Sunday, February 13, 2011

Still Feeling Peakish

As the last weekend in January approached, work seemed overwhelming and the weather was dreary and cold (32 F is cold here), so the idea of a road trip wasn’t as appealing as it had been earlier in the week. But we woke up Saturday morning and decided that we don’t have enough time left here to waste any opportunities. The road trip was back on.

The plan was to head to Castleton, because 1) it was just a 3-hour drive away, 2) it must have nice pubs and walks as the local Cambridge walking group planned to go (on a weekend we couldn’t), and 3) we had greatly enjoyed our first trip to the Peak District. Deciding to go at the last minute did offer an unexpected challenge as I quickly found almost all of the small villages hotels and B&Bs booked up—amazing for a winter weekend. I finally booked a Saturday night stay at a modest B&B and we started packing the car—only to see one tire (or tyre, if you prefer) was almost flat. Still determined to go, we inched over to the gas station, topped up the tires, and set off.
Monsal Head
As we approached the Peak District, hunger set in and KT had the inspiration of stopping in for lunch at Monsal Head Hotel, where we had enjoyed a great dinner on our last trip. The hotel, restaurant and great bar overlook a well known river valley, the Monsal Dale, which we had not been able to see the first time we visited (after dark). But this time, as the sun fought to part the clouds, we could see the beautiful scenery. We had planned a long hike Sunday, but as we ate, we thought, why not sneak in a walk now? The staff kindly found a local trail map that had a nice route that would take us across a viaduct, around one of the ridges, then down and through the river valley before climbing back to the hotel. (This walk and this walk are similar to what we did but a bit longer). It was chilly but far from too cold to ramble and we had no regrets on the spontaneous decision—we had some gorgeous views. 

From Monsal Dale, it was just about a 20 minute drive to Castleton. Our B&B was in the center of town and more importantly, across from a nice inn with a roaring fire and good beer in its pub. In fact, roaring fires and good beers must be a requirement for Peak District pubs or inns. We soon moved onto a second, the Bulls Head Inn, where the dining area was a bit fancier--so we simply grabbed a couch in a lounge area that had an even bigger fire and shared an excellent halibut and curry dish.


Sunday morning brought the typical English breakfast at the B&B. We packed up and moved our car over to the Castleton visitor center, the starting point of our (somewhat) big hike. The goal was the summit of Mam Tor, a 1,696 ft hill just outside Castleton that was once home to an iron age fort and was inhabited long before that. During the summer, tons of people make the climb to Mam Tor, walk along the ridge to several other summits and circle back to Castleton (or do the circle the other way). We headed up using the road to get the ascent out of the way early in the walk. We were surprised to see many mountain bikers whizzing down the road and huffing and puffing up it. Some were just out for a vigorous winter ride (there’s actually a trail along the ridge) but others were part of a orienteering competition, following maps to specific places on their mountain bikes (here’s one of the riders describing the event).

About halfway on the ascent, we came across the famously torn apart road—a result of massive landslides that occasionally afflict the so-called Shivering Mountain. Hopeful one wouldn’t happen today, we proceeded on the easy path to the summit, following flagstones laid by the National Trust. Almost at the top, we paused to watch the crazy paragliders who had carried parachutes up the slopes and taken off in the cold air—apparently during the summer, when the warm air provides more life, dozens at a time take flight from the area.

Finally at the summit, we paused to enjoy some tea and gaze over the valleys, including down to Castleton far below. A stroll along the ridge path brought more majestic views.

We then descended down a badly-kept, incredibly muddy trail—I lost my sense of humor for a bit when my feet slid out from below me and I landed with “plop”on my butt in the mud. I had largely regained my good mood by the time we made it back to the car park, where I quickly changed out of my muddy clothes. The mood then brightened even more when we landed a table at the George Hotel and gorged ourselves on a huge ham hock (KT) and lamb shank (me) before sharing an amazing hot fudge chocolate cake. Then we were off in the car and back home, less than 36 hours after we had left.

The glorious day had some unfortunate sadness accompanying it as we learned the tragic news that one of our neighbors, the wife in the couple next door to us, had finally succumbed to cancer. They’re about our age and we’ve regretted not getting to know them better. But it did serve as a reminder to me to not pass up adventures with your loved ones. I’m glad we didn’t that weekend and hope we won’t in the future.--JT