Dale Abbey - Part 4 - Memories Of Bluebells and Cattle
w/e 01 May 2005
All this week's pictures were taken with a Kodak DX6490

What a difference a few weeks can make. If you compare the first image below with the final image in Part 3 which were both taken from the foot of the steps to the Hermit's Cave it is hard to believe that there is only a month between them. Now the leaves are on the trees, the bluebells are coming into flower and the conditions underfoot are much better. In this part we will continue through the wood towards The Village with a short diversion down "Memory Lane".


On a warm sunny Spring afternoon we pick up our walk around Dale Abbey on the long distance footpath known as the Midshires Way at the foot of the steps to the Hermit's Cave. We could have continued along this path but as the conditions had improved significantly since our last visit we opted to climb the steps and continue upwards past the cave to the top of the sandstone outcrop and the southern boundary of Hermit's Wood.
The Higher Route

Narrow PathFive Barred GateWe were rewarded on this higher route with some delightful views over the village. Eventually the narrow winding path (left) flanked by pretty bluebells wound its way down via some rough steps cut into the hillside to rejoin the Midshires Way. Passing through a five barred gate (right) we entered what I recall from those austere days soon after the Second World War as a farm yard.

It was not uncommon in those days half a century ago to see people, myself included, walking through here from the wood laden with arms full of bluebells. Some were snapped of at ground level but most were pulled up revealing long white stems. It is so easy to be wise in hindsight for as we now know, once picked, the flowers do not last long and by the time we had reached home many had shrivelled and drooped. Those that survived were placed in vases to bring a touch of the countryside into our homes for a few days. Nowadays of course it is illegal to remove bluebells from their natural habitat - it may well have been illegal then too but when money was tight after the war, people had to make the best of what they had and collecting wild flowers cost nothing. Continuing my trip down "Memory Lane" I remember too when this farm yard had cattle lowing in the cow sheds to the left, pigs grunting in sties on the right and chickens roaming free, pecking in the muddy track and cobbles. Today the only sound was a dog barking at the gate and some distant bird song. The muddy track has gone to be replaced by gravel and the whole place has a feel of a desirable country residence than a farm house. Just beyond the building on the left, the Midshires Way branches off towards Dunshill and we made a short detour to our walk to follow the path for a little way.
Ockbrook Wood

Ockbrook WoodOckbrook WoodWe walked as far as Ockbrook Wood which lies along the north facing slopes of the Dale Hills. Here the bluebells seemed more abundant than in Hermit's Wood, perhaps evidence that the flower picking of the 1940's and 50's had more of an effect than we realised at the time. But the purpose of our detour was not primarily to see the bluebells but to follow another memory from my youth.
Field Of Memories

Between Hermit's Wood and Ockbrook Wood is a grassy slope. It is not quite how I remember it and I think some field boundaries have been grubbed out but when I was a child, I had a very nasty experience here. We had a dog and one fine evening my parents took me to Dale Abbey where we intended to have a picnic in this very field. Grassy SlopeDad looped the dog's lead around the trunk of a tree at the top of the slope - it could well have been one of the trees on the right of this small picture. As we sat on the grass to prepare our meal, the dog spotted some cattle at the bottom of the slope and started straining at his leash and barking. The cattle, curious, started to ascend the slope and seemed to be approaching us from all corners of the field. The dog barked and strained even more and we could not stop him. We decided it was time to move but Dad could not undo the lead which was now twisted and knotted. He even tried burning through it with his cigarette lighter and in the end a combination of adrenalin and panic enabled him the snap the leather strap with brute force alone. The cattle were now almost upon us so scooping up our belongings we made our escape via a narrow passage between a double hedge on the boundary of Ockbrook Wood. As Mum and I clambered over a fence and through a gap in the hedge, Dad ran with the barking dog in his arms to the gate at the bottom of the field. Mum and I turned once through the hedge to see the herd of now stampeding cattle thunder past, literally just seconds behind us. There were no cattle about today and the narrow passage is now so overgrown that the double hedge has now almost merged into one. That way of escape no longer exists but we were oh so thankful for it then. The passage of time has a strange effect on some childhood memories and the changed landscape did not exactly match the picture in my mind's eye but the experience of that picnic outing all those years ago left me with a lifelong bovine phobia.
Semi Detached

Having satisfied my curiosity if not actually laying the ghost to rest, we returned along the Midshires Way to our original route. The building seen here at the junction of the two paths is a rare example of a house and a church under one roof. The semi detached church is on the far side and we shall see more of this in Part 5. Both premises stand on the site where the Derby baker Cornelius (the original hermit at Dale) built his chapel and home after meeting Ralph Fitz Geremund, Lord of the Manor of Ockbrook and Alvaston and owner of the land at Dale. On hearing his story about the vision of the Virgin Mary, Ralph took pity on Cornelius and not only allowed him to remain but bestowed upon him the tithe money from Borrowash Mill.

 Back To Part 3
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