Walking from John O'Groats to Land's End in the winter of 07/08.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Milldale to Uttoxeter

The reward for yesterday's effort was to wander down the southern end of Dovedale before breakfast, the tranquility undisturbed by the usual crowds. Here, the wide river slows and grows deeper, passing though woods before being enclosed by steep grassy banks marked by isolated trees and streaked by chutes of stones. Tall spires of limestone and huge caverns dominate the absorbing scenery. After crossing the stepping stones, I passed the distinctive peak of Thorpe Cloud and followed the river as it left the valley for fertile farmland.

Muddy paths led to a large stone bridge, whose impressive arches used to carry an important coach route but now only see farm traffic. A steep climb took me away from the River Dove and into a maze of small fields. This was slow going as I tried to judge where to find each rotting stile in the hedgerows, navigating mainly by the shape of each field and thereby working out which piece of the jigsaw I was standing on. After Swinscoe, the number of paths multiplied and I had the additional problem of finding the correct stiles.

I followed a barely used path into a wooded dale, branches tearing at my face and catching on my backpack as I fought to stop myself sliding down the steep mud bank. After negotiating my way past some steep drops over the babbling brook, I was relieved to be back in open fields. The next section alongside that same brook followed a track leading into more woodland. This was much more pleasant, despite degenerating into a muddy morass in places and requiring careful stone and branch hopping.

Here my route joined the Limestone Way, although I took to the road through Ellastone for a bit of respite from the mud. This took me back alongside the River Dove before more tricky fields to Rocester. Approaching the town, the huge flat mass of the JCB factory was almost too much to take in, a industrial mirage shimmering on the shores of a lake.

I transferred to the Staffordshire Way, which sticks to the edge of the wide flood plain while the river disappears and reappears on tight meanders. I was beginning to struggle to see the paths in the fading light and a muddy field crossing where huge clods of earth stuck to my boots, making every step hard work, did not improve my mood. I crossed under a dual carriageway in an underpass made for dwarves and escaped the jaws of an angry dog at The Willows with a quick leap over a stile. An industrial estate followed, and as I had no desire for more muddy and torturous footpaths I took to the roads as it began to rain. It didn't take long before I was happy to pack it in for the day and got the van to park up at the next suitable spot just outside Uttoxeter. After a lovely start, most of the day was something to forget (probably shouldn't have written about it then).

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