Country diary: Waves of white flowers force me to pull off the road | Environment

Opinion on Stoney Middleton is divided. Henry Salt, an animal rights campaigner and friend of Gandhi, relied on the village for his wildflower fix when he lived near Chesterfield. He regularly walked seven miles across the moors to get to Stoney’s dramatic gorge, the nearest limestone within his reach. But it was not, he decided, “one of the pleasantest of Peakland villages”. Though “naturally beautiful”, he wrote, it was also “sadly deformed”.

Knowing something of its rich human history – the highwaymen, thwarted lovers, crystal meth cooks and Hollywood stars – I reckon the village can look after itself. Approaching Middleton Dale, on the other hand, a little to the west, I could appreciate Salt’s perspective. Centuries of quarrying tore chunks from this valley, and blasting out a turnpike in the early 19th century bequeathed the village a busy main road that must annoy those living near it. (In better news, the turnpike’s tollbooth, now a listed building, has been a notable fish and chip shop for the best part of a hundred years.)

In full bloom: alpine rock cress (Arabis alpina). Photograph: HHelene/Alamy

Nature has done her best to heal the damage. When the fish and chip shop opened in 1926, the dale’s scars were more obvious. Now they’re cloaked in scrubby woodland, which in early summer is warmly vibrant. This spring, though, after weeks of unseasonable cold, upper branches have remained bare, while trunks have been wreathed in dark ivy, only somewhat lightened by emerging drifts of dog’s mercury – classic ground cover on a limestone woodland floor. Dropping into the dale from above can provoke a chill foreboding as the walls close in.

Today, though, the dale seemed lit up. Rafts of rock cress, having found a toehold in cracks and on ledges on the gorge’s rock faces, were now in blossom, smothering the bulging limestone buttresses with drifts of white flowers. It was so startling that I pulled off the road to marvel at this glorious transformation. The plant’s leaves were freshly green, snag-toothed and narrowing to the stem, the flowers’ cruciform petals arranged around lemon yellow anthers, the whole arrangement filling the void above my head to light the way.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *