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Published: August 6th 2020
Bamford Edge, overlooking the Derwent Reservoir
Greetings from England! I have decided, after much contemplation, to continue to write my travel blogs this summer, and to try to travel as best as I can. Having read a number of encouraging and inspiring blogs on here from my fellow travel bloggers doing the same (thank you guys!), I shall be writing about the more local travel plans I have made for this summer 2020, during these oh-so-strange, turbulent and tricky times. Like many others, I have had to cancel my plans for adventures abroad for the time being, and thus my California trip in April did not go ahead, and neither has my South Africa trip for July and August. Nevertheless, I have been able to retrieve my air travel vouchers for both trips, and as it stands I simply plan, or hope, to put these both a year back, and thus am tentatively thinking about California for April 2021, and South Africa for July and August 2021 – we will see of course how things go these coming months and year.
After what has been for me, along with I’m sure many of those reading this, some trying and testing months, the summer
has still arrived. I have planned my seven weeks of summer holidays to combine some quality time with my wonderful family, with a few exploits around this country I call home, Engerland. It does seem strange to write about travels in this country, as normally I aim for somewhere a bit more exotic, but I’ve been trying to look at my travels from a non-Englishman’s perspective, and trying to get a feel for England as “exotic” to those not from here.
For the first part of the holidays, I spent a wonderful two weeks with my family in Sheffield, and whilst there I made two lovely day trips into one of my favourite places in the natural world, having formed much of my childhood memories growing up nextdoor to and visiting regularly, the Peak District. I plan to write about these two trips in this blog. Having returned to London just this week, I also took a wonderful day trip to a nice little location nearby, which I plan to write about in my next one. And finally, I have an 11-day journey around the north-east of England planned at the end of August, from Newcastle to Hull, which
I hope will give me my travel fix for the time being, to keep me going until more far-flung destinations become more of a likelihood.
Sheffield, the city where I grew up, is bang in the heart of England, so is really a good location to be based for exploring this beautiful country. Compared with London, it is a friendly, welcoming and off-the-beaten track city, not visited by too many travellers. If anyone is interested in getting to know a little-known city with leafy, historical suburbs combined with urban, industrial, northern grit and grime, also on the doorstep of England’s first national park, the Peak District, I highly recommend it.
From the fantastic haven and base of my parents’ house at the top of a hill, overlooking the southern suburbs of the city and with sweeping vistas westwards towards the beckoning moors of the Peak District in the distance, I planned a couple of forays into this special area during my time in Sheffield.
For my first day trip, I took a bus just at the bottom of our road, direct through nearby Chesterfield and on to Matlock, one of the main urban areas of the Peak
District, although strictly speaking sitting just outside its boundaries. Nevertheless, it certainly retains a certain Peak-related charm, and was quite the destination during Victorian times, with its beautiful location nestled in a valley surrounded by high, forested hills. I planned to walk from Matlock along the west bank of the Derwent valley towards Matlock Bath in the south, and then back again along the east bank of the valley to Matlock.
I started my day in the centre of town, taking in the really old Matlock Bridge which crosses the historically-important Derwent River. The bridge amazingly dates back to the 1400s, whilst the Derwent River is the original beginning of Britain’s (and the world’s) industrial revolution around the end of the 18th
century, where the water power of this humble stream was harnessed to power water-wheels, which in turn drove the numerous cotton and textile mills in the area. Indeed, Richard Arkwright’s famous Cromford Mill, the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill, is located here, just two miles downstream from Matlock, and is apparently the centrepiece of the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just the history of this small river flowing through the town is really quite
impressive, and my walk first took me along its banks and up a nearby hill called Pic Tor.
Tor is an old Celtic word meaning a high hill, and many hills in the Peak District area are called tors. Contrary to popular belief, the Peak District is actually not named due to its abundance of “peaks”, or mountain tops. Rather, the area is actually not too mountainous, dominated mainly by rolling hills and high moorland areas. The highest point, Kinder Scout, is more of a moorland plateau rather than a mountain peak, and stands only at 636 metres above sea level. In fact, the Peak District got its name from an ancient tribe which lived in the area during the 7th
century, called the Peacsaetna. This information which I had learned a few years ago came flooding back to me as I climbed small Pic Tor (presumably also named after the Peacsaetna people), for lovely views over Matlock below, towards Riber Castle standing majestically on a high hilltop to the south-east of the town, and down the lush, forested Derwent Valley heading southwards, where my feet would be taking me next.
Indeed, I walked down the hill, crossed
the River Derwent, and made my way via a footpath over the western hill overlooking town towards Matlock Bath. This was a steep climb, passing by a very old and disused church called St John the Baptist, still kept up it seemed by a rather obscure but fascinating-sounding group called the “Friends of Friendless Churches”. The church was not open for visitors, so I continued the walk.
The next point of interest was passing under the cable cars of the locally famous “Heights of Abraham” tourist attraction, which whisks visitors from Matlock Bath below up to the top of the hill for some pleasant parks and landscaped attractions. The “Heights” were closed at the time, but seemingly opening soon, as they appeared to be testing the running of the cable cars as I was passing under. It was also at this point I met my only fellow walker on that day, a South African gentleman residing in Matlock and out for a morning stroll. We had a pleasant chat, and I noted to him that on that very morning, in a virus-free world, I would have been scheduled to arrive in Cape Town to begin an epic five-and-a-half-week summer
journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Alas, this was not to be, but I felt it quite poignant to be meeting a South African chap in such an obscure, off-the-beaten track location instead, particularly on this day.
My walk continued downhill, descending into the tourist trap village of Matlock Bath. My goodness, I actually did not expect this, but later I came to learn that they call this place the “seaside resort of the Peaks”. Indeed, that’s what it was. The village is barely more than one street running alongside the River Derwent, called the Parade, lined with fish ‘n’ chip shops, garish and rather tacky-looking museums occupying once-refined Victorian bath- and tea-houses, and plenty of souvenir shops selling all manner of kitschy stuff. The place was heaving, and was really quite a shock after my blissful, solitary walk through the woods. There seemed to be two types of visitors: large families (large in number and also in size), presumably up for the weekday due to schools still being closed and many people still off work (or perhaps it is always like that on any given weekday?), and cool-looking, hairy biker dudes, and the occasional, less hairy dude-ette. What
Pic Tor, Matlock
War Memorial at the top
an interesting combination, and I felt much more comfortable to be an observer there rather than fitting in with the crowds. I bought a cup of coffee in one of the many eateries, and enjoyed a picnic lunch having crossed once again back over the River Derwent onto the other side, along a series of paths collectively called Lovers Walks.
A fascinating place these paths turned out to be, as I learned the walks were originally created prior to 1742, are believed to be the oldest surviving example of a public pleasure ground, and have been in continuous use since the 1740s. The walks were also rather busy with people, more families than lovers, and after a short while heading northwards, I gratefully escaped the hubbub that is Matlock Bath, and resumed my peaceful walk again.
My plan now was to head along the east bank of the River Derwent and back to Matlock. This path however was really quite a steep one, as it zig-zagged up and up towards the aptly named High Tor hill. After a tiring 20 minutes or so I arrived at the top, overlooking the valley 100 metres below from the aptly named
“Giddy Edge”. Giddy Edge is a path right on the edge of the vertical escarpment rising directly upwards over the Derwent Valley below, and I have since learned it has been dubbed “Britain’s scariest footpath” – I can well believe it! After a small snack of sushi at the top of High Tor, bought earlier in the day in Matlock, I strolled down the other side of the hill, a much more genteel slope this time, back towards Matlock to complete my circular route. As I returned, I learned from an information board that the hill was nicknamed “Little Switzerland” during Victorian times, due to its steep escarpments and craggy nature, and was a popular strolling spot for visitors to nearby Matlock. There was even a relatively flat part of the hill which was used for cricket matches back in the day. Ah, I just love the Victorians and the Victorian era.
Upon arriving back in Matlock, I hopped on the next bus taking me directly back to the bottom of our road again 20 miles away in Sheffield, marvelling at such an amazing and useful bus route, and thinking about potentially using it again at some point in
the future for further explorations of this magical corner of the Peak District.
My second day of explorations in the Peaks was much deeper, into the rugged and windswept heart of the national park. The Peak District is informally split into two distinct parts: the southern part is called the White Peak, and is generally made up of many quaint little villages, stone-built cottages, babbling brooks and forested hills. The northern part is called the Dark Peak, and is more rugged and windswept, with largely high moors and heathland areas. I am much more acquainted with the White Peak area, due to its much better public transport connections, and having visited a number of times its famous attractions, including the park’s largest settlement, Bakewell, home to the famous tart; Chatsworth, also known as the “palace of the Peak”; and the much-filmed Tudor castle Haddon Hall, featuring in a number of famous productions including “The Princess Bride”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Elizabeth”. I am not so familiar with the Dark Peak area, simply because I have no car and rely on public transport in my travels, even in England, and would very much like to get to know this part
more. So my second forage out into the Peaks took me fittingly from the White Peak village of Bamford northwards over an escarpment and into the Dark Peak area around the Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs. I had planned a walk which would start at Bamford train station, and finish at a bus stop on the aptly named Snake Pass, or A57. I was excited to explore another part of the Peaks.
My journey began with a two-mile walk downhill from my parents’ house on the top of the hill, way down into the valley of the River Sheaf. The city of Sheffield is said to have been built upon seven hills, as is Rome, and is thus a city strewn across many hills and valleys – a city of vistas, but not a great place to cycle, and walking uphill and downhill constantly is actually rather tiring… Fortunately this walk was all downhill, taking me to Dore and Totley station, to await the hourly Transpennine train connecting Sheffield with Manchester, via the many village stations of the Peaks. Over recent years, I have been visiting each train station in turn, and had already made day visits to the first
two stops along the line, to Grindleford and Hathersage. Thus, my calculations this time would take me to the third stop on the train line, to the tiny village of Bamford. Having hopped on the three-carriager, I alighted twenty minutes later at the small station of Bamford about a mile south of the settlement, and headed north along the main road towards Bamford proper, where I partook in the delights of a takeaway sausage sandwich with brown sauce, to fill me with energy for the trekking ahead – I noted that my planned walk would take me high above the village to an escarpment culminating in Bamford Edge, I felt I needed some good fuel prior to this.
My first planned route upwards and out of Bamford ended in a blocked path ahead. Rather than risking an angry shouting at by some local farmer somewhere, I took a slight detour through a field of sheep, passing a group of Chinese students on the way. This actually was one of many encounters that morning with Chinese students, Bamford Edge seemed quite popular with them. I imagined that the international student population of Sheffield, with its sizeable proportion of Chinese students,
View over town
may perhaps be having to remain here over the summer given the current difficulties in overseas travel at the moment. Word seemed to have got around that Bamford Edge was the place to be. I felt very tempted to practise my Chinese, which I had just recently been brushing up on the amazing DuoLingo app, but my shyness in using the correct tones overcame me, and we exchanged a few words in English instead… The hike upwards was a little tiring, but my goodness was it worth it, with amazing views from the top.
This part of the Peak District is famous for its craggy edges, perhaps most famously and dramatically nearby Stanage Edge, around three miles to the south-east. Bamford Edge had sweeping views first of all to the south, all the way along the Hope Valley from east to west, and all visible from precariously positioning oneself on the edge of some rather precipitous, overhanging rocks, which are also a climber’s dream. A short walk along the edge towards the north there was another view, this time northwards up to the Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs in the distance, which provide fresh water for the people of Sheffield.
Here I met a very interesting traveller from Romania who had just arrived from London, for four days and three nights of wilderness trekking and camping in the area. Having found out he was also called Alex, we bade farewell and I continued on my walk northwards, escaping now from the comparative crowds of people taking in the amazing views.
I headed first north, and then north-eastwards, past the Ladybower reservoir on my left, and over moorland scattered with the odd sheep and collapsing stonewall, just me, myself and I. My walk took me onto my next destination, the Hordron Edge stone circle, one of 20 such structures in the Peaks, and around 1300 in Britain. Stone Circles are common features of the British landscape, the most famous one of course being the mighty Stonehenge down south. Apparently there is no consensus as to their original function, but most theories relate them to religious or ceremonial rites, often involving astronomical features such as solstices. The wonder is how they were originally constructed in the first place, particularly with Stonehenge’s 25 tonne monsters having been put together 5000 years ago.
Hordron Edge’s stone circle is much cuter and more
modest, formed of 12 small stones no higher than 1.3 metres, and only around fifteen metres or so in diameter. They are thought to have been put together during the Bronze Age, around 3000 to 4000 years ago in Britain. It was really beautiful to stand in the middle of the circle, contemplating how and why these stones got there, taking in the really quite incredible 360 degree view all round, and feeling the energy of such a place and location.
From here, I headed back downhill again, on to the final destination of my walk, Cutthroat Bridge where I planned to take the 2.48pm bus back to Sheffield. This final leg of my journey took me through an area which at the time was very popular with birdwatchers in Sheffield, and even made the evening news at the time. For here had been spotted a very rare, lone Bearded Vulture, which had apparently flown there from the Swiss Alps. I unfortunately did not see the huge bird, which has a whopping wingspan of between six and nine metres! My step-dad did manage to see it twice though, and the area was awash with birdwatchers as I walked through
it. It was at least exciting to be in the bird’s territory.
My walk downhill took me finally to the A57, connecting Sheffield with Manchester across the bleak and desolate moorlands of the Dark Peak, and aptly nicknamed the Snake Pass, due to its winding, sinuous nature. I have many a childhood memory of riding with my brother in the back of my uncle’s car, who drove along the pass at breakneck speed, and enjoying every bump and turn as we played the game of “squash” on the backseat, before the days of seatbelts in the back. Here, I joined Snake Pass at the forebodingly named Cutthroat Bridge, location of a gruesome murder in the 1600s where a man was found there with his throat cut. He was found by three local men, who took him to nearby Bamford Hall, where he died two days later. This was quite a gruesome history for such a lovely bridge, as I contemplated its beauty and enjoyed the sounds of the babbling brook that ran under it whilst I whiled away the time with more supermarket sushi until my bus back to Sheffield was due.
The bus very conveniently took me
back to the area in Sheffield where my parents work, and also around the time of their finishing work, so I very much enjoyed the lift back from there to our lovely home at the top of the hill. And thus ended my second wonderful day of Peak District Explorations.
Thank you for reading. I have really enjoyed writing this blog entry, more than I expected. As I do indeed miss writing about more exotic explorations this summer, I have come to realise in writing this that the Peak District was one of the first areas I ever explored in the world, as a child growing up on its doorstep. My walks there this summer, and writings, have conjured up wonderful memories of family time enjoying the beauty and attractions of Britain’s first national park. Perhaps it is here that I first came to appreciate the wonderful world out there. Whilst I can’t currently appreciate the far-flung destinations of this amazing planet, I have at least spent some quality time this summer appreciating the beauty that is found just on my doorstep, a stone’s throw away from my childhood home and memories.
All the best for now, and
I plan to write up about a recent trip which I took upon my return to London this last week, to a nice little place this time in the South of England, in the not-too-distant future.
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