Posted by: lensweb | May 31, 2018

Were we the only ones who missed the Royal Wedding?

On a sunny day we stood at Monsal Head looking down at the Headstone Viaduct built by the Midland Railway, we could see all the way down Monsaldale, a valley of the River Wye which is a special area of conservation in the White Peak of Derbyshire.


The aniseed scent of the ferny leaves and fluffy white umbels of sweet cicely drew us down a steep path through ancient woodland to the River Wye weir. 

After a cold start to the year, the delayed spring flowers now coincided with the arrival of summer so we had a display of flowers which would rival Chelsea flower show. In the cooler microclimate of the woods the scent of bluebells mixed with lily of the valley, there was barren strawberry with wild strawberry, dog violet with wood violet, germander speedwell and wood speedwell, wood avens with water avens. and Goldilocks buttercup. Wych elm and hazel can be tricky to tell apart but the assymetrical base of the sandpaper elm leaf soon gives it away and we were being showered with samara confetti.

The water was crashing over the weir and the dipper was lying low but an unconcerned grey wagtail was fly fishing. Stuart spotted the resident pair of mandarin ducks nesting in the back water which was calm with dignified crack willows shepherding marsh marigolds.

Great excitement as a dingy skipper flew onto the path, it posed for photographs to the satisfaction of all, although Jake was a little delayed at this point as he prostrated himself overhanging the river bank for the best shot!

How lovely it was in the dappled shade as we walked beside the rver, orange tip butterflies were visiting the palest pink cuckoo flower and Dames violet. Blue flowers of brooklime preceded water forget-me-not, sprays of great bittercress decorated the green and purple spikes of water mint.  Under the clean water were filmy phthalo-green streamers, waving whorls of chalk stream crowfoot.

Birds sang, Jake described the birdsong of redstart and linnet. We passed the footings of an old bridge, there were no signs of the ancient routeway. A large moth, a clouded magpie landed nearby and Hannah kindly held it for us to photograph.

When we came to an old mill, the rusty wheel abandoned by the wayside, at last we saw a dipper. It stayed in the shade of the far bank but it’s white chest clearly bobbed up and down, how do you do, how do you do, how do you do again.

Despite clamours for food we tackled our first upward climb through the primrose and bluebell woods up to Brushfield. Here we picnicked and basked in the full sun again. The turf was covered with tiny wild flowers: Thyme, yellow rock rose and cinquefoil, round rayed flowers of hairy hawkbit, cats-ear and the lemon-yellow flowers of mouse-ear hawkweed. Claret round heads of salad burnet, heath bedstraw, vernal grass and quaking grass were just starting to flower. Milkwort more pink than blue clashed with the yellow of bird’sfoot-trefoil. Dashing in and out of the scene were speckled yellow moths, we don’t get those at home!

There were numerous fossil corals in the drystone walls which are built from locally quarried carboniferous limestone. The sedimentary rock is formed from the skeletons and shells of molluscs and corals which have been compressed and hardened to form the great white rock. Evidence that 350 million years ago the White Peak was a reef in a tropical sea near the equator. It was certainly hot today!

We climbed over the stile to walk through a farmyard, saying hello to the stabled cows as they ate their hay. A vibrant display of meadow saxifrage met us on Brushfield Hough, an undisturbed Bronze Age bowl barrow, a burial mound from 2000BC.

Turning onto a limestone trackway we walked along the valley side. The ancient hill fort on Fin Cop overlooked us from the other side. Fin Cop has a strategic location within the central area of a limestone plateau and has formed a focus for human activity from early pre-history. Mesolithic tools of local chert and Neolithic flint have been found. Bronze age cairns remain. In the Iron Age it was a hill fort. A large bank and ditch have been largely unexcavated. A notable column of grey limestone surrounded by scree is Hob’s House which houses the only cave of note at Monsaldale.

Over the wall, a whirlpool of starry white flowers of leadwort or spring sandwort surrounded bell pits and old lead rakes.. Exploring this unique habitat, a good site for wall butterflies and dingy skippers, we came across our first early purple orchids, and then there were more, and more and more, but it was getting late, we had to move on.

Another turn down a knobbly and bumpy limestone track passed an old quarry. Ruined buildings, an old chimney and lead spoil, are all that remain of the works. The old Monsaldale Station marked our way onto the Monsaldale Trail, walking in the deep cutting we could see Monsaldale Head in the distance. We paused to cool down in the draught from the railway tunnel before following the steep vertical path to the top. We were so lucky to have the pick of the parking, seats in the tearooms and all the views to ourselves, were we the only ones who missed the Royal Wedding?

Marion Bryce 24 May 2018


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