Sunday, 9 November 2014

Discover the Derbyshire Dales in England by Chris Sabian

Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve consists of parts of five separate limestone valleys in the Peak District National Park - Lathkill, Cressbrook, Monk's, Long and Hay Dales. These represent some of the best examples of wildlife habitat and geology in the White Peak area of Derbyshire and are perfect to explore on foot or cycle.
Several long-distance paths run through or close to the Reserve, including the Limestone Way and the Monsal Trail. The Reserve is well served by rights-of-way. There are Youth Hostels at Bakewell,
Youlgreave, Elton, Ravenstor (near Tideswell), Hartington and Buxton, as well as a number of camping barns and campsites.
Each Dale is an adventure on its own and provided the weather is on your side you will truly be amazed at the awesome beauty that will unfold. It's like being in a different world.
Long Dale
Cut off from roads and habitation, Long Dale is like a lost valley. Follow the footpaths across adjoining fields and you will find its steep, grassy slopes - a swathe of green unbroken by rock or scree. The only company you should expect are the sheep and cattle that graze the dale from summer through to Christmas. Left unchecked in the earlier part of the year, however, the dale is awash with colour by May and June.
Here are blankets of early purple orchid, yellow cowslip and wine-red betony. There are also dense patches of purple heather growing on the north facing slopes, a feature largely peculiar to Long Dale. The acid soil blown on icy winds 10,000 years ago has settled and stayed here and the heather serves as a colourful reminder of this Ice Age past.
In the bottom of the dale is Mouldridge Mine, one of the many lead workings scattered across the Peak District. Yet this is no industrial wasteland. The waste hillocks provide an important habitat for alpine pennycress and spring sandwort or 'leadwort', two plants tolerant to the toxic soil.
Long Dale is situated 6 miles south of Bakewell, near the village of Elton.
Hay Dale
This is a more shallow and gentle affair, framed by a stately avenue of mature wych elms at its northern entrance. East of the path the slope is covered in daleside grassland plants. Home to the Peak District variety of the brown argus butterfly, this is a habitat that supports up to 30 different species of wildflower per square metre. Elsewhere in the dale are scatterings of heather and bilberry.
Continue to the middle of the dale and the scenery changes to reflect the key role that mining has played in the area. Near to the footpath is an 'adit' or horizontal tunnel and close by a rail track and mineral cart,all 19th Century in origin.
Hay Dale is situated 8 miles NW of Bakewell, between the villages of Wheston and Peak Forest.
Lathkill Dale
With its steep, grassy slopes, meandering river and ancient woodlands, Lathkill Dale is now a place of quiet beauty. But, this was once a place of industry, fuelled by a headlong rush for lead. You can still find evidence of those mines and workings scattered among the woods and slopes. Although now absorbed into the natural landscape, they form part of the essential character of the dale.
Lathkill today offers a mix of wildflower-rich daleside grassland and scrub, ancient woodland and plantations of timber. These habitats make the dale a rare treasure trove of wildlife from water voles and the brown argus butterfly, to plantlife such as Jacob's ladder and yellow archangel.
The limestone cliff faces and rocky outcrops in the dale tell of another story. 350 million years ago, the whole White Peak area formed part of a tropical lagoon, complete with coral reefs and volcanoes. As a result, the dale is now rich in fossils and rock forms that tell us much of how the landscape was formed.
Lathkill Dale is situated 2 miles SW of Bakewell, between the villages of Over Haddon, Monyash and Youlgreave.
Cressbrook Dale
Semi-ancient woodland and soaring cliffs in the south of Cressbrook Dale quickly give way to flower-rich scrub and sweeping limestone grassland further north. It's the perfect haven for wildlife.
But signs of man's intervention are to be found across the dale. Lead waste hillocks or 'rakes can be found high up on Wardlow Hay Cop, sharing the hill with an ancient burial mound. At Peter's Stone there is a huge limestone block on which Derbyshire's last gibbet swung in 1812.
Today, Cressbrook mainly draws naturalists and walkers. Wardlow Hay Cop is now an inviting place, covered by mountain pansy, eyebright and thyme. Spring sandwort or 'leadwort' has reclaimed many of the old lead spoil heaps, while the grassy slopes encircling Peter's Stone are known as the northernmost stronghold of the dwarf thistle.
Cressbrook Dale is situated 7 miles NW of Bakewell, between the villages of Wardlow and Litton.
Monk's Dale
Higher and in a colder part of the White Peak than the other dales, Monk's Dale is in some ways a relic of the Ice Age.
Here, the limestone walls close in and provide shelter from the sun. In this environment, plants that existed in the frozen ground 10,000 years ago still live on in splendid isolation.
Monk's Dale is also less accessible than dales such as Lathkill, the path uneven and rock-strewn for much of its length. The daleside grassland, scrub and scree that make up its southern portion are rich in wildflowers. In contrast, the thick woodland to the north is a world of mossy boughs and broken limestone blocks.
There are also signs of human habitation. The remains of an early native settlement straddle the path and some say that the remnants of a chapel are hidden within the dale.
Monk's Dale is situated 9 miles NW of Bakewell.
For more details on the Derbyshire Dales try

About the Author

Chris Sabian Website:
Chris Sabian has lived and worked in the Peak District all his life. He is a travel writer.

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