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, 30 November 2013

The Cowpat Walks: 8 Morridge and Onecote

In March, I started the Crowdecote (Cowpat 6) post with a grumble – aimed at myself as much as anybody. ‘In the days when we all worked,’ I wrote, ‘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.

Cowpat 8, then, was a minor miracle; all six ‘regular’ participants walked – though not all at the same time. Francis, Alison and Brian were only available on the 23rd of November so formed the ‘Pioneer Group’, while Mike, Lee and I followed on the 30th. Both were days of bright (though not warm) November sunshine, though the intervening week featured grey skies and rain.

I asked the Pioneers for their comments. Alison’s can be paraphrased as ‘Moan. Moan. Moan. Moan. Moan, but overall it was a good experience.’ Alison is not normally so negative. I saw Brian and Francis on Friday evening. They offered some advice and then talked at length of mud, slurry and impending doom. Brian, in particular, seemed to relish our forthcoming discomfort.

We made an early start and parked on Mount Road, a lane running along a ridge just outside Leek, shortly after 9 o’clock.

Lee (left) and Mike, Mount Road, Leek
We set off eastwards with fine views north to the Ramshaw Rocks, Hen Cloud and the Roaches.

Ramshaw Rocks on the right, Hen Cloud in the middle and
the southern end of the Roaches just disappearing round the tree

The problem with starting on a ridge with the intention of climbing to a higher one is that first you must descend. We dropped into a valley with an apparently nameless brook at the bottom. The approach was muddy and dotted with molehills, but it is inappropriate to make a major issue out of these. The descent was tiresome; moderately steep, very slippery and made unnecessarily narrow by a barbed wire fence.

Lee descends to a nameless stream

Reaching the bottom, we crossed the footbridge and ascended the other side to Stile House Farm. We had climbed through a field which, though muddy and pockmarked by cattle, was still frozen so we skipped lightly over the top of the ground – insofar as I ever ‘skip lightly’. Beyond the farm we emerged into Norman Lamont’s fabled ‘sunlit uplands’, and Lee felt the need to shed some outer clothing.

The pockmarked frozen field below Stile House Farm
From here a swing left took us up to a barn, recently built and right across the path. New fences have been erected around it and an old stile led into an area from which there was no exit. The Pioneers had spent some time finding a way through, but we benefitted from their experience, following a farm track and climbing over a wooden fence.

There is no obvious path to Easing Farm....
Lee and Mike discuss the lack of obvious path to Easing Farm
.... but we had to cross another brook, and after descending by what felt like the natural route, we arrived at a footbridge – though it might have been hard to find behind summer foliage.
Lee finds the footbridge
We climbed the bank beyond. There are missing stiles in this area, while others are blocked off by strands of barbed wire. We were just outside the Peak District National Park, where walkers are more carefully looked after, but the footpaths were on the map, so they will be regularly walked. If farmers do not like it, it is in their best interests not to be obstructive but to ensure that paths are clearly signed and stiles properly maintained, otherwise walkers will wander all over their land and could damage fences by climbing over them.

Climbing the bank to Easing Farm
We turned right up Easing Lane, leaving it after 400 metres to follow a field path up to Morridge. The right of way passes through a hollow where the main stream is joined by two others rising on the hillside to the right. Brian’s advice was to ignore the official route (there is no actual path) and go round to the right staying as high as possible.

A very wet hollow below Blakelow Lane
 Good advice, but even so there were 100m where we could only proceed by hopping from tussock to tussock. The ground between was so soft it swallowed the bottom metre of my walking pole under its own weight. Had any of us had slipped off a tussock we might still be there.

We reached Blakelow Road and crossed it into the National Park. The rest of our climb was up a farm track, gently inclined but long enough to make arrival at the summit a relief.

We had intended to pause here for coffee, but the track, which ends in a muddy parking place beside a phone mast, was covered in litter - plastic bottles and cans crushed ready for recycling but unaccountably dumped here.

Turning south we continued along the broad, wet, grassy top of what is technically called the Mixon-Morridge Anticline. It was not a pretty place, the muddy sheep fields were scarred by tractor tracks and the summit was too broad and flat to give a good view into the Hamps Valley beyond.

Across the top of the Morridge-Mixon anticline
Here the temperature was several degrees lower and the breeze had a cutting edge. We eventually paused for coffee......

Pausing for coffee above Mixon
.... beside a frozen water trough..

Mike prefers his coffee on ice
We started to descend into the Hamps Valley, passing the dour old farmhouse at Mixon Grange. The path forks here, one branch descending sharply to an 18th century copper mine but we took the higher path continuing our gentle descent along the ridge.

Arriving at Mixon Grange
Views into the Hamps Valley began to open up and we could see the village of Onecote at the foot of the hill.
The Valley of the River Hamps

Approaching Onecote Grange we stuck to the footpath across the field. The Pioneer Group, however, did not. Francis wrote ‘we make no apologies for following a metalled farm road down to Onecote Grange. Here, Brian made the mistake of walking on what looked like a flat hard standing but sunk in nearly to his knees in something much more smelly’.

There is a lesson here: if you do not follow the official right-of-way you end up in a slurry pit.

We continued through Onecote to the Jervis Arms on the ‘main’ road (actually the B5053). The pub has a garden beside the River Hamps which is a pleasant spot to sup a pint in the summer months, if not November. Last week Brian crossed the garden to clean his gaiters in the river.
The Jervis Arms, Onecote

In the pub he washed his hands. Then he washed them again, but as he ate his sandwich the odour still lingered. On Friday evening he had been unsure if the slurry pit had been in Onecote or Mixon. Francis is sure it was Onecote, which is a shame as ‘Mixon’ is derived from the old English for ‘dung heap’.

The Jervis Arms, named after Admiral Jervis (a native of Stone and the victor at the Battle of Cape St Vincent - see Algarve (6) The West Coast) resembles many of the country pubs that have closed in recent years. It is, though, still open, probably because it offers well-kept, high quality beer and good food.  I can vouch for the beer but, in several visits, I have never gone beyond the sandwich menu. Today’s ham sandwich (eaten with clean and fragrant fingers) involved good bread and ham freshly cut into satisfying slabs. My grandmother’s unfailing reaction to thinly sliced meat was to give it a look of disgust and say, ‘you can still taste the knife on that.’ Two generations on, I have different attitudes to many things, but on this issue Granny knew best.

Leaving the pub we walked back through Onecote village. The name – meaning ‘remote cottage’ - was first recorded in 1199. The population peaked at almost 600 in 1821 but is now nearer 200. We turned left, back towards the southern end of the ridge, beside St Luke's Church, a handsome building dating from 1750. Had we progressed a couple of hundred metres further up the lane we would have reached Onecote Lane End. A bitter and protracted legal dispute between members of the Cook family of Onecote Lane End Farm in the 1840s came to the attention of Charles Dickens who used it as the basis of ‘Jarndyce vs Jarndyce’ in Bleak House.

St Luke's Church, Onecote
Despite the vagueness of the arrows and the missing field boundaries we safely navigated our way up onto the ridge at Hopping Head where we made the right hand turn the Pioneers missed. Francis explained that ‘the low angle [of the] sun straight at us made navigation tricky.’ After our early start we were over an hour ahead of them at this point and had no such problem.
Looking back into the Hamps Valley

We re-joined Bleaklow Lane where there were fine views over the Valley of the River Churnet, and beyond that the River Dane with the gritstone cap of the Cloud (Cowpat 4) clearly visible.
Looking across the valleys of the Churnet and Dane with the gritstone
cap of The Cloud centre picture.
We descended across the slope on well-marked paths with extant (though sometimes difficult) stiles….
Descending towards Stile House Farm
… approaching Stile House Farm from the southwest over ground thankfully much drier than we had encountered north of the farm.

Mike and Lee approach Stile House Farm

From here we retraced our morning route, down into the valley of the nameless brook and up onto the ridge on the far side, very much a sting in the tail.

Back down to that nameless brook, with the sting in the tail rising ahead
It had been a long walk, Brian had said, not in distance but in time, as every pace required the back foot to be wrestled from the mud’s grasp before it could be advanced. The Pioneers had finished in failing light. We started earlier, learned from their experiences and, by the sound of it, enjoyed a much pleasanter walk, finishing with almost an hour’s daylight left.