A family walk down Cromford Canal

I’ve been keeping up my walking, arranged around my busy everyday life. I’ve realised that my overall carbon footprint must be going down as the miles I’ve clocked up is increasing, as now I’m looking for an excuse to pop to the local shops.

It’s my mum’s birthday tomorrow, and after a lovely lunch at Scarthin Books in Cromford in Derbyshire, one of the best bookshops in the world, with its own hidden vegetarian cafe. I had a lovely pie and salad, but we stood firm against the temptation of cake!

We walked back around the millpond, complete with resident ducks, swans and a heron, and crossed the busy A6 and walked past Cromford Mill, a world heritage site, where Richard Awkwright set up the first ever water-powered cotton spinning mill in 1771. The mill has now been restored and is open as a visitor attraction.

Next door to the mill is the end of Cromford Canal, which opened in 1794 and carried the finished cotton, as well as coal, lead and iron ore mined in the area. Nowadays, the canal doesn’t go anywhere, but is restored and used for trips along the stretch that is navigable. In its prime, the canal would have been a busy, industrial scene, but now it’s great for walkers and wildlife alike, although I didn’t see any of its famed water voles.

It was a lovely chance to catch up with my parents, and it was bracing, although the strong winds of earlier in the day had died down a bit. We clocked up 3.54 miles in today, which isn’t bad!

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There’s a stegosaurus in the woods at the garden centre on the other side of the canal. 

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Back to Sheffield for a Wyming Brook Walk

On the last day of relaxation before the New Year begins in earnest and many of us go back to work, I decided to take a solo walk at Wyming Brook on the outskirts of Sheffield. The skies were blue and it promised to be a crisp, bracing walk. A quick drive through Lodge Moor, the highest suburb of Sheffield and out the other side towards Redmires showed that lots of other people were having the same idea – I couldn’t get into the car park and had to park on the road, which gave me more mileage. There was black ice on the road, but the rest of the route wasn’t so slippery!

It was a mini-adventure, walking down Wyming Brook Drive on the way down the valley, which actually used to be a proper road, so it’s fairly solid underfoot and winds down the valley. I came out on Manchester Road, the start of the Snake Pass, which actually wasn’t too bad, as there was a pavement all the way until I turned off onto the narrow road that runs on top of the Lower Rivelin Dams reservoir’s dam and then back up the course of the Wyming Brook itself. I can’t believe it’s taken me over twenty years of living in Sheffield to discover this magical walk – rather muddy and a bit precarious in places, but it was great fun.

I saw lots of wildlife – the robins are especially tame here, so I got a good shot in silhouette, and according to the Mapometer website I’m using until my fitness tracker arrives, that was a 4.03 mile walk!

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Walking 1,000 miles in 2017 – not all in one go!

Last year, I did an epic sponsored swim but it was all over in March and then I lost a bit of exercise motivation.

On Christmas Day, I gave my mum the pedometer she asked for and said that she fancied doing a challenge to walk 1,000 miles in 2017. She showed me a magazine advert and I’ve decided to sign up to it and give it a go! http://www.livefortheoutdoors.com/walk1000miles .

I had an unusual but very pleasant New Year’s Eve this year, on a friend’s new canal boat on the River Lea in North London. We could see the fireworks on the Thames from afar and it was a magical evening. We needed to walk another guest back to the tube station after midnight, so some of my miles were done on the towpath (slightly wobbly from Prosecco) but it all counts. Even though it started chucking it down with rain on our towpath walk later in the afternoon, the canal towpath is a magical world. I saw coots diving close up from the window of the boat, Canada geese, swans, gulls, mallards and even cormorants – click on the article as it seems they are moving inland due to over fishing at sea. I’d never seen them so far inland before.

Messing around on the river was a great way to start the year, and I clocked up 4.46 miles.

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Sometimes the real world doesn’t look like the map…

That’s what I found myself thinking on Sunday as we found the stile several hundred metres from where the path seemed to start on the Ordnance Survey map, and then found ourselves sinking in a bog. It was the first time I’d convinced the other half to go on a walk with me in a long time and it wasn’t quite what I’d envisaged.

I’d been able to tempt him out by reports that Redmire Reservoirs were haunted. Visitors to the Sheffield Forum reported a “strange sense of unease” when walking there. Some people have reportedly seen the ghosts of the World War One soldiers, the Sheffield City battalion, who had their camp and trained in trench building near the dams. 248 of these men died in the battle of Serre in 1916. There are also reports of a “ghost plane” in the area, perhaps a world War Two bomber, or the American Airforce plane, which crashed into the nearby Lodge Moor hospital in 1955.

The reservoirs themselves date from 1836; a chain of three. They were built to provide Sheffield with clean water following a cholera epidemic in 1832. Sheffield is surrounded by reservoirs, fed by clear moorland streams and dammed rivers.

It was a crystal blue day, the first of the winter frosts, but with the woods still rich in autumn colour. We could have been miles away from anywhere, on the top of the moors, but we were only a few miles away from home, still within the Sheffield city boundary.

We set off early on Sunday morning and drove to Lodge Moor, along Redmires Road, until it narrowed and the road was bordered by fields, woods and the odd isolated cottage. We parked in a car park at Wyming Brook, where an inviting, well-maintained bridleway, formerly a road, wound through a wooded valley full of birdsong towards another set of reservoirs, the Rivelin Dams. But we had come here to walk around the reservoirs. I’d looked at a map on the internet and it looked like there was a nice clear path, running all the way around the three reservoirs.

An almost empty reservoir

An almost empty reservoir

The map indicated that there would be a path through the wood, and after walking past an isolated farm, we found a footpath. It was boggy in places and there was an eerie atmosphere as the sun filtered through the pine trees and we passed an overspill that looked like an abandoned bob-sleigh run. We ended up at a water treatment plant with twentieth century houses which would have belonged to the water board. Redmires is almost the highest point in Sheffield and it was so cold and crisp that I couldn’t feel my feet any more, despite hiking boots and two pairs of socks. The tarmac drive was slippery, the grass was white and there was a large icy puddle. Winter was coming fast.

The overflow in the woods

The overflow in the woods

We took a wrong turning on the path to the reservoir, and ended up at a derelict post war water treatment centre. This place certainly had a strange atmosphere, with its doors and windows shuttered with metal, peeling paint and a defunct sign next to a rusty doorbell: “press here for attention” on a side door that hadn’t opened in years, complete with a decrepit doormat. We turned back and found the path.

There was a jogger and a couple of dog walkers on the path around the top of the dam. But a sign said that walkers were not allowed up there. I decided to ignore them. After all, if questioned by some water board official, I still have a valid water hygiene card from my old job in the utilities industry (which allows me to go behind the scenes in water treatment works, or enter excavations – not as exciting as it sounds!) We scrambled up the bank, and were disappointed that the reservoir was mostly empty. There were excavators, temporary Heras fencing and the rattle of generators, but the view from the dam was breathtaking.

Approached the second dam, we clambered up the steep grassy bank. There was even less water in this reservoir! We walked around the gravel path, feeling a little illegal, until we arrived at another temporary fence, blocking the reservoir from the road, with a large digger parked in front of it. The fence wasn’t very well secured, and there was a way to squeeze out onto the road. Despite the reservoir being a construction site, it felt sinister, and there was a dead hare lying in front of the fence. It had obviously been dead for some time. The site compound was opposite here. No one stirred, but one of the welfare unit (toilet/shower) doors was swinging open, and it felt uncomfortably like someone was watching us.

The abandoned hut

The abandoned hut

We walked on, sticking to the road, which curved around the top reservoir. There were more people around now, parking up to enjoy a walk. Further on, a river flowed into the reservoir, with a path leading off it towards Rivelin. There was a large bell-mouth spillway, like a giant plughole. Next to the path was a ruined brick building, looking like a witch’s hut from a fairy tale. We enjoyed exploring it, and posing, looking out of the windows that had long ago lost their glass.

The rest of the walk along the road was enjoyable, admiring the smooth expanse of blue water and sky, the reservoir only ruffled by swimming mallards and seagulls bobbing in the water. Families and groups of walkers were parking up – but we’d hardly seen any people so far around the other reservoirs. The road ran out, with thick, mysterious woods on one side and a sign for ‘Redmires Lodge’. There’s a house in the woods and a very isolated shooting lodge, which would be a spooky place to spend the night.

All the walkers were making their way up a path which leads towards Stanage Edge, another favourite landmark for Sheffield walkers. The path didn’t go in the direction we wanted to go, and it was crowded with people strolling and chatting in large groups. We decided to take a path which would lead us higher up around the other side of the reservoir, near some interesting looking stones on the map. Unfortunately, this is where we got stuck in the bog – perfectly ordinary looking grass tussocks that squelched and oozed when we stood on them. We retraced our steps and found a muddy but stable path around the other side of the reservoir. We scrambled up onto the dam of the top reservoir and climbed over a wall before rejoining the road and making our way back to the car.

Clear blue skies and water

Clear blue skies and water

It was an interesting walk, and we managed to find a way to walk around the reservoirs. We enjoyed ourselves and exercised in the fresh air. In the clear, sunny conditions, we didn’t find it spooky, but it was certainly atmospheric, although I’m sure I would find it terrifying if I was alone here at dusk. However, we will definitely be back to explore Redmires – investigating Wyming Brook, the path with the spooky ruined cottage, and the track leading to Stannage. I can’t believe I haven’t been here in eighteen years of living in Sheffield, but we will have many more years of enjoying this place. There were difficulties at times, but we had fun in the sunshine.

This blog post is about a walk, and it isn’t an extended metaphor, but my life does feel like this walk at times. If I keep going, I will reach my destination of having a stable career as a creative writing tutor, with a thriving editing business and my own novels published and read by thousands of people. There are bound to be diversions, adventures, blocks and boggy bits along the way, but they are part of the journey, and I am already on my way there.

Things this blog is about…