This is not intended as a walk guide
It was another early morning start for me and my little canine friend, both of us having just wiped the sleep from our eyes before heading off in the car together. I parked in Alstonefield with the intention of a dawdle beside the Dove.
We headed out of the village on Lode Lane and took the second turning on the left along Gratton Lane to pass the youth hostel, following a glorious route that took us to the top of Gypsy Bank. The last part was a somewhat overgrown and narrow walled footpath. Rain the day before had dashed tall grasses, wild flowers, nettles and brambles on either side so that we had to fight our way through. Wearing shorts meant that my legs were soon slippery wet and stung by nettles making them even more lumpy bumpy than usual.
The view from the edge of the dale was a delight to behold. I stood for quite some time looking over the valley toward Iron Tors, beyond which once stood the medieval village of Coldeaton. A high tax quota was recorded there in 1334, when the village is thought to have comprised a circle of properties, but why it was later deserted or abandoned is not known.
It was a slow and steady pace down to Coldeaton Bridge. One false move and I could have found myself roly-polying for a dip in the Dove.
We crossed over the narrow footbridge before heading upstream on the glorious riverside path for more than two miles. The Dove was gurgling beside us over a succession of miniature weirs and an intermittence of shallow gravel beds and deep pools. I observed ducks dabbling and a heron take flight when we surprised it. We were the first visitors of the day. I know this because at times my face tickled when I broke invisible gossamer threads of spiders web that had been woven like tightropes from bush to bush or tree to tree across our path.
There were wild flowers in abundance to be found in splashes of bright yellow, purple and gold. One big colourful patch was birdsfoot trefoil known as bacon and eggs, a reminder that I’d headed from home with only a breakfast bar and quick drink for sustenance.
Newly shorn sheep with fat lamb offspring were nibbling on areas of herby vegetation between slitherbank screes and rocky outcrops.
We crossed Frank I’ th’ Rocks Bridge to return to the Staffordshire side of the Dove just after small caves where Charles Cotton of the now demolished Berresford Hall is said to have hidden from his creditors. A few years back when visiting London on a sightseeing day, I happened to go into St James’s Church in Piccadilly, purely by chance. Imagine my surprise to find a wall plaque to his memory and discover that Charles Cotton was buried there 16 February 1687.
Nellie and I now followed a bridlepath up Narrowdale to two tucked away farms, currently undergoing restoration after many years of being unoccupied and neglected. Priory Farm and Narrowdale Farm are surrounded by semi-derelict but historic old stone barns and outbuildings. The last occupants were the Bold brothers who farmed cattle. Back in 2003 it is recorded that their 250 animals was the largest shorthorn herd in Britain. Most were out-wintered and ‘hefted’ on nearby hills, meaning that they were free to wander.
We walked up between the two farms and continued on a bridlepath heading south. As I ascended I kept looking behind me at extensive views emerging of the upper Dove Valley in the distance. The finale to our walk was to follow a clockwise field and stile route around Low Plantation followed by a fabulous walled track taking us back to the outskirts of Alstonefield. This pretty little village is full of chocolate box houses and cottages, many with roses around the door.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: It could be said that I’m an energetic dog. I’m a bit scatty and will jump up if I get the chance. I can leap over logs like a gazelle and run fast like a greyhound on a racetrack, but when I get to an awkward narrow stile I turn into a pathetic and useless wimp! There was one of these stiles on this walk. It was basically an unfriendly slit in between high walls not meant to be jumped over. Mum managed to wriggle her thighs through first but then realised that I wasn’t following. I was stuck! A leg-over wasn’t going to work so poor mum had to ‘snatch and grab’ powerlift all 22 kilos of me and manoeuvre my wriggling torso and long legs over the top of the stile. Being up in her arms made me come over grateful and loving so I managed a few quick slurpy kisses as a thank you. Love you mum xx