Oker Hill Trig & Beyond

Oker Hill is one of my favourite local fell running destinations. Oker Hill is a relatively small hill that extends from the side of a larger bank. It sits between Darley Bridge and Wensley, Or if you’re  heading on the back road from Matlock, just above the Hamlet of Snitterton.

It has a white painted trig point that makes it clearly visible from both high and low view- points around the Darley / Matlock area.

My usual route to the trig starts at the Church Inn, Church Town, Darley Dale, I follow the road around the corner past St Helen’s Church, turning immediate right over the fields past the dog kennels. Follow the path across the first field and you come to a broad arable field on the flood plain.

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Head toward the Cricket ground and this will bring you out at Darley Bridge. Head over the Bridge and swing left down the lane called Wenslees. You’ll have the River Derwent on your left, just after the Water Treatment plant, take the stile through the fields on your right.oker-hill1.jpg
Most of the year, this field is boggy, expect wet feet, if you don’t have waterproof footwear. Fell runners do not care about such things, we welcome wet feet.

You’ll come to a small stile, go over and up the next field, it brings you out on a farm track called Flint Lane, Turn right, about 10 meters on your left, take the next stile and go up the next field. This field is steep and undulating. Depending on the time of year, there may be cattle or sheep in the field.  If you have a dog with you, ensure it’s on a lead to avoid spooking the livestock. I have been chased by bullocks in this field so beware.

As you climb to the top of the field there’s a gate on your right, keep going up, under the Hawthorne trees, and you’ll see the land on your left rise sharply. Up and up and you’ll come to what looks like a little ski slope. If you’re fit, you can run up this in one go. If not, you know you need some training. It’s a short but steep hill and when you get to the top you reach the trig point and are rewarded with fantastic views.

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South Darley Church

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Looking towards Wensley

I really like this little route because it gives you a reward, without killing you in the process. A relatively easy trig with great views, but you still have to make a bit of effort.

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After you’ve caught your breath and taken in the view, head along the undulating path toward’s the big tree, you might spot a rabbit or two if you’re lucky.  At the big Sycamore tree, there is a little shrine, I don’t know the detail behind it, but someone either loved this place or lost their life here.

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Now follow the path past the tree, through the scrub and you’ll come out on the other side of Oker, to your left is an old derelict barn and your way back.

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Oker Hill, Head down toward the barn.

Head down toward the barn, you can now turn right into Oker and take the bottom route or head left and you’ll be heading back the way you came, just slightly lower down the hill.
Look for the shard.  The shard is just my name for a sharply pointed guidepost on the path, resembling it’s more modern, London counterpart.

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All you have to do now is follow the path, you’ll come out at the foot of the steep incline up to the trig. Go back down, retracing your steps and back to the pub for a well-deserved drink.

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Loving Local Landscapes

I added the strapline, “Loving Local Landscapes” to this blog in early 2016. It was in response to an assignment for work, that I was undertaking as a part of a copywriting course by the CMP.

It’s been a busy year in general and my personal direction has altered a few times, wrestling with where the line should be with my public and private persona and just what I want to share online.  I have long been a lover of nature and history, and yet my tweets are often political, as is the material that I post to Facebook.  I feel the two worlds are not always compatible and should not bleed into each other, keeping both strands pure for those with similar interests. Nature lovers may not want politics and Politico’s may not care for updates on hill and dale.

Subsequently, all posts of all types have suffered from my hiatus, whilst I ponder exactly how to separate the content appropriately to ensure the right audience gets the right material.

The Direction for 2017

This Weblog shall remain a-political, focusing on the landscape and history of the Peak District and my interpretation and interaction with those elements.  To underline that commitment, Here’s a little of what I’ve been up to at the end of 2016.

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Crich Stand Trig: One of the easiest in the area.

A Trip To Crich Stand

The Crich Memorial (known locally as Crich Stand) is one of those places that has been on my list to visit for a very long time, and yet it’s one of those places I never seemed to get to, until now.

Despite having visited the tramway museum a few years ago, having had relatives in the area, and visiting friends in the village itself, I’d never gotten up to Crich stand itself, much to my annoyance.

As I’m sure any walker/runner will know, all too often we pass a place in our cars, and vow to investigate, and yet allow life to jostle us past every gaping opportunity.  Well, no more.

After the excesses of the Christmas holiday,  Mum and I headed up to Crich with the aim of wandering up to the Stand. It was a cold crisp day,  we made the stroll very steady.

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I believed that The Memorial tower was dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Sherwood foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment). I was unaware though that the regiment had been merged with the Worcestershire regiment. Today that merged regiment is part of the Mercian Regiment, all part of Army restructuring.

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For more information about the history of the tower, see the Crich Memorial Website.

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We wandered around looking at the inscriptions on the War memorials to the dead that have fallen since WW2, took a few piccys and walked up to the trig, peering down into the Tramway Museum below.

There was a  chap flying his Drone up there, getting some ariel footage and just generally enjoying the views. We exchanged pleasantries, and Instagram handles, though I couldn’t find his account, perhaps, he’ll find my Instagram or read this?

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Sadly, the tower itself was closed, but we do hope to visit again and perhaps get to take in the view on that occasion.

My Tideswell Fell Race 2016

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Photo: Tideswell Fell Race Website.

The evening of June 24th saw the 2016 Tideswell Fell Race. The venue is Tideswell Dale. This year, 85 runners took part, which is a good turnout.  I think there were a few more than last year.

It looked as though rain may stop play before the fell race even began.  Dark clouds were overhead and they unleashed a deluge of large hailstones.  Luckily the heavens cleared and blue skies soon chased off the dark clouds.

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I arrived early at Tideswell Dale with just enough time to record a quick snap chat about how I was feeling before the race. It’s a nice race with a bloody tough climb quite early on.

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When I arrived I went to sign in and collect my race number, which wasn’t great, it was number 13.  Not a good omen in my opinion and so it was proved. I’d told my friends Jo Shimwell and Nick Johnson and they came along for the race too.

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Will Brindley & Glen Croper…enjoying the rainbow.

Myself and my fellow clubmate Will Brindley headed up into the quarry to do some pre-race warmup.  Not that it did me any good at all.

The Race Begins

The race began at a cracking pace, a little bit too fast for me. I did my best to keep up with the middle of the pack, but by the bottom of Tideswell Dale I was already flagging. My legs felt very heavy. By the time I had climbed up onto the Monsal Trail I was just about done for, the race wasn’t even a 1/3 in.

From the Monsal Trail it was up the steep steps at the side of the old packhorse bridge that crosses the old railway line,  and up the steep, steep climb to the top.  I have done this climb many times before,  it all depends on how you approach it. This time, it was so hard, I was so tired, the flies were out in force, the cowpats were everywhere, tough going is not the word.

Just before the top, I received some welcome refreshment two Tideswell people were standing there handing out water. I took 2 cups,  One to drink and one to dunk over my head and wash the sweat from my face.

Hitting the top of the hill, I found my legs again and began to run. I could see Colette Holden in front of me,  about 100m ahead.  Collette had passed me on the hill climb and it was my determination to keep her in sight.

My standard approach to other runners of a similar ability level is keep them close  about 50 m ahead and then plan a cavalry charge at the end. I saw Colette pass the barn on the crest of the hill, I’d cut her lead and was probably, 20 seconds behind her.

As soon as I hit the downhill,  I started to increase my speed.  At one point, she couldn’t have been more than 30 meters in front of me,  but again fatigue set in and my resolve evaporated.  I just couldn’t maintain the pace,  having to stop for too many breathers.

The descent plunges down a green hillside and then into a small wood.  The path is muddy and rocky. It ends with a long set of steep steps, which are lethal when wet. Even a “descent psycho” like myself gets nervy on them. They seem to go on forever and are just so steep. My knees were screaming by the time I crossed the river bridge to hit the tarmac at the bottom.

The Tar Stretch

At the bottom gates of Ravens Tor Youth Hostel, Colette was out of sight again.  I increased my speed, and after about three minutes she was back in sight and only 50 meters ahead.  I thought that if I could maintain the pace I might overtake her towards the end.

The ascent backup Tideswell Dale is a deceptively long drag, especially when you’ve just done the best part of a fell race. I tried to maintain my speed,  increasing my steps,   I closed on Colette, “this is it, I said to myself as I rounded the corner.  Cramp was setting into the legs and suddenly something in my brain said “stop”.

I stopped for about 30 seconds, just to get some air and knowing all the time, that I’d just blown my last chance. I pressed as hard as I could on the final stretch going through the gate just before the quarry.  As I rounded the first corner I could already hear the cheers as the crowd cheered Colette up the home straight.

Nothing left to do now but finish strongly. I rounded the final corner and the crowd started to cheer me on.  I gave it my all, I am rather well known for my sprint finishes. It’s just a shame that I can’t find that speed earlier in races.  I don’t get my legs till far too late.

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Sprint Finish Photo: Jo Shimwell

A  fantastic race by Colette has to be congratulated, especially that she’s been struggling with injury all year.

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Colette at the finish. Photo: Andy Watkins

Conclusions

Tideswell Fell race is a fantastic race,  really enjoyable.  My time is down on last years, but I can cope.  This was only my second race this year and my training has been patchy due to PF.

One thing this result tells me is that I really, really need to work on my fitness and stamina. This is been a consistent problem in races,  giving up too easily when I need to keep going.

I am sure I need some kind of mental training.  My weight is getting there,  am capable of bursts of speed, so I don’t know what the issue is.

Any comments on this from experienced runners would be welcome.

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Related Links:

Tideswell Fell Race
My Tideswell Fell Race 2015
Tideswell Running Club
Reworked version of this article at TRC

Alport Castles

Alport Castles is a geological feature situated in the Alport Valley in Northern Derbyshire.
I first learned of it from an image I saw online. I decided that I had to pay it a visit as soon as I could. When planning Fell run routes, I always try to add a stunning Peakland feature into my routes.

The ‘Castles’ are mounds of gritstone which, are remnants of an ancient landslip. As you head down the Valley you can see them towering over the valley below. In a certain light, the rocky outcrops look like ruined castles.

A Short Steep Fell Race Route

I parked my car on the Snake Pass and headed down the road, turning off at a farm by the roadside. I took the track through the farmyard and followed it for about a mile and a half down the farm track.alport-castles-map

About half a mile into the run, I came across some old farm machinery from a bygone era. It’s hard to imagine that this machinery would onece have been so vital to a farmer’s work.

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All along the hedgerow, there were temporary signs, informing walkers that work was going on to restore and maintain the natural habitats of the valley.

Further down the track, I came to Alport Castles Farm. The farm is beautifully isolated, a real haven for those seeking peace. It was also once the home of a famous Suffragette, Hannah Mitchell

alport-castles-farmThere was a ladder stile here and a path that wandered down to the river. I paused for a few minutes to watch a pair of Chaffinches play in the branches of the trees before heading over the bridge and up the rocky track, toward my goal. The steep path went up and up weaving between two streams. I soon reached a small plateau, before another steep climb curving round to the right. Here an official sign for Alport Castles told me that I was definitely on the right track.

I clambered over a couple of grassy mounds, finding myself in a tight gully strewn with boulders.  I knew this was just the start of the landslip and that the best was yet to come.

Alport Castles

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Alport Castles Boulders

Alport Castles Rocky Gully

The largest feature is called “The Tower”, It’s a large Gritstone stack, Isolated from the rest of the landslip, And there it was. As I reached the top of the gulley the splendour of “The Tower” hit me, it was just as impressive as all the pictures I’d seen.

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Alport Castles Tower

Wandering up the bank onto a grassy plateau, long tussocks of dry grass made it pretty tricky going. I inspected some of the smaller landslips,  before heading down towards “The Tower”.  The size of some of the stones that had fallen from the cliffside was quite worrying, I moved swiftly, in case one of these monstrous rocks should fall on me and send me to meet my maker.

Alport Castles The Tower

I decided I’d eat my lunch at the top of “The Tower”, If I could manage to climb up there.  It doesn’t look too tall on the photos, but when you are half way up, you realise that a fall might just kill you.

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I managed to get about half-way up when hunger overcame me. I found a nice flat rock and got stuck into my Cheese & Pickle sandwiches.

Climbing up Alport Castles

Whilst I was resting, I sat and watched Ravens soaring overhead. Their distinctive calls were oddly soothing. I have seen a definite increase in the places that these beautiful birds inhabit in the Peak District.

Alport Castles Walk

Eventually, I managed to find a way around the stack and work my way up to the top. From there, I continued to watch and listen to the Ravens, and was lucky enough to get close to one that landed near to me. I even watched them mob and drive off a bird that looked like a Peregrine Falcon, but I couldn’t be 100% sure.

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If you fancy a fairly easy walk/run, with a good climb, then I’d definitely recommend a visit to Alport Castles. It has everything. A good firm track, wildlife, birds and fantastic views.

Have you been to Alport Castles? How was it for you, leave a comment below.

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My Tideswell Fell Race 2015

Tideswell Fell Race is a 4.4 mile race starting from Tideswell Dale, just outside the White peak village, known as “Tidza”. The 2015 race was held on the 26th of June.

This year I wasn’t injured, and having never done Tideswell Fell Race before, I was keen to take part. The race is organised by local people, not by Tideswell Running Club. However, the running club wanted to show our support for a local race, and we turned out in force.

Gerard Rogers has it covered with computerised results.After the initial registration, there’s a short walk up to the old quarry a little further down dale. We knew that the pace would be pretty quick as local and national fell racing stars such as Luke Beresford (Ripley AC), Olivia Walwyn (Macclesfield Harriers) and Judith Jepson (Dark Peak) were all in attendance.

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Tideswell Fell Race starts in the old Quarry

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Plenty of Dark Peak runners at the start.

The race went off at a cracking pace, down the to the bottom of Tideswell Dale towards Litton Mill.

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Obviously, I’m winning the race in this shot.

Once in the village, take a quick right over the narrow river bridge and then a steep rocky ascent brings you up onto the Monsal Trail. Dash straight across the trail and up the steps beside the railway footbridge. The route then climbs up two steep fields before flattening out onto Bulltor Lane. Turn right towards the barn and go through the stile. One brief plateau of a field with a stunning view, then all of a sudden you’re flying back downhill. Run this bit as hard as you can, to make up time, there’s a tight wooded bit with lots of roots and potential trips, so disengage the brain on the grass

If it’s been raining, this section can be pretty slippery, The steps are particularly slimy. Before you know it you’re over a small river bridge crossing the Wye, turn right back on the tarmac again. This stretch of tarmac seems to go on forever, but save a little if you can, soon enough you’ll come to the bottom Tideswell Dale. Swing back up the dale with a hairpin left, and begin the long steady incline back up to the finish line. You can usually see other runners in front of you here, and this is the time to pick them off, If you’ve got anything left in the tank.

I came in near the back of the field,  as per usual, but having never reccied the route I was pleased to have just taken part.

All in all cracking little race and if you’re reasonably fit, it actually feels like you’re competing, all the way round. Looking forward to doing better in the 2016 race.

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Thanks to Tideswell Fell Race for the use of their photos
See race photos here