Saturday, 27 August 2011

Millers Dale from Monsal Head

Last weekend I went to the Monsal Head Social Meet to celebrate the Peak District National Park's 60th anniversary. The meet was organised by Terry Bond who has gained himself a reputation as one of the best outdoor short film makers in the country. One place Terry seems to have taken to heart over the last year is the massively underrated White Peak area of the Peak District National Park. The idea of the meet was to bring together Walkers, Backpackers, Wild Campers and Newbies with a particular focus on those who are regularly contributing to the the ever growing outdoor related social media networks. Twitter, Facebook and Blogs in particular have created a network of like minded individuals, most of whom had only met each other via the internet. So this weekend was a great chance for me to meet many people I had never met in person. The meet which took place at the Park House camp site was as a huge success. I was really impressed with the site, it was clean, friendly and had decent pitches. It is also just a five minute walk from Monsal Head where there is a cafe, hotel and pub as well as dozens of walking opportunities. Terry was spot on with the venue!

Monsal Head

Outdoor gear retailers and manufacturers were present. They helped provide gear for a raffle Terry organised that raised £160 for Kinder Mountain Rescue on Saturday night. There was Ali from Terra Nova who showcased a few of their excellent lightweight tents. Gareth Jones from Webtogs showcased some innovative tents new in from Nemo in the states and also joined us on our walk. Luke from Ellis Brigham who along with his missus were very friendly and knowledgeable as I have come to expect from Ellis Brigham staff. Luke handing me a free pair of thick Smart Wool socks was certainly a good start to my weekend! Amanda from Chocolate Fish Merino was wondering around with a folder full of technical information on the many types of Merino Wool and good and bad ways in which it is sourced. On Saturday night Mark from Rab turned up with a car boot full of Rab's next season gear, most of which was admiringly fondled for a long time. The scene, a field of outdoor gear geeks fondling each others tents and dealing out of car boots, must have been quite a bizarre one for any onlookers. The new Rab Microlight Event jacket was the star of the show from Rab, but with an RRP of £275 will be out of most people's budget unfortunately. Dave Mycroft of the My Outdoors website provided a few test tents on show. These tended to be more my kind of thing to be honest. One particularly nice one was the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2.1 tent. I could list all of the folks who attended the meet but instead have decided to add a list to the bottom of this post, listing some of the people who attended and their respective Tweets, Blogs and Reports.

Webtog's Gareth Jones tent demonstrations

Friday night saw us all down the Stable Bar behind the Monsal Head Hotel consuming local ales and surprisingly impressive food. My choice of ales is usually the sweet one and I chose the Farmer's Blonde. It washed down my Green Thai Curry and Sticky Toffee Pudding very well. After a head torch lit road walk back to the camp site a large group of us decided to stay up for an hour or two talking. Over the two nights Terry's drunken Monologues became legendary. I went to bed eventually, soon to be woken by a screaming baby in the neighbouring tent. This pattern followed on Saturday night too and I didn't get much sleep over the weekend. I had taken my ear plugs but even they couldn't stop the screaming keeping me awake. I woke at around 8am and started up my stove to boil water for my tasty home made Spicy Fruit and Nut Porridge which I make using the Freezer Bag cooking method. I was quite content with my porridge until I decided to wander across the field in the direction of the others who were all huddled around Dave Mycroft. Dave was knelt down over a large stove with two frying pans full of delicious rashers of bacon, handing out tasty bacon sarnies. I was showered, packed and ready to go walking by around half past eight but soon realised that no one else had quite the same eager attitude. It was at least an hour before anyone else was ready. Instead of going off on my own I decided to wait and was glad I did so as Gareth Jones, Phil Sorrell, Pilgrim Chris, Giles Babbage and Mike Beaumont all showed intentions of doing the same route I had chosen. The fact that this route involved a half way stop at a well reputed local pub may have been something to do with this.

The Red Lion at Litton

We set off in good spirits and the weather was looking good. The night before, my journey to Monsal Head was a nightmare with heavy rain all the way to Buxton and a Friday night rush hour on the A6. At Monsal Head at the start of the walk there is a stunning viewpoint down the dale from Monsal Head, with the Headstone Viaduct adding to the typical White Peak scene. We made our way down a steep and slippery path. Phil was the first to nearly slide down it on his backside. The path eventually reached the bottom of the valley and on a track now passed a field full of Geese. The track met the minor road which we then followed through Upperdale until it reached Cressbrook. At Cressbrook we stopped to marvel at the huge Cressbrook Mill which has now been completely restored. Across the road Mike spotted a beautiful large Grey Heron on the old mill pond, it flew across the pond of course as soon as my camera was ready to take a shot. The lads decided to take the higher route along the road in to Cressbrook Dale and I took my preferred route along the lower and quieter track passing Ravensdale Cottages. Ravensdale Cottages are in a stunning setting with a crag high above them and surrounded by natural green woodlands. I met up again with the rest of the guys at the footbridge to Cressbrook Dale. Heading through the woodlands we suddenly heard someone behind us on the path. It turned out to be Mark from the meet who was about to head east off the main path to ascend to the top of Wardlow Hay Cop. We left Mark and continued up the dale which opened out after the forest like so many of these White Peak dales. We headed west from Cressbrook Dale into Tansley Dale and ascended to farm fields. The weather was great, the company was great, the conversation was great, and it was a great day to be out. As we approached the quaint village of Litton we crossed a few stiles. At one of the stiles several toddlers were running towards us so we let them cross the stile and all made comment on how good it was to see young children out in the fresh air.

Trout in River Wye

At Litton we made our way to the Red Lion. This is a delightfully cosy pub with low ceilings, set in a quaint and quiet village. The staff and locals were really friendly, even giving us recommendations on the local ales. Some of us had packed lunches, but those who ate there were really impressed with the food. I had a pint of Barnsley Bitter recommended by a local at the bar. One of the locals pointed out the strongest on tap so Gareth had an evil plan to give a pint of that to Phil. It backfired as he accidentally gave it to himself. We sat out the front on benches in the sun. Some of the folks who use their phones as GPS loggers were using the latest Power Monkey solar chargers to charge their battery hungry mobile phones. After enjoying a well deserved rest at the Red Lion at Litton we set off along the road through Litton Dale towards Tideswell Dale. We crossed the road at Tideswell Dale and then headed south along the road, before crossing again to the footpath on the other side. The path passed through a car park at Tideswell Dale then took a lovely stream side route through woodlands flanked by small limestone cliffs. At one point we found a large wooden sculpture of a water vole, which if you are extremely lucky can be seen in the area. There is somewhere on the web a photo of me dry humping this large creature. Surely this photo has to have been photo shopped as I am far too sensible to have done such a thing? The path split here and we took the one on the west side of the stream. The path eventually reaches a minor road which took us in to the small hamlet at Litton Mill. We stopped to look at the River Wye. Looking in the river we saw several large trout. We continued past the huge Litton Mill which has also been restored and is now posh apartments. What an incredible place to live was all I could think as we were passing the mill.

River Wye in Millers Dale

After Litton Mill the next few miles are simply stunning as the River Wye makes its way through the eastern end of Millers Dale. This is one of the best parts of the Peak District I have ever seen. The River Wye is absolutely teeming with large trout, and unlike most trout, do not flee at the first sight of you, instead they just swim around occasionally surfacing to feed on surface insects. We walked past a weir where one trout decided to sit in a beam of sunlight long enough for me to get a great photo. By this time I was starting to slow down as I do when I enter somewhere as beautiful as this, I could have sat for hours in one of the trees just staring in to the river. The woodlands surrounding the river were also stunning and full of bird life. The woodlands themselves were flanked by ever increasingly higher sheer limestone cliffs. The guys kept politely waiting for me but eventually I told them not to worry about me and go on ahead without me. One of the great things about being out with fellow regular walkers is that we all knew that if one of us separated it didn't matter one bit as we all knew where we were and would make our own way back safely. As the river approaches Cressbrook it slows down significantly as the weir at Cressbrook creates a huge pond in the river. As I approached the slower and wider River Wye the incredible white limestone cliffs of Water-cum-Jolly Dale took over the view across the way. There are trees over hanging both the path and river at one point, which provided a great way of seeing the trout in the river that were literally a few feet away. As the path approaches Cressbrook the impressive Rubicon Wall of limestone hangs over the path.

Weir at Cessbrook Mill

The rest of the guys headed through Cressbrook Mill and back along the minor road route we took earlier in the day. I decided to do a slightly different route back via the Monsal Trail which I had heard so much about. So instead of heading through the Cressbrook Mill I instead turned right and headed over the bridge that crosses the River Wye weir at Cressbrook. I took a few slow lens shots of the weir then ascended the path on the other side. The path heads along a contour on the hill over looking Cressbrook before reaching the Monsal Trail. The Monsal Trail is a brilliant facility for cyclists, walkers and horse riders. The trail uses the route of an old railway. In the last few years a project by the Peak District National Park Authority costing over two million pounds funding from the Department of Transport has seen the tunnels repaired, resurfaced and lighted to extend what was already a great trail. The tunnels allow people to pass from one dale to another in a unique way that wasn't possible before. I read some of the information boards along the trail mainly on the old railway and why it was there, then headed south east along it to reach the Headstone Viaduct. I have to admit I wouldn't like to walk the route of the trail as it is mostly in a complete straight line and the views are obstructed by trees. Walking in a straight line gives you an odd sense of not gaining distance. I'd much rather be down in a dale walking alongside a winding river any day.

My Terra Nova Superlite Voyager tent & my car Keisha

The views from off the Headstone Viaduct were of course pretty stunning, though the thing that stunned me the most on the viaduct was adults allowing children to throw some of the stones off the viaduct in to the dale below. There are a few paths that pass under the viaduct with walkers on them so throwing stones off from height was probably not the brightest idea! I crossed the viaduct and found Chris and Alex who had been down to Bakewell. They had some incredible photos of the numerous trout from the bridge in Bakewell. We ascended  the steep path from the viaduct to Monsal Head. The guys had all either gone back to the camp site or the Stable Bar. I spotted Mike outside the Hobbs Cafe enjoying a cake and cup of tea so went inside, grabbed a hot chocolate and flapjack, and joined him in the sun to have a chat about the good things in life. That night we all fondled more gear, had more laughs and spent the night in the Stable Bar before heading back to the camp site for more of Terry's drunken monologues. Martin from the Postcard from Timperley blog, whom I have met before as he lives round the corner from me, arrived on Saturday night too so it was good to catch up as he often has tales from far away places he has just visited. Sunday saw me heading home to watch the United match. I would have loved to have stayed another day and night but wanted to watch the match, had to feed the cat, and was on call for work on the Monday. A fantastic weekend with fantastic people and I can't wait for the next meet!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Just some of the folks who attended the Monsal Meet...

Terry Bond

Dave Mycroft

Gareth Jones

Giles Babbage

Phil Sorrell

Mike Beaumont

Pilgrim Chris

Matt Hobley

James Boulter & Rueben

Alex Atkinson

Chris & Laura Sumner

Paul Bates


Alvin & Gema Vassoodaven

Mark from Rab

Luke from Ellis Brigham

Amanda from Chocolate Fish Merino

Ali from Terra Nova

Martin Banfield

Andy H


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