Alport Castles – Peak District

One of the nicest ways to spend time at lunch is sitting viewing some wonderful wildlife. And one of the best spots to do this is in the bird hide at Alport Castles in the Peak District National Park. From within the hide you can watch a pair of Peregrine Falcons tending their nest or their young. The birds fly to and from the crag face, the nest being out of site of the hide. Alport Castles is a perfect place to watch their flight. It always amazes me and I love to hear the calling. They are often joined by Merlin, Sparrowhawk and Long Eared Owl, although they may not welcome these visitors.

I am not very good with identifying birds. One of my long suffering fellow Rangers is often subject to a very brief interrogation by me as I thrust a photo across his eyes. “Whats this bird, looks quite rare?” “Its a blackbird Paul” is generally the reply.

The last time I was in the bird hide a couple came in. They were in their late 70’s, well togged out for a windy day, obviously seasoned walkers. We got to talking and they told me they had been walking in the Peak District since their late teens, so getting on for 60 years. They had met on a rambling weekend, he’d seen her striding across the Manifold river whilst everyone else was tip toeing and knew she was the one. They walked every weekend and once mid week, went on holiday in any mountain range in the world you could care to mention and generally had a ruddy good time. He had worked for the council and she was a librarian. I find people like this fascinating, love meeting and talking to them.

He picked up the bird log book and looked inside. Same as before he said, always the same. We’ve been coming here a fair few years now and the logs are always the same. Didn’t see the bird. No birds. People just need to stay awhile and look at the view. Everything is a rush nowadays.

I left them to their bird watching and went on my way. I’m missing out, I know it. So I am going to get a book, or an app on birds and when they put the hide back up at Alport I will sit there in the peace and quiet, munching my sandwiches and ticking off the birds. Not a bad way to spend the next 60 years.

You can find the bird hide when in season on Walk No.13 of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press

Dark Peak


Alport Moor looking over to Grinah Stones

I had a day out on the high moors of the Dark Peak last Friday. The more I visit this area, the more time I want to spend here.  In large measure it is the desolation, the quietness. No paths on a map mean very few people, long windswept views and time.

Just after the trig I sat on a spot height and just looked at the landscape. Following its contours with my eyes, seeing the shapes, curves, how sensual the wind and rain have made this moor with its rises and falls, like the shape of a woman laying on her side.

Following the curves with my eyes colours started to split, it wasn’t just brown, there were greens and orange, flame reds, yellows the black oily ooze on the surface of the peat, iridescent with blues and purples. The moor is dotted now with the vivid green, almost fluorescent, shock of Sphagnum Mosses, planted to hold the water there and regenerate the peat. It really is a shocking contrast in the midst of all the earth colours. Soon white cotton grass will bud near the mosses, splashes of white, like an impressionist painting.  A double rainbow arched over Grinah stones against a deep powder blue sky, that changed with each new front of the storm, the sky shifting from blue to white to gray and then deep black.

Then the smell of the moor. The first I detected was of the peat, it was reasonably dry where I sat but the peat gave up its scent, earthy, metallic, primal. An old tree stub poked out of the peat bog grey and stark against the black peat backdrop. As I sat I became aware of another more powerful smell. Sea air, brought in off the west coast by the storm. It was heavy with sea salt and I was immediately transported back five decades to the end of the south pier at Blackpool and the smell of the green salty sea. I faced the wind and breathed deeply savouring the salty taste.