Thursday 27 June 2013

Almost Groundhog Day: Cromford to Turnditch again – Approx 15.25 miles

Sunday 23rd June 2013

Map: OS Explorer OL24 – The Peak District – White Peak Area
Map: OS Explorer 259 – Derby, Uttoxeter, Ashbourne & Cheadle

Cromford Hill – Cromford Wharf – Derwent Valley Heritage Way (S) – High Peak Junction – High Peak Trail – Black Rocks – Middleton Top – Hopton – Carsington Water (East Shore) – Oldfield Lane – Kirk Ireton – Field Lane – Broad Way – Gorses – Ireton Wood – Jenny Well – Cross o’ th’ Hands – Turnditch – Cowers Lane

Arrive Turnditch at 9.00am: check. Catch bus from Cowers Lane around 9.20am: check. Alight in Cromford about quarter to ten, as the rain started in earnest, ready to walk back to Turnditch: check. This was yesterday, right?

Well, yes.

And no.

That’s because it’s today as well.

I originally thought I’d walk somewhere else today, but last evening was busy and I’d done no further preparation. Instead, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that yesterday’s excursion hadn’t quite worked out as well as I’d hoped, so I thought I’d have a go at my other Cromford to Turnditch route. If nothing else, it would provide an interesting “side-by-side” comparison of two routes that share a start and end point but vary significantly in the middle.

Looking over rainy Cromford
Once again, I picked up the Cromford Canal for the first part of the walk. And, once again, it was raining – but this time harder and with much more intent than yesterday.

High Peak Junction
Today’s route was the more high-profile western option I mentioned yesterday, taking in the High Peak Trail and Carsington Water. So, instead of continuing along the canal at High Peak Junction, I picked up the High Peak Trail and began the long, steady climb towards Black Rocks.

1 in 8 Gradient: steep for trains - and people 
For those that aren’t aware, the High Peak Trail follows the bed of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway (built to connect the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge, and closed after the Beeching Report) and meets with the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay. Along this stretch it climbs via a series of inclines by around 250m at a gradient of 1 in 8, quite a feat of engineering when it was built in 1831.

Middleton Top Engine House
At Middleton Top, the Engine House built to haul wagons up the Middleton Incline is still in existence, and the massive steam engine still operates on certain days for visitors to see (it’s an impressive sight!). Nowadays, it marks the beginning of the Pennine Bridleway: there is also a visitor center, snack bar, gift shop and cycle hire center for your enjoyment, if impressive relics of the Industrial Revolution don’t suffice.

A little further on, I left the High Peak Trail and stuck off across the fields towards Hopton. I must admit that at this point I was giving some thought to cutting the walk short. It had been raining quite heavily all morning, was cold, dull and gloomy, and the initial enthusiasm seemed to be waning a bit – perhaps understandable, given it was the 23rd of June and it should be summer by now!

Anyway, I decided to carry on, and picked up the path that circumnavigates Carsington Water, keeping to the eastern side of the lake. This is the quieter side, and although no Ladybower or Thirlmere or Lake Vrynwy, its a good place for birdwatching and can be walked without meeting the hordes that congeal around the car parks and hot spots on the north and west shores.

First glimpse of Carsington Water: cold, wet and windy
I stopped briefly for a bite of lunch, but it was cold and windy, so I didn’t linger. Instead, I carried on, leaving the lakeside to head across the fields towards Kirk Ireton.

Near Kirk Ireton
As villages go, Kirk Ireton is a bit of a bugger to get to. It requires careful navigation of the car through a network of narrow, winding lanes, and would be off most peoples’ radar if it weren’t for one thing: it has a great pub! As a youngster, I remember The Barley Mow being spoken of in reverential tones. It is a tiny place – more like a house, really – and one of the apocryphal stories is that back in the 1970s, shortly after decimalisation, the elderly landlady operated a system whereby you got your beer at the bar, took it to a nearby table to pay where she converted the price and the money you proffered into old money (pounds, shillings and pence) calculated your change on that basis, then converted it back before giving you your change.

The Barley Mow
The good thing is its still going, but there’s not a single hand pump in sight! Fear not, real ale fans, for things are different here: all the beers are dispensed directly from the barrel, without the need for any of those mucky pipes! My pint of Derbyshire Pale Ale came and went in no time at all.

The last few miles linked field paths with some of those narrow lanes to strike a line in a roughly southeasterly direction towards Turnditch. The land in these parts consists of a series of vales and ridges, and there were some fine views to be had from the higher reaches of this undulating route.

Waterproofs watch out: one of several unfriendly stiles
Apart from a couple of fields of thigh-high weeds (that required one to lift one’s knees to one’s armpits every step, or were flattened by the wind in such a way as to be a trip hazzard) all was going well. Until, that is, I decided to walk the penultimate mile across the fields rather than along the lane. A couple of fields shy of the road, I got into a right tangle of unmarked path, awkward routing, overgrown hedges, nettles, thistles, bog, barbed wire, impassable undergrowth and impenetrable trees whose navigational challenges defeated me. In the end I beat my own path to the road, and, having sneaked through a few gates that felt suspiciously like trespassing, rather surprised myself when I arrived at the fingerpost.

Church at Turnditch (taken yesterday)
A final stretch along the road brought me to the end of the walk. I think it safe to say that apart from the weather and the short difficult stretch near the end, today’s route had been the more enjoyable, although the easterly route did have its merits. The real problem in both cases was finding a satisfactory route across the valley of the Sherbourne Brook, which has to be crossed to get to Turnditch from either Kirk Ireton or Idridgehay (unless a lengthy diversion is made) and which is seeming full of boggy, badly marked and generally uncared for footpaths.

It may be that there is a decent route struggling to get out of the two completed this weekend, or it may be that an entirely new route needs developing – I’ll have to give it some thought. Either way, it made good use of a dodgy weekend weather forecast, and was an interesting experiment in route planning in off-the-beaten-track countryside.

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