A trinity of symbols for Easter. The palm, the crown of thorns and the Judas tree.

The old English name of Palm for the Goat Willow stems back to the middle ages when Goat Willow was gathered at Easter and strewn about in churches
My mother always referred to Goat Willow as Palm.


Palm, Goat Willow.

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The Crown of Thorns.
 Blackthorn.

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Elder.  The Judas Tree.
The tree that Judas was supposed to have hung himself upon.

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A lone journey through a Dark Peak Clough.

A Memoir

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An amalgam, a collection of hazy half-remembered recollections from the last sixty years or so, of my lone explorations and adventures in the beautiful cloughs, moorlands and remote wilds in the high southern pennines of the north midlands of England.
 Not of one particular day or of one specific clough, just fading memories from some of the most magical moments that I’ve had, over half a lifetime of tramping and scrambling my way through them.

For me, it’s been a lifetime of joy and pleasure, to be able to escape into them.  And, an even greater privilege to be allowed to share them with the wild plants, animals and birds that somehow manage to scratch out their tenuous living, from what is one of the few genuinely wild and lonely places left in middle England.
 Most of it situated less than ten miles from two of the largest cities in the country.
Though a whole alien world away.

A land sitting on the Edge. 

   Leaving the Redmoss Road at Dale Head, quietly, ignoring a Private Keep Out sign !  I slip over a crumbling drystone wall, set close by the side of an old worn packhorse bridge.  Leaning precariously, hard over the loud urgent surge of the Black Beck, as it pummels and forces its way through the narrow dank fern draped pillars of its ancient arch. The sharp ticking of a wren and clattering scald of a blackbird, loudly announcing my trespass into the gloom of their forest.

A crouching passage, under the low drooping branches of tall spruces and the spring green foliage of larches, made easy by the bare and deep needle covered forest floor, soft underfoot, my steps muffled by the insistent low murmurings of the beck.

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Clinging to thin stems of short springy hazel coppice I manage to scramble my way down to the side of the beck, it stained gravy brown from a long journey through the groughs and cloughs of the dark peat moorland above.
Startled by the sudden loud staccato Cack, cack cacking, of a skyrocketing pheasant as it breaks cover from the deep shadows under the lower branches of spruce,
I start to slowly wind my way up the side of the clough.

 
   Easy at first, walking over the slippery exposed gritstone slabs and moss-covered boulders of a light denuded woodland floor, following a vague path as it weaves its way between broad clean trunks of tall mature Sitka-spruce before tunnelling on through the damp dripping yew like foliage of western hemlocks.
 Male ferns and bucklers spill out of the cracks and crevices in the exposed underlying bedrock, pale toadstools and yellow honey fungus exploiting the woodland gloom, eerily littering the bare forest floor, a clean musky primaeval smell of pine needles and the old decaying bones of long-dead tree stumps invading my nostrils.
All the while the beck continues to urgently crash its way over a bed of hard green grit’, doggedly pummelling between low, narrow buttresses and submerged boulders before cascading over short stone sills in a sparkling rainbow of bright glittering spray.

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   Pushing through into a wide-open clearing, the beck ebbs, slackening its pace as I find myself picking a way through crowds of tall yellow-flags and coarse tufts of juncus rush, all thickly lining its banks.  In the middle of the stream standing on a rock,
I spot a pair of dippers.

   Smart birds with black tailcoats, russet brown head and shoulders set above a milk-white breast that they display by bowing and dipping, contrasting with the orange and ochre brown lichens decorating the rocks and boulders that they stand upon.  Unblinking, one of the dippers turns its head to stare at me, the jet black beads of its eyes glinting as it gives me the once over, before slipping into the beck and disappearing under the flat shallow current.  Spreading out its wings, it walks submerged up against the flow while clinging to the stone bedrock of the stream, turning over gravel and small stones to flush out its aquatic prey of insect larvae and small fish.  I’m fascinated as they continue to dive and dip, only to reappear further upstream,  bright, sparkling silver pearls of water rolling down their backs and sides.  Not a shy bird at all and they seemed to willingly accept my intrusion into their small watery world; for me a gift, a privilege.

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   Once out of the clearing, the sides of the clough start to steepen and close in, the urgency of the beck increasing as it pounds its way around the enormous green boulders standing in its path, only to hurl itself over high steep steps and thundering falls before resting beneath, in swirling foam-flecked, ink-black eddies of unknown depth.  Making any headway at all is slow, and I’m forced to gingerly slide along narrow, fragile moss-covered ledges, as I cling onto the steep slime oozing stone walls that lean hard over them.  In other places, I risk climbing above them by pulling at the stalks of old leggy half dead heather, or grabbing onto handfuls of bilberry, while kicking steps into the soft fern-covered flanks of the beck.

    Climbing above the falls, I leave the conifers behind, and as the sides of the clough gradually fall back, the stream widens and becomes more sluggish, its banks overhung with a rough mixture of old knurled black-alders, silver birches and ancient wind-blown rowans.  The woodland behind developing into a dense thicket of low scrubby oaks, blackthorns and overgrown hazel coppice.
Overhead, flitting through the open crowns of the alder’s, I hear the thin chittering song from a flock of siskins, as they urgently work at teasing out tiny winged seeds from small hard black cones, that hang in profusion from the alders topmost branches.  Joining in with this frantic workforce, a few brightly marked goldfinches and a solitary red-capped, redpoll, all industrially stripping the alders and birches of their winter bounty.  The siskins were a delight to watch, small yellowy olive green-finches with striking cream wing bars that lit up in the spring sunshine, as they performed their circus acrobatics while swinging from the cones of the alders.

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   Sticking close to the beck, I find myself stumbling into a low lying sedge filled carr, the bog sucking hard at my feet,  boots belching and slurping as the mire releases a fetid stink of stagnant rotting vegetation.  Slowly I sink up to my knees until eventually, I managed to haul myself out of the pit by pulling onto the stout stems of goat willow.  Grey sallows that were so thickly grown and so intertwined it was almost like trying to push my way through the woven thongs of a withy sheep hurdle.

   At the edge of the marshland, on either side of the beck stand two tall weathered gritstone pillars,  guardians over a narrow portal into a secret enchanted woodland glade.  The clearing heavily overhung with the gnarled distorted shapes of ancient stunted oaks, trunks bent, their contorted limbs draped with long hanging beards of phosphorescent emerald green Lichens, boles and branches adorned with delicate symmetrical combs of dark green polypody ferns.  On the rocks and woodland floor deep cushions of mosses, that by April are sprinkled with the bright white flowers of wood sorrel and a soft mauve blush of wood-anemones,  its sunny banks cheerfully sporting sweet buttermilk yellow primroses.

DSC05639The dell a complete enchantment;  A Middle Earth.

Once I’d entered the glade, I sank down onto one of the dry soft cushions of moss, took my ringing wet boots off and squeezed the black filthy pungent slime of the mire from my socks.  It’s not too long though before I’m fast away with the fairies, and soon I find myself drifting off to sleep, the thin spring sunshine that seeps through the dappled shade of the oak trees casting its warm magic spell on me.  As I lie there sprawled out, warm comfortable and half asleep on my comfy pallet of moss, slowly a descending flute-like song enters into my consciousness, gradually drawing me back into the land of the living and lifting me out of my dream-like state.  Gazing up into the flickering green canopy above, I spot flitting about on the delicate green foliage of the lower branches of an oak, a small slight bird with an olive back, yellow undersides and a pale-yellow eye stripe.

   The willow warbler seems oblivious of me as I lie there intrigued watching its acrobatic circus act while listening to its sweet sonorous descending carol.  Hanging upside down, the tiny bird worked feverishly hard at examining the underside of each newly emerged oak leaf, in a quest for aphids and insects to feed upon.  This diminutive scrap of a bird a sheer pleasure to sit watch and listen to, as it goes about earning its living and it never fails to amaze me how such a tiny speck of life can have travelled up to five thousand miles from Sub Saharan Africa to visit this place, build a nest rear its young entertain me.  Only to once more in the autumn fly the five thousand miles back to Africa.  An annual miracle that in the scale of life, time and distance makes me feel very small and very insignificant.

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   Ruminating on all of this, and lulled by the warblers sweet song, the gentle warm spring sunshine made me drowsy again and I soon found myself nodding off.  Until suddenly, the shrill alarm call from a couple of jaybirds drew me back into the land of the living.  Stiffly, I managed to haul myself up from the comfort of my woodland bower and reluctantly leave the magical enchantment of the fairy dell behind.  Walking on through low open scrub and windblown trees I soon reach the upper edge of the woodland to where I find, raised above a shallow ditch and half-buried in the bracken mush the old bare black bones of a partly collapsed dry-stone wall.  The ancient dyke, bank, and boundary stones that marked a transition from forest to moorland.

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  Once over the wall, I gradually begin to gain altitude, the clough becoming more open, the sides shallow, and the trees on either side short and scrubby.  Bracken fills the bottom of the valley and in places grows so lush and so high that it reaches up to my chest and I’m forced to follow the sheep tracks that tunnel beneath.
It’s almost like walking blindfolded, I can hear the beck splashing and gurgling close by, though I can’t see it.  Inevitably the tracks run out, and I resort to slavishly trying to push the ferns apart, or half lying on them in an effort to trample them down, all the while trying not to fall into the hidden course of the stream.  This tiresome performance goes on for several hundred meters so that by the time I finally find my way through the deep maze of ferns, I’m bushed and more than pleased to see the bracken giving way to a patch of short sheep cropped mountain grasses and sedge.  A tiny oasis cheerfully sprinkled with sun yellow tormentil, gentian blue milkwort and the little white pearls of eyebright flowers.

  Close to the side of the beck, on the edge of the pasture stood the lean bare bones of an ancient stone hovel, the ribs of it roof trees bent and broken, propped up by the sad remains of its crumbling walls.  The door pillars still standing and supporting a massive roughly carved stone lintel that I have to stoop under to enter, before crunching my way over broken fragments of gritstone slates and the deep layer of dry sheep shit that littered the bothy floor.  In the far corner of the dwelling sat a flat slate thrawl set by the side of the fallen chimney; its breast stained black by the smoke from generations of smouldering peat fires.

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  I decide to hunker down next to the stone thrall and away from the chill wind, set up my tiny stove, brew tea and eat.   As I sat by the hearthstones under the old chimney breast, while ferreting around in my sack trying to dig out my billy cans, and beginning to feel the meagre warmth that slowly radiated from my tiny stove.  I started to sense ghosts.  Ghosts of all the many generations of shepherds and their families, that like me must once have huddled for warmth around the glowing embers of their sad turf fires.  The children cuddling and giving the bottle to their orphaned cade lambs.
A substance living though never hunger, or a wanting one; there would always be a lamb to kill.

  Shooting out from under the thrall, the long copper brown streak of a weasel flashed across the floor of the bothy and as if made of quicksilver, poured itself down into a dark narrow cleft in the shattered remains of the wall opposite.  I settled down to watch and wait and knowing the habits of its kind, that if I waited long enough, curiosity would get the better of it, and eventually, would poke its head out of a nearby cavity to give me the once over.
  Sure enough, just as curiosity killed the cat, this intelligent little assassin stuck its head out.  The two bright black diamonds of its eyes fixing me, as though trying to weigh me up as it held my gaze for the eternity of what was probably only a couple of seconds, before melting back into the crumbling labyrinth of the wall.  I didn’t have to wait too long though before once again it began to worm its snake-like way in and out of the cracks and crannies.  Bolder now, occasionally rolling and tumbling before standing erect onto its hind legs, flashing its creamy white waistcoat and belly towards me.  These mad antics carried on for some time, as though putting on a special performance; and just for me.

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 If its plan was to mesmerise and deceive me, as it does to the small rodents birds and young rabbits that it preys upon, just before it goes in for the kill, by latching on to one of poor creatures throat and severing its jugular vein.  Before gorging itself on the animal’s flesh and drinking its warm thick blood;  it had succeeded !  Unfortunately for the weasel most gamekeepers are aware of this habit, and know full well that if they see one dive into a wall, all that they have to do is stand and wait for curiosity to get the better of it and sure as eggs are eggs, the poor gullible creature will pop its head out again, giving the keeper an excellent chance to give it a full barrel from his twelve-bore shotgun !

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   Weasels and their larger cousins the stoats, really are a hostage to instinct and habit, keepers know this and take full advantage of their built-in weakness.  Spring-loaded Fen traps sitting in wire tunnels are set on logs lying across the cloughs, while others are sited by the side of the groughs, placed under artificial passages carefully constructed out of pieces of flat gritstone.
Weasels, being weasels are unfortunately and fatally for them unable to resist the urge to investigate a nice dark
warm and inviting tunnel !
The strangest thing is though, quite a few of these traps seem to have been sprung without catching a thing.  Quite odd that !!

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   Kicking myself up the arse to brave a biting cold spring wind, I left behind the warm comfort of the byre.
Keeping on a line close to the beck, the moor started to pull in tight on either side, and I soon found myself wading and floundering through knee-deep heather and bilberry, the only respite the few outcropping slabs of bare gritstone that I thankfully managed stand on to get my breath back.  Before I get too far, the banks of the beck become so steep and so overgrown with heather that I’m forced to slide down into its bed to risk boulder hopping, or in places just wading on straight through it.  Only a meter or so in width now, it becomes sluggish, slow running, full of treachery.   Slippery green rocks and deceptively deep dark black sumps lie in wait for me, the soft peat that made up the low sides of its banks deeply undercut, making them steep and challenging,
to climb in or out of.

   Many springs and shallow groughs began to feed into it, all confusingly leading up on to the moor, the beck itself no more than a narrow rill feeding low boggy areas of juncus rush and deep sponges of emerald green sphagnum moss.  In places, the stream noisily disappeared altogether to flow under the peat and I try to follow its passage as it slurps and babbles its way beneath the heather, only to reappear again further on.   I have to keep my eyes open for hidden sinkholes, these heavily camouflaged by the deep heather and bilberry, some thigh deep with the stream running beneath and all with a leg-breaking potential.

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  Again, I make the decision to leave the clough, and taking to the heather above head for a distant group of enormous gritstone boulders that I see standing out on the skyline.  Scrambling out of the clough and up on to its heather crest, I’m suddenly startled by the harsh scalding Leck ! leck lecking, from a covey of red grouse, as they explode from beneath my feet, wings rapidly whirring as they skim low over the moss before abruptly wheeling and falling sharply, to once more melt back into the
bleak blackness of the moor.  

  Taking a compass bearing up on to the High Stones, I set off stumbling my way through heather and heath, over the beautiful and sombre wilderness that was laid out before me.  Until eventually, clinging knee-deep heather forced me to slide down on my arse into the bottom of one of the deep high sided peat groughs.  Just one of an endless confusion of water-worn wounds, deeply carved into the course and calloused skin of the moss.
Its arteries and veins slowly bleeding the moor of its own thin watery blood.

Some folk never learn !  From past experience, I should have known better, and that blindly following one of these grikes was not a good plan.  A clough may appear to be heading in the right direction, but they’re devious and can deceive.  Once in and free from the boot clinging knee-deep heather of the moor above, the walking can be reasonably straightforward, especially if the bed of the clough’s frozen or as is often the case in the summer bone dry.  By simply contouring round the dry, bare peat on its sides or walking over the exposed grit’ pavements that the moorland sits upon, can all make for a very easy and seductive delusion to follow !

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  They beguile you into taking a false trail, and in the end, you get hopelessly lost confused and disorientated.  Maybe some of the 2000-year old bodies of the peat pickled, red-haired bronze age men, that are occasionally discovered sticking out of the bogs and mires of these northern moors, made the same mistake !
Perhaps blundering over the harsh moss in dire winter weather, they got hopelessly lost and taking their eye off the ball fell foul to the cruel elements, sinking into the quag’, only to be discovered several thousand years later.

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Their skin and features plain to see, the veins and hairs on their muscular arms still pronounced, fingernails still intact.  Some seem to have been hanged or ritually garroted before being lowered into the swamp, leather thongs tight around their necks betray this, and it’s hard to see that they could have hung themselves in this treeless barren desert.  Though two to four thousand years ago, the moor was a forest and ancient tree stumps, just like the bog men occasionally rise to the surface.

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  Following the line of the clough, as it twists and turns for a further hundred metres or so, on rounding a bend, bursting out from under my feet and still partly clothed in its white winter coat the large piebald shape of a blue hare leapt out from the shelter of its scrape.  The form set away from the wind and warmly tucked away under a thick tufted clump of juncus’.  Taking a tremendous athletic leap the hare left me standing, and with a restrained grace, all the while reserving its energy, it elegantly strode out along the hard peat lining at the side of the grough, before disappearing around the next curve, to once again become part of the vast labyrinth.

   I like to think I have a good sense of direction, but take the sun or the horizon away from me like most folks I’m stuffed, and end up hopelessly lost and disoriented.  So to re-set my bearings, I decided to climb up the near-vertical side of the grough and take to the heather again.  Slipping and sliding, I start to kick steps up the steep ten-foot-high wall of peat, and after several failed attempts, eventually, reach the deeply overhanging cornice at its summit, and by grabbing onto handfuls of heather just manage to do an undignified belly flop over on to its crest.  As I lay, flat out on the lip of the crevasse gasping and trying to regain my breath, in the far distance I could see more wheeling coveys of grouse, their black silhouettes rising and falling on rapid wing beats as they strafe the moor.  The harsh staccato sound of their machine gun like leck lecking, drifting over the moss towards me, until abruptly they fall, curling steeply down to once more fade and disappear into the darkness of the heath.

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  Aloof, and frowning the High Stones glower down on me from their lofty stone throne, set high on the dark eyebrow of the moors edge.
And, it didn’t take me too long, before I realised that the line of my clough had led me wildly astray, taking me at least a quarter of a mile off course, so I cast a second bearing.  Only this time decide to stay out of the grikes, and stick religiously to the compass.  Here the
 heather was shorter and the peat dry, making the walking much more straightforward, this in part due to excessively large areas of old burnt Heather from the previous autumns burning.

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  On the high grouse moors, the practice of heather burning, or Muir-burn as its called in Scotland, is traditionally carried out by the gamekeepers in the autumn. Large patches of old and leggy ling are fired more or less in a rotational fashion, in what is supposed to be a controlled burn !  The excuse for this act of vandalism is that it promotes the growth of young shoots from the base of the heather, these shoots are the primary food source of the red grouse, and in theory, it increases their survival rate; more young heather shoots equals more chicks, equals more grouse, which in turn equals a bigger bag.  Its simple, boils down to pounds shillings and pence.
Fuck all the fried voles ! Fuck the brown lizards, grass snakes toads and adders along with the thousands of tiny invertebrates, it’s all down to returns, £,s,d, my boy.

They call it moorland conservation ? I call it corporate vandalism !

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  In places, wide tracks had been flailed out through this burnt-out war-zone, all leading up to long lines of shooting butts.  The butts neatly and expensively made out of dry-stone’, and sods of peat.  Each of them provided with the thoughtful addition of a built-in seat so that the clients can park their fat corporate arses while in hiding from the grouse, until on the keepers whistle, they valiantly pop up to shoot the living shit out of them.  {On the Whistle boys, shades of the first world war; the officer classes giving a blast before the poor buggers went over the top}.
 They really do think of everything though, in addition to all of this, a conveniently placed shelf has been provided in each trench to stand their hip flasks on, just so that they and their posh mates could make a toast to their brave and heroic acts of slaughtering by grapeshot a few man-eating game birds.  Nice touch that.

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  The arseholes that engage in this yearly activity that they call a sport ? Are invariably wealthy corporate businessmen, and in the main mostly townies out in the countryside for a days jolly.  They arrive dressed in their ridicules outdated tweeds and waxed jackets, park their fat arses onto a row of seats on a specially designed trailer, only to get towed up to the line of butts by a 4×4 of some description.  When having spent a few hours filling the carcasses of a few game birds with shot, they get hauled off down again to stuff their own hulks with fine wines and a corporate din-dins.  For the privilege of all this, they can easily pay up to £1,200 per peg, and in addition, a group can expect to fork out around £2,500 for lodge accommodation.
Authentic country folk this lot though !  Take the 4x4s and the keepers, {minders} away from them and the whole lot of them would be stuffed, just the shock of having to use their own legs would give most of them a coronary.
Sorry about that; Rant over !

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  Following the line of butts as they trail up towards the squat black shapes of the stones, obscured fleetingly by shadowy skeins of grey mist, swirling and weaving a thin luminescent grey shroud around them, forcing me to keep my eye to the compass’s needle.  I work out a rough line linking up the dark scorched patches of burnt-out heather, and leaving the butts behind start to scrunch my way upwards through the seared charcoal black stalks of dead ling and out onto the watershed of the high moorland plateau.

  I’m nearly 2000 feet up now, and the vegetation changes from moorland heath to a low windblown tundra-like landscape, the heather short and patchy, taken over by thick mats of crowberry and the pale pock-marked leaves of cowberry.  Large areas are overgrown with bog cotton and dotted with hares tail, patches of tiny moorland sedge’s glow deep orange, contrasting with erect golden candles of bog asphodel.   On dry raised areas lying prostrate, just above black bootlace like rhizomes creeping just beneath the surface of the peat, I stumble over the broad green, crimson edged bramble shaped leaves of cloudberry.
This high arctic-alpine member of the rubus family is a shy flowerer and is even shyer at fruiting.  So it was a pleasure and a gift to see sparsely scattered amongst its flat mulberry like leaves, standing upright on thin vertical stalks a few of its pure white blackberry-like flowers, their central cluster of delicate pale, gold-tipped anthers 
glowing brightly in the weak hill sunshine.

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  Head down, pushing against the cold wind, I carefully work out a rough line through dense swards of bog cotton and hares foot grasses.  Fluttering white flags leading me on up towards the High Stones.  I soon discover that the plateau is a swamp, soused with an oozing network of shallow reed-filled gutters, all slowly weeping and seeping their way down through a moor that turns out to be more water than a bog.  Many of the dykes feed into a myriad of small still ink-black tarns.  Black mirrors, loosely covered with a floating veil of three-leaved olive green bog beans, their margins adorned with delicate wreaths of tiny, ivy-leaved pond-weed.  Others, entirely blanketed by a treacherous quilt of bright green orange-tinged sphagnum, a rippling multi-coloured shroud draped over malevolent, bottomless boot sucking sumps.  I find myself gently creeping and edging my way around them, all the while prodding with my pole for a solid piece of ground, in places leaping and not always successfully from the sanctuary of one isle of juncus’ to the next, in a mad desperate arm-flailing effort not to be swallowed up by the swamp.
Doing my best to avoid being discovered in two thousand years as the sad peat pickled remains of a twenty-first-century bog man. 

  Finally, I manage to gain a low shoulder of high ground leading me up and out of the morass.  From where in the near distance, fleeing from mean shallow seats scraped out of the dry peat, hanging under the deep sheltered hollows that littered the flanks of the ridge, not yet fully pupated into their grey summer coats, I see more mountain hares start up.  Jigging from one side of the rib to the other, as they swiftly lope away from me, their scruffy piebald blue and white forms disappearing, then reappearing as they course in and out of the peat hags.  Only to once again, melt back into a far distant haze of gold and purple heather.
The odd pair of them breaking off to court and play tag, chasing one another around in ever-decreasing circles, occasionally pausing with their long black-tipped ears erect to stand bolt upright onto their hind legs, before squaring up face on to sport and box.

An ancient vernal love affair, a pairing prescribed in heaven.

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  Huddling hard under one of the peat hags, sheltering out of an idle cutting wind while watching the pair of pugilistic lovers slugging it out, gradually, lonely monotonous piping began to worm its way into my consciousness.  And, doing my best to keep a low profile, stooping, I carefully crept my way along the side of the hag, heading in the rough direction that the sound appeared to be coming from.  Confusingly though, as soon as I get to where I think the call comes from, Houdini like it immediately seems to be coming from somewhere else, and it took me some time before I clocked that there were two sources for the bird call and that they were both trying to pipe me away from a nest.

  Golden Plovers.  Liberace birds, that’s the name a good friend of mine decided to christen them, so named on account of their magnificent jewel-encrusted summer raiment, it being, the very height of avian fashion for that particular season. The outfit, comprising of a gilded sequin spangled waistcoat smartly edged with a white border and all set to advantage above a nicely cut midnight black undergarment;  all very sexy.

The thing is, despite this audacious show of bling, until taking to the wing, they really can be quite tricky to spot, merging with and hidden amongst the gold-tipped leaves of bilberry and crowberry of the heath.  All the same, I didn’t have to wait too long before one appeared, it was only about fifty meters away perched on a low grit boulder on the brow of a raised part of the moor, standing stock still while continuing to chant its insistent, haunting lament. 

Close up of an European Golden plover in wetlands in Bressay, Scotland, UK.

  I knew that I must have been getting close to the nest site, as the plover allowed me to get more or less on top of it before feigning an injury, by flapping and hobbling away low to the ground, wings outstretched and tail down in an effort to draw me away from the area.  I played along with this farce for a few more meters or so, until eventually, the bird flew off to find sanctuary on the top of a nearby cairn of stones, all the while continuing to pipe away at its sad mournful air.  Almost as soon as it had left me, its understudy flew in, taking over the star roll in what was part two of the second act, and gave an equally fine and exceptional performance; in fact, a mirror image of the first.  Eventually, tiring of the drama, I decided to draw down the curtain onto their grand production, bring an end to the show and start to search for the nest. 

  Keeping an eye open as to where I placed my feet, I set about quartering the short sheep cropped heather at the top of a small raised hillock that the plovers seemed to be desperately trying to draw me away from.  
It took a while, but when I eventually did stumble across the nest, it was nothing more than a shallow scoop built out of small fragments of heather and lined with a warm, soft cushion of dry moss.  It was almost invisible, blending in with its surroundings, just another part of the moorland.

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Finding it had turned out to be a tiresome and tedious task, especially as the eggs had hatched and the nest with its four tiny fledgelings feathered in, almost completely with the short sheep cropped heather and its mossy under-storey.
The chicks themselves a marvel of evolution, enchanting fluffy green, gold and black scraps of life that when disturbed play dead, lying stock still as if frozen, making themselves almost invisible to see set against the heather lining of their nest; as if just four more tiny, withered and ragged fragments of windblown moss.
I didn’t linger over it too long though, as the parent plovers were getting increasingly agitated by the minute, putting ever more effort into their frantic displays and almost throwing themselves under my boots, so I thought it best to quickly move away and leave the young brood to the care and protection of their heroic parents.

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  Sticking hard to the compass, I found myself thrutching up into a steep, shallow north-facing cwm, that hung high up below the northern edge of the plateau.  Here the heather gave way to short sheep cropped mountain grasses and sedge.  A wide fan of wet rills, glittering and crystal clear, suckle the infant clough way down in the deep shadows of its bowl.
Forced to follow faint, indistinct sheep tracks as they contour steeply up through a band of bare clattering screes and loose grey shale, out from under a thin scattering of yellow-sedge lining one of the ice rimmed wet flushes, I set up a brace of snipe.  I watch them as they fall, erratically zigzagging steeply down onto the moor; lost.  Only the occasional flash from their swift white-edged scimitar wings and the odd harsh, rusty creak of their alarm, echoing, to break the deep silence of the fell.

The Swans of Blood.

Scrambling along one of the narrow sheep runs, on a steep part of the head-wall, I end up making a slow deliberate traverse across seams of unstable moving scree and large tottering blocks of grit’, all tightly squeezed in-between towering bands of crumbling orange-grey grit’ crags.  Halfway along one of the terraces, sat on an untidy jumble of a nest, roughly made up of twigs, flotsam and gleanings of sheep wool, all crazily perched high on the lip of a narrow white-washed ledge on one of the tors.  I startle a pair of ravens.  Who, with the scarcely disguised indifference of a pallbearer, turn their great black beaks towards me, gazing, casting their cold pitch-black eyes on and through me; undertakers eyes, the scavenging dead eyes of the sweepers up after a death.

Raven - Corvus corax,   portrait and social behavior

One man must ride the gaping gallows,
hang to death, until his soul-hoard,
his bloody bone-coffer becomes broken.
There on the gallows, the Raven takes his eye,
the dark cloaked one tears at the soulless;
nor is he able to ward off that evil,

that loathsome thief of the air.
Old English Poem.  The fortunes of men’.
 From the Exeter Book.

Shuffling and puffing up their plumage to make themselves appear twice the size, lazily they stretch open their broad wide wings, and issuing a loud deep Kronk !  Peel away from their high stone throne.  Folding back their wings like the barbs of an arrow they steeply drop, disappearing into the deep dark depths of the void, tumbling and pirouetting as they fall, their deep cryptic Kronks echoing around the crags.  Only to once more return, as though deciding; giving me a second chance.  Twisting and turning in the air, looping curling and rolling around each other in a mad clinging play fight as they plummet, before again peeling away in a wild wide arc.  The sun flashing and glinting off the backs of their perfect oil black iridescent plumage.  Calling to me, they turn their heads to look, staring, entering my mind; searching deep into my soul  

    Breaching the edge, I found a steep rubble-filled gully that led sharply up towards a deep dark narrow cleft cleaving two of the main tors, that from below looked as though it might just be a passage leading me up and out onto the high plateau.
Guarding the entrance to, and barring my way into the rift, horizontally wedged across its base lay an enormous jagged chock-stone, that by some contorted grovelling and crawling I just manage to squeeze my way under into the dark depths of a dank, damp and ferny cave behind.  Only to find its floor littered with the sweet stinking remains of a dead ewe, that somehow must have slipped and fallen down into the chasm from the moor above.  Smashed and bleeding, it had been unable to escape from its dark stone prison cell and in the end,
slowly and inevitably starved to death.

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Holding my breath !   Strenuously, I bridge and thrutch my way up the back of a narrow slimy green passage leading up and out of the cave, to pass through a small round window of daylight in its roof.  Gasping, eventually the chimney spat me out, to thankfully fill my lungs with the cold fresh upland air again.

Standing guard, close by stood the dazzling white pillar of a triangulation point.  Stark and bright against the clean gritstone pavement that made up the flat grey summit of the highest,
High Stone.

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 Here, cowering out of an idle cutting east wind and sheltering in the lee of a roughly built stone ring cairn, the wind tears at the swirling wraiths of mist, pulling them apart. Exposing the brooding wild expanse of the moor, a vast multicoloured map of wildness laid out beneath my feet.  Sunlight and shadow race, tagging each other across its wonderfully bleak patchwork of golds, purples and browns.
Scarred only by the charred blackened remains left behind by the
heather burners.

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 Cleaving its way through the centre of all of this, my clough.  Its sparkling beck, the main artery of this complicated wild landscape.  Lingering, it slowly worms its torturous way down through the moor, the delicate thin fingers of its capillaries branching off and leaching the lifeblood from its black sodden flesh.  Before, finally crashing and tumbling on its long journey through the distant meadows and ancient oak woodlands that clothe the green and fertile dale that lies far below.

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All of this stunning beauty shared, by a miraculously diverse flora and fauna that has amazingly, and despite all of the odds, somehow evolved to take advantage of it and learned to scratch the rudest of livings from the scantiest of all provisions.

Man just an unwanted intruder into their wild world.

Black White Bl W Pic Vig To EX

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendships.


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The great ridge above Edale

As you drive across  the Black
Moor from Chesterfield
To Hathersage

Clouds race each Other
Across the Sky

Sunlight and Shadow
Race Past
The black scar tissue Of
Drystone Walls

Walls put up by Men

Even after two Thousand
Years
The black bones Of
Carls Wark
Are still There

The black flesh of the Moor
Slow at Healing


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In Mickleden Beck

All seems lost except as Shelter
To the Weasels and Voles
Gold Autumn
Bracken falls and Softens
The Wounds

Healing over with Acrid
Black Crowberry
Grit wreathed deep In
Sweet Bilberry

Grey grit Bones

Cold forged in Winters
Hearth
The old stones Tempered
Left naked

A funereal pyre of Forgotten
Memories


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The long Moor Bleaklow

 

The Barton under Needwood 9.5 mile circular walk. Pulling in the hamlet of Wychnor, the village of Alrewas, Yoxall Meadows and Dunstall Park.

This lovely atmospheric walk through the woodlands and farmland of East Staffordshire is a walk that on a fine midsummers day would be hard to beat.  Making it an excellent counterbalance to walking on the bleak high moorlands on the northern edge of the county.  As it wanders in a clockwise direction southwards, through some of the mellow low midland countryside surrounding the floodplain of the Trent Valley.  To work its way back north towards the Needwood Forest through a land of small hills, and the atmospheric little smears of woodland that stand within the rich pastoral farmland of this most beautiful part of the north midlands.

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Parking

Leave the B1056 and take the small road opposite the Church of St James in the centre of Barton under Needwood, {Dunstall Road}.  Drive north along the lane and park on the side of the road just past the John Taylor High School, usually plenty of spaces.

OS  Explorer Map, The National Forest 245.  SK 185 188.

{Within the text R’F’M’ indicates
Round Footpath Marker}.


The Walk.

Walk down Dunstall Road, {south} towards the centre of the village and its junction with the B5016 {Barton Gate Road}, Shoulder of Mutton pub on the left.  Turn right and walk along the road until opposite the notice board and gates of the church of St James.

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Cross the road and enter the churchyard {wooden footpath post} to walk up to the church tower.  Take the footpath on the right and walk in a diagonal direction through the gravestones under a shaded arch of variegated Holly trees and Yews, to an opening in a low red brick wall standing under a big old Large Leaved Lime.

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Pass through and turn left to walk along a metalled path between the wall and the cemetery, pass through a pair of black metal gates to a cross path.  Carry straight on following the path to the left of a playground {Collinson Park}.  Leave the park, bearing left then right to cross over a narrow bridge above a small stream.  {Barton Brook}.

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Walk for thirty metres and take the path on the left through a gap in a post and rail fence.  follow the path as it again curves to the left then back right through trees and shrubs to bring you up to the rear of Barton’ Cottage Hospital.  Turn Hard right and walk on under its boundary hedge up to the end of a wide metalled road/drive {Collinson Road}.
Take the narrow footpath to your left to walk between a red brick wall on the right, leading on to Larch Panel fences and a tall Ivy-covered hedge on the left.  Plod on under the shade of trees and the high hedge until eventually, you come out onto a road called Short Lane.  Turn right and walk down the lane for about fifty metres to the junction of two roads, The Green on the left and Wales lane to the right,

dsc03759-1{The road sign opposite the junction with a nice traditional red G’P’O’ post box alongside}.

Walk down The Green for about 180/200 meters then take the road called Captains lane coming in from the left until after about fifty meters, in the hedgerow on the right you will see a stile {Broken wooden footpath post}.  Cross over into the meadow and walk across it in a slightly diagonal direction towards a narrow wooden bridge in its the far left-hand corner, {R’F’M}.
Walk over the bridge and immediately turn right to walk alongside the tall Hawthorn hedge up to a stile that will take you out onto a narrow metalled road called Dogs Head Lane ! A great name that.  {Overgrown green footpath sign in the hedge to the right}.

Turn left and walk down the lane for fifty metres to take a wide gravel track on the right called Green Lane.
{Wooden footpath post and a blue National Cycleway Sign. Route 54}.

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Scrunch on down this gravel/metalled bridle track, by-passing scattered cottages and houses for about a hundred meters or so up to a metal farm gate across the ride, pass through a gap in the post and rail fence to its left. 

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Ramble on down the lane between tall hedges and scattered Oaks enjoying the odd glimpse on either side of the wide flat, fertile arable fields of the Trent valley, until before too long on the left an expansive view opens up over a large cornfield.  {A blue national Cycle Way sign, Route 54 and a wooden footpath sign standing to the right of the track}.

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Keep scrunching along the track with the old hedge line to your right until soon over the wide arable prairie to your left, on the horizon you can just discern the square squat tower of the small church of St Leonard’s, in the hamlet of Wychnor.

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Soon the old hedge to the right peters out and a low hedge on the left of the track takes over, this leads on to a taller section dotted with the occasional large hedgerow Oak.  To the right of this and just before the track meets a small metalled road can be seen a wonderful wildflower/Buttercup meadow, particularly showy in June/July.

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Walk straight over the road onto a metalled drive called Church Lane and meander on down it between meadows towards the hamlet of Wychnor, until after passing some rather posh dwellings and scattered cottages you come to the tiny parish church of St Leonards.

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On the opposite side of the road from the church and set in a post/rail fence stands a kissing gate, behind it is an information board displaying a brief history of Wychnor and the remains of its 12th-century medieval village.  These remnants take the form of humps mounds and hollows indicating where the village and its mill along with the outline of its dwellings once stood.
These can plainly be seen standing out on the meadow just behind the board.

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Pass through the gate and walk in a diagonal direction leftwards on a vague path across the meadow, keeping the humps and hollows of the ancient village to your right, carry on past a deep hollow on the left with a large old Ash standing above it and towards a gap in the tree-lined high overgrown hedge that lies in front of you.
Enclosed with a post and rail fence on either side drop steeply down through the break to a wooden stile, {R’F’M’ to the rear of stile}, this will take you out on to the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

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Placed just to the left of the stile is a wooden bench, a nice place to sit and lig around on under the shade of tall Crack Willows and Ashes, while listening to the joyful descending descant of Willow Warblers and the emphatic Chip chip of Chifchaffs, disturbed only by the occasional narrow-boat as it slides past ponking and spluttering its way along the cut.

Haul yourself up and turn to the right to saunter on along the canal’s tow-path {west}, towards a raised section with white metal handrails on either side, the first of several.

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Wend your way over the walkway following the side of the cut and accompanied by the shrill croaks of Moor Hens and the whirr of Dragonflies wings pass over more raised sections of the tow-path that carry you over the low marshy areas and small ponds full of Lilly pads, their banks lined with Yellow Flags and tall Reed mace.

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The next few hundred metres are the pure essence of tranquillity and a delight to wander along, as the navigation slowly meanders its way through the lush green water meadows that lie on either side.  Pastures that by the month of June are stocked with fine red cattle, lying down or just standing motionless up to their belly’s in the rich herbage and tall grasses of high summer, as if in some sort of bovine dream time.

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Eventually, on the far side of the navigation, you will see a floating barrier strung across the mouth of a weir.  This is the point where, after joining the canal system for a brief section, the River Trent leaves the cut.
Stride on past the weir for about 100/150 meters to the start of another raised walkway/bridge that carries the towpath over the river at the point where it flows into the canal.

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The point where the River Trent leaves the navigation.

At the entrance to the walkway, you will find another wooden bench, a nice spot to sit and watch the narrow-boats slipping past.
Down the bank behind the bench and hidden in the hedgerow is a kissing gate, {R’F’M’ on a short wooden post by the side of the tow path}.  Drop down to the gate and enter the meadow, {tall wooden footpath post and R’F’M’}.

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The towpath walkway with the river Trent coming in from the right and feeding into the Trent and Mersey canal beneath it.

Before you do this and if you have the time, it’s well worth the short walk over the walkway to stand above the Trent and take in the fine views up the river to the north and to the west along the canal towards Hunts Lock on the edge of Alrewas village.  Or even walk the extra 100 metres or so to take a look at the lock and perhaps if lucky see a boat pass through, before returning to the kissing gate and resuming the walk.

The name of the village of Alrewas is thought to be a derivation of the old English name of Alder Wash; a place where alders grow.  Alder was a valued timber in the middle ages and was used for making clogs, wooden bowls, spindles and piles to be sunk in water.  It’s still used today, mainly for wood carving and turning.  The wood is unusual in that as soon as its felled, due to the tannin’s within the wood the cut surfaces turn bright orange, though when carved after it’s dried out and seasoned the wood remains bone white.
Alders grow on the side of rivers, streams and ponds and especially on the wet and boggy ground in low lying areas.
And as such !
The next three or four fields can be a muddy quagmire, particularly so in heavy rain and after a Trent flood.

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Once through the gate, leave the canal and river behind to start heading northwest in a slightly diagonal direction over the meadow, heading for a gap to the right of a large Crack Willow standing in the broken hedge-line in front of you.

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Walkthrough the gap, turn right and walk up to a stout wooden footpath post, {R’F’M’}, pass through a break in the tall hedge-line just beyond it onto a wide shady tree-lined track/ride.  Cross over the ride to a stile, {wooden footpath post, R’F’M’}.

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Clamber over the stile and leave Alrewas, the Alder washes and the river’s flood plain behind you to walk along the enclosed footpath to its end, here turn right to cross a low paved bridge between rails leading up to a wicket gate, {R’F’M’}.

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Pass through the gate and turn left to walk in a diagonal direction towards a break in the hedge-line just left of the meadows far right-hand corner, {R’F’M’} on a stout wooden fingerpost standing in the fork of a dead and fallen thorn bush.

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Pass through the break to cut across the right-hand corner of the next meadow to find a raised walkway/bridge {hand rail} taking you over a muddy ditch/brook, {R’F’M’}.  Walk-in a diagonal direction leftwards through the middle of the next meadow, towards its distant far right-hand corner and a stand of large Crack Willows with a wooden wicket gate standing under them.

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To the left and behind the Crack Willows, flows a lovely little beck called the River Swarbourn.  This sleepy little stream rises from a spring about a mile to the north of the village of Hoar Cross upon the Needwood Forest, before lazily meandering its way south for six or seven miles until it joins the River Trent just north of Alrewas.

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Enter Potters Meadow Wood and keeping to a line of tall White Willows, follow the grassy ride through the shadowy willow woodland, passing through the odd clearing until just after a short mixed section of young Ash and Oak saplings you arrive at a broken wooden wicket gate on the edge of a large wide meadow, {R’F’M’}.

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Make your way over the meadow in a slightly diagonal direction heading for its far left-hand corner, then curve leftwards around a clump of large Crack Willows until you come up to a wicket gate, {F’W’M’}.  Go through and cross over a small wooden bridge above a wide ditch to wend your way through a clearing/butterfly meadow, to the edge of Lady’s Walk Wood, a lovely mature Oak/mixed woodland.  {These woodlands mark the edge of the Wychnor Hall Country Club}.  Stick to the path curving leftwards under the wood to a grass cross ride. {stout wooden fingerpost in the undergrowth on the right, R’F’M’}. 
 Turn left here and walk a short distance steeply uphill to a second {stout wooden fingerpost, R’F’M’}, standing under a large Sweet Chestnut tree on the right-hand side of the ride.

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Turn left here and wander along the wide grass ride through a delightfully scruffy piece of mixed woodland, dotted with the odd conifer and false Acacia trees to bring you hard up to a black plastic water tank and a wooden shed.  {footpath post with R’F’M’}.  Here you are on the edge of the old parkland of Wychnor Hall, now part of the Wychnor Park Country Club golf course.

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Enter the park and follow a hard track towards the superb old Queen Ann pile of Wychnor Hall.  Plod on under the hall’s ha-ha, with lovely views over to the right of the old parkland and estate woodlands, now transformed into part of the country club’s golf course, to leave the club’s grounds by the entrance to the hall.
 {Tall wooden footpath post with R’F’M’}.

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Step out of the park onto a metalled road leading up to a large grass triangular island with a large showy octagonal wooden plant container and a young Copper Beech standing in the middle of it, along with large a white notice board announcing the entrance to the country club.  {Stout wooden fingerpost, R’F’M’} on the islands far left-hand vertex.

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Take the left-hand fork and tramp along the road, by-passing a wooden footpath post on the right and standing just opposite the entrance to the Grange, {sign posted The Grange Wychnor}.   Keep on the road for four or five hundred meters until you arrive at a pair of wooden five/bar gates across the road.  To the left in a post and rail fence on the edge of the woodland stands a wooden stile, {wooden footpath post, R’F’M’}.

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Scramble over the stile or if open pass through the gates into a large Oil Seed Rape field, push diagonally through the Rape aiming for the left-hand end of a Mature Oak woodland to find, just in from the left-hand edge of the wood a tall {wooden footpath post, R’F’M’}.

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Enter the woodland and follow a well-worn path under and to the left of a large Beech tree to by-pass an old overgrown brick byre on the left of the trail.  Saunter on in dappled shade under a line of six fine old mature Oak trees standing to your left and a line of young Oak saplings on your right, until on reaching the sixth large Oak tree the path bears to the left taking you out of the wood onto the edge of a wide arable field, {wooden footpath post, R’F’M’}.

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Turn right and walk along the edge of the plough following a wide grassy track/headland by the side of the Oak woodland, that as you progress gradually develops into a pure mature conifer woodland.  Here, there are some lovely views over to your left of the Trent valley towards Rugeley, with Cannock Chase standing out on the horizon above it.

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As you reach the right-hand corner of the field the track breaks away from the trees and curves to the left following a scrubby broken hedge/field boundary line.  After about thirty metres you will see a gap between two large Crab Apple trees, {footpath post with R’F’M’ hidden in the undergrowth to the right of the gap}.

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Walk between the Crab’s to pass over a wide overgrown grass ride, bringing you immediately up to a wooden stile set just to the right of a large metal farm gate,{R’F’M’ on the post and rail fence to the left of the stile }.
Climb over into the young  National Forest plantation of
Swarbourn Meadows Wood.

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When I explored this lovely and well thought out little plantation in mid-June, the woodland rides within the wood were alive with the flickering shadowy flight of Speckled Woods, Ringlets, Skippers and Meadow Brown Butterflies.

Push on slightly uphill on a narrow overgrown path, passing under the young Oak, Ash and Hazel saplings, with the ride gently curving alternatively to the left then right until gradually it levels off.  Keep brushing through the undergrowth by-passing and hidden in the herbage on the left, an observation platform with an information board explaining how the plantation came to be.

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Carry on working your way through the wood, occasionally coming across the odd clearing allowing you more fine views over the Swarbourn valley and on towards Rugeley, with the Chase standing out on the skyline above it.   Until eventually, you arrive at an overgrown wooden stile on the edge of the planting that leads out onto a wide and roughly overgrown ride, {R’F’M’}.

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Carry on straight over the ride, by-passing an old decaying wooden footpath post to walk up to a rail fence with a broken wooden stile leaning up against it, {wooden footpath post and R’F’M’}. Clamber over the fence to enter a large and most delightful wildflower meadow, that by the month of July is frothing with the foamy flowers of Yellow Lady’s Bedstraw and dotted with the spikes of Wild Agrimony, Burnets, and Trefoils, all mixed in with the lush meadow grasses. 

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Trudge straight ahead uphill to pass under an electricity line and skirting just to the right-hand side of a large solitary old Oak tree, carry on up to a lonely fingerpost standing on the brow of the hill {R’F’M’}.  From the post head straight over the meadow and keeping to the left of four old Oaks pass through a line of scattered thorn bushes; the scruffy remnants of an old hedge line.  Pass under a tall high voltage power line, from here head straight for the right-hand apex/corner of the field where you will find a metal farm gate with a wooden stile to its right, {R’F’M’}.

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The stile will lead you out onto a narrow metalled road, {Meadows Lane}.  Cross over this quiet little road to the entrance of a green lane, {footpath fingerpost.

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Once again accompanied by the flickering black velvet shadows of Ringlet butterflies, wander on down the lane between its tall hedges and under hedgerow Oaks and Ashes to a metal/five bar gate at the end of the ride, {wooden stile and fingerpost to its left, R’F’M’}.

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The next three meadows are pure pleasure to walk through, most of the hedges complete and the pastures almost untouched by the plough for generations.

Climb over, or easier open the gate to enter the fine hay meadow, wander on by-passing the left-hand end of a tall hedgerow and continue up to wooden stile in the hedge-line facing you, {R’F’M’} on the fence post in the hedge to its right.
Go through into the next meadow and sticking to the hedge line follow it curving leftwards around the wide meadow to pass over a wooden stile in its left-hand corner, {R’F’M’} on a fence post to its right.
Continue following the hedge on a mown track around the bottom of the superb large hay meadow rising up to your right.   

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Towards its left-hand corner, pass between the hedge and a short section of high Hawthorn’s to your right, leading you up to a metal farm gate with a wooden stile to its right, {R’F’M’}, this will take you out on to a wide grass track with the name of Browns Lane.
From here there are more splendid views to be had to the north-west, up and over the village of Yoxall and even further on to Cannock Chase.

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Turn right and amble along Browns lane as it gradually rises up towards Masons Barn Hill, {eastwards}.  Plod on as the ride slowly rises and curves up to the brow of the hill, where on the right you will find a set of steps leading up to a National Forest information point and viewing platform. 

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The viewing platform is the highest point for quite some miles around and provides great views over the mid-Staffordshire countryside.  A good spot for a break utilising the picnic benches to sit, enjoy the view and eat your sandwiches.

Return to the ride and turn right to walk downhill {north}, as the ride gradually becomes more enclosed passing between high overgrown hedges and scrub trees, {butterfly alley} until eventually the hedge on the left falls away and a view opens up of a large wide meadow.  Continue to plod on down the ride up to a large metal farm gate, pass through the wicket gate on its left and out onto the bottom of the large wide meadow.

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Looking back towards Browns lane and the wide metal farm gate.

Down below you to the left on the edge of the field stands the crudely made statue of a man with raised arms, attached to it is a National Forest notice informing you of the Browns Lane woods its meadows and a little of their history.

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Opposite, on the right-hand side of the track, stands a large and rare Black Poplar tree with a metal cattle trough set in the fence beneath it, just past these hidden in the corner of the meadow and a few metres to the right of the five/bar gate at the end of the ride, stands a small metal wicket gate, this leads through onto the bottom of a long narrow meadow, {no footpath marker}. Pass through and follow a mown path under the hedgerow to the far side of the meadow to a wooden stile, {R’F’M’ on stile}.

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Scramble over the stile to walk a short distance through some young Oak and Ash saplings up to a homemade wooden wicket gate, {R’F’M’}.  Pass through and cross over the dry ditch on a narrow bridge made out of railway sleepers to a second wicket, this will lead you through into the recently planted Yoxall Community Allotments and Woodlands.

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Wander on straight ahead and wend your way on a mown grass track weaving its way between the recently planted young woodland on the right, the whips standing out in their bright green tree shields and the village’s allotments over to the left, to meander on up to a notice board with information about the allotments and the origins of the plantation.
The board stands on the edge of an area provided with picnic benches and tables, another opportunity; or excuse! to rest your legs and have a well-earned break.

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Follow the ride as it curves first left then back right bringing you closer to the allotments.  Continue walking up the track {eastwards}, following a line of young fruit trees on the right up to a wooden wicket’ standing in the tall thick hedge-line  50/60 metres right of the lottys’ left-hand corner, {no footpath Marker}.

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Go through the gate and enter a large arable field, {planted with sugar beet when I last did the walk-in July}, head straight over the plough, keeping just to the left of a pair of large old Oaks.  From the trees keep heading east directly through the centre of the green desert, following wide tractor tracks between the dense rows of sugar beet.  Follow the tracks for several hundred meters until you arrive at the fields far distant boundary hedge and wide headland, bringing you close to the angle of the hedge’s left-hand apex.
Just to the right of the apex hidden in a tunnel cut through the tall thick Blackthorn, you will find a wooden stile and immediately after it a second one.   {R’F’M’}.

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Looking back down the rows of beet from the Blackthorn hedge.

Scramble over the stiles onto a narrow meadow and walk across the pasture and keeping close to the left-hand hedge-line walk through a gap in the rough hedgerow in front of you, cross straight over the apex of the next meadow to pick up the overgrown hedge/treeline on the left.  Follow this to a wooden wicket gate standing at the end of a low beech hedge on the edge of the garden/drive of a barn conversion.   This will take you back out again on to Meadows Lane, the lane that you crossed over earlier on the walk.  {Wooden footpath post on the roadside}.

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Turn to the left and walk along Meadows lane northwards, through the scattered dwellings of Wood Houses, by-passing several smart barn conversions with well-kept cottage gardens and taking in on the left, a particularly lovely old half-timbered farmhouse with the name of Well Croft.  After about four hundred meters you arrive at the junction of the lane with the busy B5016 road.

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Turn right here and taking care walk along the sometimes busy road towards Barton’, {east}, for about 200 metres until you see a small road coming in from the left, named Lucepool Lane.
 Take this quiet narrow little lane and wander on down it between high tree-lined hedges for just over a third of a mile, by-passing several dwellings and a stable until after walking through an area charmingly named on the map as Thistledown, the road bends sharply to the right and leads steeply downhill for a few metres to bring you up to its junction with Sych Lane.

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Turn right and walk up the lane {south}, under hedgerow Ashes and Oaks for approximately a quarter of a mile until on the left you come to a large white cottage/house called The Round House.  Immediately on the right-hand side of the cottage is a wide farm track, overgrown with thistles and grasses etc.  
{Wooden fingerpost hid in the hedge to the right of the track}.

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Force yourself through the thistles and brambles between The Round House and the hedge to pass between a couple of old wooden gate posts until you come to the edge of a large arable field.  Stick to the right-hand hedge-line and carry on up the side of the cornfield to a wooden stile that stands just to the right of a rusty old five/bar gate.  {No footpath marker}.

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Looking back to the rusty gate and its stile.

Step over into a grass meadow and wander alongside its right-hand hedge-line up to the tall fencing panels that mark the boundary of Hollyhurst House.  Follow these round to a wonky wooden stile standing under the end of a high red brick wall just to the right of another rusty old farm gate.  Totter over the stile to continue following a broken hedge line under tall Oaks and assorted trees around the perimeter fence while getting the odd glimpse through the thin vegetation on your right of the grounds and garden of Hollyhurst House.  Carry on up to a post and rail fence with a wooden stile, just left of the fields right-hand corner, {R’F’P’}.

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Struggle over the stile to push through a thicket of dense Nettles Thistles and Goose Grass growing on the wide headland of a massive potato field.  From the edge of the field stumble straight across the potato ridges, {slightly north of east},  by/passing just to the left of a large solitary Ash.  Hidden in the hedgerow on the far side of the crop and to the right of an Ash tree stands a wooden post with a {R’F’M’} footpath sign attached to it, aim for this.  Squeeze between it and the old overgrown rusty gate hidden in the hedge to its right, taking you out onto a large grass field.

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Head directly over the centre of the meadow to find a wooden stile in the far hedgerow, climb over or squeeze between it and the post and rail fence on its right {no R’F’M’}.
Follow the hedge on the right alongside the grass field, which at the time of writing had only recently been sown.  Keep on up to its right-hand corner and a barbed-wire fence, cross over into the next meadow via a new and stout wooden stile, {R’F’S’}.
Continue following the hedge-line and cross over a short wooden bridge leading up to a wooden stile standing in the corner of the meadow.

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The R’F’M’ post and hidden gate on the edge of the potato field.

Enter the following meadow by-passing after ten meters, on the right a rusty old five/bar gate with a wooden stile and a footpath sign with a {R’F’M’} standing in the post and rail fence to its left.  This marks the entrance to the delightful green lane called Brick Lane.  If you were to follow this lovely old ride for just under a third of a mile it would take you up to the junction of Scotch Hills Lane with Forest Road at Barton Gate.

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The rusty gate guarding the entrance to Brick Kiln Lane.

Sadly though we ignore the lane and keep walking east alongside the hedgerow to pass under a power line and large pylon, bringing you up to a pair of wide galvanised steel double gates, wooden stile to their right.  Climb over on to Scotch Hills Lane, {wooden footpath post on side of road}.

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Looking back to the west down the line of hedgerows and meadows that you followed from the large potato field.

Turn left and walk down Scotch Hills Lane {north}, for about thirty meters to find on the right-hand side of the road a tall wooden footpath fingerpost with a two-stepped stile hiding in the hedgerow behind it.  Take the stile and pass straight over a soft sandy horse track/ride on the wide headland surrounding a narrow Barley field.  Walk on a mown path straight through the crop to its far side from where a wooden stile takes you out on to the traffic busy Forest Road.

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Head northwards along Forest road {to the left}, by-passing after about thirty metres on the right, a wooden footpath post and a stile.  Ignore the stile and carry on for a further fifty metres or so to a wide gateway/lay-by.  At the back of the lay-by stand a pair green solid wood five-bar gates, with a wide wicket gate to their left, this leads into a mature deciduous wood.   {Tall metal footpath sign pointing towards Dunstall, 3/4 miles}. 

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Enter the woodland and saunter along on the broad hard ride towards Dunstall Old Hall enjoying the sun-dappled shade of the estate’s boundary woods and by-passing on the left a small overgrown pond filled with the tiny floating leaves of Duck Weed, that in mid-summer sunlight can transform itself into a glowing and bright emerald green jewel. 

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Carry on, by-passing on the right and just before reaching the second pair of green gates, a large information board displaying a map of the estate and its woodlands.  Walkthrough the left-hand gate to continue drifting along the wide grass/stone ride beneath tall Oaks taking you out of the narrow strip of woodland into the sunlight and out onto the estate.

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Before too long, on the left, a view opens up of wide meadows and distant woodlands.

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After about a third of a mile, the track starts descending steeply down through the second piece of pleasantly mixed woodland named The Kennels Wood, bringing you up to a wide cattle grid across the track where a wicket gate on its right will take you out into the fine old parkland of Dunstall Old Hall.  

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Keep on along the smooth metalled drive, curving leftwards under the cottages of the Old Keepers Kennels and through the beautiful wide-open parkland towards the distant church of St Mary’s that stands just to the west of the village of Dunstall.

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On reaching a wooden electricity pole the road bears sharp left, {wooden footpath fingerpost, R’F’M’s x 2 }.  Here just to the right of the track stand a magnificent old parkland Oak, just one of the several fine trees to be seen within the park.

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Head down-hill to the north, by-passing on the left Dunstall Old Hall and its red brick walled garden up to a wicket gate set in the fence to the right of a wide cattle grid. Go through the gate to follow the drive between the superbly manicured hawthorn hedge surrounding the hall garden and a line of young Oaks up to its junction with the main drive leading down from Dunstall road.

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Turn right and walk up the drive under an avenue of large spreading Oaks to Dunstall road.  Turn right again and ramble along the road, {east} towards the village and the little church of St Mary’s.

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The charming estate church of St Mary’s is a most enchanting grade 2 listed building, old but not ancient {1853}, and well worth taking a short break from your walk to have a look around it and its interior.  When I first did the walk one midweek day in July the church was open, I assume it’s left open all day every day.

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On the right and a few yards before the church is an estate drive coming in from the south with a cattle grid and wooden wicket gate at its entrance.  {Wooden footpath post to the left of the cattle grid}.  Go through the gate and walk down the hard metalled drive under an avenue of venerable old Oak trees up to Saw Mill Cottage, School House Cottage stands to its left. 

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From here the drive skirts around the righthand side of Saw Mill Cottage.  Wander on in the shade of the tall trees until eventually’ a large wide meadow opens up on the left as it climbs up towards the Smiths Hills Woodlands.  Before long you come to the end of the ride and Smiths Hill Cottages come into sight.  Just before the cottages, on the right stands a tall wooden electricity pole and opposite on the left, at the wooded corner of the meadow set in a post and rail fence is a wooden wicket gate.

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Enter the meadow and grind steeply up the sheep walk in a slightly diagonal direction towards the meadows far left-hand corner on the edge of Smiths Hill Wood, {south east}.  Here you will find a large wooden wicket gate, {R’F’M’ on the rear of the gate}.

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Walk into the wood and overshadowed by several fine old Ashes push your way through an under-story of Snow-berry to pass through a mature section of the woodland up to an old gateway.  From here a wide ride leads you steeply down through a pleasant young and mixed deciduous/Larch plantation to a wooden wicket on the southern edge of the forest, {R’F’M’ on the rear of gate}.

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Head south across the wide meadow, aiming for the narrows between two pieces of woodland that lie in front of you, to find a tall lone {wooden footpath finger post} standing just to the left of the right-hand wood.
If by now you’re feeling tired, looking south from the finger-post away on the distant sky-line sticking up above the trees you can see the cheery site of the church of St James in Barton under Needwood.  So only half a mile to go to the end of the walk and maybe a well-earned pint in the Shoulder of Mutton pub’ in Barton’.

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Turn left at the fingerpost and head south-east over the field towards a white information board and wicket gate standing in the hedgerow fifty metres to the right of the meadows left-hand corner
Carefully step through the gate and out onto Dunstall Lane.
The gate is situated on a slight bend in the lane so it’s quite difficult to see up or down the road until you step out onto it  Take care !!

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Keeping an eye and ear open for speeding traffic carefully cross the road, turn right and walk back along the footpath by-passing on your left the fine old 18th c’ building of Barton Hall, to arrive back at your car and with luck that well-earned pint in one of the pubs in Barton’ village.

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Dunstall Wood.

 

 

 

A walk from Duffield through a secret part of pastoral England. An ancient Celtic highway with shadows of Napoleon. Dark Satanic Mills. A World War Two bomb hole ! And a middle class playground leading to a rebel Norman Baron’s castle, all seen in one 4.5 mile walk.

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The Ecclesbourne valley that leads down from Wirksworth to Duffield is one of the most beautiful vales in Derbyshire.  With its peaceful verdant water meadows, its sheep walks and pastures where a plough has hardly scratched its surface for century’s, all combine to make it a wonderfully pleasant and serene land to wander through.

This walk follows the valleys namesake the river Ecclesbourne, upstream from the town of Duffield near Derby.  It then heads north-west for a couple of miles or so until it leaves the river to cross over the little single-track railway line of the Ecclesbourne Railway.

From there it climbs northwards towards the hamlet of Hazelwood to swing round to the north-east through small woodlands and little hedged in fields, still slowly climbing it picks its way up to the ancient Celtic highway of the Chevin Way.  The old road that heads south along the top of the Chevin ridge from the village of Farna Green, that lies just to the west of the old mill town of Belper.

Here, you are on the highest piece of ground for some miles and get expansive views over the Amber Valley, the River Derwent and the town of Belper itself.  In the foreground stands the giant  East Mill of English Cotton, its red bricks contrasting starkly with the old 18th-century stone-built Jedediah Strutt Mill that stands next to it by the side the river Derwent.

From the southern edge of the ridge, sylvan paths lead down through woods, and on through the greens of Duffield’s Golf Course, eventually bringing you out under the great mound of Duffield’s Norman Motte and the remains of its medieval castle.


Parking

Park on the free parking area adjacent to the Duffield Memorial Sports Field at the end of the Donald Hawley Way, Duffield.

OS Explorer Map 259, Derby.  SK 348 434.


To find the Donald Hawley way.

 As you drive north from Derby on entering Duffield turn right, {west} off the A6 onto Makeney Road, {sign posted Little Eaton and Holbrook}.   Take the 2nd turn right just after crossing the railway bridge/line on to Church Drive, drive along it to towards St Alkmunds Church.  Just before the church car park turn right and drive back on yourself under a bridge to join the Donald Hawley Way, {sign}. Drive along the narrow road adjacent to the railway for about 1/4 of a mile to reach a free car park next to to the Millennium Meadow Sports Field and Nature Reserve.


Within the text, Y’FM’ indicates a yellow footpath marker, E’W’M’ the Ecclesbourne Way and M’W’M’ the Midshires Waymarkers.


The Walk.

The Millennium Memorial Nature Reserve and the confluence of the river Ecclesbourne with the river Derwent.

{This first section is optional for those who would like to see the confluence of the rivers Ecclesbourne and Derwent.}  

On the east side of the car park, you will find the entrance into the reserve with an information board describing it.  Walk into the reserve and follow the path southwards by-passing information boards and a couple of wooden benches until you see a small pond on the right, shortly after this you come to the River Ecclesbourne.  Turn left and follow the river {north} to where it flows into the River Derwent, as it makes its way southwards before ploughing on through the city of Derby.  From there it heads east to join the River Trent near Sawley, where it turns to the north on its long slow journey up through the county’s of Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire to join forces with the river Ouse before falling into the North Sea near Hull.  The Vikings highway into the midlands.

 

The main Walk

From the car park walk back along the road that you drove in on {south}, for about 50 meters to a green footpath post/sign on the right, take this path and walk through the underpass beneath the railway line.  Turn right immediately after the underpass and walk along a metalled path between the river and railway until you see the Ecclesbourne Railway Station through the fence to your right.  Just after the station the path joins Chapel Street, turn left and walk down to its junction with the A6 in the centre of Duffield.

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Cross the busy A6 highway to the road opposite, {Tamworth Road}, this road starts just to the left of the bridge carrying the A6 over the River Ecclesbourne.  Walk down Tamworth Road as it curves to the left then back right by-Passing the handsome townhouse of De Ferrers Court to cross over a stone bridge leading to a road junction with Crown Street.  Turn left down Crown Street and walk along the road passing the delightfully named Duck Island Lane on the left until you come to Riverside Cottages.  Turn left down a narrow ginnel just before the cottage, to pass between two gritstone posts at the start of a footpath that leads you on down to a raised continuation beside the river.  Amble along the enclosed path under the shade of its Alder and Wych Elm lined banks with the gentle rippling of the stream to accompany you until the path joins a wider metalled drive below a children’s playground

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Bear left onto the drive and keep following the river until the road bends to the left to cross over a bridge above a weir.  Take the narrow metalled path on the right just before the bridge, {green footpath post and a C’W’M’ on the end of the post and rail fence}.  Follow the fence and river until you arrive at a lamppost on the edge of an open scruffy meadow.  In front of you is a gravel track, walk three or four metres along this and bear left on to a grass path that follows the river, keep on this until on the far side of the meadow it re-joins the gravel path just to the left of a pair of large wooden electricity poles.  Bear left on the track and follow it between the river and the new houses to your right until eventually, you come out onto a private road called the Ecclesbourne Reach.

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Turn left and walk along between the new houses of Ecclesbourne Reach and Meadows Farm, at the end of the road descend down three steps on to a gravel path bearing to the right and bringing you up to a squeeze/gap in a gritstone wall, {E’W’M  C’W’M’}.  Step through and walk directly over the paddock to a stile in the fence opposite.  Walk across the next field to squeeze between two wooden posts in the fence line E’W’M’.  Immediately in front of you is a wooden Wicket gate, close to it is a tall green footpath post/sign indicating that you are at the junction of three footpaths, E’W’M’, C’W’M’.   Enter the meadow and cross over it in a diagonal direction towards a gap at the right-hand end of the hedge line facing you.  Metal five/bar gate with a wooden wicket to its right, E’W’M’

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Looking back towards Duffield and the bend in the river

Once through this you come hard up to the River Ecclesbourne again, follow the bend in the river and walk upstream to a solitary wooden post standing at the end of a hedgerow, E’W’M’.  Keeping the hedge to your right as it curves to the left, pull your self away from the river and follow the hedge-line around the right-hand edge of the meadow to pass through a wooden wicket gate.

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Keep following the hedge along the edge of the sheep walk until eventually, you arrive back at the river Ecclesbourne at a stout three stepped stile in the corner of the meadow,  E’W’M, C’W’M’.  Scramble over and follow the stream until on the right you see a rusty metal farm gate and wide wooden bridge leading over the river.

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Walk over the bridge, enjoying grand views up and down the slow meandering Alder lined river, to follow the hedge/fence on the left for 20/30 metres before reaching a metal farm gate and a rickety stile.
{The area around the gateway can be a cattle poached and muddy horror, particularly so in the winter and can be a bit of a challenge to negotiate}. 

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Once you’ve extracted yourself from the mud! Turn right and follow the hedge-line until you reach the Ecclesbourne Railway line connecting Derby with Wirksworth.  Keeping an eye open for trains, pass over a broken rail/stile and cross over the railway to an improved stile on its far side.  Y’F’M’.

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Once over the stile walk in a diagonal direction to the far left-hand corner of the meadow, heading for a large Ivy-covered Ash tree with a stile just to its left, Y’F’M’.  Climb over onto a short wooden bridge crossing over a small ditch and enter the next meadow.

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Follow the hedge, under Oaks to a metal farm gate with a stile to its left, Y’F’M’ on the rear of the post.  Cross the stile and walk across a second short wooden bridge to a post and rail squeeze, pass through, turn right and walk a few metres to climb over a stile standing under a large old Oak Tree.
Walk on climbing gently uphill sticking close to the hedge line towards Hazelwood Hill and a metal farm gate with a stile to its right, Y’F’M’.  Cross the stile and keep following the hedge as it curves leftward up towards the village.  At the top of the meadow in its right hand-corner set under a scattering of young Ash trees, you come to a Wicket’, standing just to the right of a metal farm gate.

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Pass through to scrunch up the limestone drive, passing just to the left of a large old half-dead Oak tree with a solid gritstone bench sitting beneath it.  Walk on through the stone pillared gateway {wooden five-bar gate}, by the side of a rather posh barn conversion until you come out opposite Primrose Cottage on Hazelwood Hill Road.
Turn left and plod on uphill for two or three hundred metres until on the left you come to a small gritstone house called The Homestead.  Take the narrow grassy path on its right-hand side, {wooden footpath post/sign}, to a wooden wicket, Y’F’M’ on the rear of the post.  Pass through into the meadow.

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The next few meadows are a pure joy to walk through.  Well maintained hedgerows and verdant little sheep walks of the sort that was so common just after the war.  This combined with the grand views over the Ecclesbourne valley make walking through them a delight.

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Head straight over the narrow meadow to a wooden Wicket’ Y’F’M’, go through this and walk directly through the next pasture up to a second Wicket, Y’F’M’.  From here head towards a gateway in the hedgerow set just to the right of a small scrub copse with a large Ash tree sticking up within it.   Squeeze through the gritstone squeeze stile to the right of the gate.  Keep straight on, skirting a Gorsy bank on the left to a Wicket’ and another grit’ squeeze’, set in the hedge-line lying in front of you, Y’F’M’.

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Go through into the next field and pick your way through Molehills to walk under two large Oak Trees in the broken hedge in front of you, then carry straight on to a break in the next hedge-line just to the right of a large old Oak.  Pass under the oak and out into the meadow to traverse around the lefthand side of the garden of Hob Hill Cottage, bringing you up to a wooden Wicket gate standing under a large Ash.  Go through onto Hob Lane, {public footpath sign on the road side}.

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Turn left and walk down Hob Hill Road to the last two houses on the edge of the village, Garden House on the left Hob House on the right.  Just beyond Hob House is a wooden five-bar gate, stile to its left, wooden finger-post and faded Y’F’M’ on the gate post.  Climb over and enclosed with a hedge on either side, walk down the narrow grass ride until you reach the end of the right-hand hedge-line.

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Follow the hedge-line to the right towards a scruffy looking wood, enter the woodland through a gap in the wire fence, {overgrown stile to its right}.  Bear left, bypassing the butt end of a large old wind-blown Ash tree.  Keep following the path through the Bramble bushes, {roughly north}, until you come to a small pond, balance your way round its left-hand side on a narrow path just above the water line to arrive at a post and rail fence.  Stile under the tall hedge on its left-hand end.

  Enter the small paddock and follow the large overgrown Holly/Thorn hedge on the left to a gritstone squeeze stile in the paddocks left-hand corner, {the Y’F’M’ points to the right, ignore this}.  Keep following the old hedge to a metal five/bar gate with a squeeze made out of old railway sleepers on its right, Y’F’M’. Pass through into a narrow meadow and carry on along the hedge-line passing through an old gate-way to walk straight over the field towards a stile in the hedge facing you.  Climb over it and out on to Over Lane, {green metal finger-post on roadside}.

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Turn left and walk along Over lane for about thirty metres or so and take a footpath on the right immediately to the left-hand side of Greystones Cottage, {green footpath post}.  Squeeze between the cottage’s wall and a Holly hedge to walk along the side of the property.  Pass through a gap in the hedge and out into a large arable field.

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From here head in a diagonal direction straight across the arable’ heading for a large Ash tree in its far left-hand corner, pass through a gap in the hedge onto Lumb Grange Lane.  Turn right and walk down the lane.

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Meander down this lovely lane for about half a mile, until you reach Lumb Grange bear to the left to follow the road around the right-hand side of Lumb House; a house with a view.  {Here be football money !}  After about fifty metres or so the metalled road turns into a bridle/farm track.  Plod on down the bridle’ for a few metres to a metal farm gate and pass through a Wicket’ to its left.

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The following third of a mile as the track gently drops down towards Lumb Brook is just superb.  Passing as it does through ancient overgrown hedgerows, its banks Hazel lined and full of wildflowers until towards the bottom it enters the Lum Brook wood and becomes even more tree-lined and overhung,  giving it an atmospheric sun-dappled shade.  A fragment of old England to dawdle down and savour.

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Far too soon you reach the valley bottom and arrive at metal farm gate with a Wicket’.  Pass through and shortly you will come to a wide wooden bridge crossing the Lumb Brook, cross over and plod on uphill for about thirty metres until you see a five/bar gate on the right, {Amber Valley and Midshires Way markers}.  Go through and  walk the few metres up to a small wooden Wicket gate,
{green footpath marker}.
Walk-in a diagonal direction across the meadow {south-east}, heading for a Wicket gate under a group of larches on the edge of the mixed woodland in front of you, {Y’F’M’ and multiple way markers}.

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Enter the forest and saunter along under a line of venerable old Hornbeams leaning hard over the ride and creating a shadowy nave through the wood.  Keep plodding on under the arc as the path gently rises high above the Lumb Brook all the while taking in the lovely sylvan scene below you.  Eventually, the ride gradually rises up to the east edge of the wood, bringing you to a solid gritstone wall and a three-stepped stone stile, {wooden footpath sign with multiple footpath markers}.

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Clamber over the wall and out of the woodland into the corner of a field.  Turn left and keeping the wall to your left follow the track between the wall and the field to a metal farm gate, wooden stile to its left, Y’F’M’.  Cross over this and walk straight over a stone drive to the stile opposite, {rusty metal farm gate to its right}. Climb the stile and wander along the drive by the side of a grit’ wall until you reach the village of Farnah Green.

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Turn right on Farnah Green Road and walk uphill until on the edge of the village, just past the last house on the right, {Chevin Lodge} you see a restricted by-way sign.
Take this metalled by-way uphill {east} until after about forty metres the track becomes a green lane.  Keep following this charming dusty ride between gritstone walls shaded by tall trees until the track curves to the right.
This is the start of the ancient bridle track called the North Lane

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North Lane is a very old roadway that was used by the ancient Celts the Romans and the Anglo Saxons.  Its name the Chevin is thought to be derived from the Celtic word Cefn, meaning a ridge.

From the bend, a fine view opens up both to the north and to the east along the course of the Derwent and the Amber Valley, with sobering views of the large grim red-brick edifice of Belper’s East Mill towering over and domineering the old mill town.

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The Cotton Mills of Belper.

The first Cotton mill raised in Belper was built around 1776 by a man with the wonderfully Dickensian sounding name of Jedediah Strutt !  The Josia Bounderby of Belper.  However, Belper could hardly be compared with Coketown, though I’m sure the conditions inside the mills did and that its seen more than its fair share of Hard Times.  

Jedediah Strutt and Richard Arkwright.

Jedediah was a contemporary of Richard Arkwright who in the nearby town of Cromford in the year of 1771 built the first successful mechanical cotton mill in England.  Jedediah raised the North Mill around 1784/86.  This burnt down in 1803 and was rebuilt by his son William in 1804.  The Strutts went on to build three other mills in the 1800s, Junction Mill, Reeling Mill and the unusual Round Mill.  The bleak red brick fortress of the East Mill was the only mill not built by the Strutt family and was raised by the English Sewing Cotton Company in 1912.

Child labour in the Mills.

Child labour was common in the mills and children as young as six or seven years of age would be employed, usually as scavengers or scutters cleaning up the dust and wast cotton by crawling under the machines as they ran.

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In 1801 Joseph Farington the Victorian artist commented on the child mill hands leaving their work from the Cromford mills. “These children had been at work from 6 or 7 o’clock and it was now near 7 in the evening.  The time for them resting them is 12 o’clock, 40 minutes.  I was glad to see them very healthy and many with fine rosy complexions” !
So Stuff Childhood !!


In the following year Robert Southey the romantic poet wrote.  That in most parts of England poor children are a burthen to their parents and to the parish; here the parish, which would have to support them, is rid of the expense, they get their bread almost as soon as they can run about !   Though to be fair to Southey; well you have to be don’t you ?  He probably wrote it while off his head with nitrous oxide, something that he and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge experimented with, or maybe, it was Sams old drug of choice, opium !
The Victorians eh;  You have to give it to them !

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The House of Commons Committee enquiry into mill workers conditions.

David Rowlands a mill worker who started work in a cotton mill as a scavenger at the age of six was interviewed by the committee in 1832.
“The scavenger has to take the brush and sweep under the wheels and be under the direction of the spinners and piecers generally.  I frequently had to be under the wheels and in consequence of the perpetual motion of the machinery I was frequently obliged to lie flat to avoid being run over or caught.”  {Children of his age were preferred due to their small stature enabling them to crawl under the frames}.  When he got to the age of fifteen, he graduated to be a piecer, working fifteen/sixteen hours a day ! {a piecer had to lean over the spinning machine while it was running to repair broken threads}.  When asked how he was kept up to it he answered.  “During the latter part of the day, I was severely beaten” !  

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To continue the walk.
Walk on past a large green footpath sign indicating that you are on the Midshires Way path.  Stick to the wide ride and wander along the North lane between gritstone walls and under scattered trees until gradually it rises up towards a fork in the ride.

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The lovely Celandine banks of North lane in the  spring

If you fancy a short detour to have a look at what the locals call the Bomb Hole, an overgrown crater left by one of the few German bombs dropped near Belper in the Second World War.  Take the right-hand branch and walk steeply up under the Beech trees and over the brow of the ridge to descend a short way down the narrow path to find the overgrown Bomb Hole on the left of the track.

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To continue the walk retrace your steps to the fork in the ride and take the left-hand branch.  Wander on up the steep ride stepping over outcropping gritstone boulders, overshadowed by tall Sweet Chestnuts and Beeches for a third of a mile or so until on the left you see an imposing tall free-standing gritstone wall.

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The Strutt family’s defence of its empire under the shadow of Napoleon.

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The wall, twenty-five metres long by five’ high, is the target wall of a firing range.  It was raised by the Strutt family circa 1800 for the local militia, The Belper Volunteer Force commanded by Lt Cl Joseph Strutt and the wall came into its own during the Napoleonic Wars.  Later, it also saw some action in both the Boer’ and the First World Wars.
Around 1890 the Strutt family went on to build a second Target Wall and firing range on Belper’s Wyver Lane.

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Keep rambling along until all too soon the ride leads you out of the trees and the view opens up to the right over the links of the Chevin Golf Club, until just after a conifer wood on the left you come to a stone cross-track linking the two halves of the course {warning sign for machinery crossing}.  Cross the track and carry on down the steep ride over outcropping gritstone boulders for about fifty metres, until on the right you see a gritstone squeeze stile, Y’F’M’ indicating the Derwent Valley Walk.  Squeeze past this and follow a narrow enclosed path between the links to a cross ride.  In front of you is a path heading down into Courthouse Farm Wood.  {Wooden Footpath Marker}. 

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Plough on down the steep bank under the small contorted Oaks to pass over a second metalled ride, {two footpath posts, Y’F’M’}.  Keep delving on down into the woodland and keeping to a steep dusty narrow path by the side of a gritstone wall soon you will arrive at a narrow cross track.

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Looking back towards the gap in the Gritstone wall.

Turn right on the track and almost immediately take a path on the left through a gap in the gritstone wall, {D’V’W’ and M’W’M’}.  This will take you down into a rough meadow offering you some lovely views south over Duffield, the golf course and the Amber Valley.  Walk diagonally down the meadow under the buildings of Courthouse Farm in a leftward direction, by-passing a golf green and commemorative bench.  Follow the obvious path and aim for a gap in a tall hedgerow at the bottom of the hill.

Go through the break in the hedge onto a ride, turn right just before a green metal gate and meander down this lovely green lane under Oak trees, with the ride widening and gradually curving to the left.  Follow the post and rail fence until shortly the ride opens up and bears right to cross over a pipe bridge taking you over a small stream.

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Turn to the left and follow the path alongside a low  Hawthorn hedge to a fork.  Take the narrow right-hand path towards a wooden squeeze stile, {Y’F’M’, M’W’M’}.  Squeeze through and follow the path close by the side of the tall mixed hedgerow that stands at the bottom of the meadow.  Carry on to the meadows left-hand corner and a second squeeze’ set in a post and rail fence, {Y’F’M’ and green footpath sign}.

Every spring, to the delight of the bees and butterflies this pasture, transforms itself and turns into a beautiful golden Dandelion meadow.

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Looking towards the squeeze from the metalled drive.

Pass through the squeeze and turn right onto a metalled drive.  From here if you look to the north there’s a great view to be had up and over the golf course and its greens towards the woodlands that skirt the foot of the Chevin.  Follow the stone wall and the drive south, curving first left then back right towards the golf club buildings.

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Keep walking on between an old gritstone barn that’s been incorporated into the club amenities {clock} and the club car parking on the right.  Here the track bears to the left and the road widens to take you past a smart white low building on your left, {the golf club shop} with some lovely and very well-kept herbaceous flower borders around its edge.   More grand views up and over the links.

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Plod on past the houses on the right until you see a wooden footpath post/marker pointing up a path on the left.  Take this narrow track under tall trees for a short distance to come out onto the junction with Avenue Road and the main A6 road on the northern edge of Duffield.  In front of you, behind the sign for Duffield is a steep wooded bank, the remains of the towns Norman Motte and medieval Castle.

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The Normans and the Rebel Baron.

The Castle mound was possibly first occupied by the Romano British, followed by the Saxons as evidenced by a few archaeological finds.

William the Conqueror granted the estate of Duffield Frith, Tutbury Castle and 114 manors in Derbyshire to Henry de Ferrars for services rendered after the Norman Conquest and the first Motte and Bailey was built around 1080. The Earthwork Castle was destroyed in 1173 and subsequently, William de Ferrars built a large stone keep on top of the Motte, he also sank a deep well. The keep, about one hundred foot square and with walls fifteen-foot thick must have been an impressive sight when viewed from the Derwent valley and would have made a formidable statement to the native Saxon population.  It was the third-largest keep in the country, only slightly smaller than the White Tower in London.

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In 1266 the de Ferrars family fortunes were on the wane and when the Montfortian rebel, Baron Robert de Ferrars was captured near Chesterfield by the forces of Prince Henry, a nephew of King Henry the third, the keep was destroyed and the lands given to King Henrys second son Edmund Crouchback, the 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster.
Crouchback ! Another great name and straight out of Black Adder !

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Carry on walking southward under the castle mound alongside the busy A6 until you arrive at a bus shelter.  Just past this on the right you will see a National trust sign and a black metal spiked gate with a  set of steep stone steps behind it, these lead up to the castle.  If you have the time and some energy left and would like to see the surviving remnants of the Keep, climb the steps and they’ll lead you up to a large information board and the few remaining stones of the footprint of the castle.    

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To continue the walk, plod on along the busy A6 for about half a mile crossing over a bridge carrying the road over the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway-line, until after by-passing the Kings Head pub you arrive back at the junctions of Tamworth Road on the right and Chapel Street on the left. The two roads that you walked  along near the start of the walk
Walk on past these and keeping to the A6 carry on south through the town for 150 metres or so until you see Wirksworth Road coming in from the right, just past this is a brown sign pointing over the road towards the Millenium Meadow Nature Reserve and a green footpath sign pointing out the start of a public path/drive.  Carefully cross the road and take the metalled drive between houses, to where in about 200 metres you cross a bridge over the Ecclesbourne river, before arriving back at the underpass leading through to the car park and the start of your walk.