Archive for April 26th, 2011

April 26, 2011

Miller’s, Chee, Wye and Deep dales from Chelmorton

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit to finding it difficult when selecting somewhere to walk in the Peak District these days.  I am always hankering after something new and the Peaks have been well trodden by me over the last 15 years or so.  It was the day before Good Friday and I had the opportunity for a day in the hills before the hoards descended from every direction.  The forecast was to be hot but very hazy, distant views would be lost in the murk.  This ruled out the high moors, no point if there is no view.  I therefore decided that a more intimate landscape would be ideal, so headed to one of the most spectacular of the Derbyshire Dales, Chee Dale.

9.6 miles with 680 metres ascent

The village of Chelmorton sits high on the White Peak plateau at around the 350 metre contour line.  The surrounding countryside is a rolling patchwork of small fields and dry stone walls which does not give an impression that you are that high up.  For this you need to get close to where the extensive plateau drops deeply into one of the many Dales.

The van was left  on the lane outside the church and I set off under the slopes of Chelmorton Low towards Fivewells farm.  I find the White Peak to be a dull place for a walk in winter and it is usually very muddy underfoot, I much prefer the moors then.  However in the spring and summer the White Peak completely changes character, the dry stone walls dazzle in the sun and the fields and dales are covered in a blanket of flowers.  It was great to be walking through dry grassy fields listening to the birds calling and insects buzzing.  I was walking for the first time this year in a t-shirt and I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on bare skin.

Passing the hamlet of Priestcliffe I played the usual, ‘I would love to have a house here’ game in my head and passed though with a bit of envy.  The envy meter went even higher further up the track where the ground tumbles away steeply into Miller’s dale far below.  A lovely cottage occupies the edge of the Plateau, a place with a view to die for.  I wandered a few metres away and sat on a luxuriant carpet of grass, opening a flask of ice-cold juice and taking in the views.

I guy having a rather animated conversation with himself jumped as he came round the corner and found me sitting there.  I often wonder if I talk to myself when walking in the hills, he carried on in silence!  A path descended though the nature reserve of Priestcliffe Lees leading me down to the disused railway bed, now the Monsal Trail.

I now had a decision to make, do I divert and explore the wild Monks Dale adding a few miles to the day, or simply head west.  I took the easy route as I was already feeling hot and a bit tired.

Chee Dale is a stunning place and from the east it gets wilder and more scenic with every step after you have passed under the first viaduct.  I have abseiled off one of these viaducts, something well worth doing for the buzz of dangling in space for a minute or too.  The hardest thing being stepping off the edge at the top.

A couple of guys were fly fishing in what may have been compulsory uniforms of tweed and silly hats, the equivalent of hill walking on a hot day in a morning suit perhaps?  The valley was now closing in, exposed limestone steps polished by many boots over the years.

I was soon in a stunning gorge with high limestone cliffs rising sheer out of the water, luxuriant undergrowth just beginning to spring to life.

A climber was scaling what looked like an impossible wall of rock, it would have been impressive to watch him climb the overhanging section.

The only thing to spoil my day was the occasional rudeness of the families that I passed.  The path was often only wide enough for one person to walk at a time and I frequently would stop to let a caravan of people pass.  It makes me quietly simmer inside when you stand there letting 5 or 6 people pass and not one of them says thank you.

Suddenly there is not enough room for both the river and a path so huge stepping-stones have been laid at the foot of cliffs.  After heavy rain the path is often impossible to cross, the stones being submerged.  This time the river was in a languid mood and passage was easy.

All too soon Chee Dale came to an end but I was still following the same river.  With a change of name to Wye Dale there was also a change in my surroundings.  A much gentler landscape, the river calmer and in less of a hurry.  It is just a shame that the busy A6 high above the dale spoils the peace with the roar of traffic.

The riverside path soon spat me out alongside the busy road and I crossed over into the entrance of Topley Pike quarry.  The start of Deep Dale is frankly a bit of a mess as you follow the edge of the quarry hidden to the right.  Signs warn you that the quarry is not a playground and that you may sink to your death in quicksand.  However a short sharp ascent and descent brings you into the dale proper and an oasis of peace and quiet.  The narrow often rocky path gives the impression that this dale is not as popular as those close by.

All too soon I was climbing the narrow right of way as it twists and turns up towards the lip of the dale and back onto the plateau.  The views down were reward enough for the exertion that it brought to my legs.

Approaching Chelmorton by fields and finally a track the rounded shape of Chelmorton Low came into view.  Someone had gone to a lot of effort in arranging rocks on its slopes to write ENGLAND in huge letters, just about visible in the photo below.

I was hot by the time I reached the Bongo and was keen to drink the extra bottle of water I had left in the van.  The van itself was like an oven and the water undrinkable after sitting in the sun all day.  I dreamt of ice-cold refreshment all the way home.