Sunday 13th August 2017
I’d reached Lathkill Dale; somewhere beyond the halfway point in my walk.
Lunchtime was looming and the river would act as my guide for the next couple of kilometres…
What could possibly go wrong?
Initially, the River Lathkill isn’t much to look at, from the footbridge at least. You have to walk a few dozen metres before grass fades away and allows the water to expand.
Dog walkers. People. This was certainly a popular place to be – of course, it was always going to be so, when the access is good and there are waterfalls and weirs.
Outdoor sketching is something I’d like to practice more of. In fact, pausing while out walking is something I don’t often do alone. I had my first (intensive) taste of “sketching the gardens” at the Port Eliot Festival in July.
It was busy here, on this Sunday afternoon. But, not Dovedale-busy.
I remember passing two cave openings, away to my left. They looked small and I couldn’t imagine them leading very far in beyond the rock face and I wanted to press on, in the hope of finding a quiet space for my lunch.
After a good three kilometres alongside the River Lathkill, I turned left at the first opportunity; climbing very steeply up a winding road in the hope of bagging a trig point that I had added to my route…
Before climbing as far as this churchyard, I met with confusion; perhaps even, disorientation. There was a café away to my left, a footpath on the right and, of course, the church… Two of which, didn’t feature on my map!
I also realised that I had rushed on without taking a look at Conksbury Bridge and the thought of descending so far for a few photographs and then, having to return to this point… I hoped I might revisit this walk again, one day!
But, on leaving the church yard to continue towards the trig, I spotted the words “Over Haddon” on the entrance sign… I wasn’t where I was supposed to be and had left the riverside walk too soon!
On the positive side, I’d found a bench within the quiet grounds of the church and the view wasn’t bad either. Lunch would come first, while getting back on track could wait.
After lunch, I followed a narrow path from the roadside, gradually descending towards the river. I couldn’t see it at this point but could hear the voices of other walkers below.
All was going fine… Until I took the “obvious” turn left at an unmarked junction and soon found myself hopping over a wire fence in order to quickly (and illegally) meet again with the water’s edge. I’m guessing I should’ve turned right but, even at a scale of 1:25,000, OS maps can be deceiving.
Following the river for a final 1.5km, I would definitely arrive at Conksbury Bridge.
My own fascination with this place emanates from the fact that I have grown up close to a village called Congresbury in North Somerset… Typically pronounced “Congs-bry” by locals (who know best). Even the woman who does the travel on Radio 2 gets it right but, ask ten people in Bristol and they’ll respond with some variation on “Con-gres-bury”.
I said goodbye to the River Lathkill here, before continuing steeply up the correct tarmac hill. Locals clearly use this is a parking place for river walks and taking photos from the bridge. But I must’ve also witnessed a dozen cars pass by in only a few minutes.
Apparently, this is designated as a ‘Quiet Lane’ as well. But, it’s still open to traffic… Perhaps it’s just a nice way of saying “no parking”?
(Apparently, it’s part of a campaign to protect rural England.)
Eventually, I would leave the road at a bend overlooking Haddon Fields, with Over Haddon and its church now a good kilometre away to my left.
On the wrong side of the wall from the right of way, I could see the trig point; 208m above sea level.
Unlike a walk I did in Wiltshire a few months ago, there was no wire fence in my way and I was clear to reach over the drystone wall and “bag” this beauty with my hand.
I followed a field boundary, past the Raper Mine and then along Dark Lane to return to tarmac.
Away to my left, curious cows look on without further investigation. This was the first time I noticed an minor issue with my new camera, which doesn’t currently have a lens cap… I could wipe away the condensation but it wasn’t visible in the moment when I took this photo.
Over the road and I was looking to join the River Bradford beside a village of the same name (yet, many, many miles from the dales of West Yorkshire).
Thankfully, there was no bull to speak of in the field ahead but I had passed a lady sat at a bench who I’d overtaken a good hour earlier… She was dressed in pink and had Salomon shoes on but, in situations like this [it happens often], people must wonder whether I’m in to my second lap!
I’d discover a proper riverside path from the western side of Bradford.
With houses looming over from the brow of the hill, it wasn’t perhaps as secluded as the valley I’d explored earlier. But, I felt it was tranquil enough.
A pool-sized portion of the river was adorned with a sign indicating that this space was suited for wild swimming:
…But no-one I could see was brave enough to go in. How refreshing though, to encounter a sign that welcomes you in to the water.
I walked another kilometre or so of the River Bradford, before crossing over at a bridge and climbing up and towards civilisation. I’ve no idea what these stone carvings related to but I can imagine this area bears an interesting story or two.
This final ascent was as steep as the two tarmac hikes I had completed either side of lunch! At the end, I had reached the road junction at Middleton-by-Youlgreave and would soon be on my way back to the camp site. I’d even beaten the larger (older) Ramblers group by a matter of minutes.