Posted by: lensweb | August 8, 2016

All too Brief Encounter

Sat July 23,  Millersdale & Priestcliffe Lees Wildflower and Orchid Walk in beautiful scenery. 4 mile approx. Some steep climbs. Walking boots essential. Bring a packed lunch.

Meet 10.30am at Miller’s Dale Station. Turn right off the A6 onto the B6049 just after Taddington, left immediately after the R Wye, pass under the viaducts, then turn left into Millersdale Station pay and display car park.

Grid ref  SK 138 733                         Postcode (nearby)  SK17 8SN

Leaders: Joan Breakwell & Christine Carrier

The hamlet of Millersdale is dominated by two large disused viaducts over the Wye valley. The older of the viaducts forms part of the Monsal Trail, an 8.5-mile (13.7 km) walking and cycle track. Millersdale Station which was built in 1863 by the Midland Railway . It served an important junction where passengers for Buxton  joined or left the train between London  and Manchester. Since the railway was closed in 1967, the station has become a car park for the Monsal Trail, the main buildings remain and there is usually an ice-cream van handily parked. The station was immortalized in the 1964 song “Slow Train” by Flanders and Swann.

A crowd of LENSes set off along the Monsal trail to the Cheedale Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reserve (1 on the map), here was a wonderful display of clusters of pink flowers with a three-lobed lip, a hood and a long spur trailing behind them.  The sweetly scented cylindrical dense spike of flowers measuring up to 15cm in height and a few, narrow, green leaves on the stem and base of the plant. The Fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) has heavily scented flowers which produce nectar and are pollinated by moths.  Just as we may wear perfume to seduce a mate, orchids spice up their lives to attract insect pollinators. We ambled back along the trail to the old station and the platform ‘garden’ vivid with wild flowers, bloody cranesbill, black mullein, melancholy thistle and Jacob’s Ladder, possibly sown by the person who lives in the station house. Polemonium caeruleum was voted the County Flower of Derbyshire  in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.

After an ice-cream break we walked over the viaduct, peering down at the river below then turning right up steps to the old Millersdale quarry lime kilns (2), up more steps, then a left turn into Millersdale quarry itself (3). This was a breathtaking floral display. The trust uses cattle provided by local graziers to help keep the limestone grassland in good condition for the fragrant orchids, felwort, scabious, basil, bird’s foot trefoil, St John’s Wort and other wildflowers well loved by butterflies. Now we were chasing dark green fritillaries, a pleasure to see flying low through grassland, teasing photographers with frequent pauses stopping to nectar on thistles and knapweed. The name is from the green hue found on the underside of the hindwings, which are peppered with large silver spots.

Breaking a path through burnet saxifrage, slow motion up more steps, to Priestcliffe Lees’s top hill and a reward of breathtaking views over the Peak District’s limestone dales. Breathe in the fresh hilltop air to be rewarded with the fragrant scent of thyme.  The short turf is spangled with yellow tormentil among nodding harebells, including an unusual white sport, common spotted, fragrant and a few solitary bee orchids. Scattered throughout are bumpy lead spoil heaps  supporting flowers distinctive to Derbyshire, among them were yellow mountain pansy and more frog orchids than we had ever seen before. We saw eyebright and blue milkwort but the leadwort was not to be seen.  We walked across the reserve, lost for words at the beauty, and discovered a Northern Star, Grass of Parnassus, not a grass but open, ivory-white flowers with five petals delicately green striped enclosing a cluster of yellow stamens, bright green, heart-shaped leaves cupping the stems.

Reluctantly we felt our way down through sombre sanicled woodland back to the Monsal trail and Millersdale Station. This is a walk we would like to repeat again in future years so we recorded the wildflowers and other plants we saw as we walked through Joan’s paradise to compare with future years. 169 species with 5 different orchids. Julia Gow, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust manager of Millersdale Quarry and Priestcliffe Lees advised on the route at a serendipitous meeting on the walkover.Millersdale walkz

Nowadays to get to Buxton from Long Eaton the journey is via Derby, Sheffield and Stockport. Slow train indeed! No wonder they are talking about reopening the line through Millersdale Station.

Marion Bryce 8 August 2016


  1. It was an excellent visit. Many thanks for the article and photos.


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