The green hills and valleys of the Peak District just have to be one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen; it makes it very possible to imagine that all England once was covered in green like this. With the June sun pouring down on me and the sky a brilliant blue you could be forgiven for mistaking it for South America.
Peter McCartney has given me very good directions to take me out of the Derwent Valley and in to Tansley. We have decided against me keeping to the canal all the way to Matclock as it will involve a massive climb in and out of the valley which doesn’t seem a very sensible to start to a whole day’s walk. I am bit disappointed at not having been able to really sample all the delights of this beautiful region, but as Marion says I can always come back another time.
I reach Tansley by lunchtime and enjoy a good lunch at the Royal Oak; I know I have reached the north when the waitress cannot see anything unusual about offering me both chips and new potatoes with my meal!
I should be having the time of life but I am actually quite shaky; I have developed a real paranoia about footpaths after my experiences in Leicestershire. Is this path going to be there; if it is will it be visible on the ground; and if it is, will it be full of cattle!
I am just beginning to get more confident after lunch with a whole morning of proof that after all lots of people come on walking holidays to the Peak District when I come out of a beautifully signposted and marked forest path straight into a field of very large brown and white cows. I try to find a way around but there isn’t one; the footpath is clearly worn right through the middle of the field. I skirt the edge; I can see the cows are agitated about having someone in their territory, and walk determinedly towards the other side where I can see a bit of high ground where I should be able to climb over the fence; there is no way I can leave where the footpath ends – the cows are swarming all around it. They follow me, at first at a distance, and then get closer and closer, I turn and tell them very clearly to Go Away. They back off and I walk on determined to walk not run. They get closer, some of them getting quite frisky and leaping about.
“Go Away” clearly, determinedly.
They follow closely but never actually get right up to me until I reach the high ground and a low tree which I can walk under but they cannot. Then they come right up as close as they can. I scramble over the fence and the nettles to the lane at the far side and then look at my map to see which direction; it is not immediately obvious to me and I have to walk a short way one way to get a landmark and then walk back the other; the cattle follow my progress intently, following me from their side of the very tumble down wall and fence and determined to see me off their patch. The first bridle path going in my direction is not marked for public access, nor the second, though the lane itself is and all appear as public on my map. At the second, and last opportunity to turn the right way for miles, I lean against a wall, after first checking that the extremely large field the cattle are in has finished, and give in to tears. There is something very disempowering about being at the mercy of farmers who clearly do not want you on their land and not finding a very obvious way of getting off it.
If I met one now I’d be off in a diatribe so probably as well that no one comes by. I recover my senses having shed the pent up emotion of the past days and set off determinedly along the bridle path that is not marked for public access; in the mood I am in I would likely hit anyone who told me I couldn’t! I imagine appearing in court for assault and think how unfair that would be and am relieved no one is about so that I can walk off my frustration.
At the end of the bridle way is a public bridleway sign pointing the way on and I am grateful for my anger that gave me the courage to go that way and lift me from the desperation at being trapped between a field of territorial cattle and a farm that did not want anyone on their land. I follow the bridle way to its natural end; it is a beautiful old bridle way, stone slabbed paved and in a jitty, and leads out on to the main road of the gorgeous village of Ashover at the side of The Old Poets Corner inn which has won pub of the year for two years. Turning back I see the public bridleway sign proudly pointing the way where poets must once have walked and wonder if they had problems with cattle on public rights of way as I have had.
I revert to quiet back roads almost as good as Rutland ones for the rest of my journey, vowing never to get back onto a public footpath; I’d almost rather brave a main road, though not quite; I do reach one, and quickly get off it to walk two miles round instead of a half along it; there is no verge. Our country is not designed any longer for us to walk around and I feel we have had something very precious taken from us.
The steep hills I have been warned about don’t bother me a bit; they are not as steep as Devon and Dorset hills, or maybe my legs are used to them now?
I am met by Anne Frazer of Transition Chesterfield and we walk together and I hear her tales of Chesterfield. I have fond memories of the place; I live for a time with a boyfriend in Bolsover, some 20 years ago when I could collect enough coal for my fire by picking up the lumps that would fall from the lorries as they passed through our estate. The highlight of my year there were the weekly trips into Chesterfield for the market and to see the crooked spire of the parish church. Anne tells me the market is still vibrant and the biggest in England. I wonder if it has taken over the fame of Bury market, which in my childhood was known as the largest. I am thrilled that the market is still a focal point of Chesterfield life and Anne and I enjoy sharing our pleasure with markets with their stall holders vying for trade and she tells me of the cheese man who calls out
“Pound a bag”
And now has a facebook following and tourists coming to find out a pound of what! He sells bread rolls.
I hear of the local colour of Chesterfield and nearby Sheffield, just ten minutes away by train though it will take me most of the day to get there. Here there is still greyhound racing, and allotments are still the territory of old men in vests and flat caps and they often keep pigeons there. When Anne got her allotment she was told that they were very progressive; they had an Asian allotment holder over there…and 2 women over there! Anne has tried to get them to teach her more about gardening, when she arrived with her chitted potatoes all ready for planting one of them said
“I‘d wait until Wednesday if I were you”
That was it. That was the advice. No indication of why Wednesday; was he winding her up, was she late in planting, was it because rain was due, was it to do with the right phase of the moon (as biodynamic farming would recommend)…she had no way of knowing. These old men know their stuff but they are not used to being asked to teach, which is a bit of a shame.
Anne shows me a folder of all Transition Chesterfield’s achievements; she compiled it when she wrote the first newsletter. Transition Chesterfield have been going quite a time and have done plenty. They say, as many groups have, that their active group is much smaller than the newsletter readership but they are having fun and involving people on as many levels as possible. They can’t talk about peak oil to many for the locals say
“Why, what have Peak Oil done, who should we go with instead?”
Peak Oil are the local heating company who deliver oil for heaters in the Peak District!
They have shown some awareness raising films, especially at the beginning, they have been in existence since 2008, but find skill shares more suitable for their town, and they have done many, sharing everything from home baking to wild food foraging to bike repair to an introduction to Permaculture. These are held at different venues throughout the town at regular intervals.
One of the highlights of Transition Chesterfield that I think sounds like an amazing event, well worth replicating elsewhere, is the Harvest Swop. They have run this twice now and it is great fun. People take their excess produce along to the event and set up their stall. Everyone gets a number that they wear and represents their stall. There is then a milling activity where everyone walks around to see what others have to swop and finds out what they would like to get. Then a whistle blows and everyone must attempt to do their swopping and get the things they most wanted. Most people are simply relieved to be able to give away their excess so anything they do swop for what they want is a bonus.
A project that Anne has got going is the Allotments Groups Unite scheme where the representatives of the different allotments get together to talk exchanging challenges and joys with the view, in Anne’s vision, that they will find ways of supporting one another. Allotments are big in Chesterfield; every school has one. Schools sound pretty forward thinking here from what I hear; they have done away with year streamed registration groups in favour of vertical streaming where each registration group consists of several members of every year group encouraging better relationships between the year groups and fostering care for the younger ones by the older children, and minimizing bullying.
Transition Chesterfield have lots of fun going on cycle rides around the town together, and I share the be-spoked event idea from Leicester and the slow food bike rides from Southampton. All kinds of processions are popular in Chesterfield and they still have a May Day walk which Transition Chesterfield have taken part in, having a big sew-in beforehand to produce a banner and lots of bunting from material they had been gifted.
They have been delighted to see how even things that are not immediately going to be a success having a really good, unexpected result. At their Potato Day, where they were giving seed potatoes to encourage more growing they had a great time but did not see a lot of non transition folk and were left with some 2000 potatoes. One of their members went around every school in the town and got orders from each of them for free potatoes to take home and grow or for the school allotment.
I go to bed after a delicious home baked supper finished with rhubarb from Anne’s allotment and homemade ginger biscuits content and hoping I get time to revisit the market and crooked spire before I walk on.