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Upper Derwent Valley looking over to Derwent Edge from the war memorial.

Upper Derwent Valley looking over to Derwent Edge from the war memorial.

The Upper Derwent Valley has a special place in my life. I spend a good deal of my time there, as a Ranger working out of the Fairholmes Ranger station, or as a walker exploring its many hidden secrets.

It is a long narrow valley, cut by the River Derwent which rises near to Bleaklow a few miles away and up onto the moors. There are three reservoirs all in line and only one access road. This means that as you work your way up the valley civilisation gradually disappears. The hand of man does not quite leave, but you have to know where and how to look,a neolithic burning platform is pretty hard to spot.

The valley sides at the beginning are covered in farm pasture near to the reservoir, a remnant from before the waters came and farming was held close to the two villages Derwent and Ashopton, both now below the waters. The fields have classic enclosures, walled fields, fairly regular in size and shape.

Further up the valley sides moorland starts to assert its presence. Long dry stone walls enclosing fields so large you cannot define the edges. Moorland is peat country and heather, a managed landscape for grouse and for sheep.

Sentinels sit at the top looking down on all they survey. Gritstone edges, long and shear stand out against the skyline. They march down the valley in long straight lines, carved by water and the wind over millions of years. In places, the gritstone sits perilously balanced on a tapered stone post, thin at the bottom and much much wider at the top, so that you feel if you got too close you might topple the lot and ruin millions of years of geological evolution.

On the west side of the valley are the forest plantations of conifer and some mixed woodland. Forest walking is very different from the high moorland. Wide trails, pine needles, quiet, and cool in summer, dark and foreboding on a grey winter afternoon.

All seasons bring a different aspect, as though the valley has its own weather patterns that stick to the established seasons. It is protected to an extent from the outside world by its length and north-south line at the entrance then turning west on to the moors at its birthplace. Because of this, it holds the weather close to itself, once in the weather has difficulty in getting out again.

Get away from the honeypot that is the national park visitor centre and you can have freedom and if you know where to look, solitude. I have my favourite spots, where I can sit and watch, but I won’t be telling where.