We had planned a short ride for Wednesday afternoon in order to sample the area around the upper Dove valley but due heavy traffic and accidents on the M5 Niccy and I did not arrive until just before 3 pm with Mike a couple of hours later. Thus, as the weather had become rather dull and chilly, we decided to scrub around the ride and sat in the member's kitchen eating Niccy's cake until reception opened. Graham (Winkie), an old friend from my hostelling days, came up from Derby to accompany Niccy on walks whilst the rest of us are cycling.(nasty tandem accident for those who had forgotten). Now Trev, Sue and Graham B having arrived earlier from differing destinations took the opportunity of sampling the local hostelry, the Devonshire arms, discovered that they were operating a limited menu, so it was unanimously decided to eat in the hostel this first night.
After the usual first night problems of sleeping in strange bed and shared accommodation we awoke to the same rather dull weather, so it was decided to explore the wonders of Dovedale and the best way of doing this is on foot! So, with the availability of the Ashbourne bound bus passing through Hartington at 0930 we duly took the opportunity and alighted at Tissington gates where Trevor led us to the famous stepping stones via, at almost every turn numerous pleasant field paths and a delightful short valley known locally as Lin Dale. The first section of the valley from here to the hamlet of Milldale is one of the most iconic walks in Britain and, as one would expect, very busy. At almost every turn there are numerous limestone outcrops, buttresses and shallow caves having strange names such as 'Jacob's ladder' and 'the twelve apostles'. In places, boardwalks have been inserted where the river abuts the sheer 'cliffs' of the valley sides. Milldale was duly reached just before midday where we encountered a contented John, who had decided to get in some miles on the bike, enthusing over the refreshments on offer - he was not wrong!!
After the wooded loveliness of lower Dovedale the valley suddenly appeared rather barren but had a beauty of its own. After passing 5 stiles in about one and a half miles, we entered the gorge of Wolfscote Dale where the valley regains its 'V' shape character until reaching the heavily wooded Beresford Dale with its association with those famous fly-fishing characters, Charles Cotton and Isaac Walton. The last bit of the walk was a pleasant, undulating stroll away from the river back to the delightful village of Hartington. A largely flat walk, but a tad short of 10 miles. Karla and Neil arrived from Cumbria shortly after us, followed by another 6 of my family, who had taken the opportunity of seeing Karla and me for the evening. A very lively evening ensued. Hartington Hall seems to have moved on from those rather sombre memories of our old hostelling days!
Friday was our first real cycling day and, unfortunately, the weather was a little disappointing especially after our recent dry spell being rather damp due to low cloud. It did not bother us too much up the picturesque Long Dale to rendezvous with Graham's brother, Malcolm, who had driven up from Loughborough. We meet him at Parsley Hay coffee & bike hire stop on the High Peak Trail & then we headed south-east on the High Peak Trail and soon became rather damp and then, consequently, cold. When rather suddenly happened upon a rather surprising 'watering hole' adjacent to the trail near Pikehall and after coffee & cake became somewhat revived. This trail was once a high-level mineral line across the limestone plateau and had much to interest us - especially the impressive embankments and cuttings, the inclines as well as the fantastically shaped Harboro Rocks. I planned a short detour to the once renowned (as a child growing up in the nearby town of Derby) 'Black Rocks', which was an attraction with its unusually named climbs such as 'Queen's Parlour' and 'Fat Man's Chimney'. Imagine my disappointment when I couldn't even see the actual out crop owing to the dense vegetation cover!! All Trev could say was "What do you expect after 50 years!" Neil saved my complete embarrassment by zooming up to the top on his bike to take a picture to show that they actually existed!
After retracing our steps We climbed up onto Wirksworth Moor where the pub, the Malt Shovel, had fortunately just reopened for business so we naturally took full advantage. By the time we had left and cycled along the ridge (wonderful views of Wirksworth below) in the direction of Alport Height we had warmed up completely & the rain had stopped.This hill which was another of my teenage gems and was given by an anonymous donor to the NT and is the first hill one reaches from the south of over 1000 feet and has extensive views. Alport Stone, the peculiar monolith in the quarry just below the summit, has long been famous as a practice ground for would be climbers. All this was barred to us by a huge concrete structure. As there were now 4 radio masts up above Trev reckoned it was a 'secret squirrels! base After a steep descent we began the hilly part of the ride as we climbed out of the Ecclesbourne Valley to reach the southern shores of the fairly recently constructed Carsington Reservoir. Unfortunately, I missed a vital turn landing us on a busy road instead of a parallel track with a view of the water - sorry! After a few more ' chevrons' we eventually reached the Tissington Trail and, by now, rather laboriously pedaled up to the signal box and then swiftly down Hand Dale then back up Hall Bank to the hostel (43 miles).
Now, for the evening Trevor had booked us in to the Waterloo Inn, Biggin after having heard good reviews. Well, it certainly lived up to its reputation and we would have returned for a second night had they not been fully booked!
Saturday's ride had been planned by Trevor and what a good one it turned out to be. We headed up to Parsley Hay again to follow the northern section of the High Peak trail to its end (or beginning) and then north on a mixture of quiet lanes and tracks passing between the high plateau villages Chelmorton and Taddington before dropping down a series of paths to the top end of the famous Monsall Trail. We got magnificent views into Chee Dale with its lofty limestone tors where we watched a group of young scouts absailing off the viaduct! After a series of short tunnels we quickly arrived at the old Miller's Dale station which is now a popular meeting place for walkers, cyclists and climbers. This day, being Saturday, it was heaving. It was so good to see so many people of all ages out enjoying the countryside. This fabulous trail seemed to be passing by so quickly and in a flash we were crossing the famous viaduct overlooking Monsall Dale then into another tunnel to emerge at Great Longstone station. We exited the trail here as the final section to Bakewell is scenically inferior. Instead we passed Thornbridge Hall and dropped down to the pretty village Ashford-in-the water. We carefully crossed the busy A6 and began our longest climb of the day up the wooded Kirk Dale to finally meet the plateau top near the once thriving Magpie Mine (lead) and on to the compact village of Monyash where we had our second stop. The sun was now shining and the packed village with its green, cafe and pub looked resplendent,so we tasted the local brew. At the top of the hill out of Monyash we bade farewell to Mike, who decided to cut it short, and continued on the final loop of our route. We headed due east along the once heavily mined Long Rake towards Youlgreave before turning sharply south west to link up again with the southern section of High Peak Trail as far as the Minninglow ancient burial ground. Here we we turned west again on the much-awaited off-road section (Roystone Grange Trail and the unsurfaced Cardlemere Lane) towards Biggin. However, with the hostel almost in sight, we suddenly veered off (even to Graham's surprise) north for a mile or so before scrambling up a mini rock climb just so we could arrive back at the hostel on a traffic-calmed lane. A great day out!
This day happened to be my birthday, so as Niccy and Karla produced an assortments of cakes and John a couple of bottles of wine we duly decided to have our main meal in the bar of the hostel and repair to the kitchen and share the cake for dessert. It went down very well and we even ended the evening with a very lively sing-song. Thanks everyone for helping me celebrate a wonderful birthday!
Now, for various reasons the majority of the group needed to be home on Monday which meant that only Graham B, Niccy and I would be staying Sunday night. John left early to pick Jennifer up en route to Tavistock whereas Trev, Graham B, Neil, Karla, Mike and I decided to replicate the short ride we had planned for the Wednesday afternoon. Niccy, Sue and Winkie did a short walk to the head of Biggin Dale. Our ride which exited Hartington north via the gated road turned to be a little gem. the climb up on to the edge of the limestone plateau gave us panoramic views of Sheen Hill and the Staffordshire Moorlands beyond. The coffee stop at the tiny old market town of Longnor was excellent as was the return journey up on to the ridge just below Sheen Hill show-cased the spectacular range of limestone hills and ridges on the other side of the Dove valley. We quickly examined the YHA bunkhouse in Sheen village and then bade our fond farewells before the descent into Hartington where I was to meet up with some old pupils who I taught as long ago as 1967! I had a wonderful time reminiscing until the last three left at 6.30. Needless to say I had yet another night when I was too high to sleep.
I believe that the general consensus of opinion was that we had a most successful trip with good routes, happy memories and excellent banter.