Singing loudly and tunelessly to the car stereo as I drove over the Snake Pass this morning, I had the tiniest feeling of unease, bordering on guilt, as I made best of a day off work. While others were getting to grips with the working week, I was off to Alport Castles.
The Castles, a huge landslip high above the Snake Road, is a bashful cousin to the loud-and-proud Mam Tor, the ‘shivering mountain’ that presides over the Hope Valley and the Vale of Edale to the west.
Invisible to motorists on the main Manchester to Sheffield Road, the Alport Dale landslip is likewise protected to the easy by high moorland and the steep sides of the Upper Derwent Valley.
To appreciate it, therefore, you can climb the peaceful dale from below or, better still, approach from the moor by climbing out of the Upper Derwent and trotting across the bog. Alport Castles reveals itself at the very last minute, just before you plunge into its depths.
I’d never visited this area before, only seeing the Castles in glossy National Trust brochures. I felt it needed a special day weather-wise, and I was pretty sure I had one.
Cresting the Snake Pass and the Woodlands Valley was cloaked in mist: conifers were ghostly apparitions appearing out of the gloom. The car thermometer recorded a sudden drop in temperature, from high single figures in the sunshine to barely above freezing. If I didn’t dawdle, I could be at the rim of Alport Dale with the sun in my face and mist hugging the valley – perfect.
I parked above Fairholmes and set off along the reservoir. The mist sighed in the bows of the trees and I could smell the dampness of the forest floor.
Reaching Ouzelden Clough, the fog lifted awhile and Derwent’s waters were glassy, the faintest breeze giving the reflections an impressionists’ stipple.
A couple of hundred yards later, and the chill had closed in again along with the view. One tower of Howden Dam was visible but little else.
I left the road through Ditch Clough Plantation and bore left climbing the path to the moor. I followed a well-used track southwest, weaving between grouse butts. The sun was now high and warm, bringing me to a halt to remove a layer to two.
I soon reached the western fringes of the moor and, as promised, Alport Castles revealed itself at the last moment. Precipitous cliffs were perched above a chaotic ampitheatre of boulders and hummocks crowned by the Tower, a ragged pinnacle of debris.
It was indeed impressive, but the cloud choking the upper reaches of Alport Dale and the Woodlands Valley beyond added drama to the scene. I sat on the edge of the Castles, as close as I dared, and munched on some off-season Christmas Cake and watched the mist’s wraith-like retreat.
I pressed on along the edge of Rowlee Pasture and to the border of Hagg Side plantation. Skirting the conifers, I had the option of dropping down to shores of Ladybower early, but stayed high over Bridge-end Pasture only dropping to the valley floor at Crookhill Farm, where two excitable Border Collies gave chase.
Dropping down from the road, I followed the pleasant path along the shores of Ladybower back to the car. A straightforward, dare I say ‘easy’, walk, but one of the finer trips I’ve had in the Dark Peak.
|High above Alport Dale|
|Alport Castles looking towards the Woodlands Valley|
|The path across Rowlee Pasture|