A Walk at Alstonefield and Dovedale
It’s an understatement to say that the weather back in England has been a trifle inclement since arriving back from the desert temperatures of Kelowna BC. Indeed it’s been something of a shock to the system having to replace an air-conditioned home with a centrally-heated one, such is the change to adapt to. Apart from getting out for the daily run I’m beginning to miss the great outdoors a little too. ‘Cabin Fever’ in early September? Surely some mistake…
To offset the aforementioned, I took the opportunity to travel the short distance out to the Derbyshire Peak District yesterday with my good friend, Chris. Neither of us were particularly optimistic about staying dry even though early morning Nottingham was bright enough. We know only too well how different the hills of Derbyshire can be to the suburbs of Nottinghamshire. How correct we were proven today!
The neat and attractive village of Alstonefield situated on the border of Derbyshire and Staffordshire was to be our starting point today. The route would take in the delightful Dovedale along the meandering trail. Dovedale is truly one of the real gems of the Peak District even though is it hugely visited, particularly during the weekend. The trick in seeing the dale at it’s shining and charming best is to visit at a quieter time during the week if possible, taking in the tranquility of the River Dove in relative peace. The dale became a great favourite of Queen Victoria after a visit and rose to prominence as a honey pot for visitors to this area.
On arriving at Alstonefield the scenario was not good. Heavy droplets of rain hammered down on the car roof and we decided on a single pint in The George pub nearby whilst hoping for the downpour to lessen to merely torrential. What a beautiful pub The George is. It’s a hostelry that old enough to be out on it’s own, built an estimated 270-odd years ago with a bar lovingly preserved very similarly over the years. As times change The George like many other pubs has adapted more to serving food but still the drinker can feel comfortable under the beams and enjoy the friendly welcome offered. Over a pint of cider a wonderful smokey aroma wafted through the old building. It’s scent was one of delicately smoked food but was probably the product of a wood burning fire. Delightful.
Pints emptied, it was time to dress and go forth. Immediately a huge ford across the country lane has to be negotiated as we headed for a decidedly saturated Gypsy Bank, wading through ankle high water. The steep grassy incline leads directly to the haven of Milldale on the River Dove. Milldale betrays it’s working past with a barn, originally a a stable for a corn mill, and the remains of a sheep wash, now restored. There are subtle signs of other mills dotted around, mills which worked on lead smelting and ochre. most people know Milldale from it’s ancient packhorse bridge named ‘Viator’s Bridge’ viator meaning ‘traveller’. It’s from here that Izaak Walton named a character in his and co-author Charles Cotton’s book ‘The Compleat Angler’ (sic). Never heard of it? Well no other English language book,besides the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, has been reprinted more times than Walton and Cottons’s tome.
Viator’s Bridge necessitates a crossing of the River Dove as The National Trust have strenuously resisted building a path on the south side of the water to protect local wildlife. A pause at the famous old structure and we’re on our way along the path which carefully hugs the bank of the fast-running Dove. Walkers shelter in the Dove Holes caves and take their sandwiches hungrily peering out along the gorge as we pass by. Turning back over the river, a characteristic sighting appears in view through the wet, glistening bracken and dripping, laden trees. A fly fisherman silently demonstrates his art with an elegant cast of a feathery line into the waist high waters.
It was time for some food from our back packs and eventually we found some semi-dry rocks from a limestone outcrop to perch on under a birch tree. Finally the rain was ending and a struggling sun fought to show itself. Our walk wasn’t a long one in today’s sodden conditions and we followed the path back over the hills to Alstonefield, passing through narrow stone stiles past Friesian cattle, arriving back at the village green on the stroke of three. Dry clothes would have been a fabulous idea at this point but sadly we omitted to bring any being the experienced walkers that we are. The short drive over to Hartington village with it’s duck pond and village green was the last point of call today. The village also owns a cheese factory and attendant shop too but it was none of these delights that took our notion today. Our day was completed with a pint or two to lift our spirits in The Charles Cotton Hotel and The Devonshire Arms. Should it ever be otherwise?