Dear All

Just got back from a long walk through Dove Dale, and are we exhausted? Can't get over the numbers of people who were there. It was like being on the human equivalent of the M1.

We should have guessed what we were letting ourselves in for when we had so much trouble parking in Milldale, the tiny riverside village we started walking from. The minuscule village green was thick with people and there was a queue outside the cute little post office selling ice-creams.

You know what it's like on Christmas Eve in a big shopping-centre car park, when you have to kerb-crawl people who are loaded down with shopping in the hope of getting their parking space? Well, it was like that in Milldale on Sunday.

We joined the throngs threading past the National Trust van selling memberships and over an ancient bridge into Dove Dale.

We thought it would be quieter a little further on, but how wrong can you be? The farther we walked, the busier it got. Eventually, at particularly narrow points on the path, we were having to press ourselves against sheer cliff walls to let people going the other way pass.

The scent of Ambre Solaire and cigarette smoke hung in the air. At one point it mingled with that of Pot Noodle - in a pathside cave full of exploring children and dogs, one group were brewing up their lunch.

Occasionally the human tide stopped and all eyes lifted skyward. This was to look at yet another rock climber inching his or her tortuous way up some rock stack.

It reminded me of a group I once joined, staring up at the top of an office block. The people there were watching someone threatening to jump off the top. They just gazed, chewing gum, in a fever of idle curiosity, but he didn't fall off so eventually they moved on. It was like that in Dove Dale.

Near journey's end we watched, unbelieving, as fly fishermen cast their lines ominously close to human quarry on the bank. Thorpe Cloud, a magnificent hill, reared up ahead of us, crawling with human beings making their relentless way to the top.

Such was the crush at what should have been an idyllic spot that we had to queue for several minutes to use the stepping stones across the river beside which an ice-cream truck had so conveniently parked.

What do you expect on an August weekend in a tourist hotspot, I hear you ask? Well, honestly, not this. We'd read all these stories about the threat to our most beautiful places posed by intensive tourism but we'd never seen it at first-hand. We normally walk in more remote places.

Dove Dale is still beautiful, despite the fact that its stones have been worn to marble smoothness by the passage of people. We'll go back, but we'll probably wait until mid-winter - it may have regained some solitude by then.

(Photograph omitted)

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