Walking With Nellie
by Sally Mosley
HIGH PEAK TRAIL
This is not intended as a walk guide
Yet another grim November day dawned in what had been almost a month of intermittent rain showers, dark skies and a weather forecast constantly predicting doom and gloom. Determined to make the most of it, Nellie and I headed to Longstone Edge, ascending from the village along the narrow road from where it would normally be possible to see for many miles. However, on this particular day the landscape was eerily ensconced in a deep duvet of thick fog. View seekers travel from far and wide, eager to find a space in parking areas here that have been driven into the hillside itself. They often reverse in, allowing them to face forward and enjoy the wonderful vistas from the comfort of their car seats. I remember some months ago sitting here myself on a sunny day to write up a walk whilst enjoying Classic FM play on the radio and being inspired by my surroundings. Now I was the only car to park up, looking out over a Derbyshire that had temporarily disappeared.
After wrapping up well against the elements, Nellie and I headed uphill to a junction where we turned right following the road to Bleaklow Farm, a rather appropriately named property for such a dismal day. Toward the summit of this limestone escarpment High Rake runs parallel with the track. The deep workings that looked on this occasion like a smoking crevasse are fenced off and well signed for danger to avoid anyone falling into the abyss.
Mist was swirling around a small wooded plantation beside the farm, saturating the trees, their trunks running and branches dripping. My face was also getting a good wash by the natural spa effect from above, cleansing my pores a treat.
It was spooky up there to say the least but exciting as well to be facing weather head on. I certainly didn’t expect to see anyone else, so was surprised when a woman and her little black dog jogged past, hesitating to engage in a nice bit of cheery chat. A left at the entrance to the farm drive and we passed through two sets of gates to access the bridlepath that would lead us down to the head of Coombs Dale that lurked somewhere in the mist away to our right.
This fabulous wide grassy track we followed was long ago one of the main roads to Eyam and the haunt of Black Harry, a famous highwayman. I had a bit of a scare and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end (as did Nellie’s hackles) when a lone mountain-biker suddenly emerged from the fog before us. It quickly occurred to me however that Black Harry’s ghost would not be wearing luminous colours or riding a bike!
In 1722 a law was imposed with the death penalty for anyone caught armed and in disguise on a high road, open heath, etc. Black Harry was a notorious 18th-century highwayman who avoided capture on numerous occasions until he was finally apprehended at Wardlow Cop by the Castleton Bow Street Runners, the police force at that time. He was hung, drawn and quartered for his crime with his remains being put on display in a gibbet for all to see.
High up on these exposed hills is a tough life for livestock, especially when weather conditions are bad. Animals find shelter from wind, rain, sleet and snow by snuggling close to walls. A few hardy hawthorn trees dotted around also provide protection I noticed as evidenced by clumps of fleece clinging to low spiky twiglets. The upper branches were glistening with ripe red berries, winter fodder for hungry birds.
The mist cleared a bit but it was raining hard when we reached the multi crossing of ways by Black Harry Gate. Here Nellie and I chose a bridlepath that led us to a rough track proceeding part way around one of the lagoons belonging to the mineral processing works at Cavendish Mill. Although at a distance and fenced off for security there was a point where I caught a murky glimpse of this massive pond, where huddled on the surface was a snuggle of gulls, lapwing and oyster catchers. Even though classed as water birds their heads appeared to be hung low in depression as they sat out the horrible conditions together.
Emerging onto a tarmac road we turned left yet again to follow the road past Longstone Moor Farm that would take us back to the car. We had ascended once more into cloud and so there was still nothing to see of the spectacular landscape that I knew lay all around us. Longstone Moor looks in part like a battlefield, covered in pit holes from old mine workings spread over a patchwork of fields taken in from wild moorland.
Occasional cars slowly passed us by, the occupants no doubt wondering what on earth would possess anyone to be out walking on such a dismal day. Little did they know however that both my dog and I returned home bedraggled but happy from our experience, we then cuddled up on the sofa together for an afternoon snooze, both feeling content after our achievement.
I hope in my next blog to be describing blue skies and hard frozen ground for a much needed change!
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: Readers will have seen from photographs of me that I’m a two tone chocolate and caramel coloured dog a bit like a Rolo, with interesting markings that look like I’m wearing a black mask like Zorro. Mum says I would have been the perfect companion for Black Harry and could have helped him on those old turnpike roads by stalking carriages or running rings around any horse riders that tried to pass us by.