23.2 miles – clear sunshine all day, becoming baking hot later
I left at 6:15. It was one of those mornings to rejoice in: crisp, clean air, my breath still visible in billows, the sun pouring forth its honeyed joy and dispersing the last of the sullen clouds from yesterday away to the west.
The tiny lane was gorgeous. Made broad by a great swathe of grass on either side, the cows had adopted the whole territory as their own. Most were amiable and took a live-and-let-live attitude to passers-by, but one took umbrage at something about me. There was no mistaking the look in her eye: “Get out of it!” I think perhaps another six feet closer and she would have charged me. The wall was unjumpable; fortunately there was a gate near at hand, and so through that I sidled slowly, giving the cow what I hoped was a nonchalant look. As soon as I had done so, she and her calf darted away, now looking rather nervous, and I could proceed in peace. But one does wonder whether these animals were quite ready to be let loose on a public right of way.
Hay Dale, Peter Dale and Monk’s Dale form a contiguous valley with steep banks or sheer cliffs. It is still, silent, and exquisite, but very slow going, clambering over boulders… and there were more cattle, heifers and bullocks this time, frisky and inquisitive. They ran towards me at speed, then stopped a few yards away. I believe they meant well, but should one have over-run its intended stop point, it would have been heavy enough to reduce me to dog food.
There was no way out of that valley except to carry on, so I did what I used to do as a child; I made my hand into the shape of a cow’s snout, and held it out in greeting. Eventually, one which was bolder than the others (a young bull) sniffed me then gave my hand a big lick. After that they all decided I was OK and left me alone.
Miller’s Dale Station has been beautifully restored in LMS colours; it has become a cafe for people on the Monsal Trail, and on this warm, bright morning there was considerable activity there. I met a lovely couple of about my age, who were genuinely interested in my story and we swapped experiences for half an hour. then I moved on westward through the Chee Tor Tunnels.
I felt a rush of joy!
This walk has made me realise how deeply embedded railways, and especially closed ones are in my heart. Now it was as if the old line spoke to me: “Look at all these people enjoying my stations and tunnels, my bridges and viaduct, and gazing into the valley at the trees and river far below: I died as a railway but I have been given a new life. I am at peace.”
Perhaps physical reality can be allegorical of an inner truth!
I passed the afternoon on another old railway, the Buxton to Ashbourne line. this one had quite a different feel, a white, dusty track in the shadeless heat.
I had been hoping to get almost to Ashbourne, but my poor, hot feet had had enough. I found a worthy bench with a little bit of bumpy grass behind it on which to pitch my tent. With the searing heat forecast for Monday and Tuesday, I’m beginning to accept that I might have to stay a while in Burton and put back my schedule by a day.