Christmas Comes Early

I’m a planner. It’s what I do. Surprises aren’t really my thing and my attempts at spontaneity remain … unspontaneous. On this basis it should be no surprise that the long weekend in Buxton that I booked a few weeks ago was moulded around a series of activities I was rather looking forward to. This then is the blog entry I had envisaged, at least up to last week…

Friday afternoon: An account of my 10 mile circular walk from Monyash along the Hope Valley, embroidered with photos of the rural surrounds.

Friday evening: A trip to Buxton Pavillion and the Buxton Buzz comedy club

Saturday: Another misty eyed account of lower league football as high flying Buxton Town FC of the gloriously entitled Evostik Premier League (sponsored by Evo-stik adhesives and sealants) take on the unglamorous sounding Burscough in a bid to cement (or perhaps glue?) their credentials as promotion contenders.

Alas I must have angered the blog gods for they cast down snow upon the county and generally crapped all over my plans. In short, with snowdrifts and minus 7 degree temperatures I could barely have reached the start point of my walk on Friday yet alone have completed it in safety. I received a phone call informing me that the comedy gig has been cancelled due to the weather, despite being indoor. The football also fell by the wayside as snow and ice made the whole affair untenable. I want to rant about any or all of this but the fact is that the weather genuinely has been that severe.

But I’m made of sterner stuff that this. Britain wasn’t built by fickle reactionaries who turned the bar fire on when the going got tough. Churchill stood up to the opposition when times were tough and offered cheap car insurance against all odds. Scott (Terry) didn’t waver when June invited his boss around for dinner against his wishes. And inspired by these folk of legend I’m not going to let some snow ruin my weekend. Besides, my hotel is non-refundable.

Here then is a fleeting account of Buxton in the grip of an unseasonably harsh cold snap. My journey up the A6 is slow due to ice on the road but there’s never a risk of having to turn back. The scenery has been lifted straight from a Christmas card but it’s not possible to take photos as there is simply nowhere you can pull over without stranding your car. As I trudge around the town in my walking boots I’m left spellbound. Buxton boasts a wealth of Victorian and Georgian architecture and the fresh pure white snow reflects early Christmas illuminations to create scenery I thought only existed in the minds of children, marketeers and film directors.

Buxton Crescent
Buxton Crescent
Pavilion Bandstand
Pavilion Bandstand
Buxton mineral water
Buxton mineral water

A number of people drive up to a fountain (above) next to the park and fill plastic containers from the tap. Is this the Buxton mineral water we pay for in the shops? As night falls it gets colder still and fresh snowfall attempts to do away with all those messy footprints left by careless walkers like me. Teenagers sledge in the dark oblivious to the cold, and who can blame them.

Going nowhere
Going nowhere
Christmas is coming
Christmas is coming
The slippery walk home
The slippery walk home
A night at the Opera
A night at the Opera

The famous Buxton Opera House is a long snowballs throw from my lodgings. So is The Old Clubhouse hostelry across the road and the allure of good food, real ale and an open fire is too much for me to resist. All in all it’s a Buxton I might not have expected to see even if I was a regular visitor but now I’m here I am glad I made it.

A new day. There’s a light foggy haze that’s set to thicken later according to the MET office but it’s dry and the overnight freeze has coated the perfect snow with a crisp shell. I’ve a 5 mile walk lined up and I’m guessing the route may be pristine in places which will complicate navigation and create an edge of danger if I can’t differentiate a path from a mineshaft. Hermetically sealed from the waist down with waterproof trousers and gaiters I set off into them thar hills.

The walk is a joy from start to finish. Yes it’s a cliché but Buxton is a winter wonderland this morning. Snow clad tree lined streets give way to shiny white fields. Plenty of footsteps so far and for the most part they belong to people walking their dogs. The dogs that I can see are having the time of their lives bounding through the snow.

It's only ankle deep at this point...
It’s only ankle deep at this point…

I’m leaving dog walking territory now. There are just two sets of footprints ahead of me – one human and one doggy. The snow is getting deeper – beyond my ankles in places. I have to laugh when the paw prints become scuffed with dog belly prints and then they stop altogether where the owner has decided to pick up the pooch and carry it!

Friendly for food
Friendly for food

The path leads up past a working farm and it’s a hive of activity with horses, sheep feeding on straw and even a rather whiffy, albeit friendly pig whose interest in me I would imagine to be purely culinary.

Tractors keep a farm moving
Tractors keep a farm moving

Over the hill and now it’s just me and an expanse of snow. Thankfully there remains one fresh set of footprints to guide my way, without which I would be struggling. It’s very deep in places now and I’m reduced to laughter with increasing regularity as I find myself sinking ever deeper into snowdrifts – a solitary figure of ridicule in this wilderness landscape.

Up to my knees in it
Up to my knees in it

In normal conditions this would be a pleasant but straightforward hike but make no mistake this is strenuous walking today as each step required a full knee raise to make any progress. I can’t help thinking how stupid this would look if there was no snow.

Following in the footsteps
Following in the footsteps

I don’t see a soul for perhaps an hour. The landscape takes on the appearance of a white desert in places.

A shivering sun over Stanley Moor
A shivering sun over Stanley Moor
Almost a sand dune
Almost a sand dune

Apparently the route now passes through a campsite. A sign says not to park on the verge but I was unaware there was even a road.

This is a road?!
This is a road?!
Rocks at Grinlow
Rocks at Grinlow

The sun is fighting a losing battle against the encroaching fog and at times the horizon becomes imperceptible within the spectrum of white that rises from land to sky.

Whiteout
Whiteout

The walk winds down through the woods to Poole’s Cavern which, remarkably, is open today despite the car park being unusable.

Snowy trees in High Plantation
Snowy trees in High Plantation

Walk completed, I wonder what the route would have looked like on a normal grey December weekend. If I came back next week and the snow had gone I doubt I would recognise much of it.

The rest of the weekend? The white snow turned to brown slush, the dry turned to wet and the cold turned from invigorating to plain irritating. I’ll spare you the photos. Christmas came three weeks early.

Walking in a winter wonderland

Joining my parents for a walk on Christmas morning has become something of a tradition for me and this year there were perfect conditions with crisp snow on the ground and a clear blue sky overhead. The circular walk started from Ambergate, headed uphill via Alderwasley and then veered towards Crich until the A6 where we took in a pub and returned along the frozen canal.

Here’s the proof…