Thursday, 24 May 2007

Signs, stiles and spring flowers

Friday 18th May Colton to Dove Bridge

“Don’t be late” said Carol(!) so I (Emma) duly set off at crack of dawn to drive up and meet her, Gemma and Caroline for the next stage of the walk. I felt quite smug, both that I made good time and that I found the very well hidden retreat without too much problem, only to find, as Caroline said, the three of them still in their pyjamas! Still, gave me time for a cup of tea before we set off.

Mark Moxon described the next part of the route thus: "Oh my god, what an awful, awful day....I really wanted to like the Staffordshire Way and I really wanted to like walking through Staffordshire....There's a lot to be said for creating a walking trail that goes from one end of your county to the other, but surely it's sensible to check whether it's actually worth walking first?"

Our first thoughts were that he must have been having a bad day. Our path following the Staffordshire Way took us through perfectly pleasant rolling countryside with, importantly, frequent waymarks (the sign of the Pretzel) to make sure we didn’t get lost. Apart from a couple of showers the weather remained dry if rather windy – not ideal for refolding the OS map at lunchtime! I’m sure Carol picked the windiest spot in Staffordshire for the lunch stop!

By the end of the day though, as we climbed over what must have been (or felt like) the 100th stile that day, we thought that perhaps Mark did have a point. Carol and I were due to stay for the next 3 nights with Jo and Andy, my sister and brother in law. We staggered into Uttoxeter, a mile from where we were due to meet Andy for a very welcome cup of coffee. As we set off again for our rendezvous Carol had the bright idea of popping into the Uttoxeter Advertiser to give them the web address in case they wanted to put anything in the paper about the walk. Well, half hour later after being interviewed by a journalist and photographed pretending to stride down Uttoxeter High Street in our matching Lejog t-shirts we eventually carried on. We didn’t realise we might be that big a news story!

Having met up with Andy, we dropped Caroline and Gemma at Lichfield Station where Carol bid them a sad farewell.

Saturday 19th May. Dove Bridge to Ilam

The next day got off to a good start with another Carol (at the Brewer’s Fayre in Uttoxeter) letting us park and use the loo AND giving us a donation – thank you Carol.

We followed the Staffordshire Way’s pretzels for a few miles before turning at Rocester onto the Limestone Way. Hmm. Clearly all of Staffordshire’s waymark budget went on the Staffordshire Way and negotiating the Limestone Way required considerably more map reading (oh dear!). Still, we continued without too many detours with the countryside around us gradually taking on a more dramatic look – rocky outcrops, open moorland and fewer stiles (hurrah!)

Most bizarre moment of the day? That has to be the boat parked (moored?)
in the middle of nowhere claiming it was under “video surveillance”. Not long after,
we met Andy and Jo walking to meet us and we all walked the last couple of miles
down into picture postcard Ilam (complete with welcome ice cream van.)
Bunster Hill loomed ahead of us but that could wait until the morning.

Sunday 20th May. Ilam to Waterloo Inn

Minor hitch in the morning with no sign of my car keys to get us to our start point. Poor Jo had to get up and whizz off to hoik Andy (prime suspect) out of church to come and help find them. But, no sign and eventually Jo drove us all the way out to our start point (minus my boots and Carol's stick, locked safely in my boot!)

Leaving the hill to the morning didn’t seem like quite such a good idea now! It seemed a big climb before we were properly in our stride and warmed up (sorry Gary). The view from the top though was sensational – and a taste of what was to come over the rest of the day. After walking through the woods at the top of the valley, we descended into Dovedale. A concrete path led through the dale. It seemed out of place but actually, having to neither map read nor negotiate rough ground was a rare treat and gave us the chance to enjoy the lovely scenery. Being a sunny Sunday in May, the crowds were out in force – Carol reckoned she saw more walkers this day than in the previous 6 weeks combined. We passed through Milldale (another exceptionally pretty village) and headed onto Hartington (tea shops! Ice creams! Loos!) This was the longest mileage of my four days so we pressed on without allowing ourselves any of these luxuries. At Monyash we rejoined the Limestone Way –properly marked at last (ram’s head) now we were in Derbyshire! With only 3 miles left to go we also treated ourselves to an ice cream.

My map reading skills were clearly displayed at the end of the day. I warned Carol of the steep hill we’d have to climb right at the end to reach Waterloo Inn on the A6. Well, there was a hill but luckily I’d got my contours the wrong way round and we went down not up! Our legs were very grateful!
(ps keys turned up in my niece's handbag!)

Monday 21st May Waterloo Inn to Edale

We continued again on the Limestone Way, taking a detour to walk up a parallel path through Monk’s Dale and Peter Dale. What a lovely magical walk that was - so peaceful and deserted with carpets of orchids and other spring flowers lining the way. The scenery remained impressive but grew bleaker as the day progressed and we headed into the northern Peak District. No ice cream vans or loos today! But the waymarks were clear and the route was easily followed making for some fast progress.

Having passed through fields with bulls before we weren’t too worried when we encountered another one on our route. Usually they kept their distance but this one stood firmly in the middle of the path, glowering at us. It’ll move, we thought. They wouldn’t put a dangerous bull in a field with a footpath. We got closer, the bull didn’t move. Carol glared at the bull. The bull glared back- but didn't move. Finally, we agreed that discretion was the better part of valour and hopped over the wall and barbed wire fence into the adjacent field to continue our walk. Imagine our embarrassment when a sole walker a couple of hundred yards behind us nonchalantly walked right past the bull minutes later.

Mam Tor loomed ahead and we admired the hang gliders soaring around its summit (although very inconvenient when you’re ready for a loo stop!) and then we were descending into Edale for the end of another day. We had some time to spare before Andy picked me up and Carol’s friend Jane collected her so, at last, we treated ourselves to a cup of tea (in probably the grottiest café we’d passed all weekend). We then walked up to admire the start of the Pennine Way where we met Geraldine and Ian who took our photo by the Pennine Way sign, reassured Carol about the next day’s 17 mile stretch AND bought us a drink in the pub – thank you Geraldine and Ian.


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