxton too. There had been familiarity and that suited just fine after the unfamiliar sights of the preceding weeks. There were more to come in the following ones, but these were not to feel so alien.
In tune with the general haziness prevailing throughout this post, my recollection of how I got to and from my walk is similarly afflicted. From photos, it appears that a return journey on service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton was involved. Because this was a Saturday, getting to Monyash would have involved travel on service 177 (since withdrawn) while travel between Bakewell and Buxton most likely made use of the TransPeak service.
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