A Journey Around the British Isles … Part 107
If set the task of choosing which of Dovedale or the Manifold Valley I like the best I would have to go for the Manifold. It’s where my family come from. It’s steeped in history of industry and agriculture. It’s quieter and less known. It’s astonishingly lovely and it even has a legend of a headless horseman. Dovedale is grand though, especially if you get there early on a weekday morning.
Hartington is where I cross my final county border (there have been a good few of these … I think I crossed and re-crossed the Leitrim/Roscommon border about six times in one morning!) and I’m back in the county where the ride began. The town is busy and a procession of hikers have put on their best walking trousers (the sort that will survive a trip across the wastes of Greenland) to walk two miles of flattish footpaths through green fields and along the banks of a chuckling stream, to the place where Charles Cotton fished. The trousers haven’t been bought in vain. There’s still the two miles back along the same path. Just as well they also invested in special walking boots, special walking socks and an all weather anorak. The 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map looks good in the special plastic map holder. I can’t help but notice that those without special gear manage the same walk quite well in sandals and shorts.
I’m reminded of the Two Ronnies sketch where big Ronnie, wearing plimsolls and a suit with trousers slightly rolled, has just beaten club secretary and the captain of the A team, little Ronnie, dressed in full squash regalia including designer headband, at squash, “Game Love, Game Love Game Love Game Love”, despite having never played before and not knowing the rules.
Hikers really do like to wear the correct gear and are seemingly prepared to pay whatever it costs. Those outdoor shops in Hathersage and Ambleside are not cheap. Buying the right gear is perfectly sensible if you are walking the Pennine Way or spending the night on Kinder Scout. The majority of Peak District hikers rarely get more than three miles from their cars. I suppose it is nice to get involved and feel you belong. I know a fellow in my village who dresses in racing shoes, Ferrari T shirt and cap just to watch the Formula One races in his own front room. I’ve been on mountain leadership courses and the advice is trainers in the dry, wellies in the wet.
The walk from Hartington down the Dove into first, Berrisford Dale and then the enchanting Wolfscote Dale is worth dressing up for. There’s a solid footpath all the way down the river now. If you need expensive boots for this walk then you’ll need them for most high streets. I can remember when there was only a trailing sheep’s path down the Wolfscote section. It is still glorious but you don’t get quite the same feeling of getting away from it all
Hartington is a name I associate with Christmas and my early awakening to the delights of good food. Each year my grandmother would buy a whole Hartington Stilton cheese and divide it among her daughters and their families for the festive table. The cheese factory is still there but doesn’t seem to be in production. I go into the shop and ask for some Hartington Stilton. When I get it home it is labelled Colston Bassett. (The Stilton Web-Page no longer lists Hartington as one of the officially licenced dairies… I feel a little bit of my heritage has been taken away. The Hartington Stilton was, to my tastebuds, the finest of them all).
And then it’s a long ride up the side of a limestone valley. I feel like WH Auden’s Nightmail. The gradient’s against me but I’m on time. Summer flowers, old discarded lime kilns and fields of a green that you only get in this part of Derbyshire. It’s a good old pull on legs and lungs and a very pleasant one. There is an alternative. I could take the Tissington Trail. It’s a cycle path along a disused mineral railway line. There are no hills and you get some terrific views. It can also be like riding in a huge, slow moving, disorganised peloton. It is very popular with occasional pedlars. Occasional pedallers are very good at getting in the way.
Trails like these are a fantastic way to get out and see some of the wonders of the Peak District. They’re just not for me. I like my hills. For every half hour spent pulling steadily up one there is the reward of the descent. A short section of main road and then the simple pleasure of turning left onto quiet country lanes that take me under sycamores and leadeth me unto green pastures. There are few greater pleasures to the touring cyclist than to get the combination of glorious countryside, quiet roads and several miles of gradual downhill. It doesn’t much matter which of the little web of roads you take, you’ll eventually find yourself descending through Youlgreave. It’s a rather attractive village (almost a town) that has brought out walkers and trippers to show off their four season hiking kit to each other over a pint outside one of the three pubs.
Youlgreave is sizeable and prosperous. It is the centre of a debate over how to spell its own name. Road signs and maps differ and a local historian has listed a couple of dozen variations on the spelling in different documents. However you spell it, it does well in the poetic name for a village list. I have many happy memories of the place going back to the 1970s.
The afternoon is turning into a journey to as many of the thirty rivers that flow into the Trent as I can manage. I’ve already done the Manifold and the Dove. Here I follow Rowlow Brook which becomes the River Bradford. This in turn joins the Lathkill and by the time I reach the A6 just south of Haddon Hall I’m keeping company with The River Wye. Of all the Derbyshire stately homes, I would say that Haddon Hall is the one most worth visiting. Not only is it a rather beautiful Tudor mansion with glorious gardens, it is kept in such a way as to give a real feeling of the history of the place. There are guided tours but I find them un-necessary. The history of the place speaks through the joints and joists and the well chosen and preserved items of furniture.
I don’t stop. I’ve got an unavoidable five miles of major trunk road and am glad that the gradient is downwards. My legs are tiring and, though I’m within an hour’s car journey of home, I’ve still got some serious wheel-turning ahead of me. At Rowsley I leave the thundering lorries behind me and change the Wye for the Derwent. (Both of these rivers have namesakes. In England we have found enough names for many thousand villages and towns without too many duplications. We haven’t been able to manage the same with our rivers. Or maybe we like the names so much we use them over and over. There are several River Derwents in England. The River Wye I’m leaving is not the same as the Sylvan Wye that Wordsworth wrote about in Tintern Abbey (though I’d followed the upper waters of that river as well on my journey). We have a handful of Rivers called Ouse and a selection of River Avons. When you consider that the word Avon actually means river then you come to the conclusion that we’ve been a bit limited in our creative use of fluvial nomenclature. Having said that, I rather like the names of our rivers … with the possible exception of the Irk and the Goyt).
I’m pedalling upstream now. This is an eighteenth century roadway and it’ll take me through the grounds and past the front of one of our most famous country houses. It will also take me to the foot of the last major climb of this entire journey.