The dreadful wet weather of the last few weeks has made walking in the countryside less than pleasurable. The paths are slippery, the fields are boggy to the point where long stretches involve sploshing through calf-deep puddles. As the rain started to ease to an intermittent drizzle on Thursday, we took a gentle plod round Tittesworth Water (the lake in the valley below Roachside).
Periodically, a watery sun broke through just enough to project a weak rainbow across the sky above the Roaches Ridge. That's Roachside Cottage in the centre of the picture, on the edge of the moorland.
At the end of this particular rainbow however, there really was a pot of gold. Well, not exactly a pot, but an immensely valuable hoard of golden Iron Age Torcs. Believed to be the earliest gold artifacts ever found in the UK, they were found by two amateur metal detector enthusiasts on 11th December 2016.
They were beautifully crafted sometime between 400 and 250 BC (think Alexander the Great for context).
The find, though possibly not as valuable as the Staffordshire Hoard, is considered to be of international significance.
They are now on display at Stoke-on-Trent City Museum.
As the autumn advances into winter, the trees which cloak the lower slopes, in and around the Peak District, change into a kaleidoscope of gold and copper and burnished bronze, edged with garish lime greens, lemons and the dense shadows cast by the sloping sunbeams.
A walk in any of the woodlands of the National Park is a treat to the senses at this time of year - we've been out at Alderley Edge - just outside the Park boundary, overlooking Manchester.
Such a day cries out for some good poetry!
Whim Wood by Katherine Towers
into the coppery halls
of beech and intricate oak
to be close to the trees
as they whisper together
let fall their leaves,
and we die for the winter
Before the days when that greatest of all Scottish shipyard welders; Billy Connelly, became an international comedy and dramatic phenomenon, he performed as a hugely talented folk musician in the clubs of Glasgow. One of the lighter ditties he wove into his act ran something along the lines of;
If it wasnae for your wellies
Where would you be?
You'd be in the Hospital or Infirmary
Cause you would have a dose of the Flu , or even Pleurisy
If you didnae have your feet in your Wellies
Oh wellies they are wonderful, oh wellies they are swell
Cause they keep out the water and they keep in the smell
And when you’re sitting in a room
You can surely tell
When some bugger takes off his wellies
If it Wasnae for your wellies
Where would you be?
I know not why, but for several days last week this ancient comic number was constantly playing through my head while out walking – it had acquired “Ear Worm” status. Round and round it went, slowly driving me mad.
In an endeavour to rid my brain of the jaunty jingle, I tried to concentrate my mind on the logical pros and cons of The Iron Duke’s great gift to mankind – well, other than beating that Napoleon chappie anyhow…
I do have walking boots.
I have many pairs of walking boots – so many in fact that my late wife used to muse that I had more walking boots than the entire membership of the Ramblers Society.
However, owning a Working Cocker Spaniel requires constantly being able to quickly don suitable footwear for a walk, even when one is dressed for attendance at some other function that we are going to, or returning from. Having footwear that is equal to both upland and lowland walks, is completely waterproof even in calf-deep cow slurry and into which you can tuck the bottom of your jeans and hose the mud off at intervals is vital. Hence, about 4 years ago, I became a Green Wellie Man. I now plod about moor and valley, wood and heath in my lovely soft walking wellies.
Many walkers sniff at we Wellie people – they regard us as underdressed for potentially dangerous conditions, as they totter past muddy puddles in their Gore-tex lined, super stylish, bonded synthetic fabric creations.
Well, I say Wellies are Wonderful! – Mine were very expensive – but not nearly so expensive as some of my pairs of boots (and about half the price of some wellies in the same shop!).
I figured that for someone like me, walking over 2500 miles a year, the unit cost of wearing out an expensive pair as opposed to a cheaper, less comfortable and possibly less durable models was worth the investment. And it was.
The only annoying thing is that I seem to wear the darned things out about six weeks after the guarantee period has expired
Many years ago, when I was just a young man in my early 50s, I used to volunteer occasionally with the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) to help restore and maintain those remote buildings in the mountain areas of Britain which are left unlocked and available as shelter to whomsoever passes by.
Almost always, these building were formally shepherds huts. They are still owned by the landowner (frequently a water company, a nature charity like the John Muir Trust or often the sprawling estate of some wealth Scottish Laird) who give consent for the use of the building and allow the MBA to carry out the work .
Typically these “work party” weekends would involve 20 or so bods turning up, on the promise of free meals for the weekend, in exchange for backbreaking physical effort (unless you had a particular skill such as lime-mortar stonework or oak-beam jointing) fetching and carrying load after load of roof slates, heavy timber beams, bags of lime mortar mix, sand, bags of tools and even a cast iron log stove. We would work like Nepalese Sherpas, trudging back and forth to the nearest point where a tractor & trailer or one of those 6x6 ArgoCats could reach, with crude backpacks & rope slings and even builders wheelbarrows.
When the work had been scheduled, there was no going back, no backing out. Whatever weather showed up for the weekend, the show must go on. Of course, at the end of each day slogging through rain and wind, it was necessary for those present to eat together in the bothy, tell tall tales of bothy adventures past, sometimes listen to musical renditions on guitar or bagpipes, and drink astonishing quantities of malt whisky. You had to be pretty tough to survive a Work Party. The prisoners in the Siberian Gulags may have had colder winters, but I doubt they worked much harder!
I was reminded about those distant days as I walked along the ridge path of The Roaches yesterday. The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust is undertaking extensive footpath repairs to help counter the damage done by countless thousands of booted feet and knobbly mountain bike tyres. The dozens of huge white bulk-bags of rock & grit that have been sitting at Shawside Farm for months have magically migrated up onto the ridge.
Backpacked in by an army of willing volunteers?
Nah! A blinking helicopter!
Most of the guests at Roachside Cottage are here to explore the Peak District National Park; our oldest such Park. Who can blame them? It’s a wonderful region, rich with broad moorland vistas, dramatic deep valleys, picture-perfect chocolate box villages & historically important sites. But, round the external boundaries of The Park, in the countryside & towns which didn’t fall within that arbitrary boundary drawn on a map in 1948, there are many other places worth visiting.
So we're just sitting in the sunshine, drinking tea, eating Bakewell Tart & watching the sailing boats pirouette about their moorings in a gusty breeze, like a group of synchronised ballet dancers. How good can life get?
This is the Dam Head at Rudyard Lake - it’s not changed all that much since the parents of one of England’s greatest writers enjoyed their visit here so much, they named their soon-to-be-born son after the place.
Rudyard Lake is about 6 miles from Roachside Cottage. A gentle walk right round it is 4.7 miles. Along it's east shore is the old Midland Railway track - where a narrow-gauge steam railway now chuffs back & forth. Along the west side of the lake, the path leaves the waterside and passes the Victorian mock-castle of Cliffe Park Hall (now sadly empty & abandoned), through mature woodland to the sailing club & past the lakeside houses.
These lakeside properties vary from the ultra-modern, architect-designed, super-luxury magazine centrefold and the magnificent "Lady of the Lake" sat square in the water, to the tumbledown 1940s & 50s timber sheds where wealthy families from the nearby Pottery towns would escape the choking smoke of the city to spend time at their "place in the country" at weekends. Here, they could get back to nature, row a boat out onto the llake, cook on a paraffin stove and sleep on faintly damp beds.