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Dawdling in the Derbyshire Dales – part two – The Manifold Valley

As spring tries tentatively to make its presence felt in the garden and the surrounding countryside we can enjoy looking back to a week spent in Derbyshire exploring the Dales.

Our first walk along the dales of Derbyshire while spending a week there in July took us to the beautiful little village called Illam. This is a village owned by the National Trust so has to remain unspoiled. They also own the hall at the head of Manifold Dale, where we found our essential feature of any day out, a place for coffee and cakes.

Once revived we made our way down to the River Manifold and took a footpath along its bank to explore the valley it had created through millenia of erosion. The Manifold is very much typical of Derbyshire’s little rivers, clear running, home to rare and unusual wildlife and picturesque.

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The wildflowers and grasses on its banks

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Sadly even in such a beautiful, peaceful place humans try to spoil it, scarring it with discarded drinks cans and take out coffee cups.

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Beneath this rock stack was a spring where the water from an underground stream burst out into daylight to join the Manifold.

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The trail we were following took us a short distance from the river along an old walkway beneath overhanging trees. This walk was designed as a “promenade” for the family and visitors of the house when in its previous glory. We were bemused to hear a mechanical humming noise getting louder with each step as we neared an avenue of Limes. We eventually worked out it was the humming of thousands of bees attracted to the sweet smelling, lime-green blossom.

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We were surprised to discover a memorial stone and fern garden alongside the track.

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As the path turned us back towards the house leading us over open parkland away from the river. Please enjoy sharing the views we saw along the way with us.

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We found a rocky outcrop where we sat for a coffee and some fruit and to take in the sights and sounds of nature all around.

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After enjoying our break with brilliant views we carried on across the open parkland back towards the house and the views just kept on coming.

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We were delighted to have one last look at the River Manifold at the end of our walk where we were amazed by this waterside plant with spiky flowers and huge rough leaves.

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I shall finish this wandering post along the valley of the Manifold with this little mini-garden created by Mother Nature, the greatest gardener of all! Our next post in my series from Derbyshire will explore Monsal Dale.

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From One Bridge to Another – a wander along the River Onny.

In South Shropshire the little rapid river called the Onny passes through the market town of Craven Arms. To the south of the town the Onny passes through the Secret Hills Centre featured in an earlier post called “A walk in the grounds of “The Secret hills” published in April of this year.

For this short riverside walk we decided to pick up the river as it wove through farmland to the north of the town. We followed the River Onny starting from the road bridge to a footbridge, as it passed through pastures where cattle and horses grazed.

Along its banks like ancient old hunched men on a slow march were the remains of pollarded willows.

The river was shallow and fast-moving at first, rushing and bubbling over gravel and boulders. The water was clear enough to afford views of bright green ribbons of weed. Its character changed as we passed a weir where an unlucky fisherman cast his lure for trout.

From here the flow slackened and the water deepened allowing waterside plants to flourish.

Every tree along our walk seemed old, rotting or falling over. Their bark was deeply textured. Exposed wood has been bored into by insects and birds.

Walking on from the weir we enjoyed a view of Holford Church standing closely and comfortably with a clump of trees.

The riverside here moved through an area of damp land where floods often settled. Trees grew in sculptural shapes creating natural arches for us to pass under.

Leaving the trees behind us the Onny began meandering tightly through open fields where large flocks of Sand Martins swooped close to the water searching out insects and Linnets fed greedily on large patches of thistles with their fluffy seed heads.

The banks are eroding daily and now look as if huge bites have been taken out of them.

As we approached the bridge where our walk was to end we entered a wooded area and felt the air turn cooler. This bridge was a narrow footbridge. We looked over into the water searching for trout but saw only our shadows.

Along the edge of the path over the bridge the native Achillea, the Yarrow, had found a foothold and was successfully flowering.

From the bridge we could look back over the pastureland we had walked through. After a cool break in the tree’s shade around the bridge we made our way back along the river.

We had time to stop and appreciate the flora of the river banks, including a Dock whose leaves had been turned into a skeleton by a caterpillar of some sort.

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Walking the Teme – a riverside walk.

What a way to start a walk – a long latte and a thick slice of coffee cake in a riverside cafe! Here in South Shropshire above the River Teme sits the town of Ludlow. An historic market town with a reputation as a town of food, Ludlow has more Michelin Star restaurants of anywhere outside London. It is the home of organic, locally produced food.

We visited today for a walk along its trout river, the Teme. We crossed a beautiful old stone bridge, called Dinham Bridge before finding the riverside track. From the bottom of the valley we could enjoy views of the town’s castle in one direction and along the river in the other. As we crossed the bridge we looked down into the rapidly moving water to see a pair of swans glowing white against the dark shadow of the bridge’s arches. They became a blur as they moved into the reflections of the sun.

The blue of the clear sky added extra colour to the reflections of the overhanging trees on the opposite bank. It was a warm day so walking within the shade of the Teme’s deep valley sides was a cooling luxury.

On the steeply sloping valley side erosion from rainwater rushing down, had exposed the massive roots of the tall trees. Within the exposed roots white fungi grew looking like chewing gum pushed into cavities.

Similarly, water seeping through the rock strata of the steepest slopes coupled with the freeze-thaw action of the severe winter weather of South Shropshire, has attacked the rocky outcrops. Large chunks of stone have broken away and exposed fossils. On the gentler slopes the rocks have been smoothed by the action of surface water.

It is a popular place for fisherman, both course and fly.

We walked as far as the weir where our path rose steeply through woodland. My legs decided it was safer not to go on.

Just where we turned back we found this interesting old stone plaque, emphasising the power of the water along which we were walking.

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A walk in the grounds of “The Secret Hills”

The Secret Hills visitors centre is situated in the small market town of Craven Arms a half hour drive from home. A Monday morning visit to the dentist took us to Church Stretton half way to Craven Arms, so to celebrate us both being given a clean bill of health we decided we deserved a coffee at the Secret Hills.

The visitor centre itself is an interestingly shaped building with a curving roof topped with greenery. It was one of the earliest green roofs. The inside features a library and coffee shop with occasional displays of art and crafts as well as exhibitions to celebrate all that make the South Shropshire Hills so special.

As well as a visitor centre the Secret Hills has wonderful, varied outside spaces which afford the local community and visitors the chance to explore meadows and  copse and walk alongside a small river and a pool. but there are also surprises wherever one goes.

The Undergardener and I began our visit in our usual way by visiting the coffee shop to enjoy a cappuccino and latte respectively. But join us as we slowly amble around the acres outside.

We ambled slowly through a young sloping woodland of coppiced Hazels, whose leaf buds were bursting the tangiest green. The trail took us across a rough area of Teasles and tough grasses and led us to the River Onny, which in this section is a calm, slow moving stream.

Near a bridge carrying the road over the Onny, clumps of Daffodils were in the spotlight of the sun’s rays, affording them a see-through look.

We enjoyed the peaceful, slowly moving waters of the Onny with rashes of seedling Himalayan Balsam and the occasional glossy petaled Celandine growing within the dappled shade of the waterside trees.

After half an hour of gentle rambling, we left the Onny and wandered across a meadow where the sticky buds of  recently planted Horse Chestnut trees were coming into leaf in one corner and as we were about to leave the field, in the opposite corner we came upon a community clay oven, looking like a giant pot. It’s domed clay top was carved with spiral patterns, like the shells of a Ramshorn Snail.

The huge sticky buds of the Chestnut Tree look and feel as if they are coated in treacle, and as they open the green of the fresh leaves is bright as a Golden Delicious Apple.

A bridge across a dried-up stream invited us into a wood of spindly trees.

We crossed the wooden bridge into the patch of woodland, and beyond it we were in for a surprise for we spotted two pieces of sculpture in the trees. so it really is true what the old children’s song said “If you go down to the woods today you are in for a big surprise”.

We looked at the details, the teazels and spirals of branches, and looked up inside the chimney shapes.

After exploring the sculpture and listening to the Great Tits, Chiffchaffs and Goldfinches calling in the tree tops, we made our way back to a bench on the riverside for a rest. A Dipper flew rapidly only inches above the water and passed just below our feet. These are beautiful birds like fat Blackbirds with white bibs. They feed around the rocks in shallow fast-moving streams where they watch from rocks constantly dipping up and down, but this one moved so fast and we didn’t see it stop to feed. On the opposite bank of the river tall trees grew thickly on a steep slope. Here we watched Nuthatches, Treecreepers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers feeding frantically and flying from tree to tree. But the real treat was the view of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a very small black and white woodpecker which is now so scarce in the UK.

After resting our legs we aimed for the bridge that crosses the Onny where it becomes shallower and more rapid. Here the Onny took on the guise of a upland stream. From the bridge we spotted more Dippers and a Grey Wagtail, before moving on across the corner of a field where a stile showed us the way into the small Nature Reserve. We watched a pair of Red Kite soaring over the tops of the tallest trees. We made our way through the wood on narrow muddy tracks until we found the river once again. Following its banks we returned to the visitor centre dropping in on the community allotments on our way. Here tiny plots of land are available to local residents where they grow vegetables.

The Secret Hills is an amazing community resource for the market town of Craven Arms and a special day out for visitors.

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A Walk in the Park – along the River Bank.

A river wanders through the parkland at the National Trust’s Attingham Park, sometimes in viscous flood, sometimes in slow motion. Today it was slow and cold.

The view from the suspension bridge.
Berberis with its red berries hangs down towards the water.
Sheer power!
Willow weeping tears into the river.
Gentle side stream.
Last year's teasels still standing strong.
Alder cones and catkins.
Old Burrs overhang the grey water surface.
A swan at her ablutions.