Peak Time (8.22)

It seems flippant of me to write about being on holiday when in the past days, Russia has invaded Ukraine. My friends and colleagues still have family there. And I’m sorry, but putting a little Ukrainian flag on your Facebook profile picture isn’t going to make much difference. Will Putin say, Oh no, I’d better pull back the army, 100 million people on Facebook are supporting Ukraine. No, I don’t think so either. So best if you write to those who have the power to make decisions to end this war. MPs, ministers for whatever. And donate if you can afford it. The Ukrainian embassy in London has put out a list of ways you can help. Maybe the embassy near you has done something similar.

I have been kind of isolated from everything that’s happening due to being on holiday. We are staying in a place with no TV so if it wasn’t for things buzzing on my phone I wouldn’t know. One bit of news I did hear was that the government was removing all Covid-related restrictions for England. No more face masks, no more social distancing, and I think no more testing, no more mandatory quarantining if you have the virus. What? It all seemed a bit sudden, and I should probably check and make sure I understand what the rules are now (although I think the rules seem to be there are no rules anymore.)

I think I last posted on our arrival in the North, having survived train delays and snowstorms, we arrived in Buxton not too much later than we were supposed to.

Sunday was the day storm Franklin was hitting the country but we hadn’t been following the news (despite having a TV where we were staying in Buxton) so we didn’t know this. We just knew the weather app was predicting cold and windy weather, so we didn’t plan anything more strenuous for Sunday than having lunch at the Buxton Brewery restaurant and then going to our favourite Buxton pub, the Cheshire Cheese, in the afternoon. We made our way bravely to the Cheshire Cheese, despite strong winds whipping the rain into horizontal ice that stung our faces as we walked up the hill. Luckily, the Cheese had an open fire going, so were able to take shelter there and warm up and dry out, while seeing icy hail being hurled against the windows by the storm.

Monday, and the weather was still looking bad (tail end of storm Franklin), so no hiking. Instead we took a trip across to Macclesfield. We’d chosen our Airbnb in Buxton because the main town bus stops are pretty much directly outside it. The Macclesfield bus route traverses a high moor plateau, the infamous Cat and Fiddle (named after the pub up there) and often classed as “the most dangerous road in the UK” (or so says Wikipedia). It turns up on traffic reports regularly because it often closes due to weather. The moorland is as bleak and featureless as anything you’ve read in any Bronte novel. The wind was still pretty strong when we were up high on this journey, and the window on the bus blew open several times. Leaving Buxton, we saw several tree branches down on the road and several more partly blocking the roads on the way into Macclesfield. Our bus driver swerved around these and around the curves in the Cat and Fiddle Road with the practised ease of someone who knows this road well. Me, as a passenger, didn’t feel quite so at ease. But I did heartily thank the driver when we arrived safely in Macclesfield.

Macclesfield didn’t have much going on on a post-storm Monday. We looked around the shops, had a morning cake and coffee break at the charming Cherry Tree bakery, and lunch at the punningly clever Lord of the Pies, but as even the museums were closed, we headed back to Buxton, where a late afternoon burst of sunshine got us out for a walk around the town.

Tuesday – our last day in Buxton – and would we get the chance to go hiking? No! Another day of rain! I know, there’s that thing about no bad weather only bad clothing, but walking across country on muddy paths for a few hours with rain slashing at your face is not fun, no matter how good your clothing is.

Instead we got a daily bus pass, and headed out to visit some of the nearby towns: Whaley Bridge, New Mills, and Chapel en le Frith. Whaley was cute, and if it wasn’t raining we might have stayed longer to see the Toddbrook reservoir which started to collapse in 2019. (It has been repaired since then…) (Although after the recent rain and storms I’m sure there was some concern…)

New Mills we had been to before, it being the nearest “big town” when we stayed in Hayfield on our first trip to the Peak District in 2020. We stopped here mostly to go back to Bele Bakery, which does a superb range of speciality hot chocolate as well as some seriously delicious and decadent brownies.

Delicious hot chocolate at Bele

We took a connecting bus back to Whaley and then another bus on to Chapel en le Frith. Chapel is another small one street town, with a surprisingly high number of funeral businesses. We walked around for half an hour before catching the next bus out. Maybe if we had gone there first we would have spent some more time looking around and exploring but at the end of the day we were tired (and possible having a sugar crash after Bele bakery) and just wanted to go back to our Airbnb.

Finally on Wednesday we got a properly sunny day. But of course this was the day we spent the morning travelling from Buxton to Sheffield. It was an incredibly scenic trip. I planned to read or listen to music but I just stared out the window at the scenery whizzing past. We passed by the Monsal trail, a path we had walked on a previous trip. We passed through the tiny town of Tideswell which has a cathedral (the cathedral of the Peaks), and through Eyam, famous for putting itself  into lockdown after the Bubonic plague was found in the village in 1665. (You can read a fictionalised account of this in Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks).

Our Airbnb in Sheffield was an artist’s apartment, gloriously decorated with interesting and unusual artworks as well as a random assortment of things that you know is not random at all, but carefully chosen, carefully put together, along with whole bookcase of art books, a whole shelf of cooking books, and a cabinet full of old leather bound books and animal skulls.

We headed out to have a look around Sheffield, the morning’s sun already turned to cloud. We have been here before, so we kind of knew where to go, but it’s a hard city to get your bearings in as the centre has several sections all at slightly different angles to each other, so you think you’re headed in one direction but eventually realise you’ve veered off course by 90 degrees.

We saw that some shops in the centre had closed since our last visit. There is a huge mega mall shopping complex just outside Sheffield called Meadowhall, and that was where most of the people on our bus were going. Presumably that is siphoning shoppers and “big draw” shops away from the centre. But it does seem to be making space for small independent shops, as well as a fine range of restaurants featuring cuisine from around the world – lots of Asian food reflecting the student population (Chinese, Korean, Japanese as well as Thai and Vietnamese), Eritrean and Ethiopian reflecting the recent migrant population, as well as Turkish, Indian/Bangladeshi, Mexican…

Sheffield is known as a brewing city and we visited two favourite pubs on our first night – The Crow Inn and Shakespeare’s – to sample some interesting and unusual beers before returning to our charming apartment, a little worse for wear.

Thursday we woke to sunshine, although this had turned to snow by the time we were ready to leave the house. Today we bought an all day bus pass for the city – and with snow alternating with sunshine all day we were glad we did. It would have been a bitter day spent waking in those sub-zero temperatures and spiraling flurries of snow.

Another day with no hiking, instead we were off mooching around the shopping roads of Sheffield – Eccleshall and Abbeydale – with highlight being afternoon tea at the Vintage Cafe at the Sheffield Antiques Centre. We didn’t buy any antiques, only some job lot bits of cutlery from the 50p bin. I’m not sure when we will use our fish knives and forks, but at least we have some  now!

Afternoon tea at the Vintage Pantry – and there are slices of cake not featured in this photo as well!

Full from our afternoon tea and with no antiques appealing, we used our bus pass to visit a few other pubs in the afternoon as recommended by the barman at The Crow Inn, starting at Heist Tap, a big ex-industrial space with some 20 beers on tap, all with the most ridiculous names, such as Slap me with a pickle or Set my teddy bear on fire. OK, these are not the actual names of beers, but they are not far from the truth. Being housed in an old warehouse or factory building, the tap room was a big cold space. We kept our coats on. The other venue was Salt, which at least was in a small space, and heated. That’s the best thing we had to say about it. We stopped at the Shakespeare’s again, to try out two beers we’d seen on their board on our previous visit (call us beer hunters).

Friday dawned bright and sunny. Actual proper all day sunshine: no rain, no snow. So today, virtually the end of our week away, we finally got to go hiking. We took the 9.00am bus out to the Ladybower Inn, right beside the Ladybower reservoir, and set off to walk around it. The path took us through some light forest, beside some farms, and alongside the reservoir. We passed a woman driving one of those quad bike farm vehicles. “Did you hear the curlew?” she asked us. “It’s the first curlew of spring.” We had to admit we didn’t know what a curlew sounded like. She gave us her best impression of one, and we did keep listening for it as we continued walking. But we didn’t hear it. Or at least not how she’d made it sound.

We paused at the dam end of the reservoir at Fairholmes, near the toilets and cafe, which is where all the walking guides recommend to start this walk. A reminder that walking guides seem to be written for people with cars, not people who travel by bus, like us. We didn’t know there would be a tall dam at this part of the walk, and so we hiked up a short steep path to view the Derwent reservoir, which is where the British Air Force practised for the bouncing bomb raids on the German dams during World War II.

The second half of the walk back to the starting point was somehow nicer than the first half, taking in views of the reservoir, the nearby hill and down the expanse of water of the reservoir to the bridge and up to Bamford Edge. We had thought to stop at the Ladybower Inn for lunch after our walk, but we realised that with only 25 minutes until the next bus was due, we probably didn’t have time, so instead we sat outside and rested in the warm early spring sunshine. If we got any tan on this trip, it was in those 25 minutes.

Back in Sheffield, we had a break for lunch back in our apartment, then headed out for a drink, back to the Crow Inn again. Husband was keen to go back as the friendly barman told us they should have some new beers on by today. We had one drink there, listening to three young guys talking about how much money they were all making, and then walked across town to the Crow’s sister pub, the Rutland Arms. It was a beautiful early spring evening, a gorgeous pink sunset. We didn’t even mind sitting outside at the Rutland, but we are old now, and one half was enough, we just wanted to go back to our little flat, cook dinner and sit on the sofa. Leave this Friday night in the beer garden thing to the young people.

Saturday we set out for another walk, this time along the Rivelin Valley on the outskirts of Sheffield. It surprises me how quickly you pass from city to suburbs to farmland in Sheffield. The Rivelin walk was pleasant enough but when we reached the end, we decided to catch a bus back instead of walking back. (This was the same bus that took us to/from Ladybower – just remember, if you’re travelling by public transport through the Peak District, Hulleys of Baslow will be your best bus company friend.)

Back in town, I persuaded Husband to take in some culture, with visits to the Graves Gallery on the top floor of the Central Library and the Millennium Gallery, both of which we’d missed on our first visit to Sheffield in the first-post-lockdown trip to Sheffield in June 2020. But our hearts weren’t really in it, so we returned to our lovely flat and I copied out recipes from the Persiana cookbook, one of many delicious looking cookbooks in our Airbnb host’s collection (I am definitely hunting down a book called Snackistan…) before packing in preparation for our trip home today.

It certainly feels like we were away for more than a week, but it also feels good to be home.

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