Walking: River Dove leads the way to peace: Paul Gosling takes a detour in Derbyshire and discovers a temple where Handel is said to have composed

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The Independent Culture
DERBYSHIRE is a beautiful place for walking - but not at weekends. The county's volume of visitors has outstripped its ability to cope, particularly in the Dales national park.

Weekdays are usually a better bet, and two of us borrowed a car on the recent bank holiday Tuesday with the intention of walking from 11am. We hoped this would not be too crowded, even though it is next to the perpetually overcrowded Dovedale. But we gave up six miles or so short of the intended destination, when the traffic was heavy enough to put us off.

We detoured away from our chosen route and parked at the village of Snelston. The traffic had delayed us, and we fancied a drink before we started walking. The pub on the map turned out to be a striking wisteria-clad house that was no longer licensed premises. We would have to get into our stride before being refreshed.

It was a gorgeous day, too hot for anything but strolling and stopping regularly. The fields were a rich green after weeks of rain. After crossing a road our path came out alongside the river Dove, where a massive heron was sweeping up out of the river, to perch on one of the trees on the river bank. Fish were diving out of the water to catch the flies that hovered over the river.

For a short distance the path followed the route of a disused railway line, before we turned off to continue following the river. On the opposite bank was an imposing large building and, nearer to us, a few short streets of dark stone terraced housing, which together made up the bulk of Church Mayfield. This little island village was so prepossessing that we speculated that it could be a prison, but it turned out to be a mill - much the same thing in the 19th century.

It was unclear from our map whether there was access through the mill complex, but happily there was - a diversion would have added a mile or so to our walk. We walked through the churchyard, and across the fields to Middle Mayfield. There we had our long-deferred refreshments in the Rose and Crown pub, where dozens of ties plus the occasional cravat hung from the ceiling. And not one of them was in good taste.

The path out of the village rose up giving us a great view over the valley, so we decided to stop for our picnic lunch. We were soon joined by a massive white dog that stood over us dribbling into our salad until we were eventually rescued by its owner.

We followed a path that ran through a wood in the next valley. Wild orchids covered the area where we entered, and as we went in deeper there were increasing numbers of late flowering bluebells, and lots of campion. The path repeatedly became either stream or swamp, so we were grateful for our good footwear.

The farmer at Hutts Farm gave us a friendly wave, but his bullocks were less welcoming. About 20 of them took an either unhealthy or unnatural interest in my companion. Displaying my customary chivalry I hopped over the nearest gate to wait for her outside the field and be in a position to safely call for help if it were needed.

To protect ourselves from the bovine horde we had been forced away from our path, and had to skirt around a couple of fields, before emerging on to the road at the wrong point. We eventually found the stile for a footpath to Calwich Abbey. There was little trace of the path, which must be hardly, if at all, used. I tried to make amends for my cowardice by trampling down the nettles.

Calwich Abbey was not as grand as we had expected from the map. Indeed it was an overgrown wreck of a manor house. Completed in 1850, the building became abandoned in the great depression between the two world wars, like many other country homes in the area. Its name is derived from the former priory on the same site.

According to a local history book all that is left of the original building is the stables. But while the rear of the building was clearly for stabling, the front appears to be too grand not to have also been a wing of the main building. The roof has mostly collapsed, making it a home for colonies of birds. The old garden hinted at the beauty it must once have had, with its massive rhododendrons in flower, and a variety of shrubs and trees, including a large copper beech, standing out with its bright rust colour.

We looked further around the grounds, going down to a lake, which feeds off the river Dove. As we walked down a fox emerged from the undergrowth, with something in its mouth. A dilapidated gate house guarded the bridge over the lake, much of which was covered by frothing dark green algae. As we walked away from the grounds we saw below on the lake's edge a striking copper-roofed temple, where Handel is reputed to have composed his Water Music. Although we had not walked far, it was a hot day and it was good to cross the river and head up the hill to the car. Our day in Derbyshire had been derailed, and most of the route was actually in Staffordshire. Our walk lacked the startling contours of the dales, but we had found solitude, passing just three people and four dogs in six hours.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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