Monday, 10 October 2011

Peaking too early

The Nine Maidens is an ancient stone circle, just outside the village of Birchover in the Peak District. A sacred place of ritual and calm overlooked by a large tree hung with ribbons, trinkets and scarps of cloth, written with phrases of memory. Had I known there were 18 miles of hard walking coming up that day, I might have stayed there, perched on my own stone, contemplating life.

There were 9 of us,hardly maidens anymore, but it meant we had one stone each.

Arriving the evening before, Linda and I had found the others out on a short walk (this should have been a warning of what was in store) and flicked through the information file, that declared; “Here, we’re proud of our facilities and rightly so.”

Surveying the bunk bed accommodation, mould spots flowering from one corner and the outside toilet block, we decided to find other facilities we could be proud of and departed to the nearest pub, the Druids Inn. There we sat by a welcoming fire with a glass of wine and contemplated staggering back drunk much later and demanding our tea, not wanting to scare the new girls, we thought better of it and made it back in time for dinner. After which we imbibed more alcohol, a few games and a demo of some recently learnt burlesque skills, retiring in time for the noise curfew, only to be woken by the party in the next barn in the wee small hours.

We made a co-ordinated assault on the toilet block, none of us wishing to stagger alone through the dark yard, and I lay awake listening to the dark night and watching Gianna in the opposite bunk, silouheted against tiny pinpricks of light from a village in the valley, like a romantic effigy, her hands clasped across her chest. She was still lying like that when I was roused by bird song in the morning, the dawn light threw her profile into relief, and I was relieved to see her stir, I thought she’d passed out.

We set off 8 miles across the moor, the uneven terrain giving way to the gentle landscapes of Chatsworth, rolling down to the noisy river rushing over weirs, it should have been announcing our grand entrance, but they didn’t even send the carriage out for us. If we’d known what the rest of the walk held, we might have hijacked the golf buggy parked outside, but we staggered past into the stable courtyard, where we unpacked our butties and bought a coffee or two from the kiosk. Other walkers milled around us, mixed with well dressed day trippers, young ladies and gents in cravats and hunter wellies and coach loads of grannies in twin sets and curls.

Onward through the pristine hamlets of the Chatsworth estate, past perfect gardens and tidy houses, and a long, long climb, up a never ending hill we made our way along more footpaths to Bakewell. Staggering like wild women from the hills among the tourists and quaint shops to a tea room where the waiter called our table four small tarts and tea. Our ripoite, “How very dare you” was met with a weary smile, I bet he only hears that a hundered times a day or so. The tart was a disappointment, we should have gone for the pudding, truck loads of sugar might have helped with the next bit. Walking out of the town past tempting bus stops across a field, a passing Land Rover pulled up and a bloke yelled at us that we were going the wrong way. There followed a dip in morale as we consulted the map, knowing we had a horrible hill ahead of us.
Descending on a mountain bike track through a wood the other side, my knees screamed and wobbled. We dragged ourselves down the last lane to the welcoming smoke billowing from the chimney of the Druids Inn, escorted into a gothic red room that probably matched the colour of our feet, we ate steak, Venison and Partridge in our slippers, brought back from our barn by the lovely Rachel, who’s also came back with a car so we didn’t have to face the last hill.

The next day, a short walk was in order and we eventually found our way to Dovedale. Strolling along the caramel coloured water that flows swiftly down stream, we ignored the steep paths up the green hills, hopping across the stepping stones walking along under granite outcrops, Derbyshire’s version of sugar loaf mountains, following the gorge to damp caves, nooks and crannies, before heading back to share some home made cake in the car park and making our weary way home.