It's a long time since we'd had a long walk, and it's likely to be longer still, as his ankles have a doctor's note. He's encouraged to cycle, but not supposed to walk. So on Saturday we conducted an experiment: normally we're almost always found as a pair, but at 1130 I headed up the hill and left him in the carpark at the Ladybower Inn setting up his road bike for parts unknown (but likely to include Glossop). He knew roughly what I was planning, I knew roughly what he was planning, and the plan was to communicate by SMS when and if signal strength allowed. Both to be back at the pub by 1800 for our dinner reservation.
I haven't walked by myself since before our marriage, over 30 years ago. It felt strange. I was aware of a certain vulnerability; I wasn't frightened or nervous, I just made a mental note of people I passed, and their behaviour, as I would on a city street, or out in the car. I wasn't alone, of course. The hills are alive!
I wish the camera would take verbal instruction, or maybe it's better it doesn't understand what I was muttering at it; it would have sulked for hours. That's the best it would do for a Green Tiger Beetle, an amazing predator and one of my favourite beasts. I lost count of the number I saw. Also lizards, too fast for the camera, and this, the bird responsible for the existence of much heather moorland in the UK, the Red Grouse.
The photo doesn't show it, but beyond the hills beyond the lake lies the A57 and Snake Pass, and he was probably cycling it as I took this photo. Uphill, against a headwind. I tried not to think about it, lest my quads ache in sympathy.
That's part of the path along Derwent Edge, east of the Derwent reservoir (part of the Ladybower/Derwent/Howden group). Here the path has worn through a thin layer of peat into the Millstone Grit, which sparkles in the sun as though I'm walking on a carpet of tiny diamonds. The glitter yields a flashback to light on fine, fresh snow; the snow is blue, moonlight blue, and the glitter is white and blue fire, and there is a smell that I think is my mother's perfume and I am very, very small and the snow is very close. I wonder if that was my first snow ever? I'd have been just over a year old.
Lunch was at Back Tor. I can't eat a lot at one go when I'm walking, so some very strange smoked cheese, a couple of oatcakes and half my apple was enough.
I left at 1307, heading for the path snaking across the moor at right. At the centre and left you may see the start of the Abbey Brook valley, which we think of as the Narnia valley (I'll explain why later), planning to cut from the path across to the head of the brook and follow a minor path along the valley. I tried to text time and destination, but had no signal despite this being one of the highest points for miles. Some time later I was about halfway to the cut-off when my phone, buried in the pack, made a muffled noise. Frantic excavations revealed the phone and, my word, a strong signal! And a text saying he'd made it past Glossop but rather wished he hadn't started. We live in flatland, unaccustomed to hills. I rang and confirmed that he would press on, then did so myself.
This was taken looking back at the head of the valley, the bit shown above
You can see the line of the minor path I'm following across the grasses, diving in and out of cuts eroded into the peat. The valley quickly deepens, with precipitous grass-covered side interrupted by outcrops of rock. It looks like something designed by Pauline Baynes
Although you can see the paths, there's no sense of scale in that image. Just before I crossed the stream at the point that it shines sky-blue in the shadow, a group of walkers on the path I'd just come down kindly presented themselves silhouetted against the sky.
That was 1400. 20 strenuous minutes later I'd climbed the hillside and stopped for second lunch on a shoulder of the Howden Moors.
The walking poles give a scale to the edge of the peat. Changes in climate and land use mean the peat is eroding faster than it builds, if it builds at all on these moors. The encroaching grass is less valuable to wildlife than the heather and other plants on the peat, so efforts are underway to encourage heather to spread.
We'd noticed the wide sweeping scars on the grasses before; now it's possible to see a scattering of tiny dark plants on areas scarred in the past - new heather springing to life. I continued west along the path following the edge of the peat, struggling a bit with a blister (to my surprise) and my duff knee. The first of a series of grouse butts marked the point where I'd decided I'd have to turn back to be on time at the pub. A text from him said he expected to be back at the car within 30 minutes. Ha. I had *hours* of walking to enjoy yet!
Walking poles give a scale. These are small shelters in which the guns (the technical term for the hunter and his guns) conceal themselves. Beaters and dogs work through the heather, driving the birds toward the guns. When the grouse take wing, the guns have their chance. I don't object to shooting; without the red grouse and its liking for heather, many moors would have lost their interest to wildlife many years ago. And, from the point of view of most mammals and birds (probably not those that eat grouse), reptiles, and insects, private keepered moors would have been a quiet haven for most of the year.
I headed south and west down the track - and found this, the body of a Mountain Hare, which died during the process of replacing its white winter coat with summer brown. It seems unmarked, and I can think of no reason anyone would deliberately harm one; perhaps it died of starvation and exposure. A natural occurrence and still such a sad sight.
On and down, heading toward the lake. The path passes through an area where woodland has been replanted, trying to recreate some of the natural birch/oak woods that would grow here if sheep didn't browse the young trees.
The path is steeper than it looks, and my duff knee twinged at every step. It seems easier to dwell on discomfort without the distraction provided by a walking companion! I put away the poles and tried a more uneven gait, changing the angle at which my foot hit or left the ground. Then I tried digging my thumbs into the muscle that hurt most, attempting to break or unlock any bunching of fibres. That seemed to help, enough that I was able to appreciate the scent of sun-warmed grasses. And conifers, as the path dropped through a larch plantation to the lake.
1600 and I was on the lakeside road - and no phone signal. The amateur massage attack on my knee and the relatively level ground allowed a good pace, and I soon reached the dam at the base of the Derwent Reservoir.
The turrets seem to emerge from the lake itself. The promenade across the dam is closed
but I took time to admire the stonework face of the dam.
And kept walking. The plantations gave way to green pastures bounded by wire fences and by traditional drystone walls built of Millstone Grit. I was pleasantly surprised to see the hedge above this one had been properly laid over the winter.
Laying is the traditional way of creating a stock-proof barrier of hedging. Every 10–15 years, unwanted growth is cleared away and stems of the appropriate thickness are almost cut through - enough that they will bend and stay at the desired angle, but retaining sufficient bark and sap flow that vigorous new growth revives and thickens the hedge.
Further along the road beside Ladybower is the first of the strange things, things that look like solidly-constructed hemispheres of painted steel or iron rising like mushrooms from the ground. It seems they open in some way, or could do so, because each sports a padlock. Google has failed to enlighten me. Are they something to monitor or assess water levels in Ladybower? Or perhaps they're associated with the
Dambusters training runs. I should contact the Museum and ask...
I realised I should stop blaming the road on the other side of the lake for the traffic noise. There, in the distance, I can just see the A57 road bridge across the reservoir. I'm almost there...
Just before the bridge my path turns east, rising past a few houses and then up the last hill with a fine view of Stanage Edge with its sharp vertical gritstone edge.
Up and over and down and there's the pub, nestled in the hillside below me. And the carpark. I can see our car, and (I discover later) he's in it and sees me seeing it.
1730. I'm half an hour early. 14 miles. And I still have more to give - I could walk further, if there was further to walk. I kick myself gently for not walking a little faster and a little further. But next time we will pack the bike the night before and arrive earlier. And I will do more local walking and biking, because I am not as fit as I should be. But that means less knitting and spinning and weaving... decisions, decisions. I have brought back tokens to remind me that I do need to get out more, even while spinning: someone on Ravelry posted a picture that shows (amongst other things) how to use a feather to bring fine singles through the orifice - apparently it's a Margaret Stove thing. Rather than reaching with a hook to pull the yarn, just insert the feather on the bobbin side and allow it to take the yarn with it. I have a handful of grouse feathers to use for this, each one the colour of peat and sun-warmed grass and heather in spring.