Michael Bradbury, Julia’s and Gina’s Dad, shares his memories and thoughts on walking in Derbyshire and the roots of Julia’s passion for life outdoors.
My own affinity for, and love of, “the great outdoors” is still an indelible memory. More than 70 years later brought into even sharper focus during this time of lockdown and isolation. My childhood spanning the ’40s and ’50s began in the heart of the Derbyshire Peak District — Tideswell in fact.
Although by my mid-teens we had moved house 4/5 times, the common denominator was the return every year to spend the summer holidays with my grandmother, in the Hope Valley. Hope is a lovely word and this valley and its surrounding landscape contained everything a boy could wish for. High moorlands, jagged grit crags for climbing, rivers and streams and even steam trains to spot and wave to.
Above all, the freedom to roam from dawn ‘til dusk, trying to, and after practice, succeeding, in tickling trout, walking for miles up on heather moors or down squelchy dales – a freedom which today would be unthought of. At least, without adult supervision!
Fast forward to my own children and specifically Julia, who from an early age exhibited all the traits of a typical tomboy; trousers not dresses, outside muddy in the garden not indoors with dolls. A natural one would think to take up with her father’s love of walking and the outdoors – and so it has proved.
Although adventurous, and at times stroppy, from an early age, it wasn’t until we as a family moved north to Sheffield that Julia’s love of walking really took hold. Living on the west side of the city we were only a few minutes’ drive from all the beauty and adventure of the Peak. For me this was pure nostalgia but enhanced beyond measure by the presence of my daughter; stubborn, questioning, and with what seemed unlimited stamina.
It wasn’t until years later that I came across a quote from John Ruskin, “Derbyshire is a lovely child’s alphabet; an alluring first lesson in all that’s admirable and powerful, chiefly in the way it engages and fixes the attention.” A schoolroom and excursion all in one perhaps, with a gentle nod to parental guidance.
Certainly, Derbyshire has captured Julia’s interest and imagination, and has led her to Wainwright and other walks and travels around the world. I know that many people ask her about favourite walks or beauty spots — many in relation to the Peak. For me, two places on several occasions stand out in my mind.
Firstly, a winter walk from Tideswell through Monks Dale and back – sleety rain, mud and slush underfoot. Hard going for us both, myself in particular, but Julia revelled in the both the conditions and the raw but lovely landscape. While I trudged along the bottom of the dale (the low road), she scrambled up the steep rocky inclines (definitely the high road); at times waving in a reassuring fashion.
One of our all-time favourites was, and is, Monsal Dale, encompassing the winding river Wye, spanned at one point by an iconic but now disused railway viaduct with high limestone bluffs on both sides. The shortest of walks upstream also brings you to Litton Mill, a signature memento to the Industrial Revolution. In all, a clear beautiful river teeming with trout, monuments both to industrial history and the era of steam. No wonder some of my extended family live here to this day!
Monsal Dale was also the venue for one of my personal presentational highlights when I accompanied Julia on one of her railway walks. Standing by the Wye on a sunlit afternoon she turned to me and said, “Dad tell me about your adventures with trout.” Unscripted and totally unrehearsed, my response began with, “Well Julia, tickling your first trout is rather like stroking your first woman,,,,,,,,,,!” Refer to the DVD to hear and see the rest as daughter, camera man and all crew burst into laughter.
Some say you live life through your children; for me it was and is a case of with your children. Time to mention my other daughter Gina. She is not a walker but as creator of The Outdoor Guide she is an integral part of this brief story of a father who set out to teach his daughter how and where to walk.
P.S. There’s a Mum too – she provided the sandwiches and much TLC when the going got tough!