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Category Archives: Peak District

Time travelling through the woods

A trip that begins with the directions “make your way through the partly abandoned wireworks and turn right” really ought to be confined to an episode of Scooby Doo. But my walk today involves no ghosts, disgruntled fairground managers or enormous sandwiches in the basement. This is where I first fell in love with the Peak District.

  

Country walks as such weren’t a massive part of my childhood. So when the church youth group packed a dozen scrawny kids into three shared cars on a wet and cold Friday night one October, I could t wait to begin our adventure to Shining Cliff Woods near Ambergate. 

The forboding industrial entrance of the wireworks – straddling the River Derwent – was like a secret door to another land. It was dark, muddy and accessible only on foot. Torches led the way up a steep and slippery incline, the forest acting as a shelter from the heavy rain, but equally as a hazard – full of identical trees in which you could easily get lost. By day, some thirty years on, it’s a little easier to follow the trail.

  

And after what seemed hours of walking we reached our home for the weekend. Shining Cliff Youth Hostel. In the best traditions of the Youth Hostels Association, things were basic. Shared dormitories, plastic washbowls for ablutions and a massive wood burning stove in the middle of the building. This was glamping long before the hipster who invented the term was even born.

  

I was completely hooked on the whole hostelling thing immediately. Here was an organisation that owned funky properties right across the country in wonderful locations. Huts, country mansions, even castles. Not only that, once your were 14 they trusted you to stay there without any adult supervision. And it was something like £4.50 a night.

As well as ticking off as many Peak District youth hostels as I could (there were about 20 at the time), for about a year I also volunteered at Shining Cliff. On Saturdays I’d get the rather convenient 253 bus that ran between Ilkeston and Bakewell. Nobody quite knows why such a daily service existed, nor its purpose – but with a youth fare I could get a return for less than £2. We’d help to maintain the building, collect money from guests and, most importantly, stamp their membership cards.

 

Every hostel had its own stamp – literally a badge of honour to prove you’d been there. And after an adventurous night in, the quaint communal practice of handing out jobs – which could be anything from making up a few beds to chopping  wood for the burner. 

Today, of course, things are very different. The YHA has had to adapt to the times, and the demands of a public who insist on a few more home comforts. Shared rooms still exist, but most hostels now offer private  accommodation, priced at around the level of a Bed and Breakfast. And sadly the number of locations had declined – relatively remote properties require relatively higher expenditure.

But Shining Cliff Woods are still there, owned as they’ve always been by The Grith Pioneers – a charitable organisation originally set up to run outdoorsy activities for young unemployed people. It’s a simple but wholesome concept and the woods themselves have barely changed save for a bit of tree felling and replanting.

  
As I’m walking down the track back toward the wireworks, and old lady using two hiking poles climbs steadily through the trees. She must be in her seventies, and although frail, is clearly loving every step. “It was like a river down this path last week,” she enthuses. I comment that the place still looks the same as it did in the 1980s. 

“Good. Well, enjoy your time here,” she replies. And I have.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2016 in Peak District, Travel Stuff

 

The Back Garden

Most of my travel blogs involve places thousands of miles away. Which made me realise, I actually got the travel bug almost on my own doorstep. When I was growing up, the Peak District was accessible thanks to heavily subsidised council bus routes, and concessionary travel which meant that, as a teenager, I could go to every corner of it for a maximum return fare of £2.50.

It was stupidly cheap – as was my other secret weapon, the area’s brilliant network of Youth Hostels. For less than £10 a night you could stay in one of three historic halls (Castleton, Hartington and Ilam), several manor houses (like Ravenstor) or a hut in the woods. But once I’d discovered this place, I never wanted to leave.

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This is the view from Curbar Edge, just to the north of Chatsworth House. In the valley below, the River Derwent makes its journey south towards Matlock (somewhere to the left) and the Ladybower Reservoir north (to the right). It’s been a little misty today, but that doesn’t make the landscape any less spectacular.

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The jagged rocks here are gritstone, and mark the boundary towards the Dark Peak and the White Peak, which is characterised by limestone. On a warm day, the Eastern Edges are full of walkers – but the area is so vast, you can always find a rock to call your own.

Much of the Peak District’s economy relies on tourism. So it’s a bit strange – and a little disappointing – to see a big sign in Castleton’s tourist information centre saying “WE REGRET WE ARE UNABLE TO GIVE CHANGE FOR THE CAR PARK.” Why is is? It strikes me as typically British to herd the masses towards an attractive location, only to make it nigh on impossible for them to easily stop there without pratting about trying to find the correct change. It may well be because the car park is run by the District Council, whilst the visitor centre is run by the National Park Authority. Petty politics getting in the way of a good day out.

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But Castleton is so pretty, and the smell of fish and chips is so tempting, that I forgive this misdemeanour. In any case, the car park was full so I definitely didn’t find a side street on a housing estate. And nor should you do the same. Actually, many driveways seem to have a supply of faux “no parking” cones, in readiness for the weekends. Clearly nobody who lives here cares about the local economy either. How about some enterprise? Rent out your vast driveways.

And so to Tideswell, known as the Cathedral of the Peak because of its substantial church.

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The whole village oozes prettiness. And no pettiness when it comes to parking either. You can PARK ON THE STREET FOR FREE. That’s the way to do it – and to persuade me to spend a few quid in the village shop. “Browsers are welcome” reads the sign, giving way to a table offering free home made biscuits and pork pies. What’s not to like?

And on a nice afternoon, there’s always time for a short diversion to Monsal Head.

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The old railway viaduct now forms part of the Monsal Trail – accommodating walkers and cyclists. Personally I’d recommend a midweek visit. If the weather is good, it’ll still be crowded. But weekends up here are just bonkers.

So there you are – my back garden when I was growing up. Enjoy it yourself sometime. Just don’t allow your cat to shit on it.

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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Peak District, Travel Stuff