Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Dale of the Dove - or, For the Love of Maps.

Just like any loving parent, I want the best for my children. I want my children to learn to love maps. 

I love maps, I always have. There is nothing quite like unfolding a map, laying it out on the floor and then stretching out alongside it to take it all in. Automatically I begin to trace the rivers, follow the ridges, pin point the high spots and link them all together into hypothetical routes, continually re-drawn to include particularly appealing features not originally noticed. It's wonderful - lean too close and you might just fall in!

Dove Dale is a perfect example of a landscape which immediately catches the eye of any diligent student of cartography - the sinuous river, the formidably steep valley sides, the ribbon of woodland clinging on for dear life in an otherwise open, pastoral landscape. Potentially last, though certainly not least you notice the names! While the title 'Dove Dale' itself paints a relatively harmless picture, throw in 'Ravens Tor', 'Hurt's Wood', 'Reynard's Cave', 'Tissington Spires', 'Jacobs Ladder', 'Twelve Apostles', 'Lovers Leap' and 'Thorpe Cloud' and you have beginning, middle and end to a cartographical fantasy trilogy without ever leaving the living room floor. And that's before you consider the list of caves, weirs and natural arches long enough to keep Enid Blyton's Famous Five busy for their entire summer holidays.

I didn't need to keep my children occupied for an entire holiday - we were aiming for just a single morning. The scramble up to the caves, and indeed the majority of the path along the valley itself was out of the scope of the littlest legs of the family (just 1 year old) but these trips are about planting the seeds of adventure and exploring. So fully expecting to never make it past the stepping stones (perhaps less than 1km from our start point!) we left the almost entirely deserted car park in scruffy clothes to enjoy a couple of hours of family fun in stunning, natural-world beauty, without the crowds. It was a dull grey day, and only just turned 9am but it wasn't just the weather, or the (relatively) early hour which allowed us to beat the crowds. My daughters school was closed for the day so we were there on a week day in term time - a rare and perfect opportunity to see Dove Dale as God intended and it's name implies ... peaceful!

And so it proved to be - we only had each other for company on the path out along the river - that is unless you count the ducks, grey wagtails and almost unbelievably confident crows which stole the meagre portions of bread the little ones had brought along for the ducks. We, that is my wife and I, have been to Dove Dale before, and we've wanted to bring the children for a while because we loved it. But knowing just how busy it gets, we wanted to save it for a day when we could make it special and we could all enjoy it as much as possible, preferably with as few other people as possible. And obviously to enjoy any river valley fully, you need to get wet. Why wouldn't you? Hence the scruffy clothes.

Pretty much since the first day our youngest started walking we gave up hope of keeping him out of the water on family outings and instead embraced (and sometimes even encouraged) his fearless love for going the extra watery mile, even if it means the return miles are soggy. He was true to form making straight for the river and the puddles, splashing in the surprisingly bracing currents (given that it was early June) and loving every minute of it. The smile never left his face... until our little girl (3 1/2 years his senior) started scaling the scree slopes up the valley sides. This was beyond his still slightly wobbly ability and at that point he lost the smile and started to get cross, thinking that he was missing the fun! This is not a child who will need any encouragement to explore when he gets a bit steadier on his feet.

We arrived at the stepping stones without major incident and spent a few happy minutes hopping from stone to stone and trying to make sure our he didn't get out of his depth while following the ducks into the river. I even got to take a few pictures while the rest of the family were tucking into our modest picnic rations! The rain had started by this point, but we were already wet, and it wasn't too cold so we weren't going to let that stop us. But then the school groups started arriving and the relative peace we had enjoyed was at risk of being disturbed. So we called it a day and headed for home, wet, dirty and happy - exactly as it should be. 

A few days ago we had the map back out - the seeds are growing!


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