This is not intended as a walk guide
The riverside path through Chee Dale is an adventure that can only be undertaken when the river is not in flood. Deep in the depths of this limestone gorge where trees and branches wear overcoats of moss and ferns, shadows and beams of light dance side by side. Bridges and viaducts hopscotch over the Wye which babbles, darts, dashes and gurgles on route to Bakewell from Buxton.
Towering buttress cliffs of limestone, in part striped blood red with iron oxide are a challenge to climbers. One is called Plum Buttress, whilst the Chee Tor Girdle Route is a 167-metre horizontal traverse some 20 metres above the cliff base.
Two strips of stepping stones are a man-made assault course beside and beneath overhanging rocks that trickle water down your neck as you look down to make sure every step is placed accurately. Through all this dramatic scenery, Victorian engineers decided to construct a railway line, cutting through the hills by driving long tunnels and striding above the river in a succession of high-arched viaducts.
And so it was that I parked up early at Wye Dale when frost still lingered in the shadows. We set off on our Easter stroll before a mass of bank holiday visitors descended after filling up on their full English breakfasts.
Nellie and I followed the access drive as it twisted and turned to Blackwell Mill, now just a row of cottages but on the site of a medieval corn mill, thought to date back almost a thousand years. All that is left is the weir which has now been designated as an ancient monument.
When the railway line was in operation, the station here was called Blackwell Mill Halt. Mainly used for railway workers who occupied the terrace of eight cottages, it was also used by visitors. However, the platforms were very short, long enough for only one carriage to alight, and with a nearby small building for shelter.
A collection of shiny bikes were being displayed at the Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire Centre in readiness for those wanting to pedal along the Monsal Trail. Our route however was to cross over the wooden footbridge and then follow a riverside path downstream. In parts it was a bit muddy with some sections eroded by flooding. The sound of water rumbling past and songbirds around us was not dissimilar to an obscure classical music composition, very calming and soul soothing.
We wandered right at the water’s edge for over a mile, tip-toeing over stepping stones until we came to an impressive footbridge which enabled us to cross over a deep ravine where rapids raced beneath. We then climbed up steps to follow a narrow path, emerging at the gaping mouth entrance to a former railway tunnel with lights like inverted cats eyes stretching into the distance.
The return to Blackwell Mill was a delight. The Monsal Trail is so easy to walk after our trip hazard totter down below, and soon it will be flanked by fabulous wild flowers that are eagerly waiting for some sunshine and warmth.
Pedestrians and pedlars like pilgrims on a mission were now beginning to appear, some accompanied by excited dogs on walkies or family groups having quality outdoor time together.
At the end of the trail we retraced out steps along the access road. The sun was beginning to penetrate through the wooded sides of the valley and I noticed some wonderful reflections of trees on the surface of the water. All around me appeared to be turning green after the drab greys and browns of winter. Shoots were popping up from the ground and leaves were unfurling from buds on branches. The icing on the cake was to see a heron on sentry duty, its neck erect and extended as it eagle-eyed the depths of the river for fish.
What a wonderful way to ease ourselves into the day.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: The other evening mum had some of that red water in a posh glass. It always makes her ditsy and dopey when she sups on that, and when she goes to sleep it seems to make her snoring worse. This particular night she was going at it like an old steam train, keeping me awake. Now I do love my snoozes and I was getting a bit annoyed. I even considered going downstairs to sleep on the sofa but it’s nothing like as comfy as curling up on the duck-down duvet on mum’s bed. Anyway, I thought I’d try something different to get her to shut up, so I gently placed my paw over mum’s mouth. It didn’t half wake her up quick. Thankfully she then rolled over and fell into a silent sleep. Peace at last! Big smiles. Nellie xx