If you leave the High Peak Trail at Middleton-by-Wirksworth, just beyond the start of the steep incline up to the engine house at Middleton Top, the path winds down through banks of wild garlic, and pink Campion, to a disused coal yard. It descends by wooden steps to a long low dwelling surrounded by tumble down barns and the debris of old machinery, and beyond that to an expanse of wilderness that must once have been the gardens of the building.
The boggy land has grown wild, raspberry canes lost amongst Rosebay Willowherb, Horsetail ferns – thickets of Blackthorn and twisted Oak, clad in a blanket of moss. Beyond is a grander house that once belonged to the manager of Tarmac, and beyond that the land falls away to fields – the old spoil heaps, dips and hollows of the lead mines, broken walls, and an ancient colony of ant hills, that give the land a curiously bumpy texture when the sun falls low.
Sometimes on my walks I encounter the owner of the low house, working on the laborious job of renovation – which involves draining the land, creating new waterways, laying pipes, pulling down and rebuilding stone barns. He works with meticulous care, but hasn’t touched the house yet – this way, he says, he’ll learn all the skills he needs before starting on the major task. He works with quiet focus, as if he’s totally in flow with the land, and with the materials he works with. As if by his slow thoughtful method he’s assisting the old place in its re-emergence to life, rather than putting his own mark on it.
Yesterday I walked down for the first time in a couple of weeks. A patch of land that I’d scarcely noticed before had burst into flower after days of rain and sun – a meadow of purple and white Honesty, Buttercup and Campion. We stopped to talk. He told me he’d done little more than dig out the Hogweed, Bramble, Dock and Nettle, and then rake over the soil. That was enough to release the seeds that had lain dormant for so long.
As I sat in the sunshine later in the day, transplanting the seedlings from the greenhouse into larger pots, I overheard two of the little girls who play on the orchard. They were talking about life. The older girl, who’s twelve, and seems to have cultivated a new voice over half term – rather refined, without a trace of Derbyshire accent, was talking at length about her ballet class.
‘Life without ballet is pointless,’ she said, unaware she’d delivered a perfect pun.
To which the younger child replied.
‘I think life without giraffes is pointless.’
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.