Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A Brilliant Week in Derbyshire.

It was pleasantly warm and sunny as we parked up by the Robin Hood Inn outside Baslow, shouldered rucksacks and set off up Birchen Edge to eat our lunch.  The views up here were expansive and the bracken and trees were beginning to colour up with the changing season.  Lunch over, it was time to head off to Aldwark to meet up with old friends and settle into the cottage we had booked for the next week.  It was good to meet up again and to swap news and the cottage measured up to all expectations.

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Saturday morning began with a fabulous sunrise and a temperature inversion filling the valley below us with cloud.  After some early photography, we enjoyed a very lazy breakfast before setting out for a walk across the fields to the nearby attractive village of Winster.  A refreshment stop in the The Miners Standard saw us ready to complete the journey back to the cottage, part of the route taking us along the Limestone Way long distance footpath.  Unlike yesterday's walk on the coarse millstone grit, today's walk was in pale grey limestone country.  Born 300 million years ago on the bed of a tropical sea, this rock forms the White Peak with it's dramatic dales, open, windswept hills and picturesque villages.  Dry stone walls and attractive field barns are a feature of this area.

Having had a day walking it was now the turn of the bikes.  Setting out from the cottage we were soon able to join the High Peak Trail at nearby Longcliffe.  From here we rode up the trail, a superb traffic free route along the trackbed of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway. Running from High Peak Junction in Cromford, to Buxton, the line was built to carry minerals and goods and was finally closed in 1963 during the Beeching era.  In 1971 it was purchased by Derbyshire County Council and converted for use as a walking and cycle route.  Following excellent bacon butties at Parsley Hay, we continued to the end of the line and then returned to The Royal Oak at Hurdlow for some much needed refreshment.  Cycling back the same way, but ensuring that we didn't fork right along the Tissington Trail, we were soon back at Longcliffe.  Again we were blessed with beautiful weather and high up on the Pennines it felt as if we were on top of the world.  All around now are signs of Autumn and hips haws and large juicy blackberries were plentiful  The track side was ablaze with rosebay willowherb or fireweed.  In seed now, its stems were glowing red in the late afternoon sun.

Sunday evening and the early hours of Monday morning were to produce a magnificent natural spectacle.  A super moon was to coincide with a total lunar eclipse producing a so-called blood moon.  A super moon is a full moon when the moon is at its closest to the Earth or perigee.  It appears 12 - 14% larger than normal and when it rises it is a deep orange colour changing to the normal bright yellow/white as it rises.  When a total lunar eclipse coincides with a super moon, the moon turns a deep orange/red colour.  These events happen infrequently; the last being in 1982 and the next will not occur until 2033.  It all measured up to expectations and was well worth getting up for an hour and a half at 3.45 am.

After the rigours of silly o'clock photography, it was time for a lazy start and relaxing day.  The next day, Tuesday, saw us all out cycling, this time along the Monsal Trail from Hassop Station, just outside Bakewell.  This is another disused railway line closed by Dr Beeching and runs along the old Midland Line from Bakewell to Blackwall Mill just outside Buxton.  It was opened to the public in 1981 but the 400m tunnels were not opened until 2011; until then footpaths took walkers around them.  Once the tunnels were operational it opened up the whole route to cyclists.  The trail runs through the dramatic  limestone dales of Monsal Dale, Millers Dale and Chee Dale and over the Monsal Viaduct , which crosses high above the River Wye.  Once hives of industry with limestone extraction, lime production and cotton mills, these stunning valleys now throng with tourists.  Refreshments are available at  Miller's Dale, once a bustling station with three platforms disgorging tourists and taking away limestone from the quarries.

On Wednesday morning while golf and shopping were in progress, I pottered around with the camera.  My first port of call was Arbor Low Stone Circle. The most important prehistoric site in the East Midlands, Arbor Low is a Neolithic henge dating back 6000 years and atmospherically set high up on the limestone hills.  Within an earth bank and ditch, a circle of around 50 white, lichen encrusted, limestone slabs, all now fallen, surrounds a central stone 'cove', a feature found only in major sacred sites.  I had the site to myself this morning and found it incredibly moving.

From Arbor Low I moved on to Monsal Head, perched high above the River Wye and the Monsal Trail with its impressive viaduct as I wanted to take some photographs from this lofty position.

My final port of call was another historic venue, the atmospheric Magpie Mine set high in the Limestone hills.  Closed in 1958 this disused lead mine still has all the old buildings standing and it  takes only a little imagination to visualise what it must have been like in its heyday in the mid 1800s.

Soon it was time to head on to Over Haddon to meet the others for a walk down Lathkill Dale.  The last time I had been here had been in April a few years ago to photograph dippers.  And what a difference time of year makes.  In April the new spring growth was young and verdant and the river ran full and sparkling.  At the end of summer and into autumn the dying vegetation, full of seasonal colour, was tall and rank and most of the river water had had vanished underground into sink holes waiting for the winter rains to rejuvenate it.  By and large bird life was quiet, but I delighted in the mewing calls of a family of buzzards, soaring high above the dale with a youngster calling stridently to its parents for food.

Sadly Thursday was our final day and we chose to spend it cycling along the Tissington Trail on another day of beautiful weather, after the early morning fog had cleared.  Opened in 1971 and named from the chocolate box village of Tissington, which it skirts, the trail once formed part of the LNWR line connecting Ashbourne and Buxton.  We rode from the old station in Ashbourne, now the site of the leisure centre, to Parsley Hay in the north.  The views were expansive and, again, the Autumn colour spectacular, especially the fiery stems of rosebay willowherb.  On the return leg we enjoyed the spectacle of a hot air balloon drifting serenely on the light breeze.  A fantastic day, marred only by the loss of the car keys which bounced out of the (sadly unzipped) pocket of my cycle bag and necessitating a late evening drive back to Grimsby to pick up the spares.  Thanks to John for driving.  All in all, though, a fabulous week.

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