In March, I started the Crowdecote (Cowpat 6) post with a grumble – aimed at myself as much as anybody. ‘In the days when we all worked,’ I wrote, ‘it was easy to know where people were on a Saturday and it was usually possible to choose one when most were free. Now that the majority of potential participants have retired it has become harder to find a Saturday when everybody is in the same country, or even on the same continent, never mind available.’
Cowpat 8, then, was a minor miracle; all six ‘regular’ participants walked – though not all at the same time. Francis, Alison and Brian were only available on the 23rd of November so formed the ‘Pioneer Group’, while Mike, Lee and I followed on the 30th. Both were days of bright (though not warm) November sunshine, though the intervening week featured grey skies and rain.
I asked the Pioneers for their comments. Alison’s can be paraphrased as ‘Moan. Moan. Moan. Moan. Moan, but overall it was a good experience.’ Alison is not normally so negative. I saw Brian and Francis on Friday evening. They offered some advice and then talked at length of mud, slurry and impending doom. Brian, in particular, seemed to relish our forthcoming discomfort.
We made an early start and parked on Mount Road, a lane running along a ridge just outside Leek, shortly after 9 o’clock.
|Lee (left) and Mike, Mount Road, Leek|
We set off eastwards with fine views north to the Ramshaw Rocks, Hen Cloud and the Roaches.
|Ramshaw Rocks on the right, Hen Cloud in the middle and|
the southern end of the Roaches just disappearing round the tree
The problem with starting on a ridge with the intention of climbing to a higher one is that first you must descend. We dropped into a valley with an apparently nameless brook at the bottom. The approach was muddy and dotted with molehills, but it is inappropriate to make a major issue out of these. The descent was tiresome; moderately steep, very slippery and made unnecessarily narrow by a barbed wire fence.
|Lee descends to a nameless stream|
Reaching the bottom, we crossed the footbridge and ascended the other side to Stile House Farm. We had climbed through a field which, though muddy and pockmarked by cattle, was still frozen so we skipped lightly over the top of the ground – insofar as I ever ‘skip lightly’. Beyond the farm we emerged into Norman Lamont’s fabled ‘sunlit uplands’, and Lee felt the need to shed some outer clothing.
|The pockmarked frozen field below Stile House Farm|
There is no obvious path to Easing Farm....
|Lee and Mike discuss the lack of obvious path to Easing Farm|
.... but we had to cross another brook, and after descending by what felt like the natural route, we arrived at a footbridge – though it might have been hard to find behind summer foliage.
|A very wet hollow below Blakelow Lane|
Good advice, but even so there were 100m where we could only proceed by hopping from tussock to tussock. The ground between was so soft it swallowed the bottom metre of my walking pole under its own weight. Had any of us had slipped off a tussock we might still be there.
We reached Blakelow Road and crossed it into the National Park. The rest of our climb was up a farm track, gently inclined but long enough to make arrival at the summit a relief.
We had intended to pause here for coffee, but the track, which ends in a muddy parking place beside a phone mast, was covered in litter - plastic bottles and cans crushed ready for recycling but unaccountably dumped here.
Turning south we continued along the broad, wet, grassy top of what is technically called the Mixon-Morridge Anticline. It was not a pretty place, the muddy sheep fields were scarred by tractor tracks and the summit was too broad and flat to give a good view into the Hamps Valley beyond.
Approaching Onecote Grange we stuck to the footpath across the field. The Pioneer Group, however, did not. Francis wrote ‘we make no apologies for following a metalled farm road down to Onecote Grange. Here, Brian made the mistake of walking on what looked like a flat hard standing but sunk in nearly to his knees in something much more smelly’.
There is a lesson here: if you do not follow the official right-of-way you end up in a slurry pit.
We continued through Onecote to the Jervis Arms on the ‘main’ road (actually the B5053). The pub has a garden beside the River Hamps which is a pleasant spot to sup a pint in the summer months, if not November. Last week Brian crossed the garden to clean his gaiters in the river.
In the pub he washed his hands. Then he washed them again, but as he ate his sandwich the odour still lingered. On Friday evening he had been unsure if the slurry pit had been in Onecote or Mixon. Francis is sure it was Onecote, which is a shame as ‘Mixon’ is derived from the old English for ‘dung heap’.
The Jervis Arms, named after Admiral Jervis (a native of Stone and the victor at the Battle of Cape St Vincent - see Algarve (6) The West Coast) resembles many of the country pubs that have closed in recent years. It is, though, still open, probably because it offers well-kept, high quality beer and good food. I can vouch for the beer but, in several visits, I have never gone beyond the sandwich menu. Today’s ham sandwich (eaten with clean and fragrant fingers) involved good bread and ham freshly cut into satisfying slabs. My grandmother’s unfailing reaction to thinly sliced meat was to give it a look of disgust and say, ‘you can still taste the knife on that.’ Two generations on, I have different attitudes to many things, but on this issue Granny knew best.
Leaving the pub we walked back through Onecote village. The name – meaning ‘remote cottage’ - was first recorded in 1199. The population peaked at almost 600 in 1821 but is now nearer 200. We turned left, back towards the southern end of the ridge, beside St Luke's Church, a handsome building dating from 1750. Had we progressed a couple of hundred metres further up the lane we would have reached Onecote Lane End. A bitter and protracted legal dispute between members of the Cook family of Onecote Lane End Farm in the 1840s came to the attention of Charles Dickens who used it as the basis of ‘Jarndyce vs Jarndyce’ in Bleak House.
We re-joined Bleaklow Lane where there were fine views over the Valley of the River Churnet, and beyond that the River Dane with the gritstone cap of the Cloud (Cowpat 4) clearly visible.
|Mike and Lee approach Stile House Farm|
From here we retraced our morning route, down into the valley of the nameless brook and up onto the ridge on the far side, very much a sting in the tail.
|Back down to that nameless brook, with the sting in the tail rising ahead|