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…..

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Walking the Upper Dove Valley

At 9 o’clock I met up with Brian near Barracks Farm where he found a suitable place to leave his car. Despite cloud cover it was a still and surprisingly warm morning. I drove us north towards Flash, reputedly the highest village in Britain. At 463m (1,519ft) Flash hardly compares with Ushguli, but its modest claim is well attested. We left my car in a pull-off beside the A53, several hundred metres from the village but at about the same height. In this more exposed position there was a breeze with a cutting edge.

The pull-off on the A53 near Flash
We did not have to go far to find ourselves looking down on the River Dove, and only a little further to make our first navigational error; coming out from the field onto the minor road a hundred metres below where we should have been. Our detour involved stepping over an electric fence; it was not, we found, live, always good news to those of us with short legs.
Brian looks down into the Dove Valley
He is moving to Devon at the end of the month, so is he thinking
a) This is my last chance to enjoy the Peak District countryside
b) Why doesn't that prat hurry up and take the bloody photograph
c) nothing at all?
For most of its 72km the Dove [now universally pronounced to rhyme with 'love', though traditionally it rhymed with 'rove'] forms the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire. At the bottom of the valley we crossed the river into the barbarian lands of Derbyshire and turned upstream through the area marked on the map as 'Dove Head'. Our path dipped to run briefly alongside the stream; clearly we had not quite reached the source, but we shrugged our shoulders and turned right up the other side of the valley. If Burton and Speke had taken that attitude with the source of the Nile, the whole history of exploration would have been different.

The source of the Dove is down there, somewhere
Over the top of the ridge we descended slightly to pick up a path contouring along the top of a valley above the oddly named Cistern's Clough which meanders its way south into the Dove. Tracing the stream back on the map it appears to be a more remote source than the official source of the Dove – I do not know what Burton and Speke would have made of that.
Cistern's Clough
Cistern’s Clough wandered off to the east and after a couple of pauses to study the map we found our way to Howe Green, where they have some fine Highland cattle.
Howe Green stands on the base of a triangle of high ground between the Dove and Cistern’s Clough, now wandering back westwards . Our intended path was along the top of the narrow valley of the Dove, avoiding the track that drops into it, and meeting above the confluence with a path along the top of Cistern's Clough. We could not locate the right path, but while we paused, considered the map, walked on, paused again, reconsidered the map and walked on again (and repeat), we had time to notice that the meadow was carpeted with wildflowers.

Wildflowers, Howe Green
Eventually we stumbled upon a post with arrows pointing down the paths along the top of either valley, neither of which we had been on, and a third pointing down towards the confluence. It was a steep little descent to where Cistern’s Clough joined the Dove – though the tributary looked the larger of the two streams.

Starting down to the confluence
We turned south down the left bank of the combined stream. Having lost so much height so quickly, the path’s determined climb back up the valley side was a tad irritating.

Where Cistern's Clough (right) meets the River Dove
Eventually we reached an old road that runs down into the valley from Booth Farm, heading for the minor road to Hollinsclough. Well-made and of some antiquity, presumably a drovers' road, it descends to the river and crosses it on a fine old bridge. A modern road sign warns that the road is limited to vehicles less than 1.8 metres wide, so it is still in use, if only by quadbikes (in theory a Peugeot 208 would just fit - without its wing mirrors - but I have no intention of checking this out).

Looking back up the old road from Booth Farm
Now back in Staffordshire we followed the path along the valley side, or attempted to. It kept on petering out, and then reappearing twenty metres above or below us. When we set off I had thought that we might reach Hollinsclough too early for coffee but the village seemed to retreat down the road as we approached, and we finally arrived at midday. We had taken much longer than we expected, mainly because of the time we had spent standing in fields pondering which way to walk.
The old road crosses the Dove
I wrote about Hollinsclough on the Crowdecote walk, so all I will say here is that it once used to be a much larger village where people worked on silk weaving, sending their produce over the hill to Macclesfield. The village was also important in early Methodism; the Methodist church still functions and the church hall kindly provides a bench for wanderers to sit and drink their coffee. Down in the sheltered valley it was warm, and the sun even put in a brief appearance.

The Methodist Chapel, Hollinsclough (photographed March 2013) 
Crowdecote is 4km from Hollinsclough, and as we intended to have lunch in the Pack Horse at Crowdecote we did not linger over coffee. Fortunately our onward path was largely level and presented few navigational problems. As the Dove approaches Hollinsclough the valley widens considerably and we set off across it to re-find the river. Ahead of us was the jagged outline of Chrome hill and the strange triangle of Parkhouse Hill, the remains of a tropical reef formed before shifting tectonic plates put this piece of land at its current height and latitude.

Across the Dove Valley towards Parkhouse Hill
We again crossed the Dove – we chose the footbridge rather than the ford – and back in Derbyshire we followed the flat bottom of the valley all the way to Crowdecote. On Cowpat 6: Crowdecote we climbed Hitter Hill en route, but as we were late we carried straight on down the valley, completing the 4 km in an hour.
Alison faces the footbridge/ford decision in  Cowpat 6, March 2013
I like the Pack Horse Inn at Crowdecote, indeed I wrote a whole post on their pies. Today's pie was chicken and mushroom, but as Mick the landlord admitted, they are filling, so we settled for 'light bite 'gammon steaks and a couple of pints of the Cottage Brewing Company’s ‘Sunset’. The brewery (in Castle Cary, Somerset) calls it 'a golden summer ale...with cascade and nugget hops...a refreshing, easy drinking session ale.' I was thirsty, it had been a warm morning, particularly marching along the flat valley bottom, and the beer winked seductively at me through the condensation on the glass – the first pint disappeared quickly. I can thoroughly recommend CBC’s Sunset; it is a beer that hits a spot and keeps hitting it most pleasantly.

The Pack Horse Inn, Crowdecote (photographed Feb 2012)
In the afternoon we continued along the grassy valley to Pilsbury Castle, an earthwork sitting on a natural rocky promontory. A motte and two baileys were built in Norman times either to control the area after the 'Harrowing of the North' (1069-70), or during the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda (1135-54). Either way, the function of the castle is obscure – why guard the upper section of a remote valley which goes nowhere? Despite its apparent uselessness, its doubly tautological name (pils being a Celtic word for fortified place, bury being Saxon for the same thing) suggests ‘Castlecastle Castle’ might have pre-Norman origins. The setting was pleasant on a summer’s day, but in winter it is the sort of place only a madman would care enough about to defend.
Pilsbury Castle and a look back down the Dove Valley
At the castle the path climbs up the valley side, giving good views of where we had been, before continuing along the flat(ish) top.

Along the rim of the Dove Valley
To the south the valley widens and the river wanders off to the west, leaving us deep inside Derbyshire – an experience not for the faint hearted. After a couple of kilometres along the valley’s grass rim we hit the minor road that descends into Hartington. With its village green, duck pond, ....

Hartington Village Green
There were too many parked cars around the green to get a proper photo, but this is what it looked when Francis (not on this walk) and Brian sat beside it in Feb 2012 (no tourists in Feb!)
 ....mellow grey stone buildings, hanging baskets and flower filled gardens, Hartington is the classic Peak District village and was appropriately full of tourists. Despite its apparent size - and its industry (cheese making) - Hartington has fewer than 400 permanent inhabitants. Brian headed straight for the ice cream shop, an idea so brilliant I would have liked to claim it as mine. Bradwell's ice cream has been made in the village of that name some 25 kilometres to the north for over a century, and a scoop of their cherry-bakewell flavoured ice cream was (almost) as good as a pint of Sunset ale.
Hartington in more summer-y mode
Continuing south from Hartington we descended gently across a limestone plateau....

South of Hartington
 and then entered an area of deciduous woodland; a sign said it was planted in the early 1990s, though it already looks splendidly mature. We re-met the river after its westward wander at the mouth of Beresford Dale where we crossed a bridge back into Staffordshire and civilisation. After flowing down an ever widening valley, the Dove changes character and dives into a series of narrow limestone canyons on its way to the prime tourist spot of Dovedale.  Beresford Dale, the darkest and narrowest of these defiles, is less than a kilometre long, and at its end, just before it transforms into Wolfscote Dale, we turned up the lane towards Barracks Farm and Brian’s car.
The River Dove in Beresford Dale
We finished about 5.30, later than intended, but a long morning had required careful navigation. Sunshine had been only an occasional visitor, but it had been a pleasant day and as warm as you want for walking. On our way back to Flash Brian regretted that we had ventured out on fewer such walks since retirement than he had hoped, and with his imminent removal to Devon there would now be even fewer opportunities. He was right, getting together during busy retirements has proved harder than expected, but I have photographic records over the last 7 years of 19 such walk (though previously only The Limestone Link has been on the blog), not to mention Cowpats, Chip Walks, the annual South West Odyssey, and several more outings of which there is no record.
This was a good walk to finish a chapter, but there will be more…..

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post. The photos are amazing! I have recently released a book which features the River Dove. The book, Black Country, details the early preaching years of Francis Asbury, before he leaves England for America in 1771. The book's focus is unique for the fact that since his death almost 200 years ago, no one has attempted to put together his work in England. The website for the book and the series it is part of is Feel free to browse around the site. There are numerous articles and photos of the various travels of Asbury in England. Once again, great post; I love the photos.