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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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.

Climbing alport Castles

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.

top of Alport Castles

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.

Tideswell Fell Race

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.

Tideswell Fell Race

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

My Grindleford Fell Race 2015

Grindleford Fell Race 2015.

A couple of weeks back a group of us from TRC had done a steady recce of the Grindleford Fell Race. Despite us taking a couple of wrong turns. We knew largely what to expect in terms of terrain. The route was truly spectacular, and very enjoyable to do, so I was looking forward to giving it my best effort.

I turned up at Grindleford nice and early, getting a decent parking space, and I chatted to a few other runners I knew. I bumped into an old schoolfriend after the race, and an old band mate before it. I also bumped into Alex Kashefi, the barefoot runner who I follow on Instagram.

At first, I thought the race might be quiet, but the car parking field soon filled up, and the race organisers ran out of numbers as a record 431 something runners arrived to take part.

Eventually, the race got underway and after a couple of laps of the playing field the racing snakes were away.

Grindleford Fellrace

Photo: George Carman

The rest of us ran into the tight church lane funnel, where we got about 5 minutes running before we ground a waking queue. I was glad of this though because my quads were already burning and the calves weren’t best happy either.

Steep wooded Climb

Long Queues formed here:  Sue Jeff – On the Earlier TRC recce of the route. Photo: Ben Brindley

Church Lane Climb

It’s tight in there. As you can see. The whole thing soon ground to a walking Queue

After the steep climb of low branches and rock strewn path, we emerged onto a wooded hill with an epic view of the Hope valley. After a short downhill where I prematurely bolted past a load of runners, we were through a stile and up a boggy hillside heading toward the longshaw estate. This hillside was crisscrossed with small, rusty streams whose banks and been collapsed by grazing livestock, this turning the land into bog after bog. I was glad to get out of the fields and onto the hard packed dirt track above. This didn’t help me much though as a few runners came past me at this point.

I feared I’d spent my energy too soon. After a few minutes though I found a good rhythm and slowly started to pick a couple of people off. We turned left and encountered ditches and fallen trees as obstacles. I think this is where I started to believe a bit, because I went over the logs easily and headed down towards the road at the back of Owler Tor.

The Stream Crossing, Padley Gorge

Claire from TRC makes her way across the Stream on our recce: Photo Ben Brindley

Slowing slightly to get my breath, I knew that getting a good start at the top of Padley Gorge would be pivotal for my race.

When we recce’d this the week before, it slowed a few of us up because there is a stream crossing, and runners were choosing the boulders instead of just running through the water. The same happened on race night.

There was a pack of runners, all gingerly picking their way over the boulders, I blasted through the water, leaving them to wonder what whizzed past. Then up ahead a few more just entering the rather technical, rock and root littered path.

I just pressed the peddle here and went flying past them. It’s a risky strategy, but I do love a technical downhill, and I tried to remember what my teammate, Ben told me about not overstriding. One after another, I dropped runner after runner, this felt so good because I rarely overtake anyone in races and always finish quite near the back. Only once was I overtaken on this section by a Steel City Strider and I managed to catch that lady and pass her later on.

Tony and Leon Testing the start of the Descent into Padley Gorge

Tony and Leon Testing the start of the Descent into Padley Gorge. Photo: Ben Brindley

At the bottom of the Gorge there’s a gravel downhill, my idea of hell, followed by a brief uphill section, past the ancient Ruined chapel where the Rogue Priest Nicolas Garlic was captured. Here I  ran with another chap, Ian from Sheffield for a minute or two, we marvelled at a small woman who came chugging past up like a Trojan warrior, before turning left through a kissing gate. It was at this point, that I put my foot in a divot and lost my balance. I didn’t go over but my confidence evaporated. I gestured for the runner behind me, a smiley Pacer to come past. A few seconds went by and I regained my composure and kept going.

Running down a green path into open meadows, I could see 4 runners ahead of me, the Trojan lady and Ian from the bottom of the Gorge were already pulling away, followed by the Steel City Strider and the Smiley Pacer. At the boundary of the first field, I dropped the Strider. She followed the path, I bounded through a gap in the wall, landing a few steps ahead of her, then pulled away. The Smiler was just in front now, but we had the big flat meadow to cross, Instead of trying to take her early, I thought it best to wait, I trailed her all the way to the river.

I’d envisioned myself fearlessly blasting through the river, but that was far from reality. As soon as I hit the water I became disorientated. The moving water made it hard to balance, I took a line with deeper water, this coupled with the screaming crowd, I did well not to fall in to the river face first.

Photo: Kathryn Brindley

Photo: Kathryn Brindley

Chasing a Smiley Pacer

Grindleford Fell Race-River Crossing. Photo – Kathryn Brindley

Emerging from the water, Smiley had 20 meters on me. I trailed her in, thinking that she would put a final spurt at any time. Alex Kashefi high-fived me and shouted “go on Tideswellman “, Well, it was at this point that I spotted the finish line and a few of the Tidza crew were urging me on. I gave it everything I had and crossed the line just ahead of the Smiley Pacer. I felt bad for her really, but that’s the game, and she was very sporting about it too.  It was a rather unimpressive time of  58:13.  Finishing  394th out of 431.

Any decent runner would scoff at such a time, but I’m only a year into my running journey, and I feel the race went ok. I’m proud to have done it, proud to have represented my club and proud of the effort I put in, which has boosted my confidence no end.

Since then I’ve completed 2 more local fell races at Tideswell and at Hope. Next up is my chance to show that I really have improved. Hathersage Gala Fell Race was my first Fell race , exactly a year ago. So we’ll see if I’m any quicker this time. Fingers crossed.