Saturday, 15 August 2009

Burbage and Stanage

One of the benefits of living on the western edge of Sheffield is the ease of getting out to the countryside. Within a few minutes walk of the house is farmland and it doesn't take very long to be on open moorlands. My son had planned a 3 day backpacking trip round the Hope Valley with a couple of his mates, using most of my lightweight gear, but that fell through. So instead he and I decided on a walk over Burbage and Stanage, with an overnight camp at North Lees. Unfortunately, because he had laid claim to all my light gear, I ended up carrying all the heavy stuff.

Farmland above Lodge Moor

It was 2:30 in the afternoon before we finally set off from the house - dragging a teenage boy away from his PC can be fraught. I always feel slightly self-conscious walking through a suburban housing estate with full backpacking gear but that didn't last long and struggling over the first style, we followed the track past the Observatory and onto the back lanes which led us up onto the moors at Ringinglow. This is the road on which a well known, local boxer driving his very expensive car too quickly, wiped out another motorist. Suffice to say, it's a road to cross with caution.

Sheffield - you can just make out the big wheel in the city centre for the next few months

Houndkirk Moor lies behind (east) of Burbage Edge. It has two major tracks crossing it at right angles to each other, which give a satisfying figure of eight route for mountain bikes. Apparently, many of the roads around Burbage Moor were first built as turnpike roads. Houndkirk Road was built in 1758 but unlike the other roads, was never surfaced. As a result it is popular with by 4x4 off-roaders and unlike the track to Stanedge Pole, doesn’t suffer too badly from this kind of usage. What is more troubling is that these guys are leaving the official byway and driving up onto the moor, creating tracks where there weren’t any before. On this day, we only saw one vehicle, a rather cute beach buggy affair, which did look like it would be a lot of fun to drive. So engrossed was I at watching it bounce along, I forgot to get the camera out in time.

On a clear day from up here, you can see the cooling towers of a number of power stations sited along the rivers Ouse, around the A1 and Doncaster, and the Trent, south towards Nottingham.

Burbage Edge looking towards Higgar Tor

Our route wasn't going as far as Fox House, instead taking a right turn out to Burbage Edge where we'd planned to stop for a very late lunch - more like afternoon tea really. However, the midges had the same idea (with us on the menu) so we pressed on and strained our eyes to spot if the ice cream van was at Burbage Brook car park. It was and our pace quickened, though in my case, this was barely perceptible and I sent Joe off ahead with instructions to throw himself in front of the van, should he decide to pack up for the day! We needn't have worried. The guy was asleep with his feet up on the dashboard when we got there. The midges were far from asleep and it was but a brief stop for two very welcome ice creams and pop but with lunch still intact. While we were there, Range Rover man arrived in his f' off 4x4 and parked himself between the grass bank where we were sat and the ice cream van. Leaving his engine running, presumably because he hadn't the strength in his wrist to turn the key (which was surprising as he was clearly a complete to$$er), he walked all of two yards, bought a 99, walked another two yards back to his car and drove off. We left shortly after and walked over the road to the track up onto Stanage Edge.

Top of Stanage Edge - looking back to Burbage

As we gained some height, the breeze kept the midges down and we soon reached the trig point and pressed on along the edge. Up to this point there had been no need to look at the map and I continued with this misconception as we dropped off the edge just after Robin Hood's Cave onto what should have been a bridleway. I walked up this route in April and remember thinking then, that the track was a bit vague - I didn't look at the map then either. This time, the track was hidden below dense, chest high bracken. I don't know what's happened this year but the bracken has gone wild. It's positively Jurassic and I wouldn't have been surprised if we'd seen a herd of raptors running towards us. I'm relieved we didn't - we had enough to deal with as it was. We spent the next 15 minutes fighting our way down to the road. Bear Grylls would have been proud of us but then Bear Grylls would probably have had his feet up by some hotel pool. Eventually, the moor released us and we stumbled out onto the road with boots full of bracken and a somewhat less than moderate disposition. Of course this wasn't the bridleway. It wasn't any track marked on the map, it wasn't even a track - just like it hadn't been in April. I finally sorted out where we should have been on the way back the next day. It seemed time to call it day, so we walked the final quarter of a mile to the campsite along the road.

Something else which has gone bonkers this week is insects, in particular the St Mark's fly or Bibio Marci. I Googled for that, in case you have the impression I know something about insects, which I don't. In fact it was the campsite lady at North Lees who told us they were St Mark's flies. Up to that point we'd been calling them 'Evils' because with their large bodies and long dangly hind legs, that was how they looked. Anyway, we encountered them shortly after leaving the house and there just seemed to be more and more. As well as St Mark’s flies, this seems to have been a good week for butterflies and I spotted some white ones, a pretty blue one, some small brown ones and a Tortoiseshell.
The midges at the campsite were pretty dreadful, so it was a quick tea and then escape to the tents to read. Any plans to walk down to the pub were abandoned. I got around 1am to attend to a call of nature and the sky was almost completely clear. The previous night was supposed to have been the best for viewing the Perseids meteor shower, so I hung around outside for a short while and was rewarded quite soon with a sighting of a meteor heading from Cassiopeia towards Lyre, which tracing it’s trajectory back would have it emanating from around the constellation of Perseus. I stayed out for a while longer, until my neck started to get stiff but didn’t see any more. The midges were still bad in the morning, so we left the tents and walked into Hathersage for breakfast at Colemans Deli and a tour of the gear shops before returning to the camp site to pack up.

The plan was to head back over Stanage, past the pole and down by Redmires reservoirs back home. This time I was determined to find the bridleway we missed yesterday. To reach it we had to walk past North Lees which is said to be the inspiration for Thornfield in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, where the demented Mrs Rochester was locked away in the attic. Approaching from this direction, the start of the track is obvious but Joe decided to bail out at this point and call the cavalry, in the form of his Mum, to come and collect him in the car.

North Lees

This is a very pleasant route up onto Stanage Edge and comes out a short distance from the main Roman Causeway to Stanedge Pole. The Pole is for some reason spelt differently from the Edge and is an ancient guide for travellers. Although the current pole is unlikely to be the original, the rock plinth is reported to have the year 1550 carved in it (though when it was carved in another matter!). Suffice it to say, it’s old and to my mind lends a special feel to the place.

The 'lost' bridleway onto Stanage Edge

The old Roman Causeway east from the Pole to Redmires, is flagged up to and just beyond the gate at the edge of the plantation and I’ve just read that it is thought to have been laid in the late 18’th century when it was a packhorse route. In Roman times it was part of the road from the Roman fort at Navio (Brough near Bradwell) to Doncaster and a few years ago I found a sketch map in local history book showing the old road as running close to my house - but I’ve yet to find any Roman remains in the garden.

The Roman Causeway, looking east towards Redmires

From Stanedge Pole, it’s downhill all the way home. The top of the three reservoirs at Redmires has been drained for some months now and the middle one is only half full. There were even more St Mark’s fly than on the previous day - swarms of them, on a biblical scale but only up to the edge of the housing.

Redmires Upper reservoir

Sheffield to North Lees: 8 miles, 1200’ ascent
North Lees to Sheffield: 5 miles, 900’ ascent

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