May, Shittern Clough

Big news! It turns out there might be more than one heron! More of this anon.

My main purpose this month, in a walk put off since December, was to visit the stream running through the Access Land at Shittern Clough. And no, not just for the name. But what a name! It’s also below Cock Hill, which I’ve also mentioned before and which is not funny in any way. At all.

For the sake of a different initial route I set off from home in the direction of the High Street. A book in the window of the Oxfam bookshop caught my eye and I popped in to buy a short history of the Parish Church in Old Glossop.

Not much to report about the High Street, to be honest.

At Pyegrove I turned left and cut across the playing fields following the path to the base of Shire Hill. No cows in the pathside field today, nibbling the trees in the shade; they’ve been away for a while, judging by the length of the grass and the sprinkling of buttercups. Up the hill and the stone wall rises behind thick bracken, separating me from the sheltered crop of bluebells nestling in Shire Hill Wood, still abundant towards the end of their season.

At the shoulder of the hill, and by one of the entrances onto the higher slopes of the wood, there’s a bench—or better to say the still serviceable remains of a bench—and I paused and sat down to make a few notes and have a quick drink of water.

The path from here drops down the hill towards the path running between Old Glossop at one end and Mossy Lea and Doctor’s Gate at the other, and up this next steep section an old-looking dog, brown with greying white splotches, bounded up apparently entirely unruffled, followed by its slightly more ruffled handler. Still, it has to be said, more sprightly than I would be after running up the same track. Another, younger dog dashed up and denied himself the pleasure of saying hello in favour of satisfying the compulsion to dig an old banana skin out of the clump of nettles at the bottom of a wire fence. I confidentially offered the opinion that no one was likely to thank him for that, but he was utterly unperturbed, and seemed pleased with a job well done. Finally a spaniel, and a more pointy-faced creature in whom its owner insisted there was no malice—not so encouraging a comment as I suspect was intended—crossed paths briefly with the others, and their respective human travelling companions, before moving on. To see, for all I know, a dog about a man.

I reassured a family that they were going the right way for Mossy Lea and that, yes, they had to go down the big hill they’d just come up. I wouldn’t have started from there, and so forth. But to be fair they probably chose the best compromise between guaranteed parking space, convenience, and picturesque route. When I got to the bottom of the path at the base of Shire Hill ten minutes later they’d made it as far as the bridge over the stream and the child and dog of the party were happily playing in the water, so I don’t know how far they ended up getting. Not the point on a day as sunny and lazy as this.

Unless, that is, you’re aiming for something quite specific, even if that target is just sitting for a while by a different stream, listening to the babbling, contemplating the rhododendrons and reading a book about the history of a church.

Onwards! I know there is some debate over whether it is necessary or advisable to keep eggs in the fridge, but I’m fairly sure opinion is less divided on whether they should be left for sale on a table in the sun. Six for a pound at Tanyard Farm, if you’re interested.

Along the track to the first gate, and the path to Open Country breaks off to the left. I paused on the way up, watching a sheepdog skilfully outflank a stray ewe at almost no command. He or she spoilt it straight away by then wandering off through a gate to sit down in the sun, to the sound of vigorous and exasperated shouting. It wasn’t clear whether the dog or the shepherd were in training. Possibly both. The job eventually got done, but not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The wind was whistling down the channel between Shire Hill and Glossop Low, and the jackdaws were doing well to have any influence on which direction they were going to fly. On the exposed hillside there are a couple of rusted iron hides, the larger of which has been broken since last year so that I’m glad I took a dramatic photograph of the sun setting down the valley through a small gap in the crumbling metalwork when I had the chance.

I reached my destination this time as planned. Nothing much had changed. I sat for a while on a rock by the water reading my book, and managed, as I discovered later, to catch the sun on my arms.

I got up, stepped, with all due respect to Heraclitus, into the same stream as I had several times before, and started to make my way back. Suddenly there were birds! One or two pheasants made their voices heard, but the main show was house martins. Dozens of them were hunting along the stretch of Glossop Brook as it widens and slows before gathering its forces to plunge through to the Etherow, Liverpool, and the ancestral sea.

And in the trees behind the field on the northern side of the track there was a nest with two huge baby herons in it, so it seems I might have been wrong about that whole heron thing. You live and learn.

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