This morning we arose intent on ‘catching the worm’, as the old saying of the early bird goes; we were up at 6.15am, but owing to various things cropping up, it was 8am before the road claimed us. Need I dwell on the monotonous run to Stockport, and over the rough setts to Hazel Grove? From the latter town, a steady climb starts, but the wind, which threatened to rise to last week’s magnitude, favoured us, so most of the ‘graft’ was taken out of the road to Disley. A level run with extensive views on the left over New Mills and into the untamed Peak region, brought us to Whaley Bridge, where the road gave a decided upward tilt. As we climbed, the views, now on the right, of Goyt Dale and of the sweeping moorlands, opened out.
Snow defined the ridges, making little white streaks on the black hillsides. Horwich End, then the huge horseshoe, which the road takes to avoid a gaping hole, to the road summit at 1,401 feet. From this elevation, a bird’s eye view of Buxton was obtained. The town is set in a hollow, with great wild moors on all sides. No apparent outlet without climbing can be seen. Right, the Macclesfield road can be seen winding up the valleys which lead it to its 1,690ft summit; ahead, a white flash denotes where the Ashbourne road triumphantly reaches the ridge. Our own road is no exception, and the same story can be told of all but one. The Congleton road, 1,600ft, the Leek road over Axe Edge, 1,684ft, the Longnor road, 1,472ft, the Chapel-en-le-Frith road, 1,168ft, all well over 1,000ft, and all of tortuous descent – but one, through the ‘Ravine of the Wye’, the Bakewell road – the London road – our road. Down we swooped into the quiet residential district, and then into the main thoroughfare of Buxton.
As usual, we had no use for towns, and the shortest way to the ‘Dales’ carried us out of it. Immediately we were in Ashwood Dale, a limestone gorge that was once beautiful, but now despoiled by gasworks, sewage works, and the railway. Even the River Wye itself is made to run through a concrete trough. Many beautiful little dales run out of it on each side, and one in particular should under no circumstances whatever be missed. We visited it, and saw it in its grandest mood. Owing to recent snows and heavy rainfalls, the Wye and its tributaries were in full flood.
We stopped where two walls of glistening, rough limestone formed a narrow gorge on the right. Between, almost the full width, a noisy torrent foamed over a mass of broken rocks and boulders, disappearing beneath the roadway, and entering the rushing, encased river. We left our bikes, and made our way up the narrow canyon to where it bends sharply. By using a boulder as a stepping stone, we managed to see what lay beyond the bend. The gorge narrowed, until the white walls almost met. Over a huge step between them, a boiling, roaring white flood of seething water poured in a double cataract, and flooded the whole defile. As a surprise, it was wonderfully fascinating, and both of us looked long at it. Tom managed to get a photograph also.
Regaining the road, we pedalled downhill, past the entrance to Cowdale, and into Wye Dale. Great quarries somewhat mar the effect of this otherwise beautiful ravine. Then past the end of Kingsterndale, the road leaves the dales, and climbs to Topley Pike. But we kept to the dales, for a footpath runs from Wye Dale into Chee Dale, and through into Miller’s Dale.
It is astonishing the amount of dales – limestone defiles, running into the ‘Ravine of the Wye’. There is the Ravine itself, formed by Ashwood Dale, Wye Dale, Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale, Cressbrook Dale and Monsal Dale. On the left, enter Cumming Dale, Woo Dale, Great Rocks Dale, Monk’s Dale, Tideswell Dale, Littonfrith Dale and Raven’s Dale, the right being fed from Cowdale, Kingsterndale, Deep Dale, Buck Dale, Horseshoe Dale and Taddington Dale, another Deep Dale, and Kirk Dale, excluding many little nameless chasms, such as the one we entered. The footpath ran too near the swollen Wye for comfort and dry feet, and in many places was over six inches under water, but we managed very well, and soon came to the cottages at the entrance to Chee Dale.
The railway, an important main line, runs through these defiles, in some places despoiling their natural beauties, in others showing up the proportion by narrow cuttings, through which the engines roar. The line is never given a clear passage, first crossing to one side of the valley, then the other, running through numerous tunnels, over many bridges of great height, and on the cliff face never descending to within 15 feet of the river. Owing to melting snow on the line, it was raining underneath the bridges.
After lifting the bikes over one or two walls, a narrow, half submerged track gave us a passage, but a quarter of a mile farther on, road and river became one, and we took to a stony hillside. In one place, the path ran down some steps under the railway bridge and into the river. There was no help for it but to carry on through the river, and down the slippery steps, but by hugging the wall, we managed to keep dry-shod. The tall rugged bastions of rock came closer together, until we began to see that we were approaching a crisis. The crisis came when the gorge closed in, only allowing a raging torrent to pass. The path dipped into the swollen river, and when I rolled the front wheel of the bike in, to see if it was possible to wade to the bend, to see how the land lay beyond the bend, it quickly reached the hubs! The only thing possible was to swim it, and that could not be done with the bikes. Besides, February is no month for open-air bathing! I climbed the steep slope to the railway, to see if we could get that way, but a tunnel was there, and it is no joke to get caught in a tunnel. After a momentary pow-wow, we decided to return, much as it went against the grain, but also registered a vow that Chee Dale was not done with us. A hard scramble back ensued, during which we carried the bikes nearly half a mile to the cottages where we obtained lunch.
It was after 1pm when we joined the steep track that led us to the main road at Topley Pike, whence was a bird’s eye view of many steep-banked and precipitous dales. The main road was not for us, however, and soon we were dropping steadily downhill. The walls of limestone again formed on each side, then a sudden twist in the road gave us a good view of the end of impassable Chee Dale. We had been within a few hundred feet of achieving the passage! Down we dropped into Miller’s Dale, crossing the Wye, and joining the road by the river. Came a glorious level run, between the beetling light crags, and by the river that first flowed swiftly and noisily over a bed of boulders, then opened out into a small, placid lake, on which were many geese.
Tideswell Dale and Littonfrith Dale were passed on the left, then, when the bastions above were becoming higher and more rugged, and the Wye assuming the proportions of a torrent, the road ended at Litton Mill, and the beginning of wonderful Cressbrook Dale. From a notice, we learned that pedestrians only could continue at a toll of 6d. Now if there is anything that maddens me more than anything else, it is the commercialisation of natural beauty. There is far too much of it, as I have found out. As soon as anything such as a glen, waterfall, or natural curiosity becomes famed, a turnstile or padlock is put near it, and a man haunts the spot with a roll of tickets. It is not the price, that is negligible, but the morals of it. If that particular ‘place’ had been improved, or made accessible, then I would not grumble, but, as in cases like this, when it is just locked up, it is a bit too bad. Happily, Derbyshire and Cheshire are comparatively free of such irritations.
We decided not to pay, climbing instead out of the dale. The wind was terrific above the sheltered valley, for one could almost lean on it – it was behind us. A splendid view of Miller’s Dale and Cressbrook Dale, were ample repayment for our annoyance at the 6d ‘toll’. After a short run – or walk, we joined a road that immediately dropped us at the end of Raven’s Dale, another pretty scar in the hills. Then the village of Cressbrook, and a small section of Cressbrook Dale, to wonderful Monsal Dale.
We left the road again, crossing a squelchy field, and crossing the Wye by a well-made footbridge, we passed under the railway, and so into the dale. Simultaneously, a heavy shower of rain came down, but we carried on without capes. The road – for it was quite a good path, very muddy and watery, but good to what we anticipated – ran on the fringe of the wooded right hand escarpment, often making little detours to the swirling river. The river broke into many fierce little cascades or noisy rapids, the steep slopes on both sides being mostly well wooded, and overlooked by fantastically shaped masses of rain-washed limestone. One could picture familiar shapes in these pinnacles and slabs. Here a resemblance to a church steeple or tower, there the profile of some animal, and high up above were the walls and towers of some legendary town of Arthurian days.
The rain was quite forgotten during that all too short scramble through this little earthly paradise. At length a ‘teas’ hut came into sight, then a strange familiarity seemed to hang about. We struck a main road, and immediately recognised it. This was the Bakewell-Buxton road, three miles from Bakewell. We turned our faces towards Taddington, and came up against a howling wind and heavy rains which drove us into the capes. The climb through Taddington Dale – a wooded replica of many others – is always hard, but was now unrideable, and so we had two miles of walking uphill against a storm. It was very pretty however, and Taddington, a reputed ‘highest village’, was reached in what seemed a short time.
Beyond the village, we found that it was rideable, and so came a ‘head on’ struggle to Topley Pike, down into Wye Dale, and back through Ashwood Dale to Buxton. Rain ceased here, so the capes were put out of sight. Another climb, then the wind got behind us, and being hungry we fairly swept across the moors to Dove Holes. We can move when we have got our faces towards our tea! The hills here are badly cut up and despoiled in the search for limestone and its oxides. Very shortly we joined the Sparrowpit-Chapel-en-le-Frith road in Barmoor Clough. The wind was well behind, and though steep, the road was easy. Once we stopped and made a journey to the ebbing and flowing well, which does as its name suggests, regardless of seasons or droughts. Another heavy shower came on, and two cyclists who were coming down at that moment, collided. We left them pulling broken spokes out of a front wheel. They needed no help. A few moments later we were comfortably ensconced in the tiny parlour of Mrs Vernon’s at Sparrowpit.
Tea was soon ready, during which three Manchester youngsters joined us, and later two brothers whom we had met before. They were walkers, and spend every Sunday tramping about this delectable portion of the Peak. The room was far too cosy to leave suddenly, so it got to 6.35pm when we came out. That ride home! The wind shrieked round the sides of the cottages and tore across the black, dark moors. The rain flooded the road and lashed in our faces. Two drenched and struggling figures dropped into Chapel-en-le-Frith.
Beyond the town, near Coombs reservoirs, a heavy, windswept downpour soaked us through in three minutes. Our capes were not proof against it, whilst they caught the wind, and flapped round us like sails on a yacht – but they had an opposite effect. We had to shout to each other to make our voices heard, and to give us extra entertainment, my lamp kept blowing out. It is no easy task relighting it in a breeze like that either. However, our spirits rose, and I honestly believe we thoroughly enjoyed that gruelling. We made songs to each other, cracked jokes, and when something especially in the way of rain came, Tom would sing out in a sonorous, sea-faring voice ‘Throw out the Lifeline’. It was a good job for us that the gradient was in our favour.
Joining Buxton Road at Whaley Bridge, we had a slightly easier time of it, for the road was partly sheltered, but when, at Disley, we started to fall off the hills, we got the full force of the gale, which swept across the Cheshire plains unhampered. The rain had, for the nonce, ceased, and we obtained a weird view across Hayfield way. The bold outlines of High Peak, that wild region around Kinder Scout, were visible against a broken skyline. All the rest was black, but that momentary bright break in the clouds showed us the cold brow of Kinder.
At Hazel Grove, I obtained some carbide, and in an optimistic moment, capes came off. As if waiting for that, the everlasting rain plumped down again, and into the capes we scuttled once more. A deluge, with the chilly water streaming off our bare heads and down our necks, accompanied us through Stockport, then ceased. At 9pm we passed through Cheadle to Kingsway End, where I left Tom after a chat and arrangements for next week had been made. At the end of one ride we are always planning for the next.
Didsbury was left behind, my cape went away, and I settled down to a steady fight against the wind. Above, the clouds drifted away, and for the rest of that hard ride, I had a beautiful, starry sky, and an excellent view of the eclipse. This was only a partial eclipse, but the moon was big and clear, and the bright yellow orb gradually lessened from the bottom. The ‘eclipsed’ part was quite distinct, being a brownish tint. At Worsley, only a narrow rim remained, but when I reached home, it was going away.
Today has been a day of unexpected sights. First the wild moors, then the incomparable dales, the flooded Wye; impassable tracks, the wind, the struggle from Sparrowpit, and the eclipse. But I must say that we owe a debt to rain and melting snow, for the swollen rivers gave the dales a new aspect. Ashwood Dale, Wye Dale, Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale, Cressbrook Dale, Raven’s Dale, Monsal Dale and Taddington Dale, the Dane Valley, Furness Vale and Barmoor Clough have been visited. I think that I will start ‘collecting’ Derbyshire Dales! 87 miles
The rocky summits, split and rent,
Formed turret, dome, or battlement,
Or seemed fantastically set
With cupola, or minaret,
Wild crests as pagoda’s ever decked
Or mosque of Eastern architect,
Nor were those earth-born castles bare,
Nor lacked they many a banner fair;
For, from their shiver’d brows displayed
Far o’er the unfathomable glade,
All twinkling with the dewdrops sheen,
The briar-rose fell in streamers green,
And creeping shrubs, of thousand dyes,
Waved in the west wind’s summer sighs.