Walking in the new year

The hills are alive with the sound of bleating

What do you do with January? The Christmas and New Year hubbub has receded, people are back to work and the weather reminds you why other species migrate or hibernate. Fortunately I’ve no pressing work to distract me and there’s a chink in the Peak District weather to exploit.


My circular walk starts in Baslow, often driven through but never explored. The river Derwent to the west of this seemingly large village flows south to Derby and beyond. There is a church, a few tasteful craft and interior shops plus a school that is producing a riot of noise this playtime.

Long shadows
Long shadows

Setting off south and keeping to the east of the river a footpath opens up into the ample grounds of the Chatsworth estate although the fierce low winter sun prevents me from seeing much of it. A smattering of ramblers aside it is quiet as expected on this weekday morning.

Winter stops play
Winter stops play

Beside the path a blue plaque commemorates the significant contribution of Capability Brown to landscaping the estate in the eighteen hundreds. The undeniable natural beauty of Chatsworth is far from natural. Beyond a thicket of trees I come across a thatch roofed cricket pavilion which transports me back to a balmy summers day a couple of years ago when I dropped by here to watch my cricketing buddies in action, only to turn up precisely as they filed into the pavilion for lunch. It will be four months and hopefully 15 degrees celsius until the new cricket season begins.

The constant gardener
The constant gardener

The pitch looks immaculate as does the rest of the estate. Groundsmen down by the river are dredging up tree branches from the water. It must take a small army of staff to maintain the 30,000 acres of Chatsworth.

Stately pile
Stately pile

As one of the country’s premier outdoor tourist attractions the crowded weekends here can be off-putting but on a cold Wednesday in January the uninterrupted views are delightful. I wonder how many big budget period dramas will be recorded here this year.

Red deer. Or maybe fallow.
Red deer. Or maybe fallow.

No visit to Chatsworth is complete without a glimpse of roaming deer. Their population includes red and fallow deer. I think these are the red ones…

Not the least intimidated
Not the least intimidated

The sheep are less timid. They are everywhere and quite oblivious to any notion of danger.

Sheep - oblivious to road safety
Sheep – lacking in road sense

Car horns make little impression upon sheep in the road. Eventually, when they are ready, they sidle over to the verge and the traffic can pass. I suspect they are licking the gritting salt off the tarmac.

Out of sight
Edensor – out of sight

The village of Edensor (pronounced Enzer) was relocated here around 1840 as it was “spoiling” the view of the Duke Of Devonshire as he gazed out of his stately Chatsworth House windows. He was a fool – it’s very pretty. It is also a tourist draw in itself and I myself am powerless to resist tea and cake in the quaint tea room opposite St Peters Church, resting place for many of the Devonshire clan not to mention JFK’s sister.

Edensor cottage
An Edensor cottage

This 6 mile walk is part of my physical rehabilitation. Six weeks ago I returned from my curtailed Norfolk coastal path walk with 2 injured knees. Since then my only exercise has been the 5 mile annual Christmas day ramble which they survived but complained about. You can imagine what a paucity of exercise during the eating season means to one’s wellbeing. The good news is that both knees are fine – so far.

The hills are alive with the sound of bleating
The hills are alive with the sound of bleating

The climb out of Edensor unfolds into a picture postcard panorama. Even this marginal increase in altitude has preserved the morning’s frosting of snow on the hillside. Quite breathtaking!

Lightly frosted
Lightly frosted

The highest section of the walk tops out at a modest 250 feet above sea level. Here above Pilsley the demarcation of snow and thaw is clear. Beyond Pilsley and perhaps 70 feet lower there is little trace of snow or frost.

In need of roofing
In need of roofing

Land here has been farmed for many generations. I see several mostly disused outbuildings is a generally poor state of repair.

In need of rebuilding
In need of rebuilding

Once again this region is serving up a great variety of scenery over just a short walk.

Baslow in the distance
Baslow in the distance

The final agricultural third of the route becomes increasingly muddy as the afternoon sun melts the icy fields into soggy ones. Boots I so meticulously cleaned are back to their soiled norm.

Stick in ground 1 - Anquet 0
Stick in ground 1 – Anquet 0

I have been using the Anquet mapping application on my phone to sense-check the route. The 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map data is first-rate but the phone app stinks. Fortunately the original signpost firmware en-route has proven to be more user-friendly.

The swollen Derwent thunders beneath a robust old stone bridge that returns me to Baslow. Church bells chime for 2pm on my second encounter with the school, where the children continue to kick up a racket. Surely they have been indoors since I set off this morning…


Rain is on the way. The high winds that uprooted 4 of my fence panels earlier this week are due to return. I have been lucky to enjoy clear skies and a low sun on this peaceful weekday. And my knees feel OK! 2015 I declare you officially open.

Boycott’s Bane

Today is the first day of my life. My Blog life that is. Obviously I wasn’t actually born today because I wouldn’t be able to type, amongst a few other practical considerations. On early reflection this Blog isn’t going to make satisfying reading for the pedants among you, so I will leave a pause here to allow such individuals to disembark…

…there – it’s just you and me now. Or more probably just me. The truth is that I simply don’t care about appeasing any wider audience as my motivations for this Blog are … a topic for another day. Back to the script…

And today is a day of firsts because I am sitting on a modest white and, it has to be said unremarkable, moulded plastic seat the placement upon which I have been permitted in response to my purchase of a ticket. On face value the payment of money in exchange for a ticket to sit on an unremarkable white moulded plastic seat may seem financially unwise but fortunately for me this seemingly Madoffesque investment is an fact redeemed by the placement of the seat, being as it is overlooking the Derbyshire cricket ground. The “first” relates not to the furniture – there have been other seats – but to the fixture, namely a 20-20 fixture with Durham the visitors.

It’s gloriously sunny, there is a packed crowd and a perfect ice cold pint of lager is securely ensconced in my hand – in summary everything you don’t associate with English cricket. This comparison is based on my definitive experiences of the 4-day game having been a frequent visitor to the county ground on not one but two separate occasions to see half a days play against Worcester and Warwickshire respectively. These occasions were in stark contrast, attended by a smattering of retired folk for whom the company was everything and the cricket incidental. In fairness the company was better than the cricket.

I have struck up conversation with an old boy two seats along (there are gaps – I’m not being rude) who explains he has been here two hours because the ticket said 5pm and now he finds the game starts at 7pm. He is obviously a seasoned supporter and I resist the temptation to point out that the internet marketing blurb clearly stated 7pm as kick off (what is the cricketing equivalent of “kick off”? I know that the end of play is referred to as “stumps” so there most be an opposing term if only to balance things out), partly because I fear he may not be acquainted to the fruits of Tim Berners-Lee but mostly because I don’t want to encourage him. It’s a man thing. It is fortunate therefore when a game of cricket breaks out.

I can’t help but be struck by the modern 20-20 cricketer’s demeanour. Forget the pot bellied be-sweatered types engraved on our consciousness from times gone by – a collective of jovial dad-types with competing hair crises for whom the word “Cricket” would most likely be followed by the words “ters Arms” before, say, “practice”. These latter day counterparts are young, lean and razor sharp both mentally and physically. The warm up (that’s one difference already) alone is enough to firmly silence any semi-dormant flight of fancy I may have been harbouring that the scattering of runs I fluked in the last match I played 15 years ago against equally inept work colleagues might have been somehow transferable to the county scene. I am decided that the cannon ball deliveries rehearsed in the outfield will best witnessed from a white plastic seat than the crease. Besides I would hate to spill my pint while trying to bat.

Derbyshire bat first. Old boy tells me that after winning their first two short-form matches we have lost our next four. Only the first half of that sentence surprises me. It’s engaging stuff. How to describe 20-20 cricket? It’s like watching the highlights package of a four day match but in real time. The ball is slogged to the boundary with regularity. Each four or six is greeted by a snippet of music that blares out from speakers placed around the perimeter. The kids love it. The dads love it. The mums tolerate it because the kids love it, and they can soak in the sun chatting to other mums. Old boy sits unresponsive other than to mark down the scoring sequence on a chart with a tattered biro. A wicket goes down as one of the openers fends off a scud missile that is edged to slip. Durham are high fiving and opener trudges off head down. A short fit of motown booms out from the speakers which serves neither to cheer up the batsman or provide any musical meaning. A child behind me smacks together some clackers (the cricketing equivalent to a football rattle for a more demonstrative generation) that still echo in my head as number 3 comes into bat. This alone makes me hope it is a match of few wickets.

A few balls later and it’s 2 down. This time the bowler comes in at a medium pace, pitches the ball at an eminently playable length and the batsman half comes forward to play a text book “crap shot” that sails with sat-nav precision into the nearest fielders grateful hands. The score is in the twenties, the home side are 2 down and we are in the third over. Cue some chart friendly gangsta rap and another bout of the clackers. I turn my head around to see whether the young wielder of said percussive weapon can be hard-stared into silence. Not a chance, despite his older brother pointing out that he was only supposed to use them when Derbyshire do something notable, not the away team.

Number 4 arrives at the crease and – now what? There is an exchange with one of the umpires and a break in play. Umpire A has a discussion with Umpire B accompanied by all the sort of arm gestures that umpires make. Oh this is great – the players are all leaving the pitch! If it’s not the rain it’s the sun! Clearly they aren’t used to this sort of thing, what with the wicket in its fixed alignment and the passage of the sun long since understood not only by Pagan high priests but also presumably by the MCC. The umpires remain on the pitch discussing what to do – a conversation that I suspect has short legs. Of the variables involved I’m guessing that passage of the sun to some subsequent non-intrusive position in it’s arc is the likely solution. Never one to make assumptions Umpire A opens what I like to believe is his rule book to find out whether this is the course of action sanctioned by the MCC. Apparently it is and word emerges that the sun will be given permission to continue its orbit, although the length of the delay remains unknown. And these are the boffins that came up with the Duckworth Lewis scoring system…

The crowd occupies itself with beer refills, toilet visits and sunbathing beneath the sweltering cloudless summer sky. I consider the irony of the floodlights that have been turned on since I arrived. Old boy unzips his coat. It’s going to be a long evening. Time for another pint.

We are 15 minutes into sun-stops-play and with bladders empty and glasses full there is a general murmur of discussion in the stands regarding the length of the delay. Old boy points out he has to catch a bus back later and if this drags on too long he will miss the end. I decide that he has found himself alone following the tragic loss of his wife of many years and that watching cricket alone may be his much awaited day out. Then I wonder if this is a little close to home. Either way, the cricket is back on! I try to calculate the number of degrees the sun has moved in 20 minutes before deciding that the memory of my 100% basic numeracy score at secondary school some $% years ago has – like any illusion of my cricketing prowess – long been consigned to the shadows that loom ever closer to the spectators in the stands. Most likely they decided to resume because the beer barrels had run dry.

The Derbyshire innings continues where it left off. There is a regular fall of wickets, decreasingly regular musical interludes to mark the scoring of boundaries and meaningful resistance is only provided by just one batsman who needless to say is an Aussie. He holes out on 59 and that’s the end of that. The innings peters out with something of a wimper and come the end of the innings there is a polite and gentile reception to the remaining batsmen as they return to the clubhouse which suggests a “6 out of 10” kind of appraisal from the faithful. I notice a single clacker on the floor ahead of me and realise that this is why the racket behind me stopped earlier. I can’t believe how much noise it made now that I can see it is essentially a plastic baton inflated with air. Perhaps the breeze took it when the boy was otherwise engaged, but I have a sneaking suspicion that dad got sick of it and chucked one of them when his son’s back was turned.

We are now in shade and the floodlights are just starting to bite noticeable chunks out of the evening sky. It’s turned a bit chilly and I don a top packed away in my bag. They made me open my bag on the way in to check for beer. Presumably if I had been carrying non-alcoholic explosives that would have been fine. I decide to listen to my MP3 player that I thoughtfully packed for just this break. It’s completely flat. Old boy completes his scorecard and produces a Tupperware box from his bag containing a packup. It is apparent that Mrs Old Boy is alive and kicking. Theirs is a relationship that survives around definition of roles, division of labour and a fair dose of not being in the same room at the same time. Mrs sends Mr out with a packup and she gets to spend the evening in doing cross-stitch while listening to the Archers. Or something. Clearly I have too much time to think about such things in the interval. It seems oddly paradoxical that during the non-stop action on the pitch the organisers chose to needlessly overlay proceedings with music and hype. Then during the interval, well, it’s all a bit dull really. I’m sure some local brass band would be happy to have their practice session on the County Ground pitch. Heck, I would happily watch some karaoke. There’s enough beer been drunk and I’m sure there would be some takers.

A precession of fleeced (in both senses) middle aged couples (where did they come from?) walk past holding styrafoam containers. The smell doesn’t encourage me to trace their origins. I even spot a few folk wearing Durham tops. Have they really travelled all the way down from the North East to watch their team on a Tuesday evening? Blokes with yet more beer walk by an then, strangely a couple with styrafoam boxes that I have already seen walk past in the same direction. Have they done a lap? Maybe they are looking for the perfect place to sit down. The other side of the wall perhaps?

The players return. Let’s see what Derbyshire’s bowlers can do against the Durham openers. I soon find out that the answer is “get their deliveries leathered to every corner of the ground”. It is fiercesome and relentless. They are soon well ahead on run rate and you can see heads in the fielding side visibly wilt. The boundary fielder turns away from the wicket with increasing regularity to sign autographs for young boys who don’t seem know who he is. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Old Boy says nothing but has a “seen it all before” look of resignation about him. Half way through the visitors reply they are two thirds of the way to Derbyshire’s total. It’s good to watch but the heat of the day has gone, the result is all but decided and I’m secretly hoping they finish things off quickly so I can go home. Some mental arithmetic suggests they will pick the runs off inside 14 overs at this rate. The two batsmen at the crease each pass 50, to an appreciative applause from fans home and away. So easy is the batting that I fear the boundary music will start to be repeated as they use all the clips up.

Old boy bids his farewell and heads off to get his bus, with a full 50 runs still to get. He knows his cricket. The crowd become more subdued as they come to terms with the impending defeat that Old Boy and the fielding team resigned themselves to some time ago. The evening air suddenly feels chilly. A couple of wickets are apologetically taken and to my irritation the remaining runs are picked up at a relatively glacial rate. I wonder whether to slink out early but fear a spotlight will be thrust in my direction and the tannoy announcer will say “no you don’t!”.

The winning run comes mercifully and people get up to leave with indecent haste. It has been something of a rout. The home team looks rather bewildered and disoriented as they leave the field. With such a cosmopolitan array of countries of birth many of them perhaps don’t really know where they are. One of them only got off the plane from South Africa a day or two ago.

Margaret Becket, Simon Groome, Tim-Brooke-Taylor, Tosh Lines from the Bill – your boys took one hell of a beating.

I put my head down and walk briskly in a homewards direction and wonder whether Old Boy will be sat in the same seat next time around.