Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hot As Madrid

The former Osmaston Hall
 Apparently it was as hot in Derbyshire today as it was in Madrid.  Wow!  Certainly a very warm and beautifully sunny day. 

We went for a walk at a place I had never explored before - Osmaston estate near Ashbourne.  There used to be a huge Italianate house here in Victorian times, but it was demolished in the 1960s.  The pretty estate village remains.  It its one of the few places in Derbyshire where there are many thatched cottages.  Obviously the folks at the big house liked their villages rustic and picturesque.

We walked past the bustling Shoulder of Mutton pub and the diminutive village post office ("Ring for attention"), and turned left at the village duck pond.  Several people had set up deckchairs by the water and were enjoying the sunshine.

Another pretty cottage in the village

There was a lovely old tree in a field by the footpath.  It had a swing and it was very tempting to have a go, but I felt a bit sorry for the tree!  Here I am trying to take a photo of it with my tablet PC.

Descending a slope we came to the estate water mill, a building with a somehow Alpine look to it. 

Its delapidation only makes it more picturesque.  We especially liked the tufty ferns sprouting from the roof tiles.

From thence we made our way across fields for a mile or so until we reached the charming hamlet of Shirley.  Here there is a remarkable 'survivor' tree.  It is built into the wall of the village church, and the metal fence along the top of the wall goes through it.  The tree has at some point been cut down to a stump, yet still has twigs and bugs growing, despite being completely hollow and riddled with woodworm!

Across from the tree and the church is the Saracen's Head pub, which is very neatly kept.  Inside the hostelry everyone was happily nibbling on tasty roast dinners  Only having a fiver on us and being as we were saving up for our holidays we could only afford a cup of tea and an orange juice.  So we sat at a bench outside and dribbled over the puddings menu (eg "Vanilla Pan Cotta with Lavender Cookies").

After leaving Shirley our route led through some dry sandy fields.  The fields had a spring green colour to them and the sky was impossibly blue.  It certainly didn't feel like March.  I collected some of the pebbles which filled the fields, intending to take them home and make them into owls for the garden.

From thence into a quiet wetland area.  Someone had constructed an very sturdy boardwalk to carry the footpath over a marshy area of rushes.  It was nice to sit and bask on the boardwalk for a while.

Then into some conifer woodland and eventually we emerged to a small lake.  From the shore, the one remaining tower of former Osmaston Hall could be seen in the far distance, cloaked by trees.  Along the lake was a line of alders, their roots making little islands along the water's edge.

Up a steep incline past a twisted stag headed oak and then out through the tall gateway that once led to the hall, back to the pretty "village ornee" of Osmaston for a cup of tea and a slice of cake which we had brought along with us.  What a nice walk!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Round Press on a Sunny Day

"Press" is a funny name for a village. It's a straggle of cottages located in a rather backwater area of North East Derbyshire between the former industrial towns of Wingerworth and Clay Cross and the countryside heading over towards Wooley Moor and Ogston Reservoir.  There is a series of three small reservoirs at Press, created for heaven knows what purpose but these days a haunt for fishermen. 

Outside Mr Sleigh's Manor House

It being an unseasonably sunny day last Sunday (11th March) we set off on the footpath between reservoirs one and two, and soon found ourselves in a muddy, unmade lane.  The 17th century stone manor house close by (Manor Farm these days) was apparently once Derbyshire's most hard to access pub.  In one direction is the rutted and unsurfaced lane, and in the other a very narrow gated road.  Today I suppose it might create a niche market by advertising itself as some kind of four-wheel drive challenge, but back in the day it must have been nigh on impossible to get too, even if you knew where to look.  Our guidebook said the manor was built by one Samuel Sleigh, who also gave his name to nearby Sleigh Woods.

The splendid post box

After crossing several fields and stiles (including one with a lot of frogs) we arrived at a footpath eandering around the perimeter of Stubbing Hall Park.  The hall is a Georgian building. 

The footpath passes its former Home Farm, and a couple of cottages, one of which had a spendid ornamental hen house complete with cockeral weather vane, and a very fancy wrought iron letter box.

At the road junction are a few houses and a Methodist chapel called Salem ("Peace" in Hebrew) which - by the number of cars parked outside and the enthusiastic singing coming from within - is a very popular place of worship.  There was a funny story in the guidebook about the evangelical preacher who built it having a fall out with local worthy Sir Henry Hunloke and being prevented from buying stone for the chapel in any of the local quarries, all of which were owned by grumpy Sir Henry.

Nearby is the "Great Pond of Stubbing" - now a tranquil reservoir.  It must be the same age as the hall.  A small boathouse on the far bank looked appealling.
The Great Pond of Stubbing

The path now wound in the direction of Wingerworth, taking the form of stepping stones set in grass.  Presumably these prevented Non Conformist Victorian ladies from soiling their dresses whilst walking through the fields to chapel. Up a steep bank and onto the road then up another even steeper incline, this one a narrow road leading into trees.  There was a fine sunny view over fields below, starting to look green again after winter, due to the sunshine.

Through and out of the woods, our path started to descend.  We stopped to say hello to a friendly donkey and to admire the view which must be enjoyed fron the modern red brick house at the top of the ridge, with its many balconies and terraces.

Heading back towards Press and Northledge hamlets, we passed a cottage with three alpacas in a field outside.  They came over to the fence curiously and then frolicked, rolling in the dust.  They were odd looking creatures, with large long lashed eyes and what looked like furry leggings. Ahhh!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February In Monsall Dale

 This weekend we went for a short walk in Monsall Dale, starting from White Lodge and walking up to Monsall Head. 

Along the way there is an impressive waterfall, where a rescue team was practising, with the aid of a huge Newfoundland rescue dog called Tugs.

Lesley was wearing a new Fairisle hat that she recently knitted.

We stopped for refreshments at the teashop at the head of the gorge, and sat outside to enjoy the great view.  Inside the cafe is a small craft shop where we admired a picture by artist Catriona Hall of the dale. I am a fan of her work.

After our short stroll it was still early in the afternoon, so we went to Bakewell for a browse around the shops.  I managed to resist the siren call of the chip shop!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Chilly Day at Hardwick Hall

I had a minor fall out with Tom, my Sat Nav, who tried to take us on a scenic trip round the back streets of Clay Cross and then directed us down a lane which seemed to get narrower and narrower. The fact that it had grass growing down the middle was also not reassuring.  Yet, unexpectedly, we popped out at the right place. 

There was a hard frost when we arrived at 11am and parked at Stainsby Mill for a walk in Hardwick Hall park.  It later turned out that we shouldn't have parked there, because the walk started somewhere else entirely, but that's what you get for relying on an inadequate sketch map with no scale.  However, the drive was at least dry and ice free.  After meandering round the hill and past some very aged and twisted oaks, we finally came within sight of both the Old and New Hardwick Hall, though the last is somewhat of a misnomer of course. 
The building looked, as ever, imposing and slightly fantastical, its chimneys and finials bristling.  She was no modest woman that Bess, her initials on the turrets must be several feet high.  Sadly the hall shuts for winter, but the snack shack was open as was the Old Hall.  We bought a postcard and sympathised with the attendant in his draughty lobby. 

The Old Hall

Lesley firmly ensconced in her new winter jacket.
After our walk we were still early enough to find plenty of space at the cosy Hardwick Inn, a pub I had never visited before.  Though by no means picturesque inside (the 1980's artex style plastering a little too freely applied) it serves a wide range of affordable hearty meals.  Lesley and I chose a roast dinner each and I tried a half of Bess of Hardwick Bitter - an excellent brew.  We did not expect to be able to clear our loaded plates, but the frost and a walk had obviously made us hungrier than we thought, for somehow most of it disappeared.

A half circuit of the Millers' Pond brought us back to the car, the sun making a brief appearance. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Devil's Arse

We went on a trip to the Devil's Arse last Sunday.  Or Peak Cavern, as it used to be called.  The cavern extrance is dramatic - the largest in the British Isles. 
It's strange to think that back in Ye Olde Days whole families lived here, carrying on the rope making trade in the damp shelter of the overhanging rock.  Apparently it was a very smelly place, what with the hovels, pigs, chickens and children running around, smoke from fires and tallow being boiled.  A gothy girl guide gave us a demonstration of exactly how the rope was made, and I helped her wind the wooden contraption which made it so neatly, using hempen string.

Parts of the cavern are very low, and apparently in Victorian times the entrance passage was partly flooded. So to get in visitors had to lie on their backs in a flat bottomed boat the side of a coffin, clutching a candle to their chests, and be ferried in by a wading guide.  I felt glad that the visit of Queen Victorian had persuaded them to blast a larger hole into the cavern, so that today's visitors only have to stoop along "Lumbago Walk" for a few dozen yards, and though there is mud, there are no black depths to be navigated.
After leaving the cavern we had a walk up Cavedale - the limestone gorge above which towers the ruined Norman castle.  It is like a scene from "Gawain and the Green Knight."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Up and Down Dale in Ladygrove

A very warm sunny day today. so we headed into Derbyshire to make the most of it.  I had details for a walk around Darley Dale - a place which we usually just drive quickly through on the way from Matlock to Bakewell.  

The Darley Yew
Before setting off we took the opportunity to call into St. Helen's churchyard in the old part of the village, to have a look a the famous "Darley Yew".  This is a hoary veteran of a tree said to be 2000 years old, opposite the church porch.  From its massive 33 foot girth it's easy to believe that it might have been already growing here when the Romans arrived.  Stout metal railing protect the arboricultural curiosity, and inside the fence are a series of memorial stones commemorating famous battles. 

The church, though 14th century, evidently replaces an earlier structure, as there bits and pieces of what looks like Norman stonecarving, such as the wolf like creature inside the porch.  There are even said to be some Saxon stones inside the church, but we were unable to check this as the door was firmly locked.  Two women decorating the porch with flowers for a wedding said there had been recent vandalism.  The churchyard was peaceful and shady, with gravestones dating back to 1645.

Our footpath took us over some fields , along the reedy bank of a stream, where Meadowsweet was in full flower, and past the cricket club where a practise was in progress and a marquee suggested that the church weddingn guests might not have far to go to the reception.  We passed the Square and Compass pub near Darley Bridge, and the camping field opposite which was absolutely rammed full of tents and caravans.

Thence our path led through a field of rather pooey Friesian cows and across a footbridge until we emerged onto the busy A6.  We sweltered along the road for a while until reaching the next path, through the grounds of what used to be St Elphin's School.  It is now an upmarket retirement complex, and a huge amount of construction work seemed to be in progress.  With all the scaffolding and Herras fencing here, it made you feel a bit sorry for those who had already bought appartments in "phase one".  They seemed unlikely to be enjoying a quiet retirement.

Old Spring & Well near Hackney
It was very hot by now and the slope seemed to get steeper all the time.  Thankfully, someone had placed a bench near the top of the hill, so we rested a while and enjoyed the fabulous view over distant Stanton Moor before turning left on a bumpy tarmac lane below some 1930's bungalows.

Eventually the lane turned to a track, and we passed an old spring and trough on our right, before heading downwards into woodland.  It was annoying to lose all the height we had just gained, because it suggested that there would be more hillsides to slog up later, but at least it was cool and shady.  It was clearly a damp place at most times of year, as thick green moss covered the walls and tree trunks. 

At the bottom of the dale was a converted stone mill, and a right hand turn onto a stony path which rose gradually through the pretty wooded valley of Ladygrove.  A brook babbles down the dale.  There are a series of dams along the valley, named Nancy Dam, Fancy Dam and Potter Dam. 

By Nancy Dam
The path runs close to Nancy Dam, but slowly pulls away from the water afterwards, running ever higher up the wooded slopes.  With the trees thickly covered in leaves, we could hear the water below, but only catch occasinal glimpses of it.  A number of tiny streamlets crossed the path, making it muddy in places, and small waterfalls burst out of the mossy rocks on either side. 

At the end of the path was a much larger waterfall, which gushed noisily out of a rocky gully.  After taking a few pictures we had to scramble up a very steep slope to where the footpath comtinued above. 

Syndnope Hall in the distance
The route took us on through a couple of fields, and past Syndnope Hall, a grey stone pile on our right, up a narrow snicket at the bottom of Syndnope Farm garden, and up onto the road, where a large unfriendly looking dog snarled on the other side of the iron gate.  After 50 yards or so we were directed up a lane where a typed sign advertised "Teddy Bear's Picnic".  Sadly, we could see no sign of gambolling furry toys.  The walk directions told us to turn left and follow a farm track for half a mile. 

It proved a very stoney half mile, on the kind of track where you have to watch your step cerfully to avoid a twisted ankle.  On the way down we stopped to smile at an old "Guide Stoup" - one of the gritstone way markers erected in Derbyshire in the 1700's, to guide travellers.  It featured a pointing hand and the legend "Chasterfeld Rode".  Stonemasons in Chesterfield obviously weren't good at spelling.

Guide Stoup from 1700's

Out on the steep B road pointing down into Two Dales, we had a brief wander around trying and failing to find a shortcut through a field.  In the end we gave up and took the road instead.  Two Dales proved to be more interested that I expected.  There was a cute looking and very tiny pub with the date stone 1775, and a number of old stone cottages mixed in with the modern housing. 

 It didn't seem long before we were back down on the A6.  Crossing the busy road we took a sidetrip into the grounds of the Whitworth Institute, a large stone edifice built by (I believe) a wealthy Edwardian businessman, who made his money producing parts for rifles.  I had driven past this for years without realising that at its rear is a large and attractive public park.  We bought ice creams from the village shop and sat on a park bench to eat them, before retracing our steps down the lane. 

Passing the Peak Rail station, we paused to snap a steam train noislily "letting off steam" before heading off in the direction of Matlock, before retracing our steps up the lane to St Helen's Church.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Return to Cressbrook Hall

We went to Litton Well Dressings last weekend.  Litton is up on the limestone plateau between Bakewell and Buxton.  In winter it can be a bit grim and drafty, but in the flowery height of summer, and bedecked with bunting, the place looked buxom and bucolic.  We parked the car outside a stone cottage with a window sticker that said "Neighbourhood Witch".  In the window of the 4X4 outside was a "My other car is a broomstick" sticker.  We made a mental note to be extra careful not to trash her verge.  Well, you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of that particular villager would you?

There were two wells dressed. Neither were real wells, but the symbolic type much favoured by villages that have lost their original water sources, or the real ones are too muddy and too off the beaten track for cake seeking car bourne tourists like us to tramp all the way to.  I liked the idea they had of rigging up a tiny temporary garden fountain in front of each. 

The charming Red Lion pub has tiny rooms, so what with the brass band setting up outside and sunday lunches in full swing, the odds of getting a seat were slim.  We opted for tea at the village hall where a goodly spread of cake made up for the lack of lager.  After munching our way through a couple of slices I bought a couple of items from the elderly lady running an animal charity stall and we wandered back out to the green.  A poster near the village shop (a co-operative venture owned by villagers, but sadly now in need of more stakeholders) advertised the fact that Cressbrook Hall was opening its gardens on Sunday afternoons. 

I have always liked the look of this Victorian Gothic country house, poised on the slope by the Water Cum Jollydale gorge.  In fact L and I nearly stayed in one of their self catering cottages once.  (I forget what stopped us - poverty or a better offer perhaps).  The old man on washing up duty in the church hall assured us that it was at most a mile and a half from Litton to Cressbrook, so we decided to walk there.

It was a dull, overcast day, and rather windy. The road winds up by the cemetery then through fields of staring cows, then past a row of 19th century cottages inaccurately called "New Houses".  From thence it drops down past a Victorian chapel into Cressbrook Village - a cluster of dark stone houses that looked as if they were probably built as estate cottages for workers at the hall.  Cressbrook had a couple of wells dressed too, and bunting was flapping in the breeze.  After viewing the wells we found the twisty lane that led up towards the Hall.  But a dissappointing notice announced that the gardens were "Closed Today".  Peeved, we set off back to Litton. To add insult to injury it was uphill all the wall back.  But at least we got back in time for the well blessing outside the chapel.

This Sunday I was determined to go back and get into those gardens.  I had e-mailed Mrs Bobby Hull Bailey, the owner, and told her our sad tale.  She mailed back to assure me that the gardens would be open from 11.45am. 

Di's Brew Stop

This time we walked from Millers Dale.  For once the weather forecast spoke true and we had a mini heat wave.  After weeks of cool showery weather, it felt curiously tropical striding through the Wye Valley gorge with the sun shining and a sticky patch of sweat under my rucksack.  (Sorry, too much information!)

Litton Mill was dusty and baked in the heat.  We stopped for a slice of my homemade Pineapple and Coconut cake and a nectarine.  By Cressbrooke Mill we were in need of a cuppa and happily "Di's Brewstop" was open.  This odd little hole in the wall isn't really a cafe.  There is no loo and inside only a few old chairs like you used to see in oldfashioned Youth Hostel Common Rooms.  But it is much enjoyed by muddy booted walkers and our shoes were distinctly muddy by this time, it having evidently rained hard the night before. The strange, crenallated building looks like a mini castle but was apparently the Mill overseers' house. 

Fortified by an ice cream and a mug of tea we continued on our way up a steep hill towards Cressbrook Hall.  The fact that everything is on a steep slope, obscuring the view, and the lanes wander up and down a bit made it quite hard to find the right approach.  But eventually, having passed the Lower Lodge and made our way up and then down the hillside into the estate, we came to the back entrance door of the hall.  It is a house in the mock Elizabethan style, with over tall chimneys and pointed garbles. Built 1835 (four years before our cottage!) its glory is its location, on a shelf of land overlooking the wide rocky river gorge, with a stoney slope rising high on the opposite side.

A notice asked garden visitors to ring the bell, which we did and a pleasant middleaged woman in a flowery blue dress (not posh enough sounding to be Bobby) took our money, gave us a leaflet and asked if we wanted tea or coffee.  "When you're ready sit on the terrace and I'll bring it out for you" she instructed.  There were no other visitors and so we had the lovely gardens to ourselves.  They aren't large, but the island beds, planted in a very High Victorian style, were immaculately edged with was not a weed in sight nor a blade of grass out of place.  I admired the Black Elder and several other choice plants.  Beyond the terrace balustrades, the ground dropped away to the wilder woodland along the river. 

By now it was very hot and still, with not a breath of wind.  Our host brought out a tray of tea, plenty of biscuits and a brochure about the hall.  When we asked how much, she said it was included in the price.  Jolly decent I thought.  We complimented the gardens and she explained that they were not hers, she was merely helping out.  (I was right about Bobby then). 

The brochure revealed that prior to 1979, when the current owners bought it on a whim for its stunning location, the house had been home to a pig farmer, Colombia Pictures, an estate agent and a community of nuns. Not all at the same time one hopes.  After enjoying the refreshments we explored The Nun's Steps and the little private garden belonging to Garden Cottage.  Evidently nobody was in residence that week. 

Then it was time to go and we took what we thought was a short cut along the drive and out of Lower Lodge.  Up the lane was a footpath to Litton Mill, avoiding the mud of Water Cum Jollydale by skirting the wooded slope of the gorge.  After making our way carefully along the steep, rocky and rather slippery path we eventually popped out at the bottom of the Nun's Steps.  Meaning that had we but known it, we could have cut quite a long section off our route.  But no matter.  The weather was still warm and sticky but pleasant for walking and strangely for such a damp green route by the river and wetland, there were no bothersome midges or insects to annoy us.

We walked back long the road from Litton Mill to Millersdale, avoiding the steep scramble up to the Monsall Track on the opposite bank.  What a lovely Derbyshire day!