Monday, 17 September 2012

Buxton to Edale

A wonderful day!

Buxton's elegant Opera House
I had an excellent breakfast at Roseleigh, luggage transfer was readily arranged, and I was on my way before 9:15. It was a gentle stroll through the centre of Buxton – very attractive, but an unusual mix of up-market shops and charity stores – and then out of town to the East.

This is initially through rolling open country – all cattle, sheep, or untenanted greed pasture. Then it becomes industrial, with a huge limestone quarry with massive buildings, the purpose of which it was impossible to determine, activity everywhere, and an endless stream of lorries coming and going. It’s difficult to believe that this much limestone and products can actually all be consumed, but it must be. There are regular signs warning people not to stray too close to the edges, and to be wary of blasting. It’s all so huge that the vehicles down beneath almost seem like models. The main Tunstead works must be the best part of a mile and a half long and a mile wide.

After the railway crossing at the East end of the quarry and works the path climbs steeply away from the noise and activity. Cresting the hill it’s all suddenly behind one, and the rest of the day’s walk was in unsullied countryside.

Tunstead Quarry - a huge scar in rhe Peak District
Tunstead itself is marked as a village on the map, but it seemed to me little more than three or four farms close to one another, and for most of the rest of the day it was simply a question of navigating across open fields. Derbyshire’s way marking is very poor compared with Cheshire’s, but luckily the fields seemed to correspond with the map, so it was (until the afternoon) easy to find my way.

Just before I finished the cross-country stretch I thought I saw, very fleetingly, a spotted flycatcher. Out with the binoculars, and a ten-minute pause to see if I was right. Initially I saw only a couple of chiff-chaffs (too late in the year for willow warblers, I think) in the moss-covered dead tree, but then the flycatcher re-appeared. I was very pleased with myself: I had thought the jizz was a giveaway, and so it proved. Spotted flycatchers have a much more upright stance than warblers, and flit very short distances to feed.

I finally reached the Limestone Way, one of the major trails in the Peak District – but only followed it for a mile or so. The stretch I had to follow was through Hay Dale, which according to the signage is one of five Derbyshire Dales which make up a National Nature Reserve. It’s very attractive, as is the farmland through which I walked after leaving it. There are limestone bluffs on either sided of the valley. They’re not particularly high – perhaps 50m at the maximum – but they give the valley a pleasant intimacy. In other geology there would be streams at the bottom of valleys like this, but her it is limestone, and much of the water finds its way underground rather than babbling along the surface.

Limestone cliffa in Hay Dale
Towards the end of this stretch I passed a huge store of green silage bales alongside great barns, These proved to be full of cattle which were in great long covered pens being fed by some kind of automatic distributor of fodder (hay? silage?). It seems that these beasts are indoor industrial converters of grass into beef, and are denied open grazing. I’ve never seen anything quite as intensive in cattle farming, and it really contrasts with the cattle one sees in surrounding fields living a much more natural type of existence.

I reached the small village of Peak Forest, on the busy A623, just after 2:00. It comprises a church, a pub, and a few houses. Time for a pint at the Devonshire Arms – but a very dismal pub. It was so dark inside that I thought for a moment that I must still have on the dark glasses I’d worn earlier in the day, but it was actually just plain gloomy, and I’d have promptly gone elsewhere if there had been any alternative.

The map showed that form here on it was pretty well due North to Edale.  It seemed simple enough, by a farm and alongside a grove of trees, where I watched a family of ravens putting on a spectacular flying display, with that characteristic croaking call.  Yet I still managed to lose my way after a mile or so. It was only when I got out the compass that I realised that I had started walking to the East rather than to the North. The country was relatively featureless, and I only got back on track when I found a signpost at a bend in a lane. It still took me a while to work out precisely where I was, even though it can’t have been much more than a mile since the last position of which I was certain. It was only when I realised that I was due North of a trig point I could see on the horizon that I worked out exactly where I was. Not impressive – my only excuse was that it was very windy and hard to keep the map under control.

At the top of Mam Tor
The next mile or so was flat going on the tops of this upland area. Then it changed to a gentle descent to a couple of roads I had to cross, with a climb on the far side. The views now became quite stunning – the impressive mass of Mam Tor almost dead ahead and only a short way off my track; great sweeping views to the East and West down valleys in each direction.

After crossing the roads it was still a couple of miles to Edale, but I decided it would be pretty poor form simply to walk on by, so I climbed to the top of Mam Tor – only 70m or so more than I’d have to climb in any case. There I found a somewhat surprising sight: a bride and groom in wedding finery, blowing in the wind, having their photos taken by a couple of guys with heavy duty cameras. Their wedding had been on Saturday; this was simply (uniquely?) an extra event. Despite being in typical British wedding garb they both had somewhat accented English. Polish? Spanish? I should have asked. It was chilly, too, and I felt for the girl with bare shoulders until her gallant husband lent her his jacket.
After they’d finished their photo shoot I had the hilltop to myself. Magnificent – the views in every direction are quite amazing.

Edale, looking West from the Mam Tor descent
Then finally it was the descent into Edale. As I’ve felt beforehand it seemed that the descent was much longer than the preceding climbs, even though this is a physical impossibility. As I descended the clouds dissipated, and the far sides of the Edale, and the valley itself, became even more attractive in the evening light. It was a fitting end to the walk on a wonderful day.

I reached the Rambler Inn after passing under the rail bridge by Edale Station. It’s a surprisingly busy line as it connects Sheffield and Manchester. An excellent room, a bath, and a very acceptable dinner concluded the day.

Bright but chilly at first, becoming increasingly cloudy throughout the day. Then brightened up and became sunny again at the end of the afternoon. Temperature 12 to maximum of 18C, but predominantly around 15C. 24.61km; 570m ascent, 622m descent. After leaving Buxton it was all cross-country – mainly footpaths, but occasional tracks. All very stony, and often very uneven.

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