It’s traditional for me to organise a ‘Christmas Walk’ at this time of the year, involving a long lunch stop at a suitable hostelry.
This year I left it very late to organise, but that didn’t seem to matter as the turnout of thirty people was our best ever, and the route and hostelry turned out to be well chosen.
Friends turned up from far and wide – from Wokingham to Preston and Liverpool (some of whom we hadn’t seen since last year’s Christmas Walk), so the choice of the large lay-by on the A515 just south of Rivendale Caravan Park turned out to be a good rendezvous point.
Despite much chatting and exchanging of Christmas cards, car keys being lost and found, boots and gaiters being donned, etc, etc, at 10am we set off on a cloudy morning, bang on time, thereby blowing my expected timings by a good fifteen minutes.
After a short spell on the windswept, and pretty cool (in a cold sort of way) and exposed trackbed of the Buxton to Ashbourne railway line, now known as the Tissington Trail, we deserted the firm surface in favour of softer going through some well hydrated fields.
Those pictured above are strolling unknowingly towards a sharp descent to the River Dove. It’s slithery and boggy at this time of year, so it was a relief to be able to survey my charges from a precarious branch and discover that I was probably the only one of us who had attempted to go bog-diving.
A shower commenced. Waterproofs were scrambled from the depths of rucksacks amid gasps of surprise that it should be so inclement on one of my walks, which are renowned for their sunny ambience.
A sudden gust distracted us.
This heron had flapped in for its lunch.
The others were engrossed with watching the heron, but I spotted a tree creeper and looked up to spy …. sunshine?
It didn’t last for long. I think most others missed it!
We continued on along Wolfscote Dale. It was quite muddy. Most places in the Peak District are muddy just now.
By and by we reached our lunch stop. Half an hour early. The Charles Cotton Hotel*.
I thought we’d have to wait for our lunch, which had been pre ordered from their excellent Christmas menu. But the operation was as slick as I’ve seen on such an occasion. They were happy to serve us as soon as we were ready to eat.
Really excellent service – here are just a few of us pausing between courses. The steamed up windows behind us mask a downpour.
After a few stern words with The Boss, and a carefully cast spell, I popped out to test that it had brought the desired effect. Success!
But by the time everyone had ‘booted up’, the spell was diminished, if not broken. At least the rain didn’t return until the moment we set off for home in the cars.
Meanwhile, these onlookers may have had wet feet….
…as the road had flooded at Dale End.
A right turn beyond the church in Biggin led us past a camp site and into fields, where much to our surprise the season’s lambing had started. This one had clearly only just been born.
The final ascent of the day took us up the railway embankment built by the London & North Western Railway Company, and onto the track that was opened for trains in 1899. Expresses from Manchester to London used to fly down this line, and until after the Second World War there was a daily delivery of Peak District milk to London.
The line was closed in the 1960s, following which the trackbed was removed and the route was converted into a trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The experimental scheme was one of the first of its type, and since opening to the public in June 1971 it has been a great success.
As soon as we stepped off the bright track surface we realised it was almost dark – but torches weren’t required for the last few metres back into our lay-by, and at around 4pm we all said our farewells and pottered off to our respective homes, leaving Don with a recalcitrant car seat that probably crippled him on the drive back to Preston. We hope you got home ok, Don, albeit perhaps with a modicum of spinal damage.
Readers may have noticed a little ‘poetic license’ in this report. If not, you certainly will if you view the slideshow – it has a few more images taken on this route, which is shown below – 16km with about 280 metres ascent.
For a more accurate report, see Alan R’s excellent version of events, ‘The Invasion of Hartington’ or Gayle’s unstintingly precise recollection of ‘Martin & Sue’s Christmas Walk’. The slideshow is here.
There’s a bit more information on my ‘planning’ page, here.
* Here’s what Alan R discovered about Charles Cotton – I hope you don’t mind me using this, Alan:
“Charles Cotton ( April 28, 1630 – February 16, 1687), lived at Beresford Hall, now demolished, wrote, with his great friend Izaak Walton, a remarkable book about 17th century rural England called ‘The Compleat Angler’. No other English language book, other than the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, has been reprinted more times. He shared his time between an extravagant life style in London society with the quieter pleasures of his home and the Peak District. That is when his creditors were not chasing him - then it is said he hid in a cave in Beresford Dale. The fishing lodge he built still remains on private land in Beresford Dale, but can be seen from a distance when approaching the dale.”
Finally, in answer to Gayle’s ‘Same again next year?’ question, the answer is yes, on Sunday 16 December 2012 (unless there is overwhelming demand for 9 December). The Charles Cotton Hotel performed so well that I think we should, subject to cost, return there, but perhaps start from Longnor (though this year’s route can’t really be bettered). If anyone has strong views, let me know.