Around this time each year I pay a visit to Ouzelden Clough that sits at the head of the Ouzelden inlet in the Upper Derwent Valley. Another couple of weeks and the Clough will become submerged under a green blanket of waist high bracken, hiding all the interesting little features that make this Clough special.
Ouzelden Clough is a narrow, almost perfectly right-angled valley, cut out of the gritstone and peat by the Ouzelden Brook which drains the pastures of Rowlee and Birchinlee and decants the waters, along with its tributaries, out of its north-east facing mouth into the Derwent reservoir. Walk its length east to west and you will have risen 600ft in little more than a mile, finishing on the wide open moorland that separates it from Alport Dale. It sits like a long forgotten land amidst the great moors above and the vast waters below.
The hidden entrance to the Clough intensifies the mythical island feeling. You step off the reservoir road and follow a forest track, through oak woodlands and across a flat plain pasture to the bank of Ouzelden Brook. As I walked across the flood plain I could see long thin beaches of gravel, brought down from the peat moorlands last winter. The sedge was still flat in places and further up stream laid a beech tree its large flat root base sticking out of the water and above the bank. The rains collect on the moors until the peat can absorb no further downpours and then it heads down the brook, breaking out of the banks and spreading wide across the flat grassy pasture. Today the waters were low, a short step and I was across to the remnants of an old dry stone wall from the days when farms stretched out along the valley floor. The word Ouzelden is a combination of Ouzel or Ousel, the bird, and den meaning pasture. So this is the pasture of the Ouzels. Ouzelden Barn sat by the brook, now all that remains are some low walls. When they built the reservoirs in Derwent Valley there was a thought that some buildings might contaminate the waters and so they were removed.
I sat on a small grassy knoll and watched the woodland, a mixture of ancient oak, scots pines and modern forest plantation. A Short Eared Owl flew through the trees, its flight straight and silent. It was the wingspan that caught my attention a long straight block of brown moving horizontally across the eye line. As it passed each tree the image of the bird flickered like a Victorian zoopraxiscope. It disappeared into the darkness of the woodlands interior but my gaze still held the last point I saw it, as if I was waiting for it to return.
The Owl did not return and I moved on up to the old quarry that was used to provide stone for the dam construction in the early part of last century. There are the remains of a small stone hut, perhaps the foreman’s office, still clearly defined. It is a favoured spot of mine for watching and brewing, the low walls making a perfect seat. From here you can see the whole of Ouzelden Clough and out across Derwent reservoir and onwards to Howden moor. The land curves where the waters have cut their way through peat and stone. Steep slopes extend down to the valley floor and along the moorland edge are outcrops of millstone grit. Here in the quarry the stone edge is high from the removal of material for the constructions. Mounds of spoil, grassed now, dot the floor of the quarry, piles of stone, some worked lay around as if found to be wanting in quality and therefore not required. On some you can see initials, carved by the quarrymen perhaps in an idle few minutes. The features that I have come to see are tracks. The tracks work their way up the slopes, away from the quarry floor, intermittently switching back in the opposite direction forming a zigzag pattern up the slope. Where the track changes direction there is a stone seat for want of a better word. It is embedded into the slope at ground level and comprises of a back and two sides mounted around a base, sometimes the base is missing. They are always at the junctions where tracks meet.
I have spent the last few years tracing these tracks and their features, imagining what they were for. In my minds eye I see workmen walking along the pathways from the top of the quarry to the bottom. I see them hewing away at the crag face and fashioning blocks to be taken down to the construction site in the valley below. In winter this would have been a cold depressing place to work. In the rain too.
When access land was introduced the national park installed fencing and a stile from the quarry out on to the moor above. They thought at that time people would come in drives. They haven’t. Save for, what I assume are workmen’s tracks, the only other trails are sheep trods from the valley floor to the moor. Occasionally I see a human footprint, but to all intent and purpose Ouzelden Clough is a hidden valley.