Even little legs can stride out in the Peaks
The Derbyshire countryside offers good walking for families with toddlers in tow, says Mark Rowe
Sunday 07 December 2008
There are battles to win with children, and battles you choose to lose. On Baslow Edge, one of the gritstone edges that flank the Peak District in Derbyshire, we realised we were about to lose a battle with our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Hannah. "I'm going to walk in a big, big, big, big muddy puddle," Hannah announced. Ignoring my threat to withdraw various treats, she marched up to a particularly forbidding puddle and sank in it to well above her knees.
Nothing out of the ordinary in that, except for the location. Baslow Edge runs for half a mile at a height of 985ft in the east of the Peak District and the four of us, my wife, daughter and son, Thomas – aged 14 months and tucked up in a pushchair – were out for a morning's buggy walking.
The wind was freshening but the sky was blue and dotted with cotton-wool clouds, and there was a shared family feeling of euphoria. Just because you have young children, you don't have to forgo a lifelong passion for walking; and while we have frequently used a baby carrier when hiking, we were curious to find out just how far you could venture with a pushchair.
Most people reach Baslow Edge by taking on the stiff climb from the village of Baslow in the Derwent Valley below. Instead, we parked in the car park on the minor road to the north of the edge and used the paved, wheelchair access route for the first 200 yards. This route then peels off to a viewpoint but we pressed on ahead, towards the Eagle Stone, an imposing, isolated weathered lump of gritstone marooned in moorland. The path was not only muddy but also rocky, but it was more than manageable and there were no stiles.
The views over the Derwent Valley were tremendous. Across the valley was Birchen Edge and the Nelson monument – a narrow plinth, topped with a stone ball paying tribute to a seafaring hero in a landlocked county. A curiosity, it was erected after the Battle of Trafalgar, 57 years before Nelson's column was raised in London.
The children didn't particularly take the views on board, but Thomas spent the journey making approving gurgling noises and pointing at the clouds as they blew overhead, while Hannah, when not investigating every puddle, was heaving herself into the springy heather and generally wearing herself out to the point where she would sleep soundly that night. It was also striking just how quickly, and eagerly, she learnt to distinguish between the droppings of horses, sheep and cows.
Just beyond the Eagle Stone we paused to look down the valley, having first checked that the edge did not end in a precipitous drop. We could trace the Derwent as it nudged its way towards Chatsworth House, semi-hidden in woodland two miles away. We then turned left to follow the old "Chesterfield Roade", a high moorland carriage route for the Dukes of Devonshire, to the Wellington Monument before retracing our steps.
Baslow Edge is not an officially designated buggy-friendly route. I thought it worth giving it a go as I had independently walked the area a few years previously. But the Peak District, which has an extraordinary collection of hillocks, dales, cloughs and mountains shoehorned into its 555 square miles, is also one of the best places to find level, family-oriented walks. If you're going to buy into the idea of buggy walks, a standard pram will be hopeless: you will need one of the "all-terrain" pushchairs with pumped-up wheels.
One of the best walks is the Monsal Trail, which draws on the heritage of the network of train lines that used to run through the region. Part of the former Midland Railway Line through the national park, which closed in 1968, it provides level and usually paved though interrupted access for eight miles from Blackwell Mill Junction, east of Buxton to Coombs Viaduct, south-east of Bakewell. The only breaks are where the train line runs through limestone tunnels, which have proved prohibitively expensive to maintain.
We chose a two-mile stretch that headed east towards Bakewell from Miller's Dale in the Wye Valley. Another theoretical plus for small children is that dogs are required to be kept on leads along the path, though we found that this was rarely observed. The path is a delight, walkable in all weathers and full of wildlife. The underlying limestone, alkaline soils and deep valleys provide a nutrient-rich habitat for wildlife and make the path much more than somewhere you merely push a buggy. We crossed a spectacular viaduct just to the east of Miller's Dale; down below was a sweeping gorge while above on the hillsides were ancient remnants of field terraces, known as lynchets.
In the course of a week, we learnt to gauge how far the children would tolerate walking in one day. As a general rule of thumb, we found that a child of two and half years can cope with walking two and half kilometres (about 1.5 miles) before tiredness, tantrums and boredom collided. A walk through the grounds of Chatsworth, which under foot looks as buggy-friendly as anywhere, went pear-shaped because we exceeded this distance. And it made little sense to tackle every walk we had researched: the Peak Forest Tramway Trail, which runs from Buxworth to Chapel-en-le-frith, and which was strongly recommended by friends, will have to wait.
How to get there
Mark Rowe stayed at Croft View Cottage (01433 630711; croftview cottage.co.uk ) in the centrally located village of Foolow, which is available from £440 per week, or £295 for a three-night break.
For more details on walking in the Peak District and the Monsal Trail, go to derbyshireuk.net/peak district_walking.html. For the Peak Forest Tramway, go to highpeak. gov.uk/culture/tramway.pdf. For more about the region see discovereastmidlands.com
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