Posts Tagged With: recce

Oh, I do like to be beside the seal side! Go have a look at Donna Nook and seal for yourself!

Digested read: went to the seal side and saw loads of seals.  Excellent!  Donna Nook certainly gets my seal of approval.  Can you seal what I’ve done there?  I know, genius!

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Unabridged version:

Do you ever let yourself get stuck into a bit of a rut?  No?  Just me then.  Well, good for you. Speaking personally, sometimes I realise I’ve got into the habit of doing the same things, the same way and forgotten somehow to embrace new experiences and new adventures.  When I have worked overseas, I’ve always made a conscious effort to try new things and take opportunities when they present themselves because that chance may never come my way again.  However, if I’m honest, latterly I’ve taken for granted some remarkable and exciting things that are practically on my doorstep. Because I could in theory go any time, I go no time, and years pass by and I’ve still not been to Heeley City Farm yet for example, or Kelham Island Museum and I’ve been living in Sheffield for umpteen years now.  That’s pretty poor.  Note to self, must be more proactive from hereon in.  Well, revitalised and reinvigorated by my recent sojourn to Berlin parkrun (which I haven’t blogged about yet but will, so try to contain yourself til then) I have a new resolve to say ‘yes’ to as many new experiences as I can.  That way new adventures lie, and oh my, talking of lying, here was certainly some massive lying around going on.  And it was brilliant. Let me explain.

Oh, and technically, this might not be a running blog post as such, more a potential run recce post, the conclusion of which is, you can’t really run there, so what are you going to do about that then?  Shoot me?  Hah!  I reckon you won’t go through with that, you’ll just roll your eyes and skip this post, and such is your prerogative. Mind you, shame if you did, you’ll miss the cute baby seals photos that come later on, but your choice, do as you will.  Plus, maybe you too should try something new now and again, like reading a non-running blog post, just because you can.  Or not, it’s up to you, obvs.  Glad we have cleared that up.

It all began with my recce buddy messaging me to say, ‘thinking about going out to Donna Nook to see the seals wondered if you wanted to come along’.  Naturally, my immediate reaction to this was incomprehension.  Where on earth can you get to see seals in reasonable travelling distance from Sheffield?  Also, isn’t Lorna Doone in Exmoor or somewhere anyway?

Google was helpful, I learned that Donna Nook is apparently well-known for its population of grey seals visiting in the winter months, as well as it’s array of bird life.  Not that well know I’d venture, I’ve never heard of it, but hey ho.  Sounded promising.  A quick search for directions would alert me to how far away it was, let me see – 27 hours if walking.  Hmm, well, my recce buddy hadn’t specified a mode of transport, but I was going to put my neck on the line and say that didn’t think an ultra walk there and back would be compatible with her work rota, so hopefully we’d be cheating and taking advantage of an internal combustion engine to facilitate our arrival.  OK, count me in!  I shall indeed take up this random opportunity that has presented itself.  It will be an adventure.  Fun will be had.  I’ll see the sea!

A brief exchange of planning emails, ‘don’t forget your binoculars‘.  I always get really excited seeing wildlife, particularly in its natural habitat, but freely acknowledge sometimes I have endured lengthy vigils with little return by way of any practical evidence of creatures in their habitat.  Squinting into distant trees wondering if that shadowy form is indeed a rare, roosting bird or just a plastic bag caught up in a tree.  I’ve been there.  Binoculars are a boon on such occasions, mustn’t forget them.

My recce guide and buddy was also transport manager (again), so I abdicated from all or any responsibility for getting there, beyond being ready (ish) at the appointed hour.  So it was at 10.35 a.m. I was scooped up from outside my house, and off we went towards Grimsby.  It took a couple of hours, and honestly, it isn’t the most interesting of drives, but fortunately, we know how to make our own entertainment and managed to talk for the entire drive, walk and drive home, and still have topics we forgot to cover.  It’s quite a skill.  Anyway, time went quickly.

We got a bit confused in the latter stages.  The landscape is flat and featureless, I might complain about the hills of Sheffield in terms of having to haul myself up them but personally I find the low-lying exposed coastal plains of North Lincolnshire, to be  borderline depressing.  I don’t know how people do their running training in such landscapes, I suppose you learn to appreciate other qualities, like the moody changing skies, or the magical network of dykes.   I also was struck by how little ground cover there was everywhere, not only does this mean the wind whipping across the land must be relentless at certain times of year, but there is no bit of modesty covering vegetation behind which a caught-short runner may hope to hide to relieve themselves.  The only option would be to launch yourself into one of the dykes, but they are deep trenches from which you more than likely would never be able to extract yourself unaided.  We didn’t see many people around at all.  My recce buddy said it was because they were all most probably at work what with it being a week day and all, but I reckon anyone who ventured out in the dark, or carelessly would end up toppling into and then trapped for all eternity in those deep, flat walled dykes, scratching at the sides, unable to escape.  Thousands of them, that’s probably what makes the land round there so fertile now I come to think about it.  And they wouldn’t mention it on their tourist guides now would they, so of course there’s no evidence one way or the other, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Anyway, after getting a bit lost, we resorted to using satnav and eventually found some signs to Lorna Doone, Donna Summer, Donna Nook and it was indeed incredibly easy to find.  Excitingly, after a bit you start to see signs which say ‘to the seals!’, encouraging you to follow a particular one way route in, which is exactly what we did.

The blah de blah, for those of you too weak or lacking inclination to click on the Donna Nook, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust link for further information is:

Donna Nook National Nature Reserve
Donna Nook covers more than 10km (6.25 miles) of coastline between Grainthorpe Haven in the north and Saltfleet in the south where it borders the Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe National Nature Reserve. Every November and December, grey seals come to the Donna Nook coastline to give birth to their pups near the sand dunes; a wildlife spectacle which attracts visitors from across the UK.

Visitors should be aware that the Ministry of Defence still maintains part of the area as a bombing target range and under no circumstances should anyone enter the bombing area when red flags are flying. However, most of the dune area is accessible at all times.

But there’s loads more information on the website so you should check it out really.

Anyway, we followed the corridor of yellow cones, and ended up in a small free car park, it was pretty full, but we managed to find a space.  There is a larger, paying car park ‘with portaloos’ which we over-shot, but is also an option.  We wrapped up warm and made our way to an information booth to check out our options.

Neither of us had any idea at all about what to expect. All part of the excitement of discovery.  However, I will admit my stomach flipped a bit when I saw there was a 6 mile stretch of seaside making up the reserve.  I was up for a walk, but hadn’t quite factored in a 6 mile out and 6 mile back.  It was quite nippy out, and it had taken a good two hours to get there.  Oh well, let’s check it out.

We turned the corner to start the walk along to the seal viewing area and within a micro-second saw this:

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Job done!  Seal spotted.  We could legitimately have turned around and gone home at that point as it was mission accomplished!

Honestly, it was hilarious, there were seals everywhere, no binoculars required.  The reserve is now long-established, and the seals who arrive from late October through to December to breed are apparently completely habituated to the humans traipsing along a fairly unsubstantial fence line that keeps people and the grey seals apart.  It is a photographer’s dream.  They are just there.  Littering the coast line like so many dumped body bags inanimate in the mud flats.

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They are absolutely gorgeous, but not the most animate of animals.  They really don’t look like they should survive out of water.  They basically loll about, the new-born pups feeding and laying down fat as their mothers sacrifice their blubber stores. The males (recognisable for being larger and uglier according to the signs) hang around ready to mate with the females as soon as they are receptive again after calving.  So you stare at these gorgeous torpedo shaped animals just lying there.  It’s weird though, because some of the young pups have made their way right up to the fence line.

There are in touching distance, although obviously you absolutely must not do that.  Mothers will abandon their young if they pick up strange smells, and you might get bitten, which would serve you right quite frankly if you did succumb to the temptation of poking a finger through.  On that subject, I spent a month working at an animal sanctuary in Zimbabwe where there was a hyena called Crunch, who twice bit off the fingers of visitors who contrary to stated advice, had poked them through the chicken wire of the not very well constructed enclosure.  I have zero sympathy for them as both were adults, and well, the hyena was called Crunch for goodness sake, what did they think might happen?  Health and safety hadn’t made it to Chipangali.  A volunteer got killed by a lion the year before, but that was different, and very sad.  The lion was shot, it wasn’t its fault. The hyena lives on as far as I know, probably keeping its eyes peeled for finger food when the opportunity presents itself.

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Anyway, same here, don’t encroach on the local wildlife’s territory – there’s a sign to warn you too:

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People are idiots tough.  At one point along the line someone had lobbed in some turnips and a cabbage which was rather random.  Who a) thinks that’s part of the diet of a seal, especially one that isn’t eating anything at all for several weeks on account of it being the calving season and b) who brings a couple of turnips and a cabbage with them along on an outing to the seaside on the off-chance they might come in handy for something?

Well, we had a partial answer, it was not necessarily people thinking that all that weight loss was part of a genuine aspiration to be ‘slimmer of the year’ and that adoption of the cabbage soup diet might help (explanation of this comes later), but it might be attributable to the fact that a local farmer has set up a turnip and cabbage stall in the larger car park with the portaloo facilities.  This shows entrepreneurial endeavour and optimism.  To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to combine turnip shopping and seal viewing, but then again, I didn’t know it was an option, now you do, you can learn from me and bring along your re-useable turnip bag and cash for any such transaction. No, don’t try to thank me, you are welcome, I’m just happy to help.

Seriously though, just leave them be.  And keep your turnips and cabbages to yourself.

Still, you walk along the fence line, periodically pausing to gaze:

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and really, the only problem is identifying which of these slumbering seals is the most gorgeous.  You think you have seen the most wide-eyed beauteous pup imaginable, and then a few feet on is another even more appealing or beautifully patterned grey seal.  Each one has unique patterning it seems, oh, and the noises they make.  Oh my gawd, they sound human, they really do.  Slightly whiney human ‘muuuuuuuuuuuuuuum, muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum’ pleading it’s true, but astonishing.

To illustrate my point, here is more cuteness overload:

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Basically, you’ll either get it or you wont.  To the untrained eye they may look like inanimate, lumpen masses.  But to those who have but eyes to see they are captivating.  A celebration of supine gloriousness.  However, there is more to it than that.  If you stand and watch for a while, you start to appreciate there are subtle interactions going on all around.  Whilst the older pups might be left alone for a couple of hours to, well just, lard up basically – the younger ones need only emit the tiniest of squeaks and its grey seal mum snaps her head up alert and responsive to check all is well.

You can tell the newborns, partly by their proximity to bloody afterbirth, always a clue, and partly because of their yellow fur, stained from amniotic fluid, and partly because they have empty creases of skin where they have yet to fill out.  Like the aftermath of extreme weight loss, only for grey seals, you need these flaps of empty skin so they can be filled, the fat is needed, to help them on their way.  Seeing such loveliness gives a whole new perspective on fat.  Here it is glorious.  The plumper the better, a silken layer indeed.  Probably more than one to be fair….  No wonder the Victorians associated plumpness with health, attractiveness, and a happy outlook.

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It was a pretty educational walk.  There were information signs along the way.  Quite helpful ones aimed at adults (presumably) with detail about the behaviour and life-cycle of the seals.

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I was less comfortable with the child-friendly signs.  I mean, I get what they were trying to do, but really, did they need to draw pictures of the seals wearing clothes?  It was a shame as generally the guardianship of the colony was excellent, enthusiastic volunteers were on hand to answer questions as well as keep the colony safe, but I hate that sort of anthropomorphism.  There was one sign proclaiming a mother seal as ‘slimmer of the year’ a reference to how much weight they lose during these weeks of birthing and suckling when they don’t eat anything.  I was so annoyed I didn’t take a picture, and now I’m annoyed with myself because I didn’t because they I’d be able to illustrate to you what was annoying me.  How annoying.  Here are some others though. No, the pups don’t wear nappies:

Then again, I did quite like some of the quiz questions along the way, so I suppose that makes me either a hypocrite, or a complex being of hidden contradictions, I’m going with the latter.

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I know!  Funny.  Genuinely made me laugh!  Then again, I am easily amused, as well as easily annoyed.

I learned loads though.  For example, did you know there are occasionally jet black seal pups?  No?  Me neither, but we saw some, and I asked a volunteer about them and they are a thing, fairly rare, but a few each year.  They were also particularly gorgeous, albeit like black cats, quite hard to photograph well.

We saw all the stages of life, some quite graphically. The new-born who had somehow hauled itself away from the bloody pool in which it emerged:

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The latched on enthusiastic suckling of the pups:

Power napping:

Seeing off over enthusiastic suitors, with a lot of seal specific swearing by the sound of things:

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When the time is right some fairly graphic coupling, these grey seals are pretty well endowed it seems.  Like I said, it was very educational.

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Inevitably, the circle of life is in evidence.  Further away from the fence line a flurry of activity of birds betrayed a dead pup being picked over by scavengers.  Some losses are inevitable, it’s sad of course, but it happens.

A.Maz.Ing though, and who knew it was all but a couple of hours away from the middle of Sheffield.

We wandered back and forth for a couple of hours, and truthfully, were it not so cold, might yet have lingered longer.  The stretch with a viewing platform is very short though, 500 metres maybe?  Then a red flag flying indicated that much of the sands is out-of-bounds as it’s a live military base with shooting going on, and planes carrying out exercises overhead.  We didn’t see any today, though the volunteer warden told us that surprisingly, the seals are unconcerned by such activities, I suppose over the decades they’ve been coming here they have become habituated to that too, unlikely as it seems.

Not much running, or even walking went on.

However, a visual gag (well, I did warn you I was easily amused) awaited us at the far end of the viewing area.  There are model baby seals near information points, that encourage you to make a donation to support the work of the wildlife trust.  I wanted to photograph one, as you do, and right behind it was a real seal pup, doing exactly the same thing!  How cool is that?

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I don’t know why I was quite so surprised, the pup was only following instructions…

So that was that.  Time to go.  Hard-ish to tear ourselves away, but then again, we were peckish by now.

We made a donation and went on our way.  Suitably impressed by all we’d seen.

FYI there was a catering van there doing coffees and sausage baps type things, but we thought we would find somewhere better.  We didn’t really.  It’s a strange drive, miles and miles of pretty desolate amenity-free roads.  Oh well. It was still very much worth the trip, but top tip, take a packed lunch and a thermos flask.  Also a decent camera or a friend with one in lieu of that would be even better.

Journey home took about three days, might have been quicker walking.  Absolutely no idea why, it can’t have been rush hour continuously from 3.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.  We did stop for petrol and a late lunch, but even so.

Still, the conclusion is, this was ace, unexpected and an extraordinary wildlife spectacle for them as like seals, which I do, a great deal.  If you don’t like seals, then maybe give this a miss.  So thank you imaginative recce buddy and now tour guide.  That was EPIC!

Maybe you can seal yourself there sometime.  Check for the right time of year, and don’t tell too many people, it’s a precious sanctuary to treasure.

Now I’m off to find a run route…. preferably one with some decent hills.  But while I’m running(ish) I’ll be remembering this.

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Sigh,  we do indeed live in a world of wonders.  Let’s embrace it.

🙂

 

Categories: off road | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

What lies beneath. Scrutinising Ladybower’s bottom in search of Atlantis Sheffield

Digested read: lured by Smiley Selfie Queen, went in search of the underwater village ruins at Ladybower reservoir.  Found them.  It was epic!  Go see for yourself before the waters rise again.

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Unabridged read:

Honestly, I’m really torn.  I mean I do get the general point about literal jumps into the unknown being potentially perilous, but then again, it’s the metaphorical leaps into the unknown that make life interesting.  If we only ever keep hanging on to what we know already we’ll never learn anything new, and if we only do what we’ve always done then nothing will ever evolve.  So I note the signage at the Ladybower Reservoir, and totally endorse not risking paralysis by dive bombing into possibly shallow waters, whilst simultaneously believing a bit of exploration and adventure is fine and dandy, recommended even – but maybe just do your risk assessments properly at the outset.

And on the subject of signs, did you see this BBC news story on an Edinburgh initiative to improve road signage?  It’s quite marvellous!  Bringing joy to a joyless world…

 

 

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to talk about signage, lovely as that would be, it is to tell you about my adventures with Smiley Selfie Queen, exploring the exposed bottom of Ladybower Reservoir.  Generally speaking, one shouldn’t explore exposed bottoms with such public abandon, but in this case it’s OK because it’s a rare treat and not of a living thing.  No dear reader, rather it is a consequence of the extreme heat of the summer of 2018, which has led to the dropping of the water levels of Ladybower and the associated reservoirs so low, that you  can see once again the remnants of the villages that were flooded when the dams were constructed and the reservoirs filled.  I’ve been meaning to go for ages in a vague ‘really must go and do that sometime‘ sort of way, ‘before it’s too late‘ much as I did with intending to visit the millennium dome.  I never did get to see that, and it is most definitely too late now, but with the viewing of Sheffield’s Atlantis it was a different matter altogether.  I was prompted to take the proverbial plunge into the waters of Ladybower by Smiley Selfie Queen who proposed an excursion. ‘Fab idea, why not?’  So that is what we agreed to do.  I knew the water level was really low, but I’d actually thought part of it was because some had been pumped to facilitate some sort of maintenance work, but it seems I must have made that up, because there was no evidence of it, and no reference to it when I googled, so there you go.

The day dawned, and rain fell.  No worries, we can still have an adventure in the rain.  She scooped me up, and we drove over to the lay by just a few hundred metres (if that) ahead of the Fairholmes visitor centre so we could park for free.  (More about the visitors’ centre here). On a rainy Wednesday morning there was no-one much about, so we had the place to ourselves.  I was astonished at how beautiful the autumn colours were. The rain cleared and gave way to sunshine, and get a load of this, magnificent!

 

It was crazily beautiful, the pictures nowhere near do it justice.  I had a faff about what to wear, I took my hat in the end as you can see, though for a lot of the time it was in my coat pocket rather than on my head.  You might think therefore dear reader that I’d come to regret having taken it with me, but dear reader, you would be wrong!  This fetching hat, which I’ve had for a great many years, and which rather pretentiously I bought from a vendor on a floating island on Lake Titicaca in Peru, who had knitted it himself today had its moment of glory.  It has done me many quiet years of service, nearly 20 years I think, and I am grateful for that, but today it also came into its own as an indispensable aid to our progress – more of that later.  Yes, it does have a llama on it, but no need to be allarmared by that!

Meantime more views, look:

 

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Sigh, it really was glorious, you should have been there, the photos don’t do it justice.

We followed the signs to the dam, there is a well-marked path that take you up, so we had a little explore.  No time to walk the entire circumference of the water today, so we just had a squint at the dam and accompanying points of interest which included, a monument to a dog that stayed by its dead master for 15 weeks.  Fifteen weeks!  Seriously, that’s extraordinary, but also somewhat unlikely, how did it survive, what happened there?  There were also some tributes for remembrance day which is coming up, info panels about the testing of the bouncing bombs, and interesting man-made constructions peeking out from the water.  I don’t know enough about civil engineering in general or dam construction in particular to know what we were looking at exactly, but it was all quite intriguing and made me wish I’d concentrated more in school.  We probably covered this kind of thing in human geography at some point.  That’s the trouble with education, wasted on the young…

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Tempting as it was to march round the top reservoir, which is apparently Derwent, with Howden beyond, our focus was to get to the bottom(ish) of Ladybower, where the sunken village of Ashopton is currently in view, well, what’s left of it.

We paused to look at the Dam from below, and then followed some inviting looking steps that took us up and above the water.  All good exploring territory, though I’ve realised a limitation of me relying on Smiley Selfie Queen to take all the photos is that it gives the impression I am forever scurrying along behind her.  This may be an accurate representation of how it was of course, but I don’t really like it being immortalised in jpegs. Oh well.  The truth will out.

After much scurrying around and posing in various locations, my Smiley Buddy started having flash backs of having been there before.   This very place was, it turned out, an early date with her partner when she presumes they were trying to impress one another by agreeing to do something outdoorsy and cultural together which ironically wasn’t really either of their things a decade or so ago though it most definitely is now.  How the wheels of time and fortune turn full circle eh?  I found that entertaining, but then again, I am on record as being easily amused.

We back tracked, then and searching for a way down to the water line, once we’d crossed over, followed a little detour which turned out to be the sweetest little nature trail with signs identifying trees and wooden sculptures including ginormous moles and teeny tiny locomotives – perfect posing opportunity for me and my training buddy!

 

See what I did there – with us on the train…. genius!

We had to clamber our way up and out of this nature reserve, alongside a fence, and emerged on a wide tarmac path.  We were just ahead of some dog walkers with boisterous dogs that kept charging up alongside and between us.  They weren’t aggressive but they were very annoying.  We’d passed a sign earlier saying dogs should be on leads, but I’m not sure if that rule applied on this part or not.  In fairness to these owners I don’t think it was clear either way.  Even so,  I do wish dog owners would understand however much they may love their ‘adorable hounds’, others don’t necessarily appreciate these slobbering, bounding canines invading their personal space.  It got tense.  I am getting less and less tolerant of dogs these days.  Dogs in general that is. Particularly out of control, off lead ones, I don’t care if you say they are friendly, keep them away from me unless invited thank you very much.   Individual dogs I know are lovely of course, and Tilly is the loveliest of them all.  Actually, I like Skip too, although he just ignores me, it’s a bit one-sided there.  Harry and Barry are all right as well.  Basically, well behaved dogs where we’ve been introduced, or those who are adoring are fine, but random slobbering ones are not.  I think that’s pretty clear…

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We got jumped as we were admiring a somewhat incongruously placed but beauteous telephone box.  We inadvertently went full circle and as swamp creatures emerging from the mud came back to here later on.

 

We tried to walk briskly ahead to keep out-of-the-way of the bloody dogs.  Trouble is, we were obviously all heading for the same boggy bottom.  Now, I know you have to be careful out there because it’s incredibly tempting to venture out too far and then you get stuck in the mud and have to be rescued.  Only last week Edale Mountain Rescue had to haul someone out that’s awful and everything of course, though it did give me a little flash of an idea and a spark of embittered hope…

Incident 101 – Saturday 3rd November 2018 12.10hrs

The duty team leader received a call from Derbyshire police regarding a gentleman who had, given the low water level, walked out across Ladybower reservoir to take a closer look at the currently exposed ruins. The mud is however extremely thick in places and he got himself completely stuck. Due to concern for his temperature and general welfare his partner ran round to the rangers station at Fairholmes to summon assistance.
The team was able to access the casualty with a variety of specialist equipment designed to spread an individual’s weight over a muddy surface and after approximately 30 minutes of digging was able to free the gentleman and walk him back to solid ground. Team members then returned to base to start a long session of equipment cleaning!

 

I just was thinking, nay secretly hoping that these wayward canines might go out to explore a bit too far and soon find themselves sinking in the mud sufficiently that their owners would rush to rescue them*, only for the hounds to break free and the owners to be entombed and slowly sucked under by the clogging mud.  Obviously I’d rush to get assistance, but who knows whether I’d make it back in time, and despite what you may have been led to believe from watching Lassie films or even the monument to the loyal sheep dog from earlier, not all canines are of practical assistance in a crisis.   It’s often what happens though isn’t it? Dogs in peril escape from the watery peril of the sea or outrun stampeding cattle, or extricate themselves from  bogs or whatever and their hapless concerned owners perish whilst misguidedly trying to save them.  I know I sound mean, but you weren’t there.  And anyway, I don’t believe you have never experienced Schadenfreude, even if you choose not to admit it even to yourself.  Also, my fantasy mud-sucking scenario didn’t occur, so no harm done on this occasion, unfortunately.

*No dogs were injured in the conjuring of this fantasy rage scenario, so don’t judge!

Apart from nursing gnawing resentment about being hounded by the bloody dogs, we were partially distracted by the increasingly amazing views.

 

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After a bit, we found a way to scramble down to the water’s edge, and it was instantly amazing and distracting, and oh, so very tempting to walk out much further than you ought.  The exposed reservoir base looked like an alien planet or something.  Just the mud alone looked like a lifeless lunar landscape, perfect film location for next Dr who say and a striking contrast to the Park Hill Flats.  Then it was set off by the frame of autumnal gold on the banks.  It was extraordinary.

 

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We’d been tipped off about what we might be able to see, so that gave us a bit of tenacity in exploring.  At first, we couldn’t really make out much at all.  There was an exposed bridge, and some generic bricks that might have been from the old church but it was hard to be sure. However, emboldened by the sight of other people further out, we ventured further.  I am pretty risk averse, so was cautious about stepping out, but if you were sensible and careful, you could pick a route over to a great heap of stones which contained within them an actual fire-place! It is weird-looking at it, and imagining others sitting by a lit fire, you can still see the soot stains in the hearth and within the shattered breast of a collapsed red-brick chimney.  Then there was the grand pillar and the outline of rooms that you could sort of move through.  Very eerie, and compelling too.

Turns out that in this context, I was a bit more of a trail blazer than Selfie Queen.  I had the advantage of better footwear partly.  I was wearing walking boots, she was in trail shoes.  The muddy clay just gripped and infilled the tread of her running shoes so she might as well have been trying to get around on greased skis by the end of it.  Still, between us we were intrepid, within the bounds of reason.

 

We saw a fair bit, but decided against venturing out beyond the collapsed hall to another bit of projecting stone work a bit further out.  We were mindful of the mountain rescue exploits of others and didn’t really want to add to those stats.  It was  a good call actually, because when we started back across the mud flats it was harder to retrace our steps than it had been to find a path heading out.  Oh well, we lived to try another day.

As we exited, a very jolly pair of men with cameras were swapping places with us. They have visited the reservoir bottom over the years and were full of information about what was there and how it had changed.  The arched structure I couldn’t identify was actually an old pumping station from when the series of dams was being built for example. They also were able to tell us that where we were standing was originally the main village/ manor hall, but had also been a chapel and a school too at various points, most educational.  We took photos of each other, which amuses me, here they are.  Being informative and convivial!

 

They were joking about taking away some of the abandoned masonry, I say good luck to them, if they think they can carry away a door mantle on their shoulders without being squelched down into the mud then why not!  We left then sliding about, holding their cameras aloft to keep them safe.

We opted to find a route back from the waterside.  We did achieve this, but there was a flaw in our plan in that of course normally the water level is never this low (it is actually at only 35% capacity at present according to signs in the visitors centre), therefore, there aren’t obvious entry points or footpaths leading back to where we were.  Oops.

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In theory, we could have retraced our steps, but that seemed like an awfully long way round and surely there’d be a short cut.  Plus we were running out of time due to other commitments for the day.  We skirted the edge, alongside us was quite a determined looking and unbreachable fence.  I was pretty confident there’d be a get out at some point, and sure enough, eventually, just as I was losing faith a bit, we saw an old gateway and road, passed through and… hit a dead-end.  Oh.

We walked on a bit, still the wrong side of the fence, though above the waterline and tantalizingly, could see the ‘proper path’ up the hillside above us, with two fences in between. After some consultation, we decided there was nothing for it but to clamber out.  Well I decided that.  Selfie Queen was a bit more dubious about the realism of this plan.  However, I’ve clambered a great many gates and fences in my time, and even done Endurer Events (tough mudder light) for goodness sake, it takes more than a strand of wire to defeat me!  The upshot was I would lead by example, but she wasn’t having the barbed wire hamper her progress. Well, this dear reader is where my hat had its day!  I got my fine Peruvian beret and used it to wrap round the barbs of the wire so we wouldn’t get them caught up on our leggings.  Finding the strongest post to steady us, it was a simple matter of quick leap over and voila, ’twas done!

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That was progress, but then I was a bit paranoid (which I didn’t share) that we were probably now trespassing and I didn’t want to find out the hard way we’d encroached on a field of cows, and probably a pack of dogs too.  Fortunately, we were both distracted by heavy rain which was short-lived but stinging and the presence of a fenceless gateway, which is one of our very favourite things to find on walks.  We did what we had to do:

 

Also, to be honest, I was fairly confident I knew the field was empty as we’d passed it earlier, but even so, I was relieved when we eventually found a path, which became a track, which led to a gate which led us out to the phone box aforementioned above!  Hurrah!  Job done.

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Then just a little matter of a scurry back to the car, via the loos at the visitors’ centre and a quick peak in their shop.  They sell a book of walks I might be tempted to get next time, only £2, bargain.

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And that was that.  Another adventure with Smiley Selfie Queen done and dusted, and a very fine and unexpected one too.

Of course, there was plenty we didn’t get round to see – low water has also revealed dwellings from Birchinlee Village under Derwent too, and the plug holes of course, need to go back for them one day soon.  Could be a long day out given how long it took us just to amble 5 miles or so this morning.  This is where we went by the way, Strava never lies.

 

Although the water levels were low today, Sheffield has not always been so depleted of the wet stuff.   I’ve googled so you don’t have to, about previous times in history when Sheffield flooded.  I had a vague sense there was a catastrophic flood when a dam burst a hundred years or so ago, and Wikipedia confirms this.  The Great Sheffield Flood:

 was a flood that devastated parts of Sheffield, England, on 11 March 1864, when the Dale Dyke Dam broke as its reservoir was being filled for the first time. At least 240 people died[1] and more than 600 houses were damaged or destroyed by the flood. The immediate cause was a crack in the embankment, but the source of the crack was never determined. The dam’s failure led to reforms in engineering practice, setting standards on specifics that needed to be met when constructing such large-scale structures. The dam was rebuilt in 1875.

The account is worth reading actually, it seems the rush of water wiped out whole sections of Malin bridge and Hillsborough.  Completely devastating.  I even found a little YouTube account of the flood, but I think we can safely assume it wasn’t made contemporaneously! Then there were more floods in 2007, from shere deluge of rain causing the River Don to burst its banks.  No wonder there is a whole list of Sheffield Floods to refer to.  For the first time in ages, I’m quite relieved I live at the top of a hill.  Something I rarely feel pleasure about as head down I climb up it carrying shopping on the way home.  The Star did a Retro feature about the 2007 floods, it was before I moved here. Quite astonishing to see the photos though.  Anyone would think it was part of our emergent Sheffield Atlantis discovery at the base of Ladybower reservoir rather than a snap shot on the way to complete submergence…

 

So there you go, well worth the trip out.  It always is.  I feel really blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world, I don’t care what the posters say, sometimes it is worth taking a dive into the unknown – metaphorically at least.

Look, we saw this:

cs other world

What’s not to like?

You’re welcome.

More about the sunken ruins here: BBC Ladybower Reservoir’s low water levels reveal abandoned village

and here: “Come see the ruins but stick to the shore” – warning as exposed ruins of Ladybower reservoir’s lost villages entice sightseers into danger

 

Categories: off road | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Giving Dronfield the run around. Recce of Round Dronfield Walk

Digested read: can now tick the Round Dronfield Walk route off my to-do list.  Hillier than expected, more strenuous than expected, good in parts, with a lot of stiles, some of which were less than stylishly negotiated. 14.5 miles with a surprising 1873 ft of elevation.

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Unabridged version:

Blimey, that was complicated.

I do feel like my life is mainly taken up with running round in pointless circles as it is, so you might think doing a circular walk/run route would be a breeze as I’ve had so much practice. Turns out, it isn’t entirely, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the effort.

Ok, so for the wilfully ignorant out there, there is a Dronfield Round Walk, strictly speaking, it’s re-launch of the Dronfield Rotary 2000 Walk – and now known as the Dronfield Barn Rotary Walk, but I’m going to call it the Round Dronfield Walk and thereby sow confusion henceforth and potentially in perpetuity.  What we can all agree on though, is that this is a circular countryside walk round (spoiler alert) Dronfield.  A walk promoted and cared for by The Dronfield Hall Barn group. It passes through the hamlet of Summerley and the villages of Coal Aston, Mickley and Holmesfield.  It’s about 14½ miles, and includes 11+ stiles.  Apparently.  Anyways, Smiley Selfie Queen has been on about doing this route for a while, and why not?  Could be interesting.  A chance to find new routes and flex newly found navigational skills.  The problem is, it’s harder than you might think to find the walk route.

You can buy a useful (well, let’s find out) book all about the route for £3, the proceeds for this go to supporting the maintenance and upkeep of the path. You can buy the book at the Dronfield Hall Barn apparently, I don’t know, I just parasitised the one Smiley Selfie Queen brought along.  Mind you, our fates were intertwined, she may have sourced the book, but it was I who would step up to take the navigational lead (I know, desperate times) so it was in here interests to ensure I was properly equipped to do so!

Fair play, the presentation is lovely, and there are photos and descriptors, but… and I consider this a major omission, no actual maps, and no indication of how long each section is.  Also, something of a sense of a treasure map that is fixed at a singular point in time.  Helpful the day it was written, but I can a walker/runner really rely on a direction that suggests you look out for a stile in a holly bush…   It means you are potentially a hostage to fortune if landmarks shift and change as inevitably they do. Stiles may come and go, boundaries shift.  The airstrip will probably stay put, but who knows?  I wasn’t feeling overly confident in the book as sole source of finding our way.

I did find an OS map link for the Dronfield 2000 Rotary walk, and it looks OK, but couldn’t work out how to print it off and also it describes the walk as 11 miles, so that might be a jolly nice walk, to do, but possibly isn’t The Walk we were reckoning on.

os route

In the end, we went for belt and braces.  Smiley Selfie Queen would bring the book, I ordered a bespoke OS  map with Dronfield at its core (yes, you can, I had no idea either ’til a couple of weeks ago, genius gizmo, if an expensive one).  I used a Strava route acquired through Smiley Selfie Queen’s contacts or stalking behaviour, depending on your point of view.  Once we’d identified this mark who’d done the route pretty accurately, I basically tried to transcribe that path onto my OS map.  It might not be massively close to the intended route, who knows, but it did mean even if we deviated from the ‘correct’ path we’d never actually be lost.  It was really hard, and involved prescription glasses, a magnifying class and lots of swearing.

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Also, I realised belatedly that whilst it was ‘logical’ to put Dronfield at the centre of my customised map, this was also the worst possible design for a user-friendly map as it meant I was constantly having to fold and refold and unfold the blooming map.  It was helpful en route certainly, but a pain to use.  Why people voluntarily do orienteering challenges I can’t imagine.  Maps are such a blooming faff!  Much better to be hopelessly slow at running events and so you can just follow the lead of those in front.  I accept this strategy is flawed, as it depends on keeping the other runners in sight, which I can’t always do to be fair, due to lacking the necessary turn of speed to keep visual contact.  However,  for the most part this strategy has served me well. You basically need to follow my advice and other runners’ leads at your own risk.  If you are on the fells in the snow and the last little dot of a runner disappears over the horizon then clearly you may as well just lay down and die, because it’s game over then, if you don’t know where you are.  Just to be clear. Works OK at most parkruns though, so that’s the main thing.

Where was I?  Oh yes, planning a route recce of the Dronfield Round Walk or whatever you choose to call it.

We agreed on provisions and timings.  It is only 14.5 miles, but with faffing and getting lost etc and it being unknown terrain and elevation we could be out for hours.  Interestingly, I found a reference to a guided walk of the route online, and they describe it as ‘strenuous’ and recommended allowing 6 1/2 hours, which seems generous.  Recceing routes is always time-consuming though, so we figured we could be out for a while. We’d meet early, so as not to have to rush.

It’s humbling really.  Only last Sunday, some ultra runners took on the Sheffield Way Relay 47 + miles and also there was a Ladybower 50 (50+ miles). They didn’t only embark on this, they even accomplished these challenges without  having to lie down in a foetal position bleeding from their ears afterwards!.  I know, I would have thought such a fate inevitable.  Yet, I  myself can testify that one of them at least was to be seen cheerily tucking into a pot noodle* barely an hour after the event, when by rights she should have been at the very least lying on the floor in a star shape with a foil blanket carelessly tossed across her.  These people are clearly super-human however, whereas I am not.   Lightweight I may be (not in every sense alas) but even for this 14.5 mile sojourn I would head out prepared.  I would take a fleece and maybe even sandwiches, and a magnifying glass to go with my map, which even with a 4cm to the km scale is still too tiny to make out with my over 50 eyesight.  I’d always thought people were exaggerating when they did that thing in the supermarket of holding jars at arms length squinting, trying to make out ingredients or whatever.  Now I am that person.  It’s hard being me, it really is.

One thing we could agree on was starting point.  Car park behind Coal Aston village hall on the Eckington Road.  Postcode S18 3AX.   This is a recommended place from which to set off.  There is a map of the route there too apparently, and hopefully therefore reasonable signage to get us underway…  The walk was relaunched as the Dronfield Barn Rotary Walk in March 2018 to some aplomb, so we were hopeful.  Hope over experience hasn’t always served me well, but this time maybe.  It matters not anyway, life should be full of surprises, that is how micro-adventures are made!

So the day dawned, the forecast was fair, but it has been nippy of late and I was taking no chances, so I basically covered up as if for an arctic storm.  Lots of layers.  I drove out to our rendezvous squinting into the sun. Curses, why didn’t I think to bring my sun glasses, I should have anticipated snow blindness if not bright autumn rays.  Oh well, next time.  We planned to meet 8.15 for 8.30 departure.  We did achieve this, but the traffic getting to Coal Aston at that time in the morning was horrendous.  I’d imagined it would be a sleepy little place, but not so, it was heaving, congested even, though easy enough to find the village hall and loads of parking round the back.

So the first thing we did, was get back in a car, and nip back up/down the road to the rather grand route map of where we were heading. It’s important to document these things for posterity.  What a vacuum in the world of JPEGs would there be had we not paused to take this shot?

I know!  Might be that the known universe would have imploded, but fortunately we’ll never know, as we the recceing dream team took the shot so you won’t have to!  Also, it reminded us what the signs were we needed to look out for en route, so that’s good to know:

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Only, they didn’t all look quite like that to be honest, but near enough.

So once my recce partner had finished laughing at my kit, we headed off, trying to use the book. I’m still not wholly convinced by the book. It’s beautifully done, and lovingly put together but the instructions assume some local knowledge.  So the first direction to ‘walk downhill to the allotment site’ makes sense because of the downhill bit, but no sense in that you don’t know where the allotments are until you reach them, and even then you don’t because they weren’t visible from the path we followed, so it was all a bit confusing. Similarly ‘follow way marks through Owler Car Wood’ only make sense if you know where this wood is.  The upshot was I did a lot of squinting at the map to try to marry up the directions, and we did get round OK, but it wasn’t an entirely smooth navigational process.  With the map and the book though, we might have been a bit off piste at times, but we were always ‘lost’ in the right direction, which is a good start.

Anyways, we ended up on a broad open, flat path and set off at a fair old lick.  It is still extraordinary to me how quickly you can be in open countryside once you walk away from the main roads.  This path was really obvious (we were going clockwise by the way) and although sadly some footpath signs had tumbled into the undergrowth, the runes were good.  The marking of the route wasn’t perfect, but I was really impressed by the number of lovingly restored stiles, hard landscaping by putting in new steps and extra benches that are clearly part of the relaunch of the route earlier in the year.  Impressive, but also fragile, it was heartening how good the route was in some places, but astonishing how in others already routes were overgrown and signs broken by either accident or design.  The Dronfield Heritage Trust request that users make donations to help with the upkeep of the route. If the mood should take you, you can do that here www.dronfieldhallbarn.org

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So off we trotted.  Incidentally, one important consideration when finding a recce buddy, is not only compatibility in walk/ run/ yomping pace and distance expectations, but also shared communication objectives.  For some this might be companionable silence, and I can like that too, but on this occasion we were to be out for a while.  We both agreed that therefore in planning this recce it had been mutually important to find someone  with whom we’d be able to pass the time with idle chit chat important putting the world to rights conversation and sharing tips on running craft.  We didn’t want a walk where the last 6 hours would be just extended awkward silences as conversation faded away to nothing until we could only hear the noise of each other breathing and only the occasional passing of tumbleweed to break the tension in the air.  I can report that we have yomped out together before, and this situation has never yet arisen.  Rather more likely, is frantic Facebook messaging later of the ‘oh, I forgot to tell you’ variety. Point of information, if you are heading out on this route, choose your companion wisely, it’s potentially a long one first time out if you are stopping and starting to find the way.

Through the fields, over a stile – there were squillions of those today. If you have an i-spy sticker book of styles you are in for a rare treat on this route.  Not gonna lie, the novelty of spotting different styles of stile did fade during the day, but not at this point.  Off to the right, through a hedge and into the woods.

There was a great deal of up and over stiles, and also a lot of in and out of the woods.  Plenty of little footbridges – some of which we were directed to ignore, which seems a little harsh…

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There were lots of arrows, so that was grand, but the lack of clarity about the distance between various landmarks was perplexing.  I felt I had to refer to the map a lot, although interestingly, the book did become more usable in the later sections, whether that’s because I’d got more comfortable with how it was set out, or because it was more accurately described I’m honestly not sure.  The important thing though, is that just half an hour in, and I was way too hot. Way too hot, and also, a bit squinty.  I needed my glasses for map reading purposes but they seemed to just concentrate the suns rays in my eyes like a laser.  Not ideal.  I tried not to moan too much.  It makes me look like a rambling librarian though don’t you think?

I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I do know, that having to wear glasses for such purposes is a new thing for me.  I used to manage fine without them apart from for working at the computer and watching TV, and I do have a really tiny telly.   I am definitely ageing now.  No wonder I’m slowing down…  The photos are a really good example of task allocation and team work by the way.  Smiley Selfie Queen is in charge of selfie shots, and I was in charge of route finding… albeit often from the rear. In my defence, you can’t walk and map read simultaneously, so I did have to keep stopping to clarify here you were and also Smiley Selfie Queen has 10 youthfulness years on me plus the unfair advantage of actually training and running regularly, so I was always going to be scampering along behind.  It worked.  Don’t knock it.

The first section seemed to take an age, we were constantly trying to get our bearings, and trying to second guess the instructions in the map.  When it says continue through so many fields, what constitutes a field boundary.  I mean, does it have to be an actual hedge line say, or might it be some memory in the earth with a raised ridge of soil.

Although we kept moving, we also were also in these early stages prone to keep stopping to look at features of interest.  The views were pretty good, and quite fun to try to work out where we were.  Plus I kept having vague flashbacks as I had been in these parts before in a different life exploring with a friend and her equine companions.  This explains why I got very excited when I recognised the pig farm next to the wind turbine at one point, and my yomping companion was similarly captivated by the water tower which you can espy pretty clearly for large sections of the route.  Each to their own eh?  And no, I can’t now remember which sections gave which views, you’ll just have to go check it out for yourself and make sure you annotate your route guide for future reference.

Some instructions were very section specific, but quite helpful  That field really did have an awkwardly sloping start, and would indeed be treacherous if wet under foot.  Weather was perfect for us though.

One cause for excitement was the mysterious constructions within the woods, remnants of an industrial past.  We found what looked like a sunken doorway – a portal to a subterranean alternative world perhaps?  Nope, disappointingly, it was just a bridge when viewed from the other side, then again, what better cloak  for a parallel universe than to pass it off as but a little ancient woodland bridge, now devoid of its troll?  Just saying.  Be careful out there people, anomalies and passageways in the space / time continuum are everywhere.  You have been warned.  Selfie Queen was fearless cavorting above, but I didn’t see her volunteering to run through that particular vortex on this outing.  It was noted.  You can sense these things sometimes, even without consciously knowing them…

On reflection, this was quite an eventful section, so maybe that’s why it took us blooming ages to get round.  Emerging from the woods, we had further challenges to overcome. Specifically, cows.  Mean looking bovines, blocking the stile ahead…

cs super scary cows

OK, really not mean looking ones at all.  But it is a consideration, small cows grow into big ones, and there is much contradictory advice on what to do.  Some advocate the go large, make yourself as huge and loud as possible to shoo them off, and let your dog loose.   Not sure what you do if you don’t have a dog to loosen – sacrifice your running buddy presumably, so best go out with a few, preferably some slower than yourself (that’s hard for me to achieve) and including some you are willing to return home without.  Also challenging, as most of the runners I know are lovely, and granted, in an ideal world you’d most probably want to keep them all.  Then again, you can’t keep everything or you’ll end up on the UK equivalent of ‘Hoarders’ assuming the film crews can fight their way through the junk mail and stacks of other miscellaneous detritus you’ve piled up in the hall and find a way in…   The point is, cattle do need to be treated with respect.  Other advice is to calmly placate them according to a more recent Trail Runners article.  This Plymouth herald article what to do when cows attack seems sensible too, but then again, who knows what their cattle calming credentials really are?  I do try to avoid them, cows that is, not (knowingly) Plymouth Herald journalists, and with cows and young calves would take a massive detour if necessary.  I actually think the best strategy is be calm, but then if they do charge, that’s when you ‘go large’ and get the hell outta there as best you can.

These few were fairly cute though. Young and unsure.  We had a brief stand off, oh and photo op (obvs)

cs the cows

Then just slowly walked towards them along the wall line, me acting as a human shield for Selfie Queen (I might die, but at least she would be able to document my final moments) and as we got close they snorted a bit and trotted away from the stile so we could safely pass.  Great team work there, and all involved lived to tell the tale.

Onward.  Through the cow field, ending up on the Troway road, and back to Eckington Road (which really is scarily busy – the speed those cars come past!)  and then more stiles, and hedges and open fields and comedy gates, standing alone and proud, despite the absence of any notable boundary fencing that required their presence as a way through.  We espied weird tape that might have been from a crime scene, or a hang over from some sporting event. You never can quite tell.  And a hidden treasures van.  Bit of feedback for them, your treasure isn’t going to remain hidden for long if you keep advertising its presence.  I wouldn’t rely on it as a landmark if you are retracing our steps though, it might move.  Mind you, I was grateful for the seemingly  unmoving blue van parked up in Bradwell when I did the Dig Deep 30 mile ultra the other month.  Useful landmark for which way to go on the day when 18 miles in my brain was fried.

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We ventured onward, puzzling over the references to the airstrip.  You are told to walk parallel to this at one point, but as we couldn’t see it or fathom what it was doing there.  In fact, when you do reach it, its presence was proclaimed due to the flamboyant disporting of a wind sock.  Turns out, if we’d read the book, we’d know this to be Apperknowle Airfield, which is still used, and was originally used by the English Steel Corporation (later British Steel) for business flights.   Who knew?

This was quite a fun bit, the weather was gorgeous, even though I was far too hot, and trying to fight the urge to complain too much about being overdressed.  You have pretty good views, though we didn’t know to look out for the Chesterfield Crooked spire which was it seems a missed opportunity.   Personally, I also particularly enjoyed the presence of another gate without a border, and also the heavy plant kit provided for marshals in these parts.  Normally at junior parkrun I’ll make do with a high viz, but the addition of machinery like this could well be a game changer in future.

Somehow, really don’t know how, we missed the path beyond the airstrip and ended up joining the minor road at the ‘wrong’ bit, not that it mattered too much, due to my map reading deciphering skills which are now legend.  Not legend enough to stop us going wrong, but legend enough for me to find out where we were instead.  Go me.  The path we should have taken emerges next to a handily located bench which would have been great for sitting in and taking in views and sustenance.  We didn’t really stop as such, but there were quite a few handily located benches and even a few pubs along the way, even if they were mostly shut on a Wednesday morning.

Finally, onto second part of the walk. That’s two out of seven.  Oops, don’t worry, my photographing and attention to detail started to tail off, and I’ll speed up in my account too.

So onward.  Next challenge was fence clambering skills.  The true pros save time by fence vaulting apparently.  We didn’t try this.  Point of information, a true one, is that I learned that one of the relay runners for the Sheffield Way Relay actually went to recce every gate on the 10 mile section to suss how they could most quickly be negotiated and by what means.  Talk about marginal gains!  This is what marks out the elite I suppose. In my world I like to faff about assessing which end opens and give a gate a bit of a shake to see if it will take my weight before attempted to clamber over the hinge end if necessary.  Given our lack of experience in this respect, I think our gate clambering was pretty good.

So then we had horses to contend with.  They came over to say hello.  This was past Summerley Hall which is an astonishing building, built in the 1600’s apparently.  That’s according to the guide-book, I have no way of telling.  There was a footpath sign pointing into a field just beyond this to the left, but no obvious path, and it did feel like we were trespassing although there must be a path.  I wondered if the farm had sent us round away from the official route, it wasn’t difficult to find our way, but I was a bit uncomfortable about whether we should be passing that way.  Our new equine friend was pleased to see us though, though finding us polo-free, didn’t bother to follow us back down to the bottom of the field from whence he’d come.

more stiles – so many stiles:

Amazing gate at the bottom (we didn’t try to clamber over this one).  PMT stables eh?  Not sure of that as a marketing ploy, maybe that’s why the gate is now rusted over.

and then you go under an unexpected railway. Well, it was unexpected for me, I suppose I’ve spoiled the surprise for you now.

You emerge a bit later and cross the road and then, just when you think there can’t possibly be a footpath anywhere around here, you might, if you are a) lucky, b) eagle-eyed and c) in possession of a map and a certain amount of logic, you can deduce you do go through a little side gate into the yard of what looks very much like private property.  It is legit though, the signs say so, so hold your nerve!

This was a bit strange, you go through the yard, in our case, towards the light, which was pretty much blinding at this point.  There were some large silos, which back-lit by the morning sun looked to me like some weird shipwreck, ripped up in a tsunami and dumped unexpectedly inland.  I had to have a sandwich break at this point, not because I was overwhelmed with the beauteous sights, but because I was peckish, and also thirsty, because I’d been sweating buckets from my inappropriately numerous layers of clothing.

My photos might be out of sequence, but I think it was here there was a newly built section of fencing, presumably to give privacy to the houses that are adjacent to the path.  However, this meant the path for Dronfield Round Walk users such as our good selves was narrow and nettly, it is very prone to getting overgrown, and just needs more people to keep walking the path to stop it becoming impassable.  This was the first nettle injury of the morning.  Long leggings most definitely required. At least we didn’t get attacked by hornets and go into anaphylactic shock or anything. That would be a bad day out running indeed.

It seemed a long hike up hill at this point.  The sun was strong and hot and the slope endless.  If you were to do this as a run, once you had familiarised yourself with the route it would be a good training one, quite tough.  I still can’t make my mind up about the route, parts of it were really genuinely lovely, but it lacked the truly spectacular panoramas of say Stanage or Burbage, but that’s probably an unfair comparison.  What it did have though was woods, stiles, interesting fungi and the potential to get lost.

In what I know now to be Monk wood, we could hear the main road, but initially missed the path that would take us to the bridge crossing for the A61.  I realised we were going wrong and we backtracked and found a way through, but not sure what happened there, lapse in concentration (we do know how to talk) or maybe the path we needed to pick up to the left wasn’t all that clear.

Going over the bridge is entertaining, but the best bit, is there is a helter-skelter like descent at the end, the spiral bridge no less, my photos of it aren’t great, but there was a nice one in the guide-book.  Would be fun to run down that full pelt, though we decided to save that excitement for another day!

It is a hard right into the woods at the bottom, and more woodness and stile ness, including the instruction ‘turn half right towards the holly bushes to find a hidden stile’, so many holly bushes – some laden with red berries already, and so many stiles.  You know, stiles can really lose their novelty value after a bit. The route is described somewhere as having 11+ stiles, but it was more like a gazillion +, no idea why 11 is deemed to be the appropriate scale of stiley-ness for a walk.  Below that is presumably ‘fine’, more than that in number tips a walk over into the more challenging territory of 11+ .  This leads to much shuddering and shaking of heads.   It makes it even more impressive that a work team has been out and revamped, replaced or built from scratch all of these in recent months if their appearance is anything to go by.  They may have been obstacles, but they were well maintained ones.  Stiles also meant directional arrows, which are always a boon when out exploring!  🙂 Might have been here somewhere my yomping friend got lacerated by brambles.  There were many about.  She lived to tell the tale, but the scars will endure also.  Vicious stuff brambles, it’s lucky blackberries are nice and make up for it.

Nice views though, and the most enormously high gateway I’ve ever seen, either that or we somehow shrank en route, or maybe they have particularly enormous livestock roaming in these parts.  If that is the case, I’m quite glad we didn’t encounter them, I mean that is some gateway is it not?  Cattle that big I’d not be offering myself up as a human shield, rather offering up my yomping buddy as a human sacrifice. Harsh but true, none of us really know what we would do when it really came down to it, best hope is that we never have to find out.  Don’t let on though, I have few enough people willing to venture out on the trails with me as it is…

I want to pause for a moment to mention about the bench and gate and stile dedications along the route.  You can sponsor any one of these additions to the route for a fee, and it was quite nice reading the placards.  Not only people, but some enterprising or possibly publicity seeking pooches had also got themselves immortalised along the way.  Nice touch.  Hurrah for Bess and Peg and also to Dot and Des Dunkley with their fabulously alliterated names, what a great thing to do.

After section four, comes the imaginatively named fifth part of the walk.

The ‘board walk’ was surrounded on all sides with huge bull rushes which was spectacular and fun, not so much a ‘wet area’ as a full-blown lake in season I’d say.  When you emerge into what I now know to be Cartledge there are some seriously nice houses.  So nice you can’t quite believe they are private dwellings, but I think they must be.  One had a full on box hedge maze in its front garden.  Really lovely, though I wonder if it would actually be a little strange to live somewhere like here.

I’m reading the blurb after the walk, but wish I’d paused a bit more en route now.

I am told that from Holmesfield Church for example – which we just scampered on by – ‘there are extensive views eastwards from here and the nearest high ground is far away across the great plains of Europe, in the Ural Mountains of Russia!’  That is actually quite remarkable and indeed a point of interest.  Does that mean if I’d taken my binoculars with me and really squinted I might have seen Russian Cossack dancing going on somewhere on them there mountains?  I’m pretty sure it must do.  Next time eh.  We couldn’t have had a better day for clear skies and long views though, so can’t promise you’ll see that yourself if you do go to check it out.  Maybe it will be enough to know it’s happening on your sight lines.  Impressive eh?

ural mountains

Holmesfield Park Wood was quite sweet, with lots of signs and a picnic spot and clearly a lot of love and care has gone into making this a good interactive space.  My pictures don’t really do it justice.  It was all pretty quiet as we went through.  We saw hardly anyone all morning now I come to think of it, masses of horses, a few cows, two dog-walkers and that was about it.

Can you guess what comes next dear reader?  Yes!  That’s right!  The sixth part of the walk!  You are on fire now.

From here, the route was much simpler to follow, and it was possible to pretty much rely on the book.  Well once we made it to the golf course it was.  En route to that point though we had to cross a scary road towards Birchitt Farm where one of the signs has been knocked off – farm machinery rather than vandalism I think, but you needed your wits about you to find the turning.   Some friendly ponies, narrow tracks.  A dead magpie.  You don’t often see them dead, I wonder what had happened to it, I hope not poison, it was just odd to see it lying there on a track and not predated.

This section also eventually opened up into much more runnable sections with some great views.  Although there were some exceptions to that.  When we got to the golf course – which seemed a bit incongruous with its manicured greens alongside farm land, there was a narrow tree-lined track which Selfie Queen Smiley remarked would prevent you from ever being found if a stray golf ball came whizzing through the undergrowth and struck you with such force you dropped dead on impact.  This didn’t happen to us today, but consider yourself to have heard the health and safety briefing and been alerted to our very own risk assessment.  We could hear some golfers thwacking away.  Really don’t understand the point of golf, but each to their own eh.

We’d been out for hours now, and it started to get a bit stressful as my Smiley Selfie Queen Buddy was needing to get back, and we’d been out longer than expected.  However,  we still needed to check the route and to be honest I wasn’t really up for a late turn of speed.  We pressed on to the final seventh part of the walk.  We agreed to press on together.

we passed under the requisite two bridges to reach the main road

DSCF4968

this part of the route was something of a shock.  It was really busy with cars going a bit too fast for comfort.  I couldn’t work out where they were heading, as there isn’t really anywhere up the track other than a dead-end.  Oh well, a mystery for another time.

Very nearly back to the start now.  Across a busy road, and pretty much a straight line across some fields various through hedges and ducking down allies until you emerge back on Eckington road where we started.  At this point we said our farewells.  Smiley Selfie Queen sprinted off to get her car and head home, I nipped into the garage for some orange juice and took the official route back, which goes behind the little garden area with the sign we’d photographed at the start and dodges through a mini housing estate for no apparent reason beyond avoiding the busy main road I suppose.  It would be fair to say it was something of an anticlimactic finish.

Oh yes, nearly forgot, my Strava route – of course my watch gave up on me again.  Of course it did.  Not that you missed much in the last little bit, just the dodge through a housing estate for no obvious purpose I was telling you about.  Oh well.

strava route

So that was that.  Walk done.

It’s definitely interesting to have done it because it shows you how everywhere links up and there are some unexpectedly lovely bits along the way.  It would be a good run route if you were training for trail marathons as it has good distance and surprisingly a lot of hills.  You could have paused at any number of pubs or cafes along the way had you wanted to – clearly we were hard-core and self-sufficient so didn’t – though you might want to think about time of day you are out as they won’t necessarily be open.  I’d like to see this path stay clear, and the best way to achieve that is for people to go out and use it – oh, and buy the book guide too, as whatever it’s limitations, it is a way to fund the upkeep of the footpaths.  Some of the work they’ve put in to rebuild steps and put up really strong stiles is very impressive, and will cost money to maintain.  The signage and new stiles, fencing and even laboriously laid steps and little bridges in some areas are an absolute labour of love by the team that put this together.  Virtual high-fives to all of them.  I might be curious enough to go back some time and do it in the other direction, just because, and I expect next time round would be a lot quicker because obviously there would be a lot less faffing.  Probably not ever going to lure me away from the hills and the heather, however, I would cautiously recommend, but keep your wits about you navigationally.  I think honestly, it’s a route that once you’ve done and ‘ticked off’ you might not rush to go back and do again, but if it’s on your doorstep, as it is mine then yep, you should do it.  Keep those footpaths clear and who knows, it may even put you in good stead for future legs of the Sheffield Way Relay, leg 4 in particular… just saying….

In other news, we also saw a rather lovely ladybird, but unfortunately it’s a harlequin one, and they aren’t good news.  I’ve actually reported its presence to the Harlequin Ladybird Survey people, does that make me weirdly geeky, a responsible citizen or a latent entomologist?  I have no idea.  Oh well.  Other shots worthy of inclusion are below:

My conclusion then is ‘good in parts’ with a recommendation for it as a winter option as I think it would be beautiful in the frost and the paths would stay passable, but what do I know.

There you go then, not my most inspired blog post ever, but hopefully you’ll get the gist if you fancy stepping out in Dronfield, and why wouldn’t you.  You can nip in to the myriad of nurseries/ garden centres on the way home should the mood take you if your legs hold up that long.

Oh, and can we have a minute’s applause to the good people who decided to revamp and renew the route, your labours are much appreciated.  I thank you!  Thank you too lovely Dronfield for opening your paths for us to discover your delights.

Happy recceing and running until next time.

🙂

 

*Oh, and by the way, as I like to be helpful, if you are an ultra runner with an interest in pot noodles, or even if you are not an ultra runner but are still interested in pot noodles, add a visit to the instant noodle museum to your bucket list, you’re welcome.

cup noodle museum

That will give the Sulabh International Toilet museum a run for its money.  In fact, they may be yin to each others yan.  Go check it out people, you know you want to!

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