Cockhill Beck #rudeoutdoors

A quick post to lower the tone slightly, after a few more serious posts.

Last week while out cycling to bag a couple of local trig points I noticed this stream on the map just off my route.

It’s very low level cartographic filth of course. But worthy of a tiny titter at least.

I’ve no info on how this stream got this name. Almost all streams around here are called Becks. It does makes this sounds like the kind of unfortunate nickname a Rebecca would get stuck with in secondary school, through no fault of her own (no slander on the imaginary Becky’s good nature is intended).

Much of Nidderdale sits in a lovely compromise between ‘rolling countryside’ and ‘proper hill country’, giving great views stretching into the distance for not too much exertion (by foot anyway, it’s a bugger on a bike!). My cycle ride didn’t quite cross the beck, but it’s only a short diversion. Here’s a great little walking route though which takes in the beck and the lovely countryside around Hampsthwaite.

With the new location I’ve changed the tag for these posts from #rudepeak to #rudeoutdoors. Please do suggest places to add to the map!

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Wye we need canoe rights recognised!

This post is a follow up to a post from a few weeks ago which looked at the difficulties canoeists face in getting their rights to navigate our rivers recognised. As much as anything it’s a plug for an excellent new research document looking at the Upper Wye produced by the dedicated folk at River Access For All, with much support from the Waters of Wales campaign.

The River Wye is recognised as holding public navigation rights below Hay on Wye. In 2002 the Environment Agency won a bizarre tussle to control the river as the navigation authority, after a group of business folk tried to resurrect a long slumbering company which owned the right to control the river’s traffic.

Above Hay however, the paddler’s right to navigate is much more contested. It’s another case similar to the River Trent at Kelham – a huge amount of clear evidence that there are public rights, but no way of having this officially recognised.

Officialdom has always looked the other way regarding the Upper Wye. Even the 2002 Wye Navigation Order attempts to wring its hands on the issue, stating that all of its provisions do not affect the existence or lack of existence of rights above Hay. A legislative boot into the long grass. The EA continues this noble tradition by using a variety of terms to describe the Upper Wye, currently stating (after pressure to more accurately reflect the true picture from British Canoeing and others*) “there is no confirmed legal right of navigation upstream of Hay Bridge“.

rafahayThe effect of this distancing from the issue by statutory bodies is to cement a status quo where canoeing is seen to be ‘not legal’. The knock on effect of this is to empower landowners and anglers to hassle canoeists on the river by stating ‘you have no rights here’. One landowner has recently decided to install charges for anyone wishing to navigate along ‘his’ river (I won’t legitimise that nonsense with a link.)

So, have a read of this excellent paper from RAFA. As per my last post regarding the River Trent, I’d be interested in any views on this – can anyone really reasonably contend there isn’t, on the balance of probabilities, a right for the public to navigate this river. I’d be even more interested to hear if anyone has any actual counter-evidence to this document. Evidence that goes beyond simply, WE LOUDLY DISAGREE, at any rate…

* The EA’s old (but still on their website) guide to canoeing the Wye talks of the Upper Wye being ‘non-navigation’ and of there being “no established public right of navigation“.

poshpicnic.JPGAs a slight aside, and to show how daft debates on public access can get, I once had a weeks long debate with the EA regarding the definition of a ‘picnic’ and how one may affect the public’s right to access the banks (below Hay). Never was the phrase ‘one sandwich short of…’ so apt! The wording on their website still doesn’t reflect (yet) the outcome of the picnicgate discussions!

Being Outdoors and Mental Health

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. And along with the plethora of hastags, you’ll also see a plethora of outdoor organisations bestowing the virtues of getting outdoors for your mental health.

They are right to (scroll down for the but…). There’s a tonne of stats and figures out there proving it. But why bore ourselves with those?

Here’s a great video from British Canoeing showing how just this one sport has a massive range of potential for providing an outlet for people struggling with their mental health issues.

I’ve found being outdoors a massive help to me at times where my delicate brain is struggling. From times of heightened day-to-day stress, to more temporary challenges like dealing with grief, to the full blown assault of a serious bout of OCD. Whether its pulling on my boots and going for a quiet wander, getting on the bike and really getting out of puff (not hard for me on a bike!), or just sitting on Ullswater in my kayak, bobbing along and watching the mountains. Just being outside has helped distract my mind, put things in perspective, and sending me home feeling just that bit better than when I left.

The biggest challenge is sometimes getting out. But do. The days when I’ve struggled most to find the will to get outside, even if for a short walk from home round the park, are the days when I really got the most benefit from it.

But, this isn’t intended to be a ‘mental health and me’ post. So, here’s the but… I mentioned earlier! And for once I really don’t mean this to be cynical!

Sometimes the plug for the Great Outdoors (TM) as an answer to mental heath issues can come across, unintentionally, as though it’s THE answer. Maybe it will be for some. But for many of us, for most of us, it won’t be. It can’t be.

As much as it helps (and I truly believe it does) it doesn’t make the challenges we face with our mental health just go away. As much as being in the fresh air is great medicine (even being in the driving rain perks my soul up), it’s not a cure.

Why raise this? Because I think sometimes we forget how much people who are struggling feel pressure to ‘get better’. Most of us, idiots aside, now recognise that ‘just pull your socks up’ is a counter-productive, and wrong, message for people with mental health issues. But sometimes, even if it isn’t the intention, a focus on ‘just getting out there’ can come across in a very similar fashion.

So the point of this post is just a plea to anyone who is struggling to always remember. You are not a failure if being outdoors doesn’t help. You haven’t let yourself down if you couldn’t get out of the house. No-one expects you to recover after a spin round the block on your bike. We all do need help and support from other sources too.

I hope the tweets, Facebook posts and more from outdoor organisations do help get more people outside and finding the powerful benefits of both physical activity and the natural environment. But I hope even more that you can get all the help and support and help you need from the system and from those around it. My twitter, and I’m sure that of a great many other people in the outdoor community, will always have an open door to you, should you ever need any extra ears (or extra boots).

River Trent at Kelham

Despite periodically straying into the news, the access issues facing paddlers on our rivers doesn’t have a huge profile. Mostly the issue goes under the public’s radar, most of who are surprised to hear our rivers could be considered private. At the national level the disagreement concerns the existent of a general historic – but, importantly, un-rescinded – right to navigate our rivers. It’s all too long winded for this post to cover, but essentially paddlers and anglers/landowners are at deadlock over interpretations of centuries old common law (for reference: the paddlers are right, obviously!).

But where there is some agreement, at least on the face of it, between different parties is regarding how a Pubic Right of Navigation (PRN) can be created at a local level on specific stretches of river.

Both the Country Landowners Association (CLA) and the Angling Trust have issued policies or opinion relating to river access that confirm the view that a PRN will be created on a stretch of river by either:

  • Statute;
  • Long-user; or
  • Landowner grant

For Rights of Way on land (public footpaths, bridleways etc) a Definitive Map exists to catalogue recognised routes. If a route isn’t on the map but people believe it should be there exists a clear mechanism for people to apply for it to be added. The process (especially the time councils take) isn’t perfect, but it works.

Nothing similar exists to enable claims for a PRN to be assessed and confirmed. The frustrating result for canoeists is that even where public rights demonstrably exist organisations like the CLA and Angling Trust will (with extreme hypocrisy considering their public position regarding how such rights can be established) actively oppose the existence. In many cases not only will they oppose any claim for a PRN but they will also send out menacing legal letters to anyone claiming such rights exist or who dare use the river.

Trent at Kelham

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One example of a river where a clear PRN exists is the River Trent passing by the village of Kelham. The current river navigation instead uses the branch running through Newark, and is (presumably begrudgingly!) accepted as a PRN. However, the branch running past Kelham was once the main navigation route of the Trent, used for centuries as a public navigation.

Despite the history of the river here being a PRN, the anglers who rent or own the fishing rights vehemently oppose paddling, claiming any use of the stretch for navigation is trespass. There have been reports of paddlers being threatened and abused by the anglers (who no doubt would say the same of canoeists – one of the perverse impacts of the debate is to make enemies of two groups which in other countries act in cooperation for the environment).

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It’s a real shame as the route makes a great 10 mile round trip when the current managed channel is used as a return route. The picture of the river here (from Flickr) shows the river running past Kelham – we aren’t talking about a narrow stretch of river where fair sharing of the space isn’t possible. Both recreations should be more than capable of working with each other on the Trent here.

The attached document shows the evidence for a PRN on the Kelham branch, representing about as clear a claim for a common law PRN on historic use as you can imagine. I’d be really interested in any extra – or opposing – evidence.

Claim and counter-claim

The issue facing paddlers is that, despite how clear this evidence is, there is no route to have this PRN officially recognised. This does not mean the route is not a legal PRN. A court judgment or Definitive Map Modification Order don’t create a Right of Way, they only recognise it.

So the canoeist has no recourse at all – there is no route for them to take to clear the matter up.

Locked in limbo

The fall out from this results the national problem being reflected on hundred of rivers locally: the de-facto acceptance of no access rights for canoeists on rivers.

Many canoeists will now simply carry on paddling, hoping to ignore the often hostile challenge they receive from the banks. But many more are put off from accessing rivers.

Organisations like local councils, wildlife organisations, and even friendlier landowners are also put off from promoting the many benefits of canoeing on these stretches. No new facilities like decent portage or access can be put in. No advice can be given to paddlers on the wildlife or dangers of the stretch. All because any efforts to do any of this will receive a quasi-legal threat from the local anglers, meaning putting money into a project a risk they can’t take.

All of which is of course the result those opposed want.

What can be done?

When you consider that only 4% of England’s rivers hold uncontested recreational navigation rights (and almost every mile of the 4% is managed, modified and canalised river), you can see the extent of the problem.

So, what are the solutions?

  1. Government should take more note of the nature of the access issue nationally – in particular the strong evidence for a general PRN. Gaining a full national solution to this issue, with the rights and responsibilities of canoeists taken seriously would be the single biggest step to positive change.
  2. Examine the potential for claims of PRN to be assessed. For those rivers where there is a claim for a local PRN in addition to the national General PRN there needs to be a simpler way of resolving the dispute. This will also enable the Government to see the huge extent of this issue on rivers across England – making a proper national resolution more likely.

If you are a canoeist, get engaged with the campaigns run by British Canoeing, Waters of Wales and RAFA – and let your MP know you are too!

A Sense of (My) Place

Before moving to Harrogate (or Killinghall, just outside the town), last year I lived in a small town I knew like the back of my hand. Eastwood is a typical urban-fringe type of place, any any-town from, but my-town. Thought the edge of Nottingham’s sprawl it’s (mostly) surrounded by countryside. DH Lawrence knew it well – the countryside around Eastwood, broadly still in tact, was one of the few things about his home town he truly loved.

Though it’s in no way spectacular, that countryside was ‘mine’ and it holds many memories. It’s the canal I used to walk and fish with friends as a teenager, the woods we used to escape to. It’s where I did my first long distance hike (which I wrote up on this blog). It’s the little country park with the little pond where my wife and I sat and held each other in grief after our first child was stillborn. It’s the same park where just a few short – but oh-so long – years later we took our babies on their first trips out in their buggies and where they took their first steps.

Despite the memories, it was only after moving that I really appreciated the sense of my place in my space they’d given me.

But do I actually miss Eastwood? No, not really. While I’m nostalgic for my old, warm blanket of a place, I’m even more keen to start exploring my new one. I’m loving settling into a new home, excited about a new town, and thrilled at having Nidderdale and the Yorkshire Dales literally on my doorstep.

But my mental map around home has gone from being full of memories to one which is, well, a bit of a blank.

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I’ve only had chance for the briefest excursions so far. But even those are enough to begin padding out the map, and starting to turn white space into a new understanding and appreciation of my new place.

And now spring is in the air and with a determination to get the boots, bike and paddles out more and keep adding to the map. Every time I walk, run, cycle or paddle anywhere around home it will become territory I know – my new familiar and so onto the map. Hopefully at the point of being in the house for a year there’ll be a lot less white space!

A few (bad – my phone sucks!) pictures from my initial explorations:

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Knaresborough – a short bike ride away
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The Nidd Viaduct, right in Robert Cowen’s Common Ground!
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The fields behind my house, Nidderdale stretching out beyond
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The Stray in Harrogate
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A mile down the road
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The monkey puzzle tree, not glamorous, but the kids shout every time they see it. One of those little things that make a place ‘yours’!

Share and share alike

Periodically items appear in the news regarding the ongoing debate between canoeing and angling regarding access to our rivers. I always take interest in reading them, so was excited to see a feature in The Times at the weekend (Anglers Fear Invasion – you need to sign up for a basic free account to read it if you don’t subscribe).

Now, full disclosure, part of my reason for taking such an interest in the Angling Trust’s periodic attacks on canoeing has been the fact that for three years I was an Access Officer at British Canoeing. After relocating to the edge of gorgeous Nidderdale last year I had to give up the position (with much regret as I loved the subject, the job and the people I worked with). So I was even more interested to see this latest article, as it is in response to a job advert for my replacement.

Now. There’s often a lot to digest and cut through with these stories. To a reader unaware of the history of the debate regarding access to our rivers the Angling Trust’s points may well read very valid. But dig beneath the surface and you always find some odd, misleading and spurious statements (I’ve covered the licence issue before as just one example). Not least of these charges is the Angling Trust’s odd claim ‘that the canoeists are refusing to agree to compromise measures such as closed seasons when fish are spawning […] we have tried to come to agreement but they will only accept an agreement that will allow you to go 365 days a year’.

This is odd because in most cases the ONLY times of year many angling clubs, backed by the Angling Trust, will even consider for any kind of agreement are the very close seasons when the fish are spawning (see this EA guidance for the South West for example).

It’s also odd because the research on the impact of canoeing on fish stocks demonstrates that canoeing poses a very low risk to fish spawning grounds. Canoes simply float above gravels, especially during the higher winter waters. Despite this low risk British Canoeing goes to considerable effort to engage with the EA and others to ensure canoeists are both informed of local spawning grounds. One of the few successful Access Arrangements (AAs) in England is on the River Greta in Cumbria, where paddlers are informed about suitable water heights during spawning seasons, and directed to alternative access points if spawning beds are identified. This AA is actively supported by local canoeists. Why? Because they feel engaged, treated fairly and are informed effectively.

The biggest myth is that British Canoeing – and important to add that canoeists in general – are not open to working with landowners, anglers and any other stakeholders on our rivers. What paddlers do object to is draconian and overly restrictive AAs, imposed on them, without fair, open and positive consultation. They wish to be treated fairly on our rivers, so that we can all enjoy – and protect – this natural resource.

I believe British Canoeing has a very fair and access policy (I mean, I would really, as I helped develop it). This defines an approach to developing partnerships on our rivers based on mutual respect, trust and cooperation by and for all (there’s no mention of 365 days a year, funnily enough). You can judge for yourself if it’s fair by downloading the full policy from their website.

The Angling Trust currently have a great campaign running looking at cleaning up litter from our water environment. Their Take Five campaign is exactly the sort of project a lot of canoeists would love to join forces on. There are many other ways the two sports could link up to strengthen and protect out rivers, building on what both are currently doing separately. Issues like Check/Clean/Dry, ensuring healthy water quality, water abstraction and riparian development affect both sports. The Save Our Rivers campaign (previous Save the Conway, expanded after it’s great success) is an example of what joined up campaigning can achieve. Started by kayakers, but engaging anglers and promoting issues that affect all.

It’s a shame that progress that progress can’t be made at a national level on similar campaigns. When all feel welcomed to enjoy our waters fairly and equitably real progress can be made on more positive relationships between people who, at the end of the day, all have a passion for our rivers.

(If you want a bit of a visual intro to the river access debate have a look at this One Show clip. If it doesn’t start at the right point click to 2m40s!)

New Adventures

Last year was a quiet year for me, on both this blog and for getting out into the great outdoors. In 2016 I did more walking, running, kayaking and cycling than any other year. But in 2017 I managed to give myself a different kind of adventure. In April we decided, me feeling itchy for ‘something new’ to move 90 miles up the road from Nottinghamshire to Harrogate.

This meant swapping my home town (Eastwood) for my wife’s (Harrogate). Swapping a job I loved (as an Access Officer for British Canoeing) for a new challenge in the civil service (in a completely new field, not doing anything by halves!) And, most shocking of all swapping my beloved Peak District for the Yorkshire Dales!

So, 2018 is now my year for exploring my new surroundings a bit more, and I’m very excited about it!

I haven’t got out in a canoe/kayak yet. But it’s next on the list. I need to find some like-minded souls up here, just in case I end up paddling in rather than on the water!

I found my first trig point up here. I wasn’t even trying. Just driving home, in the dusk, when stuck in traffic I noticed it outside my driver’s window. It’s hardly glamorous, stuck in the central reservation of a city center dual carriage way (it doesn’t even appear to be at the top of the hill!). But a trigs a trig, and that’s that one bagged!

leeds trig

 

I’ve also bagged my first couple of hills – only small ones, but perfectly formed. Round Hill and Beamsley Beacon sit on the very edge of both the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale AONB, giving great views across both. (I also found my second trig – sightly more glamorously located!)

There’s going to be plenty there to keep me occupied!

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Cock Knarr #RudePeak No 2

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Extract from National Library of Scotland

We featured Wild Bank Hill in our recent ‘Peak’s Best Small Hills‘ article, and it’s a cracking place with a lot going for it for the serious walker: Open Access moorland; views of the metropolis of Manchester to the west, the wilds of the Dark Peak to the east; a trig point for the enthusiastic bagger. Indeed, for such a small hill we suspect it will probably make it into our #EssentialPeak bagging list, such are the joys it offers the serious walker.

However, some of us aren’t (always) serious walkers, are we? So, we are pleased to report Wild Bank Hill holds further delights, namely the shapely prominence of Cock Knarr, a north-eastern spur of the hill giving great views out over the reservoirs in the valley below.

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Base of Cock Knarr Dam

Should you wish to bag Wild Bank Hill (and you should), we would therefore suggest a route taking in Cock Knarr Dam, (helping hold back the tide trying to rush forth), before strolling through Cock Wood, the thicket of foliage nestling around the foot of the Knarr, before striding up the short (but pleasing) flank of the hill to the head of Cock Knarr itself.

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View from the valley – Cock Knarr to the left, summit of Wild Bank Hill to the right.

But, having really scrapped the barrel with the coarse but rewarding similes and metaphors above, we feel a little bit of Public Service Education is probably in order, just to make ourselves feel a touch less, well, daft. So: Knarr, it appears, is a word to describe an old Viking sea-going ship, which seems to fit given these parts were well up in the Danelaw, where Viking names are prevalent. When viewed from the valley below you can certainly see how the hill resembles a ship – especially now the reservoirs have created some ‘sea’ for it to rest upon. Where the cock comes from is anyone’s guess – however, interestingly, a Cog or Cock was also a type of ship, developed after the knarr fell out of favour. So it’s possible that Cock Knarr could be a tautological name meaning Ship Ship Hill (akin to Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria, the elements of whose name translate from their various sources as  Hill-hill-hill Hill).

So there you go, after a rather silly attempt to turn local landmarks into a cheap gag about a chap’s privates we’ve all actually learned something today. Positively Reithian.

The Peak’s Best Small Hills

The Great Outdoors Magazine recently published an article looking at the UK’s best small hills. It was, of course, great to see the Peak District well represented, with Shutlinsloe and Mam Tor being two of the 12. There was also plenty of great inspiration for further afield. However… being picky about it (and someone’s got to right?!), most of the hills represented were actually pretty big hills. In the UK a mountain is seen as being over 600m in height (2000ft in old money), and many of TGO’s list were between 500m and 600m. So, we’d say, pretty big hills really.

But look, it is nit-picking, and really just a thinly veiled excuse to list what we think are some of the Peak District’s best actual small hills. We’ve chosen five – but we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Crich Stand – 286m

It’s location outside the National Park means Crich Stand is often overlooked. On days when Mam Tor or Kinder will be crowded with day trippers, and wile the nearby tram museum will be full of tourists, Crich Stand itself will still be quitely looking out over the lowlands of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It’s a great shame, as the views are second to none. On a clear day you can see over 20 miles to Nottingham, the towers of Ratcliffe Power Station and the distant hills of Leicestershire’s county top at Beacon Hill. The stand itself is the name given to the tower topping the hill, a memorial to the Sherwood Foresters. There’s also a trig point to add to your collection!

Walk it: The best route is to head from the Cromford Canal parking at Lea Mills. Alternatively try the rolling hillside between the stand and South Wingfield with it’s romantic ruins. If you are feeling very sluggish you could drive to the top – but that would be cheating.

Hen Cloud – 410m

In a region of such geological diversity there is nothing quite so dramatic as Hen Cloud and the Roaches. The Edges of the north-eastern fringe present a relatively flat landscape behind their gritstone faces. Not at Hen Cloud. Here the rock has been folded, and prods out of the surrounding landscape at a precipitous angle. Climbing up the rear of Hen Cloud, and looking back on it from the Roaches you really get an impression of the forces at work in twisting and fracturing solid rock in a way even Stanage can’t quite muster.

Walk it: Park along the road below the Roaches for a simple walk up to Hen Cloud – though it gets steep towards the top. For a longer walk park at Tittesworth Reservoir and head up from there – you can’t miss Hen Cloud.

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The dramatic Hen Cloud

Grin Low – 434m

A short walk up through the woods of Buxton Country Park brings you out onto what is essentially a post industrial landscape – but one softened by nature and time. The area of the summit of Grin Low is covered in old limestone quarries, waste heaps and the remains of lime kilns. The woodland below was originally planted to hide what was then an eyesore from the Duke of Devonshire’s home in Buxton! Now its a great natural playground for kids (and grown ups) to clamber on the rocks and admire the views across to the Dark Peak moors and into Buxton. The small tower crowning the very top of the hill is Soloman’s Temple, built as a folly upon the remains of ancient burial mounds.

Walk it: Park at the country park and walk up through the wood – Poole Cavern is also onsite and worth a visit.

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View from Solomon’s Temple

Thorpe Cloud – 287m

What to say about Thorpe Cloud? If there’s a more dramatic, imposing peak standing at under 300m we’d like to know about it! Standing guard over Dovedale and it’s famous stepping stones Thorpe Cloud is another hill ideally suited to family adventures. There are little crags low down the hill to scramble up, then a steep climb up to the summit, where you are rewarded with fine views over Dovedale and across to the rolling countryside of lowland Derbyshire.

Walk it: The western face of the hill has some fun scrambling low down, but is too steep to climb right to the top. Well defined paths head up the edges of this flank, starting from either the bridge by the gauging weir or from the stepping stones (see our route here). For a slightly gentler climb walk from the stepping stones up Lin Dale, and the path doubles back upon itself up the northern flank of the hill.

Wild Bank Hill – 399m

Of all the hills in this short list Wild Bank Hill is the one that’s probably least well known. But it makes for a great short walk, with some amazing and varied views. From the summit each point of the compass holds a different and contrasting views. To the south the view is of the Kinder and Bleaklow range, with Snake Pass visible, along with the towns of Glossop and Hadfield. West is an incredible view over Manchester. North lie the little reservoirs of the Swineshaw Moor. Lastly, looking east is the imposing Woodhead Pass, which looks particularly dramatic and wild from here.

Walk it: Park on Hobson Moor Road for a short walk up to the summit, or for a longer (and much steeper!) walk start in Stalybridge or from the country park by the Swineshaw Reservoirs.

Two walks in Dovedale

Over the years I’ve walked in Dovedale several times, but usually in the particularly busy bits. My daughter’s first hill bagging experience was up on Thorpe Cloud last summer, and I’d seen the stepping stones, Lover’s Leap and Dove Holes caves a few times on shorter strolls. Anywhere in Dovedale is special – and I really don’t mind crowds, it’s great to see people out in the countryside. However, I wanted to see some of the other areas around the dale I’d missed before. So, over the past couple of months I’ve had a couple of trips back to try and see some more of the place – and what a contrast they were!

My first trip was in pretty grim weather, with wind and rain for much of the day. Down in the dale itself the views were still pretty impressive. However, while bagging the summits of Bunster Hill and Baley Hill I could barely see my hand in front of my face at times! However, a couple of weeks ago the first real sunshine of Spring came out, so I headed back to prove what amazing views there are from those tops – with Bunster Hill giving particularly amazing views out over Dovedale and the surrounding countryside.

Walk 1 – Dovedale, Baley Hill and Bunster Hill – 7.5 miles

Get the Dovedale, Baley Hill and Bunster Hill  route card here

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A great view even on a dull day.

After parking in the pay and display at the entry to Dovedale (sadly the car park at the entrance to the dale was missing it’s usual grumpy attendant – never make the mistake of asking him about the National Trust!) I was quick out and into the dale, crossing the river at the bridge by the gauging station before marching over Lover’s Leap. There are some amazing limestone rock formations all along Dovedale – and if anyone in your party likes a bit of a scramble the steep slopes are perfect, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.

At Dove Holes there was a team of climbers tackling the inside of the cave, then abseiling down from the roofs. They made it look easy work, but I’m not that nimble! Past the caves I was into new territory. As with the busier stretch before the dale is still easy walking with a solid path, but it widens out a touch, with Raven’s Tor looming in the murk to the left, and my target of Baley Hill out of sight up to the right. Viator’s Bridge at Mill Dale made a perfect lunch stop – the village really is as chocolate-box pretty as guidebooks make it sound, even on a gloomy day.

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Mill Dale

After lunch I took the route up the hill towards Baley Hill. All the way to the top it was pretty easy walking on clear paths, with a concessionary route connecting to the access land occupied by the summit. The ridge of Baley Hill forms a series of raised humps of limestone, which are fun to explore – which is just as well as the views were almost none existent! Working south from the summit is The Nabs, where the little humps of limestone expand and form small crags, which descend steeply down towards a side-dale. I followed the ridges straight down hill. For the most part this was fine but steep – however the last section before joining the path back to Dovedale itself was really a bit too steep, requiring me to hang onto the rock and trees to avoid slipping. It’s probably best to skirt along the top of The Nabs until reaching the top of the path near Hanson Grange. The path back down the side-dale is steep, and was very muddy – but being forested it provided something different to the more exposed nature of the rest of Dovedale.

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The limestone outcrops on Baley Hill approaching The Nabs.

Once back at the dale I turned left and headed for Ilam Bridge. My aim was to climb up out of the dale to towards Ilam Tops. The OS maps show a footpath apparently heading from besides Ilam Rock, so I tried to find this. A scramble up past the rock and I found what appeared to be a rough path, so followed it up the hill. It was very steep and direct, but always fairly obvious. At the top the path joins to a more well-worn and clearly planned path. I later found that this path (a newer path added as the old one was so steep?) actually appears in the dale slightly north of Ilam Rock, just before Hall Dale. Even this path is sign-posted as being very steep – but it’s probably the safest bet, especially as this initial part of the route I took required a small amount of very basic scrambling past Ilam Rock.

The path along from the Ilam Tops area towards Bunster is pretty clear, along with some ‘welcoming’ signs making it clear you mustn’t step foot off the approved line – which i’m not entirely sure is the ‘definitive’ line, but there you go. Bunster Hill itself is really just the southern end of Ilam Tops – it doesn’t even merit an addition on hill bagging sites as it’s prominence is so small. However, as with so much of the Peak District, the highest ground isn’t always where the walker wants to be aiming for (not least as Ilam Tops itself doesn’t have any ‘official’ public access – probably a problem considering the signage in the area!).

Like Baley Hill, Bunster is topped with small crests of limestone, which are great for exploring and give it a ‘dragon’s back’ appearance from Ilam (on a clearer day!). The actual summit is within a small copse of trees, but it’s barely any higher than any of the other bumps along the ridge. With no views on show today, I quickly took a fairly direct route down the steep flank of the hill, which is all Access Land. From there it was a short, but very muddy, walk past the Issac Walton Hotel and back to the car park.

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The ‘view’ from the top of Bunster’s south ridge.

 

Walk 2 – Ilam and Dovedale – 7 miles 

Get the Ilam and Dovedale route card here

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View to Dovedale from Ilam Hall – Bunster Hill’s two ridges to the centre, Thorpe Cloud to the right 
And, then, with the sun shining! This walk really highlighted just how amazing the views from the hills surrounding Dovedale are – if you get the weather right! This time round I started from the National Trust car park at Ilam Hall, and once on the Access Land at the foot of Bunster Hill I left the footpaths and headed straight upwards. Bunster Hill has two ridges leading away from it’s summit. One heads south-west to Ilam, while one heads east. If the River Dove hadn’t ripped it’s way through the hill the dramatic peak of Thorpe Cloud would be no more than the end of the eastern spur.

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This is almost the same photo from Bunster as above – but with slightly more of a view!
After taking in the views across to Thorpe Cloud and across the lower Manifold Valley I descended down towards Dovedale itself. It’s steep, but never too steep, and a rough path helps guide the way down.

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Thorpe Cloud – is there a more magnificent small hill?
Heading over Lover’s Leap I started looking out for the path up to the natural arch and Reynard’s Cave. I’d always missed it, concentrating too hard on marching along the valley, so I wasn’t sure if I’d find it difficult to locate. But, just meters into a pretty distinct path (about halfway between Tissington Spires and Pickering Tor), the arch opens out in front of you, like a trick of the eye (think the invisible bridge in Raiders of the Lost Ark!).

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How did I ever miss that?!
To get back out of Dovedale I crossed Ilam Bridge – and passed the start of the ‘easier’ path up towards Ilam Tops (see above). Hall Dale looks to be a dry valley, and slopes fairly gently (by Dovedale standards) up towards Stanshope. There’s evidence of working of the limestone, which is confirmed by the remains of an old limekiln at the top of a concessionary footpath leading from the dale to Damgate.

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Hall Dale
From here it was a simple stroll through the rolling countryside of the lower reaches of the River Manifold’s valley. The views across to wooded hills are a contrast to those in Dovedale, with gentler slopes, more green (especially at this time of year) and more cows! As the Manifold falls into the Dove the walk ended back at Ilam Hall. And I can honestly say there’s no better place to have been walking on a fresh, sunny Spring day.

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Manifold Valley