‘Now the joys of the road are chiefly these;
A crimson touch on the hardwood trees;
A vagrant’s morning wide and blue,
In early fall, when the wind walks too’
I confess that the morning was far from ‘wide and blue’ when the ‘We Are Seven’ rolled up to the Cheadle rendezvous in ones and twos, coming from their various home-towns. It is a glamorous point about the ‘We.R.7’, the way they meet faithfully at what are now familiar spots, rarely late, always keen, and often with twenty, thirty, forty – nay, sometimes sixty miles behind each of them. The morning was not calculated to raise us to enthusiasm over the weather; it was not unexpected, for fog and drizzle are perquisite to mid-October, and particularly so to the October of that waterlogged year, 1927. But there isn’t a man in the ‘We.R.7’ who would be persuaded that home was best on the most ill-conditioned Sunday possible. The Road is best!
Without the foggiest notion of whither we were bound, we plied our skill along the miles of muddy morass we always follow as a short cut to Hazel Grove, and steadily climbed then, up and up, above populous valleys mist-screened; through villages where occasional folks hurried as though to get indoors as quickly as possible; on to brown moors, steaming, lonely, wild, and down to Buxton, which was in oilskins and macs. Below Buxton we were in Ashwood Dale…. and then Wye Dale. The main road swung uphill to breast Topley Pike; it was done with the Dales for a time….. but not we.
A dripping track piled with leaves, sodden leaves of russet hues and beaten bronze – and dying trees above, splendid in their funeral garments, shrouded with the soft mists, and a rising river beside murmuring a sad requiem at the death of summer, its lightsome music gone, its heavier tone now, a tone of swollen complaint. And I felt sad for the death of the summer. We crossed the river by a footbridge and we travelled a path with the water squirting from beneath our feet.
There were rocky hillsides here, sullen-grey, and grey crags towered above into a leaden haze. The death of summer was accomplished, and all nature was brooding. Not a bird sang; the river only whimpered at its added burden. And it made me sad for the summer done. Through wet nettles and long grass, with now and then a slippery outcrop of limestone, we came to the stepping stones, barely clear, and along them we passed beneath grey crags that oppressed. Not fine and high as I had before seen them, but oppressive, gloomy. A footbridge, rotten in the middle – even the work of man was in advanced decay – a slippery climb to a shelf of rock, the river gorge-like beneath, and – what a world around!
Painted it was, slashed with colour, daubed effusively, extravagantly, yet delicate – delicate! A painted paradise from the misty shining rocks down to the tiniest, trembling leaf, from the gnarled old trees sucking a sparse existence from thin soil layers, down to the common bracken-stalk. High and low, from the fog-bounds to the twigs at my feet, and the smooth flowing river down between the white walls gleaming – silent, uncomplaining, a mirror through which a riotous world was portrayed topsy-turvy, complete in faithful detail.
I was Ulysses then, with my companions enchanted, wandering down the vales of some enchanted isle of the Mediterranean, eagerly searching the enshrouded scenes around, searching to find new wonders – no ghouls, no fabulous monsters here, save the shadowy wraiths of mist streaming from the trees, retreating as we advanced, closing behind – wraiths of the imagination, and not to be but admired. Oh, it was wonderful all around, I knew it was, and the river, singing, sang of its beauty all the while, till……thump……thump……thump, sounded near at hand, and I came out of my Elysium delirium. I was at the pump-house, the mysterious little stone hut sheltering an eternally thumping pump. I hated the pump, for the spell of Chee Dale had broken. Ulysses was released, and that unhappily. And then we came to Millers Dale – and the practical necessity of lunch.
We went down Millers Dale after lunch, where the overhanging cliffs were lost in mists above, then we came to the little paper mill, where further progress by the river can only be made by paying 6d for the privilege of traversing Cressbrook Dale. We felt too lazy to take the orthodox lane over the hill, and as we had never been along this toll road, we decided to plunge a tanner each. We were in a reckless, squandering mood! Besides, the sixpences go to a hospital. Our admission tickets called it ‘Water-cum-Jolly Dales, a rather quaint and odd name – though the name Cressbrook Dale is more to my taste. An excellent road runs along it, and it is a beautiful mixture of water, wood and rock, though contrary to Chee Dale, it is regular and uniform in nature.
The end of Cressbrook Dale was the commencement of Monsal Dale. Now Monsal Dale is pretty. It has the Wye, and the Wye in Monsal Dale always reminds me of blue eyes, not deep blue, light blue, dancing eyes, sparkling eyes. Laughing eyes. The Wye dances and sparkles and laughs – it makes eyes at you in Monsal Dale. It (Monsal Dale) has limestone crags that are tottering; that are piled up, lonely, that laugh down on you. When a mid-October fog hangs around them, they become fantastic and take fairy-book shapes. You will see rickety old mansions from the land of never-never, castles that the knights of the Round Table might have stormed, and bastions that only the delightful mind of the child could liken to the Kremlin – or the Bastille. And wandering down the dale between the trees you become Ulysses again, rambling in those classic island glades. Yet Monsal Dale is pretty, that’s all. Ask Tom, or Fred, or Jack.
At the end of Monsal Dale we joined the main road from Buxton to Bakewell, and turned uphill towards Buxton. We had traversed the whole Ravine of the Wye. Our road crept uphill, up Taddington Dale, very, very pretty, all splashes of gold and brown. From Taddington we came to Topley Pike, tumbling down into Wye Dale again, and past Lover’s Leap to Buxton.
We had tea in a little farmhouse up on the summit of the Manchester road at 1,401 ft. Two lady motorists, brave souls, who were out for the first time in a car, joined us. They needed pluck, for the fog increased as night came on until, as we went outside, wind, rain and foggy darkness held sway. We saw them safely off, then ourselves turned into it, and felt our way down the Stygian moorland miles to Whaley Bridge and Hazel Grove. The setts of Stockport, bad as they were, held infinitely better chances of progress than those sticky byways. Then it was suburbanism home.
But the Autumn Glory of the Derbyshire Dales…….! 96 miles