Sep 08 2012

Walk 55: Beat The Bookie

Kinder Scout from Bretton

route: sir william hill from eyam
date: 8th september 2012
distance: 4.4 miles
ascent: 728 feet
time: 3 hrs 40 mins
walkers: dave, graham, leanne, sandra & simon

As the saying goes “the bookie always wins”, but today we aimed to prove that theory wrong, and hopefully we aimed to take on Sir William Hill and return triumphant. In all honesty it wasn’t going to be a major task but the saying is there for a reason (although it doesn’t relate to walking) so we prepared thoroughly as always. We arrived in Eyam (pronounced Eem) to find that Sherpa G-String was already parked up waiting for us. It was nice to have him back with us for the first time since our Trailtrekker experience, and with the weather set fair, we were in for another good day rambling. After a little indecision with the parking we eventually plumped to leave them at the road side right next to the revolving roasting jack. We were a little taken aback at first especially when we opened the car doors to be hit by the overpowering smell of animal fat that had solidified at the base of the roasting device. It obviously seemed to be a proud village custom and I like that we still keep traditions like this going. Mounted on the wall behind the jack was a green plaque (to the left of the picture below) and I went to see what it told us about the old custom. I was however a little disappointed that the custom only began in 1951 as I had imagined it would go back 300 years or so. Still, all traditions have to start somewhere I suppose…

As we began the leisurely stroll towards the church we came across another green plaque in the garden of a little cottage, Plague Cottage. It didn’t seem like a pleasant name to give a property and the green plaque confirmed it had actually been the home of the first person in Eyam to die of the plague in 1665. It transpires that the village was infected by fleas that had hitched a ride from London on some cloth ordered by the tailor George Viccars. He was soon dead and over 70% of the village was killed over the next year. The story is made special by the fact that the vicar William Mompesson convinced the villagers not to try and run to escape the disease which would no doubt have spread it further. Instead, they quarantined themselves preventing the spread around Derbyshire and possibly beyond. The villagers would leave money in a local well now known as Mompesson’s Well believing that the water would cleanse the coins of any infection, and surrounding villagers would take the money and in place leave food and other supplies to keep the inhabitants of Eyam fed and watered.

We spotted other green plaques before we reached the church, and it was at this point (not already knowing the above story) that we began to realise the scale of what went on here nearly 350 years ago. I later found out that in the church yard is a tomb to the vicars wife Catherine, who died towards the back end of the outbreak, but not knowing that at the time, we had no idea to look for it. Instead we used the backdrop of the church to take our team shot, then walked through the church ground and we were on our way.

The sun was already making its presence felt and it looked like it could be a nice day as my attire of shorts and t-shirt would suggest. Even Wu Tang went for the t-shirt as she embarked on what would be her last walk for a while due to her now being nearly 6 months pregnant and finding each walk harder than the last. Shortly after the churchyard the path began to climb and we took the map out to make sure we were on the correct footpath. It was soon decided that as the walk was a simple one and wouldn’t be too difficult to navigate that we should let L’Autobus do the honours and they did all day, passing with flying colours.

The path climbed gradually as we slowly made our way up, pausing whenever Wu Tang felt the need. Away to our right we spotted a field of alpacas which didn’t totally surprise us as we had seen some the last time we visited the Peak District. In the distance the valley was covered with low lying cloud and we got the impression that if we could get high enough, quick enough we may get our first sight of a temperate inversion where the cloud sits low in the valley but the skies are clear above. The footpath led us out onto a road and we paused as our navigational team gave us the options of where to go next. The footpath continued up directly in front of us and we could see it rising sharply up the hillside through the trees before it emerged out into the sunshine. Our route of choice would be the road as it was much more gradual and the cover the trees offered meant for a cooler walk.

Occasionally the gaps in the treeline was enough for us to see we were in fact above the cloud level and beyond that we could also see the high ground on the other side of the valley . It wasn’t the perfect view and I have no doubt that being on the top of a Lakeland fell with the cloud sat just above a lake below you is far more impressive but it was a start and I was happy with the view we had.

A short time later we reached Mompesson’s Well and read the info board nearby. It was at this time we began to fill in the pieces of the full story and we used this as our topic of conversation as we continued on our way. Beaky, Ramblo and G began to move ahead of myself and Wu Tang as we took it nice and steady. Each time we stopped we looked behind us and still the cloud sat in the valley, it was just a shame that there wasn’t something of equal in the distance to give it a more impressive feel.

As we stood admiring the view we turned to find Ramblo pointing at something in the distance. At first we thought she was showing us a mast but after squinting the eyes a little more and covering the eyes from the sun I caught a glimpse of the white trig point that could be seen just to the right of a couple of bushes. The fact we could now see our intended trig was enough to put a smile on Wu Tang’s face and with the others waiting, we re-grouped once again.

A few hundred yards further on and the road swung round to the right, but to our left was a track and that would be our route. This track was called William Hill Road and would lead us to within 25 yards of the trig. I told the others they could see us at the trig so they didn’t feel the need to wait every so often and they began to move off into the distance.

Ahead we could see a stile over the wall to our right and I asked Wu Tang if we should cross here rather than continue up as the others had done. We decided that safety was the best policy and used the stile to cross the wall and we began the last few hundred yards through the thick heather. It seemed our decision was justified as we neared the trig and saw the others clambering over the wall much to our amusement. For a few seconds it seemed we may even beat them to the trig but once over the wall they soon covered the short disctance and it would be another couple of minutes before we got there.

It was only just after 10am and we decided against a lunch stop just yet. We did spend 15 minutes soaking up the views and generally taking in all the surrounding area during which time I decided to have half a sandwich as I was a little hungry. We also chatted about how we would get over the wall to continue on our way. It was too far back to go to the stile before coming back this way so we agreed that with a bit of care we would help Wu Tang over. There was only one slight moment of concern as she lost her footing when halfway over, but she had four people holding her up and we were soon on our way once more.

We followed the track for a while as we chatted away, discussing the possibility of future fundraising. It is something I enjoy and many of the other badgers are only too happy to help with any hare brained ideas I come up with so it may be there are a few things in the pipeline for 2013 and beyond. We stopped as a little lizard scuttled from the track into the grass at the side of the road but it was hard to spot once it had cover so we didn’t waste much more time looking.

The track continued on until it re-joined a road which if followed would take you to Eyam. We continued onwards before entering a field to our left to spend ten minutes watching a dozen or so people preparing to go paragliding. We didn’t actually see any take-off whilst we were stood there but we had planned in a trip to the pub and as it was only 100 yards further along the road we decided we could watch them from there.

It was a first for us as we entered the Barrel Inn at Bretton for a drink during a walk and I have to say we may have been missing a trick. It was a great idea as we took our drinks over the road and sat on the grass overlooking the valley below. It wasn’t exactly a booze fest with most of us choosing a soft drink, but it did add a little extra to an already enjoyable walk. We sat there for about half an hour watching a kestrel hover what seemed only yards in front of us as it watched something below. It would swoop left and right before diving a little only to pull out and circle round once again. I could have stayed there for hours but with our drinks finished we returned the glasses to the bar before setting off for Eyam.

The pub stop had been a wonderful addition to a delightful little walk and I suppose that is possible when the walks are short and leisurely. As enjoyable as it had been I don’t think I would have liked it so much had I known I still had 6 or 7 miles to go. Today we only had about one and a half and after retracing our steps along the road for a short distance we joined a footpath that would take us down Eyam Edge as the paragliders soared above.

The path was steep(ish) but didn’t offer too much to worry about, although it was a little overgrown in places and contained hidden patches of nettles which isn’t ideal when in shorts. As we reached the bottom of Eyam Edge the path opened up and we headed towards what looked like a run-down quarry. As we reached the perimeter there was a sign warning us that plant machinery could be in operation and instructed us to take the path skirting the plant.

To say it was a little overgrown would be an understatement, but follow it we did until eventually we caught a glimpse of the plant once again. In fact a little further on the path filtered back in to the entrance to the site which almost seemed to defeat the object. That wasn’t strictly true as we had avoided the main workings, if indeed there was any working still going on here. It certainly had the look of something that wasn’t operational any more but I am sure Monday to Friday it has a totally different feel to it.

We followed the access road back out onto the main road and turned left to finish our journey. Within a matter of minutes we had reach the sign indicating we were now back in the village of Eyam and our walk was nearly complete.

As we strolled through the village we spotted numerous other green plaques mounted on walls detailing the horrors that went on during 1665/6. It was quite moving in a way, even though it was such a long time ago and I have no real comprehension of what it was like to live at that time, never mind in a village rife with the plague. All I know is the inhabitants must have been very brave to seal themselves off from the outside world and let the disease die off with them. It was a humbling end to a fabulous day and I would very much like to return to Eyam to walk around the village once again and learn a little more about what went on all those years ago. For now though, we had our own achievement to celebrate. We had beaten the bookie and that deserved a nice cold beer, I just hoped that we hadn’t caught the plague otherwise it may be our last…

Sir Edmund


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