There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Cowpat Walks: 6 Crowdecote

This was the first ‘Cowpat’ since August and again there were only three participants; Alison, Francis and myself. In the days when everybody worked it was easy to know where people were on a Saturday and it was usually possible to choose one when most were free. Now that the majority of potential participants have retired it has become harder to find a Saturday when everybody is in the same country, or even on the same continent, never mind available.

The Cowpats are a circle of circular walks within easy reach of Stafford, and after climbing Shutlingsloe in number 5, we again headed for the White Peak but this time aiming a little further south and east. Drizzle fell throughout the drive and as we came over the rise at Ipstones, the looming bulk of high land before us was shrouded in mist and looked as inviting as the land of Niflheim.

We did not reach Fawfieldhead, a hamlet that appears as a dot only a very large scale map, until well after 10. It had taken an hour to drive from Stone, and Alison had previously had to make her way there from Cheltenham.

The theme for the day, mud - or rather MUD – made itself felt from the start as I became bogged down while trying to park on the verge. Francis got out to push. ‘Where do you want to be?’ he asked. ‘Anywhere except where I am now,’ was the only answer I could think of.

We eventually found a place where the car could be largely off the road and still on firm(ish) ground. As we pulled on our boots the drizzle miraculously stopped and did not resume until after we had set off home. At some points during the day there was even a little watery sunshine. It was hardly Mediterranean, but it was less worse than could have been.

Francis & Alison ready to set off from Fawfieldhead

With Crowdecote, our intended lunch stop, away to the northeast, we set off westwards down the minor road through the hamlet – circular walks make you do things like that. We would eventually circumnavigate the much larger village of Longnor, but as we never went there, only glimpsing it in the distance, I have called the walk after somewhere we did go.

Leaving the road we followed a farm track to The Slack and then over some very wet fields to Shining Ford, where we crossed Oakenclough Brook on a bridge. The name may be out of date, but with only a little more rain the brook would rise above the bridge and turn it back into a ford.

Approaching Shining Ford
Oakenclough Brook is the largest of the streams that come together to form the River Manifold and it has gouged itself a sizeable little valley. Our path, slippery with mud, followed a wall along the valley side to Hardings Booth where we crossed the minor road and followed a well surfaced path straight up the side of what could now be called the Manifold Valley.

A well surfaced path up the side of the Manifold Valley

After climbing the stile at the top.....

Alison leaps over the stile at the top

.....and crossing a couple of fields, we began the long descent into Hollinsclough.

Starting the descent to Hollinsclough
Across the valley we could see the rugged outline of Chrome Hill, adorned with a patch of snow remarkably like Jemima Puddleduck.

Chrome Hill
To the west is gritstone country, but Chrome Hill and the land to the east is limestone. The hill and its neighbours are the remains of an ancient coral reef and our approach to Hollinsclough was along what had once been the edge of a tropical lagoon. Times have changed.

The population of Hollinsclough peaked at around 400 in the mid nineteenth century. Although now without a shop or a pub, it retains a primary school and the last surviving Methodist chapel on the old Wetton and Longnor Methodist Circuit. Hollinsclough was once the home of a silk weaving industry and John Lomas, who built the chapel in 1801, made his money transporting its produce by packhorse to Macclesfield, once the world’s biggest producer of finished silk (and now a world leader in silk museums per head of population). Rather later a church hall was built opposite, where a couple of wooden seats and a table are thoughtfully provided for those who might like to break their walk and drink some coffee.
The Methodist Chapel, Hollinsclough
Hollinsclough is at the northernmost point of the Dove Valley, and after coffee we crossed the flat valley floor to the foot of Chrome Hill before swinging right towards the strange rocky pyramid of Parkhouse Hill.
Parkhouse Hill
As we approached the hill the path forded the River Dove, though given the high rate of flow we happily took the footbridge option. For most of its 72 km the Dove marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, and once over the bridge we were in foreign territory and would stay there until we re-crossed the river after lunch.
Ford and footbridge below Parkhouse Hill
At this point we could have carried on along the valley floor and arrived in Crowdecote in good time for lunch, but a more interesting route was to take the path that swung left around the base of Parkhouse Hill before climbing a grassy ramp up the side of the more rounded Hitter Hill.
Up Hitter Hill
Hitter Hill is the start of the shelf limestone, and from its flank there was an excellent view back over the reef limestone of Parkhouse and Chrome Hills.
Parkhouse Hill with Chrome Hill behind it
We could also look down on Glutton Grange at the mouth of the narrow defile of Glutton Dale, which may have been a natural channel through the coral or could be glacial in origin. The name is said to derive from the local prevalence of the glutton, a voracious and oversized weasel relative also known as the wolverine. In Western Europe the glutton is now confined to northern Norway and there is little evidence for it living in the Peak District at least since the ice age.
Glutton Grange

Round the back of Hitter Hill we did not have to drop far to reach Earl Sterndale, a village set in a high, shallow valley. The setting is good but, as Francis observed, it is not the prettiest of Peak District villages, with too many modern buildings constructed with too little attention to their setting.
Earl Sterndale
The village pub is called The Quiet Woman and the sign sports a biblical quotation (Proverbs, chapter 15, verse 1) and a headless lady. There are several other Quiet Womans around the country, one of them in nearby Leek, and they have similar signs. There is a tentative suggestion that the name refers to a beheaded female saint from the Roman era, though nobody really knows. This woman looks Tudor to me, perhaps Anne Boleyn, but that may be reading too much into an inn sign.
The Quiet Woman, Earl Sterndale
We walked through the pub car park, around the other side of Hitter Hill and stood looking down into the Dove Valley.
The Dove valley from Hitter Hill
The descent was muddy and slippery. Watching Alison and Francis slithering downwards I took the time to extend my poles before following them. It was a good decision, but even with four points of contact I found myself slipping and sliding. I may have been better off with a pair of skis as well.
Once down, the path along the valley bottom was easy, being first a farm track and then level field paths all the way to Crowdecote.

Francis arrives in Crowdecote

Crowdecote (spelled Crowdicote on OS maps) is a metropolis of some 30 souls nestling on the Derbyshire bank of the River Dove. Like most places it looks better in the sunshine, but the Packhorse Inn is always a pleasing sight, particularly as lunch was well overdue. The welcome was warm, the choice of beers excellent and the sausage sandwich outstanding. Master butchers S Bagshaw and Sons of nearby Butterton produce serious sausages.
We started what promised to be a brief but chilly afternoon by crossing the River Dove back into Staffordshire, and then climbing straight up the side of the valley, always a welcome manoeuvre straight after lunch. The path to Edge Top led us up a muddy field recently dressed with manure that sucked at our boots with every step. ‘It’ll get drier further up,’ Francis asserted, though in fact it did nothing of the sort. Above the field boundary the final part of the ascent required us to struggle up a series of muddy gullies, often sliding one step back for every two forward. I am not sure I would have made it without my poles.
Struggling up to Edge Top
From the top there was a good view back to Crowdecote.
Crowdecote from Edge Top
I felt much warmer after the climb and then realised why I had felt cold at the start, I had left my cap in the pub.  This was not, I decided, a good time to go back for it.
The descent into the Manifold Valley was much gentler. The Manifold and the Dove rise about a kilometre apart and then flow roughly parallel for 19 kilometres before joining up south of Ilam. On their way they pass through gorges far deeper and dramatic than might seem appropriate for rivers of modest size. The southern part of the Manifold Valley, especially, is wildly out of proportion for a stream which has a tendency to disappear underground in even a moderately good summer. The rivers, geographer Francis tells me, did not make the valleys, they merely take advantage of clefts gouged out by ice age glaciers.
Down to Boothlow Hayes and then Over Boothlow
Here, at the start of the southward journey, the Manifold Valley is only a gentle crease in the ground. We descended to Over Boothlow and then turned right to Waterhouse Farm, crossing the infant river as we went. The river gets its name from its ‘many folds’, but here it is dead straight.
To Waterhouse Farm
From the farm our path rose gently across fields before dipping to the source of one of the Manifold’s many feeder streams. Then we were back in Fawfieldhead where my car, I was pleased to see, had still not sunk into the soft earth.
The infant River Manifold belies its name
As we left the uplands we watched the storm clouds moving towards us, and finished the journey home in even heavier rain than the journey out. It had, though, been dry throughout the walk.
I arrived home and told Lynne about my cap. ‘We’ll have to go back,’ she said. ‘You can take me out for lunch.’ And so, on Wednesday we returned to Crowdecote.

1 comment:

  1. It was a lovely walk on an almost cheerless day; certainly worth venturing out. The brief sunshine just before lunch was, in the context of the rest of the day, spectacular! Your additional information has made this a very interesting blog; well done and thank you.