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LATHKILL & BRADFORD DALE - 12 miles - Tuesday 20th October 2009



     It was the second day of my 88 mile White Peak Way trip having walked from the start at Bakewell the day before. Lathkill Dale had been on my wish list for some time ever since a holiday in the Peak District ten years earlier so I set aside this day to walk an additional 12 miles. Departing Youlgreave Youth Hostel at 8:55 I looked in the churchyard of All Saint's to visit part of a sad story from this town's history that would be passed on tomorrow's walk. From the church Bradford Road took me down to a river of the same name where a clapper bridge led me onto the northern bank. The weather looked much the same as it had done the previous morning, cloudy with a hint of promise but it sure was cold. Bradford Dale was a splendid way to start what promised to be a tremendous 12 miles. This stretch in particular must have been popular with the locals as an easy path followed the wide valley with the river trundling in the opposite direction over weirs and drops. The first half of the day would take me as far as Monyash along the Limestone Way, a 46 mile trail over Derbyshire's White Peak. I followed this lovely stretch of the river to the bend of Holywell Lane where a clapper bridge took me to the other side wherefrom the river became significantly more enclosed with tree shrouded slopes closing in more and more.




     It really was a lovely opening, you just can’t beat this sort of walking along a quite river valley with nothing to hear save for the quacking of the ducks. At various stages the river had been bottlenecked by a series of sluice gates known as the Bradford Dams, the remains of these wrought iron gates were still in place with some bearing the dates 1891 and 1890. The path continued into an enchanting little valley as I kept my eyes peeled for dippers and kingfishers, you never know your luck. Eventually, as the 1st mile was reached, I came to an old stone bridge where the Limestone Way was directed to the right to climb away from the river. The bridge had a barely discernible inscription across the top which read ‘Still glides the stream and shall forever glide, the form remains, the function never dies.’ Hmmm, whatever! Where the climb turned left were the remains of an old building from the old dam and mine working days. Along a gloomy tree enclosed route alongside rocks, the path brought me to a road by Middleton-in-Youlgreave at the elbow of a tight bend where I turned right and climbed. Then, as a narrow pavement finally brought me out of the trees I looked over some lovely views of the dales and moors in the eastern landscape beyond two trees that burned with autumn radiance.


   

     Through the parkland of Lomberdale Hall the Limestone Way turned left up to another lane. A turn off to the right then led up a continual climb over rough ground, passing broken walls, woolly sheep and the 2nd mile. Here was a narrow gate 'in loving memory of Alan Levett of Nottingham (1910 to 2004),' unlike most of the Australian batsmen that summer, he'd had a good innings. A long and bumpy path eventually brought me alongside the lonely Moor Lane car park - £3.50 for all day parking, scandalous! From this point my walk turned left along Moor Lane to reach a wider road where a squeeze stile opposite took me across a field. I passed a working mine, marked ambiguously as ‘works’ on the map, with audible machinery and pit head gear. I was making for the far corner of Low Moor Wood and the 3rd mile where an old sign informed me it was a fiftieth anniversary woodland - 1951 to 2001. The celebration in question being that of the Peak District, the National Park Authority bought the 12 acre wood in 2001 as part of that anniversary. Beyond Calling Low and a small strip of woodland, another narrow copse brought me out into the open where I gazed over a wondrous new panorama to the northwest and began what promised to be a few miles of classic limestone countryside.


   

     A signpost pointed me in the direction of Cales Dale where I began a steady descent into a wide grassy field that gradually revealed more of this remarkable countryside. Away to my right Lathkill Dale opened up in breathtaking fashion, for a brief moment there was a snapshot of the afternoon’s route back to Youlgreave seen through the wide cleft of Cales Dale, both spectacular limestone gorges. I considered my appetite whetted. Directly ahead was the sizeable One Ash Grange Farm, my next target prior to Monyash. The steady plod took me down through a kissing gate to another one at a drystone wall where an info board welcomed me to Lathkill Dale, one of five dales that make up the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve. The kissing gate began an immediate drop to stone steps and what looked like a breakneck plunge into Cales Dale, an exciting prospect. It turned out to be a steep and precarious drop down to the bottom of a dry and tree shrouded valley, the river having long since gone underground I assumed. On the way down I had to stop and allow a couple of walking groups pass as they laboured up, the first were four elderly Blackburn Rovers supporters followed by a large group of young lads effing and blinding their way up, whatever works best for you I guess!




      At the bottom of the valley was a confusing signpost pointing up to One Ash Grange, though exactly where the path went was difficult to determine. A few yards of steep, indecipherable climbing brought me to another signpost that pointed left where the path became more worn and visible. It brought me steadily up to the foot of some limestone cliffs for a short distance before steps in the rock took me upwards. Of course what would have been really useful here was a suspension bridge over the gorge, so I suggested this to the park authority but never heard anything back - most odd! From a small cave in the rock I turned right to make my way up to a kissing gate and track that went up and then levelled to the farm just ahead which I passed 10:58. One Ash Grange Farm sat on the 4th mile and here I passed a small nativity scene inside an old lime kiln, very quaint but I couldn’t work out if this was a premature celebration or a relic from Christmas past. The farm was a little ramshackled but fascinating with some old fashioned pigsties made of local stone. Whilst a concession footpath went off to the left for Cales Farm, I stuck with the route directly ahead signposted to Monyash. From the farm a new looking metal gate turned left to follow a drystone wall into fields and open countryside.




     I crossed the corner of a drystone wall and continued on the other side. With roughly a mile to Monyash I gave consideration to an early lunch, I wasn’t hungry but it made perfect sense. Through a couple more gates I crossed the head of Fern Dale to another gap in a corner wall. Here my exit over a stile was barred by the rear end of a dirty great bull who didn't notice my approach at first as he was too busy chatting up a couple of bovine babes on the other side. I walked slowly towards him thinking he might move. Once he saw me he certainly moved - towards me with intent! So, not wanting to get in the way of true love I clambered over the low part of a wall to my right. Now, I know farmers don’t like us walkers doing this kind of thing, but if the one who owned that bull thought I was going to try and out-psyche that big bad boy he was sadly mistaken. Once back on my route I gave the bull the evil-eye as I passed in safety on the other side to another gate. A path between two walls widened to a track with the top of Monyash church above the trees ahead. Down a road coming up from Parsley Hay, I passed Fere Mere before Rakes Road met the main one through the village. Clocking an arrival time of 11:35 opposite the ‘Old Smithy Tea Rooms’ and 'Bull's Head,' I tossed a coin to decide which door to use.




     Monyash, or Moneyash, means ‘many ash trees,’ an indication of the abundance that once thrived here. In the Domesday Book it is referred to as ‘Manais’ a penal settlement for monks behaving badly. During the Middle Ages the monks of Roche Abbey farmed at One Ash Grange. The village is a limestone curiosity, at 300 feet above sea level it sits on a bed of impervious clay. There were once twenty-three springs all retained in five natural ponds or meres where the villagers once sourced their water. The only survivor being the one I passed earlier. A charter in 1340 allowed Monyash to grow from the fourteenth-century as a market town between Hartington and Bakewell. Rope and candle making was once a going concern, but it was lead mining between 1700 and 1850 that saw its biggest success with its own Barmote Court enforcing the industry laws and customs. The last mine to be worked was Eagle Mine which closed in 1925. During the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries there was a strong Quaker presence and many of the mines were owned by the London Lead Company. The ancient Peak District tradition of well dressing, where springs or wells are decorated with pictures made up of flower petals, takes place in Monyash over the spring bank holiday weekend.




     As the Bull’s Head looked a bit grumpy, I went into the Old Smithy Tea Rooms instead and enjoyed an excellent Blacksmith’s Lunch, he didn't seem to mind! Two sizeable mugs of tea were followed by a slice of sticky toffee gateaux with cream served admirably from the finest pair of jugs in Derbyshire. It was hard to imagine there used to be five pubs in Monyash, today it is a shadow of its former self and the Bull’s Head is the last one standing. Back outside I had to retrieve my waterproofs as the pub wasn't the only grumpy thing in Monyash. I took my leave at 13:04 beyond St. Leonard’s Church, founded in 1198 much of what we see today dates from the fourteenth-century. Further down the B5055 and out of Monyash I saw a block of public conveniences next to the entrance of Lathkill Dale at the 6th mile. From the toilet block and a gate I joined a wide, sweeping, well worn grassy valley. Thus began my slow descent into Lathkill Dale, the realisation of something I had wanted to do for quite some time. The rain fell more consistently just as I passed a guy coming the other way. It wasn't long before the valley became more enclosed and the path a lot rockier so I took a brief stop beneath a huddle of trees, the last bit of shelter for some time before the main plunge into the more exposed part of Lathkill Dale.




     The path picked its way through a tumble of rocks that looked as though it had been thrown from the quarry above. Until 1900 the now disused Ricklow Quarry produced the ornamental Grey Marble, a crinoidal polished limestone used in Chatsworth House. Despite sounding like a disease from the Far East, crinoids were 360 million year old plant like animals related to starfish. A figure came towards me in a brown waterproof, it was a young guy I'd met at the hostel. He asked about Monyash and I recommended the Old Smithy Tea Rooms but he only seemed interested once I told him about the voluptuous lass that worked there. As we said our goodbyes he informed me of a couple of women that had just booked into the hostel, a redhead and a blonde. I had no idea why he thought I'd be interested I’m sure, and I told him as much.

     “How dare you, this is not the reason why I go walking and I find the insinuation offensive in the extreme... a redhead you say?”

     “Yep, huge breasts as well.”

     “Dam you sir, be on your way!”




     From a broken wall I saw the path fall away to a wide and exciting valley, but it was also more exposed so I took the plunge and dropped into this intriguing scene. I passed beneath Parson’s Tor, so-named after a nineteenth-century Monyash vicar, the Reverend Lomas, who fell to his death after riding home in fog. His horse survived but he is buried in the churchyard. To the right was Jacob’s Ladder, this was named after a rare blue flower that grows between June and July up the side of the bank. Lathkill Dale has one of the Peak District’s largest colonies apparently. Despite the conditions it was a tremendous walk that put me in mind of the Samaria Gorge in Crete, without the rain of course. Whilst avoiding mine shafts nearby I listened to the distant echoes of cows lowing eerily up the valley, the haunting sound of beasts heard but never seen. After about 7¼ miles I passed a wooden footbridge named as Sheepwash Bridge by an info board, it went over what may have been the springs of Psalm Pool from where the River Lathkill emerges during the drier months. Otherwise it usually appears out of Lathkill Head Cave during periods of heavy rainfall, I had passed this already around the 7 mile mark. The bridge brought with it the path I had crossed earlier from Cales Dale.




    Before long, the semblance of a river formed over to my right. This was my first bit of the River Lathkill said to be one of the country’s prettiest rivers and eulogised as such by Charles Cotton in ‘The Complete Angler.’ The name is Scandinavian, ‘Hlatha-gyll’ meaning ‘narrow valley with a barn.’ There were times when it looked as though it had disappeared into the permeable limestone rock below whilst further down were some lovely stretches. All of a sudden the most impressive bit of Lathkill Dale seen so far appeared in front of me, a massive limestone cliff. Along a path that followed the foot of the cliff it towered above me, a magnificent edifice of nature. On from that the path went upwards as an exciting bit of the River Lathkill tumbled and fell over a little bit of a waterfall... nonstop entertainment this walk you know! Then, as the waters narrowed and churned excitedly in the guise of little streams and outlets, the river suddenly became bold, wide and very impressive. At the far end of all this was a large stone dam wall that held it like a millpond. The hand of man had certainly contributed to the width of the river at this point. Beyond that it was channelled through what I assumed to be a leat followed by a series of falls and a stepped weir beyond that.




     After 8 miles I reached a map set in stone at Cow Gate Pool, here the footpath ceased to be public and reverted to permissible. There was a weir built into the river at this point with a sign saying that the River Lathkill suffers from summer droughts caused largely by lead mining. The miners dug a sough, (pronounced suff), to lower the water level enabling them to dig deeper. Along a riverside pathway the nature of the dale changed into a tree shrouded valley with little of the steep sides on view. It was a lot darker as well, what light this increasingly miserable afternoon allowed was struggling to make its way through the overhanging canopy. A few yards off the path was an opening of one shaft covered over with a conical metal grate. Next I crossed the river to the ruins of Bateman’s House. All that remained was one of the corners and a few bits of wall with one or two impressive stone lintels still in situ, and a fireplace. Just to the side of the house was a large shaft which looked down into the aforementioned sough, surrounded by a metal fence and a metal ladder going down. To the side of that was a small archway dug into the rock which provided a moment or two of respite from the rain. Once back on it, the flat gravel surface of the track showed a marked improvement as it brought me into Over Haddon at 15:20.




     I stopped to read an old fashioned wooden sign saying this footpath closed for shooting on occasion between October and January. An even more intriguing sign nailed to a tree above said this footpath was open to visitors except the Thursday of Easter week, the toll that day was '1 penny each person.’ I wondered if they still charged. At roughly 3 miles from the hostel I passed Lathkill Lodge to leave the concessionary path and rejoin a public one. The Lathkill was a fickle river I decided, sometimes it wanted to play other times it didn’t. Around the garden of Lathkill Lodge the path climbed and I was able to look down on two different colours of the river, light green and a very dark blue/green, as it all filtered along the foot of a limestone cliff. Ahead of me the dale improved and it needed to as it had been a bit dull through the tree covered mile up until then. There were flies everywhere along this stretch and I inadvertently inhaled one which was a little annoying, more so for the fly I shouldn't wonder. The bottle green waters came to a weir and tumbled down five steps as the path dropped to the same level. A few more weirs took the river downward to a wide open sweep of a river valley, and jolly nice it was too, even in the fading light of a miserably drab October day.




     I was waylaid momentarily by the antics of a dipper, predominantly dark brown with a puffed white breast. They really are lovely little things. It flitted up and down the river before dipping into the water completely, then out it came and scooted along the surface. I didn't see a kingfisher this day but this was the next best thing. After 10 miles I crossed Conksbury Bridge, close to Conksbury Village, then turned off to continue south of the river. By now the peace of the valley was well and truly shattered by my constant spluttering as I tried in vain to remove that fly from my lungs. Then followed a wide and bumpy path alongside a large meadow full of sheep, very big sheep in fact. Through a patch of woodland I crossed a track coming down from the impressive Raper Lodge on a rise to my right with a cluster of autumnal trees, ornamental bridge and summer house close to the river over to my left. I was stopped in my tracks in a field by a flow of cows heading my way, so I waited by a wall as they gradually filtered through a gap, I edged my way out whilst keeping a watchful eye on the stragglers. Through a series of drystone walls along field edges, one eventually squeezed me along a path between wall, hedge and barbed wire fence onto a road, with the time at 16:12 at the 11th mile I had arrived in Alport.




     I kept calling it Airport partly because it read similar, but mainly because I'm a moron! Here the Rivers Lathkill and Bradford meet with the Bradford rising 1 mile northwest of Elton at Dale End. As the rain drizzled, I crossed the road, passed an old telephone box and followed a footpath to the left beyond a farmhouse. The route followed a wide gravel path around the foot of a large cliff, the climax of my way back to Bradford Dale as the track turned with the whim of the river as Youlgreave came into view. Around another corner I passed a stone arched bridge and in a shelter carved into the rock nearby was a wooden bench in loving memory of Harold Gee, 1918 to 1989, ‘the man with the crooked stick.’ By the time I had come full circle I made the steep climb back up Bradford Road with the rain at its worst, and there was I thinking it had got better an hour earlier. Soon I was back along the main street and making my way down to the lower side entrance of the hostel where I managed to sneak back in at 16:38. This ended up being one of the worst days of rain for the whole week, the sun never shone once. Despite that, it proved that sometimes a walk can be a wondrous thing whatever the weather. My day along Lathkill Dale was everything I had hoped it would be when first I saw it from Monyash a decade earlier.




     The hostel was built as a Co-op store in 1872 but soon after it closed the YHA opened it in 1975. The following day I left it for good to rejoin the White Peak Way, an interesting 17 miles to Ilam lay ahead. Not long after setting off I came to a rusting metal gate with the letters MMY, the entrance to a local lead mine. As I climbed to Mawstone Farm I could see a few sheds marking the site of one of the worst tragedies of the industry. Mawstone Mine, also known as Shining Gutter, was an important employer for Youlgreave but susceptible to a flammable gas known as firedamp. On Monday 23rd May 1932 six men were lowered down at 3:30pm to work on a ventilation fan that had been turned off over the weekend allowing a build-up of gas. One of those six, George Frost, returned to the shaft and was knocked to the ground by an explosion. He struggled up to the surface and raised the alarm unaware that he was the only survivor. On hearing the news the mine manager Kenneth Seville went down alone and found the others but was unable to pull them out. As help arrived further rescue parties descended the mine armed only with handkerchiefs over their mouths. On his third rescue attempt Kenneth Seville took with him two of Mawstone’s youngest miners, Eric Evans and Jack Birds, all three would perish from carbon monoxide poisoning. It was only after a team from Clay Cross arrived with breathing apparatus that the bodies were recovered. There is no monument to this disaster, the worst in the Peak District’s lead mining history, just memories that fade with each passing generation. Youlgreave is not a classic Peak District settlement but a town of basic practicalities with nice people that made me feel welcome, yet in my short time there I felt a little of that sense of community that must have driven those men down the mine to rescue their comrades knowing they faced almost certain death. Six of the eight dead were buried at Youlgreave's All Saint's Church, the day earlier I had stopped to read one epitaph that read ‘Greater love hath no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends.