Mud 'n' Monty

Parked at the trailhead of the "Mills Canyon Nature Area," on Adeline Drive near Hillside It rained in North Derbyshire most of the day on Friday. It then rained heavily all night. There followed a morning of torrential rain on Saturday which did not let up until just before noon when the sun came out. After a long spell of warm dry weather, this meant, along with happy gardeners and surprised ducks, the prospect of a very pleasant afternoon walk on freshly damp earth and, with luck, some patches of nice fresh mud.

Much as I love walking barefoot in the rain (the heavier the better), my brown mongrel dog, Monty, hates wet weather. In fact, if it's just drizzling outside, the only bit of Mont that gets beyond the doorframe is his nose and even that doesn't stay out long enough to get wet. Faced with a choice between a very wet and sulky dog or waiting for the rain to stop, I chose the latter and so, just as the sun was coming out, we set off in the 4x4 for the 20 minute drive to the three reservoirs at Linacre Woods: one of my favourite local walks.

It being a Bank Holiday weekend, another blessing brought by the rain was the greatly reduced number of people who chose walking in the countryside over getting their weekend shopping done early in the hopes of better weather later. In the UK, Bank Holidays mean panic buying because the shops are shut an extra day and we might run out of Cheese & Onion crisps before Tuesday (I bought plenty of crisps and stacks of beer on Friday so I was alright <g>). As a result, when we turned off the "main" road out of Cutthorpe and onto the single track lane up to the small parking area, it was clear that there was going to be plenty of parking space. In fact there were only two other cars, one empty and the other inexplicably full of people apparently watching the sun come out. Weird.

We parked up, I grabbed my coat (just in case, but it was too warm an afternoon to wear it), left my shoes where they do most good (behind the driver's seat) and we set off into the woods under the puzzled gaze of the group huddled in their car.

Linacre is paradise for Mont as there are plenty of trails through the woods to explore and, usually, some dogs to play with, so he was off like a shot. The car park is mostly packed lime, which is not my favourite surface for walking on, and the main path starts with about 20 yards of asphalt (again, not a favourite) before reaching the top of the first of three flights of wooden steps set into the hillside. An elderly gentleman, out for his afternoon walk, exchanged a "Hello" and Mont and I started down the steps. The wood was wet but not slippery and the short stretches of dirt path between flights was wonderfully damp beneath my feet but not quite soft enough to leave footprints.

We carried on past the first side trail, which is usually fairly dry in summer, and turned instead onto the middle path (about half way down the hill at the bottom of the second stairway) which leads off through the woods. Or at least I turned off. Mont carried on to the top of the last flight of steps where he stubbornly refused to take any route other than down! After a minute or so of arguing (arguments with Mont usually involve a lot of staring and, on my part, gesticulating), I gave in and let him lead the way down the steps. I think he guessed about the mud!

At the bottom of the steps there are several choices of path and we took the quieter and more interesting one (barefooting-wise). This is a narrow footpath along the edge of the middle reservoir with a high treelined bank all along the right side. It doesn't really lead anywhere (except the next reservoir) but it does boast a variety of surfaces, starting out as packed dirt and alternating between grit, light gravel and large stones that probably once formed part of a retaining wall for the banking. Because of the wet weather, there were also a few patches of mud just deep enough for me to leave a tell-tale footprint or two :-)=

At one point, Mont took a detour and scrambled up the banking. He's usually very conservative on walks, preferring to stick to the paths he knows, but at Linacre he gets more adventurous which is great 'cos exploring an unfamiliar path has an extra level of interest when barefoot. On this occasion, we found ourselves overlooking the main path (which parallels the trail we had followed) and standing on thick, damp moss broken here and there by lichen-covered tree roots and honeysuckle. Mont had a browse around the place (he had an ablution to perform) while I enjoyed the moss between my toes.

Part 2