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Goyt Valley (Derbyshire)

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Valley in Derbyshire

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      09.10.2010 13:37
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      A wonderful walk in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District

      The River Goyt rises in the bleak moorland of Axe Edge in Derbyshire. Cutting a narrow course through the millstone grit and shale of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District, this tiny stream eventually joins with the River Tame to form the mighty River Mersey at Stockport. The river's valley has been described as being a microcosm of the Dark Peak as it contains many of the features of this harsh but beautiful landscape in a surprisingly small area: heather moorland, woodland, reservoirs, streams, and high peaks, can all be found here. The area is covered with many miles of good quality footpaths allowing visitors to enjoy one of the most accessible yet wild looking places in the Peak District. I am going to describe my favourite walk, which visits many of the valley's attractions. There are two car parks, one at each end of the valley. I start at Derbyshire Bridge, only a few hundred yards from the busy, winding A537 (known as the most dangerous road in England). The car park here is open at all times. There are toilets, accessible to all, but early birds should note that these are not usually opened until 09:00. There are picnic tables here, too, offering comfortable seating for a nice meal, but I think there are better places in the valley to enjoy one's outside food. After the walk, if a pub meal is required, the Cat and Fiddle, the second highest pub in England, is only a few hundred yards away and offers good food and fabulous views. If you're going at a weekend, however, you should know that this is popular with bikers and gets very busy. The walk starts very easily, on the flat road through the valley towards Errwood Reservoir. Here the walk follows the infant river, and the sound of its rushing, pure waters, will follow you as you travel north. This is a clean watercourse and is home to plenty of wildlife. Trout live in the stream, with their fry being hunted by kingfishers. My favourite, however, is the dipper. This gorgeous little brown and white bird can be seen, acting out its name, 'dipping' under the water looking for food. After about a mile, a footpath, signposted for 'Shining Tor' will be found. The route now takes a more strenuous tone, as the path leads up and out of the valley, towards the highest point of the walk. Out of the valley, heather dominates the landscape, home to the red grouse. This secretive bird, so popular with the shooting fraternity, can surprise visitors by shouting its 'go back go back' call, from deep within the heather. Lucky visitors may get a good look at this handsome, yet hardy, little bird (if you do, note the feathered feet - an adaption to the intense cold of the Peak District winters). After a mile and a half of climbing, the summit is gained: Shining Tor. Named for its appearance when covered in snow, this is the highest point in Cheshire. At 1,834 feet, the view from the top is extensive. Macclesfield forest appears dark and brooding below, the huge saucer dish of Jodrell Bank (still the world's second largest steerable telescope) is easy to pick out only a few miles away, and the flat Cheshire plain stretches as far as the eye can see. This is my favourite spot for a picnic - on the roof of Cheshire. After a well earned rest, the stone path to Pym Chair is followed. This path gently descends from the summit for about a mile before rising again towards the second peak of the walk: Cat's Tor. Unfortunately, humans have eradicated the beautiful wildcats from the area, for which this peak was named, but in this wild landscape it is easy to imagine Britain's only native feline stalking its prey against the backdrop of the dark moors. Nothing remains of Pym's Chair, at which we take the next turn, but this ancient rock was used as a waypoint for travellers on this route for hundreds of years. From here, the route follows the road for a few hundred yards. Here, a dry stone wall, typical of many in the area, forms the north boundary of the road. On my last visit, I was fortunate enough to watch two young stoats darting in and amongst the stones, completely oblivious to their open mouthed observer only a few feet away. It is magical, unexpected, wildlife encounters like this that make walking in the countryside so enjoyable for me. From the road, the path to Errwood Hall is followed. This steep descent soon leads to the Spanish Chapel. Built by the Grimshawe family (who owned Errwood Hall), this charming little chapel is still maintained today, and always contains fresh flowers. This is a tranquil spot and I take time to stop and enjoy this memorial with its beautiful altar, built for the family's governess in 1899. Further down the valley, the ruins of Errwood Hall are encountered: this is an atmospheric place. Partly demolished in 1938, this was the grand residence of the Grimshawe family. The partial demolition has left parts of the hall still looking like new, whilst others have been removed completely. It is easy to imagine the rich owners, living like princes, in this magnificent mansion, so long ago. The owners have left another legacy, too. They planted over 40,000 azaleas and rhododendrons in the valley. The area is still covered in these beautiful plants and a visit in late spring will see the hall's gardens looking dazzlingly colourful with these wonderful blooms. After a few hundred yards, the walk levels out and Errwood Reservoir is reached. There is another car park here and another picnic site overlooking the picturesque reservoir. Trout fishing and sailing are practiced here, and the reservoir can be extremely busy with colourful little boats during the summer months. The final part of the walk follows the road that we started on, travelling back to Derbyshire Bridge alongside the River Goyt. About a mile in length, this is one of the best parts of the walk for wildlife. The rarest owl in Britain, the long-eared owl, lives in the woods bordering the road. In summer, the area is packed with breeding birds: redstart, pied and spotted flycatchers, as well as willow and wood warblers, singing their beautiful songs, seemingly incessantly. In the open areas, whinchat and stonechats may be found, too. Lucky visitors may spot a peregrine falcon or even a hen harrier flashing across the valley. About halfway back to the start point, the river is crossed by an old packhorse bridge. This was used to transport stone southwards out of the Peak District. Apparently, the Pickford family who used it went on to form the famous removal company. Another half a mile sees us safely back at the car after a (hopefully) wonderful walk. The route I've described can be varied in so many ways, and no two visits will be the same. This is one of my favourite places and I never tire of its bleak beauty. Many Peak District visitors come here, and it's easy to see why. The Goyt Valley has something to offer walkers of all abilities and interests. If you visit, I suspect you'll love the area as much as I do.

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