TAC 49 Index
I CAN'T SAY that I discovered Alport Dale, because it's been there for ages, but I first saw it almost by accident, on one of those days like cold porridge we get in the Peak District in winter. I'd been stravaiging about in the Derwent Valley with nothing much in mind and decided to head over the moor towards the Snake Road (the old and much better name for the A57), and then to Edale.
So I headed up from an arm of the reservoir and at the top of the moor came into weak sunshine. There had been no hint of an inversion, just a cloudbase of about 20 feet. The map said 'Alport Castles' and 'The Tower', with crag symbols, so I knew there would be a gritstone edge. What I found left me gobstruck. (I'm old enough to remember when 'gobsmacked' hadn't been coined.) The edge dropped away into what looked like steam, with a great lump of shattered gritstone rearing up through it like something from the cover of a fantasy novel. I spent the best part of an hour there, doing nothing else but watch the mist rising and falling around the Tower. This is probably the biggest landslip in England.
Ever since then, Alport has been one of my favourite places in the area. I've been there alone, taken my kids, grandkids and friends. I've insisted to strangers that they should visit it. I've never been sure which is the best approach to Alport Castles; usually over Bleaklow, sometimes following the broad ridge from Grains in the Water, sometimes following the river down dale. Whichever way is always a pleasure, because the dale is empty. The only houses are down close to the road, so wildlife is undisturbed. And don't tell me that walkers disturb wildlife to any extent, because I've watched a pair of peregrines soaring and tumbling down the sky without bothering their heads about me. It is also a quiet uncrowded approach to Bleaklow from the south, with increasing interest as you gain height.
The only drawbacks to the beauty of the dale are the neglected scrubby conifer plantations, which look as if they've been drawn on the hillsides with a broad felt-tip. The plantation under the Castles blocks the best view of the Tower, and makes an awkward diversion necessary to get to it from the dale bottom.
In spite of the trees, I've always had a great love for the place. Then a letter came in from some people in the dale, saying that there was a proposal from the Forestry Commission to clear-fell the plantations, using aerial cranes to bring out the timber. This would mean the road being widened, turning places created, and would leave brashings in the dale bottom to choke the river. The dale folk asked for my support in trying to prevent this. There was ape-shit all over the living room after I read the letter.
So I fired off a letter of support, plus an objection to the Peak Park Planning Board. As usual, there was official acknowledgement, then silence. Try as I might, I couldn't get further information. It simmered in my mind every time I went to the dale. How could anyone be so crass as to spoil such a place? Yes, I know: they can, and they do, often.
Then, in late November, a National Trust envelope came through the door. That was on the verge of going straight into the bin because it was obvious there wasn't a pen inside, but I opened it out of curiosity and could hardly believe what I found: an A3 sheet with a sketch of the dale as it is today, and as it could be in 100 years. This is to be the 'Alport Project', the main aim being to return the dale to a more natural state by gradual clearance of the conifers, replacing them with broad-leaved trees, just for starters. I couldn't find a thing to quarrel with (and that's unusual for a crabbit old bugger like me), and there was everything to cheer about. This must be one of the most worthwhile projects in the north of England. In fact, it's probably the only one that will increase the pleasure of bogtrotters while still having something for refined folk such as naturalists.
Of course, it's only a project, nothing concrete as yet, but I'm confident it will work. Obviously there'll be an appeal for funds; I wouldn't expect anything else. But I can hardly believe that the NT and the FC, neither of which I've had much time for in the past, have come up with so imaginative and sensitive a project. So what if I won't be around to see it come to maturity? Something will have been done for one of my favourite places, and I'll be glad.
Alport Castles lie to the north-west of Ladybower Reservoir, in grid square 1491 of Landranger 110. If you want to know more, contact the Alport Project Office, c/o The National Trust, High Peak Estate Office, Edale End, Edale Rd, Hope, Hope Valley, S33 6RF.
Crabbit old Ed. - Probably the only downside to all this is that the Ordnance Survey will end up plastering their next set of High Peak maps with even more purple lines.
TAC 49 Index