I read somewhere once that a love of the early morning is a sign of good mental health and if that is the case I must be in a good place as I began my walking on day one of The Peak Pilgrimage before anyone else was about on this early August morn. I had visited the church of the Holy Cross in Ilam the night before and collected the first of the pilgrim stamps and verses to stick in my guidebook.
After a good night’s sleep at the Youth Hostel and fuelled by my banana and a silent prayer my pilgrimage began with a quietness all around and deep inside of me.
Bunster Hill beckoned and looked rather high but I skirted around it then followed the route through the pass to the Dovedale Car Park. I was so glad I had been up early. There were no cars or crowds and I ambled along the banks of the river with only the bleating of the sheep for company.Quite quickly I reached the famous stepping stones – reminding me of the stones I had taken over the River Mole on my Gratitude Pilgrimage nearly two years before.
I was saddened to see notices about “Ash Dieback” but gratified to see that records were being taken of what was happening.
Shortly after passing several caves and Ilam Rock I came across some human company. Two chaps (Paul and John, if I remember rightly). They had travelled from Sheffield on one of their regular walking trips. They pointed out to me dippers dancing on the smooth stones in the river. I tried to take a photograph – slightly unsuccessfully!
My heart resides alongside the banks of the River Frome near to Stinsford Churchyard but always now whispers in my soul will draw me to this placid valley with its humble yet dramatic beauty. I will have to return.
My Sheffield comrades left me at the peaceful hamlet of Millbrook and I sat a while feeding the ducks before plodding uphill to Millbrook Methodist Chapel – a tiny and simple building.
Following a long climb uphill I reached the distinctly different church of St Peter’s in Alstonefield. The climb up had been steep and I rested a while here and was grateful for the refreshments available.
For several miles I now followed along farm tracks before reaching the romantically-named Gypsy Bank. The guidebook warns that this is a steep climb and indeed it was slightly tricky. It is not a descent I would attempt in wet weather and on occasions I also wished that I had my walking stick with me. However, taking my time I carefully picked my way down over the steps and stones trying to ignore my creaking knee until I reached the bridge back over the River Dove.
Once again I found myself alone in the calm of the river valley. I slowed my walking and tried to fully savour the feeling of fullness, gratitude and joy I was feeling.
Eventually after emerging from Monson Wood and crossing several fields I reached the church of St Giles Hartington. What a wonderful surprise to find a table with materials focussed on the subject of “pilgrimage” and a reminder of the wonderful gratitude pilgrimage I had made along the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury a year and a half ago.
The guidebook refers to the great clock marking out the seconds of one’s life. A thought to perhaps focus on after a walk where I had tried to slow time down.
Hartington itself was a delight . I had to stop to take a picture of the “bizzy” garden.
The Youth Hostel is said to be one of the grandest in England. Upon entering I remarked that I felt like I was in a posh hotel.
I was also one of only three ladies in my dormitory that night . After eating the spinach and feta pasty I had purchased in the well-stocked village stores I dipped into some of the books in the lounge before retiring and sleeping well meditating on a truly beautiful day.
9.5 miles; OS Explorer OL24