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A winter prospect of the Peak District
Looking out my window this morning, a bright chilly day was much in evidence as the low winter sun glittered on a landscape of green, ochre and icy blue. The bright sky accentuated the brown-branched trees and the low sun retained a long crystal shadow carpet of frost; the climbing sun waiting to melt the ice rime back to green. January in Derbyshire is not everyone’s idea of paradise, but on days like these one can forgive the long days of drizzle and damp that can be an intrinsic part of this region
I am fortunate to actually live in the Peak District, deep in a particularly lovely valley, whose enclosing hills rise to both front and back of my home. A special feature of the valley are the high moors which form an elevated plateau to the east, where a steep, rocky escarpment runs in a series of headlands for nearly three miles. At the northern end a shoulder of the ridge still bears the remains of an ancient fort dating back to Saxon times 1,500 years ago. This is a time-worn land, criss-crossed by miles of dry-stone walls segmenting the land into fields and rough pasture, probably unaltered much in a thousand years. These walls even ascend the impossibly steep valley sides, terminating only where the moorland heather replaces the rough grass and sparse, stunted trees of the valley.
Fundamental to the valley is a small river, a brook really, which constantly flows draining the high moorland plateau. This stream never stops, even in the hottest, driest summers; the moor acting like an immense sponge, releasing water slowly through the seasons. This river forms an irregular arc around my house, passing only a few metres from my window, and is a constant focus of sound and fascination in all its moods and tempers; sometimes swirling in spate as a rain-storm drenches the valley and the river rises alarmingly by as much as two metres in less than an hour. Or conversely, babbling and tinkling on a languid summer’s afternoon as it meanders in the dappled sunlight through a wild avenue of alder and ash trees which line its course.
With the river’s endless presence comes the further enchantment of the wildlife which live in and around the brook and rely on its succour. I can watch for hours without leaving home, and view the most amazing panoply of birds, fish and mammals as they pursue their lives unaware of my fascinated observation.
Daily, morning and evening, the stately grey heron swoops in to stealthily wade the shallows seeking fish or frogs with its vicious beak. A kingfisher flashes jewel-like upstream announced by its unmistakeable raucous call. The fascinating Dipper bobs and dips as it walks the underwater stream-bed even in the most violent part of the current in search of food, while a myriad of other birds from ravens, sparrow hawks, tits, martens, finches, owls, wrens and robins delight me daily with their unprompted antics.
Mammals abound too; rabbits of course, but hares, squirrels, voles and stoats and occasionally at night a badger, hedgehog or fox will trigger the floodlight. We even had an otter once grace our brook one summer’s morning, and there can’t be many places in England where otters can be observed from one’s kitchen window!
There are brown trout too in the brook. In summer, when the deep pools are lit by the high sun, the slight swish of a tail betrays the presence of a beautifully camouflaged brown trout as it holds position against the rippling current. Ducks aplenty grace the scene throughout the year, with every spring, a family of the most adorable mallard ducklings being raised. The less showy female herds her brood in line astern upstream to a secure nesting hollow on the bank where they pass the night. Around and about in the larger valley all manner of wildlife thrive with buzzards and pheasants and, on the high moor, red grouse, larks, curlew and lapwing. And forming an endlessly rolling backdrop to this daily drama are the trees and wild flowers which so eloquently establish the identity of my valley.
But this is a farming valley and the constant presence of cattle, sheep and a few horses show the hand of man on the landscape. Indeed, were it not for the farmer’s cyclical attention, this valley would be a wasteland of birch and bramble scrub without the vivid green pasture, tended hedgerows and conserved dry-stone walls which identify this district to the millions of visitors who yearly seek its solace and delights that I experience daily.
Although I am fortunate to be surrounded by such interest and beauty from the natural world, I like nothing better than to actually be outdoors amongst it experiencing real wildlife without the comfort of central heating and a handy cup of tea. I would walk the valleys and hills every day if I could, but recent ill health and advancing years have put some restrictions on me and I now have to plan my forays with some care. I am also fortunate to be in a position to wear a selection of the finest outdoor wear from Country Attire.com. Although I am a bit of a traditionalist with outerwear having opted for years for Barbour waxed jackets, I recently decided to try out one the more ‘high-tech’ garments from the same famous Barbour brand.
So today I am wearing a Men's Sporting Ultimate 3 in 1 Jacket in Marsh Green. One of the nice things about this jacket is its zip-in fleece gilet, which can be worn independently, or, as an integral part of this totally waterproof jacket, thus giving two garments for the price of one – although at nearly four hundred quid these coats are expensive! But when you appreciate the care and the technology that goes into making this jacket, you will begin to realise why they are so expensive and also that this is probably the only outdoor jacket you will ever need.
The clever bit is of course the “breathable” two layer GORE-TEX® fabric. In layman’s terms this is a combination of fabrics laminated together with one of the layers comprising an expanded PTFE membrane containing over 9 billion microscopic pores per square inch. These pores are approximately 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water, but 700 times bigger than a molecule of moisture vapour, or, not to put too fine a point on it; sweat. So whilst water droplets cannot penetrate the GORE-TEX® membrane, moisture vapour (perspiration) can easily escape. The end result is an immensely dry and comfortable, durable, lightweight and totally waterproof jacket that can even be machine-washed at 40°C – unheard of with waxed jackets, where we like to accumulate a nice patina of wax and filth in order to look authentic.
So what was the Sporting Ultimate 3 in 1 like to wear out in the hills? Well actually it was very good indeed. It’s a long jacket coming to mid-thigh on me, and it has a draw-string hem to seal out the draughts. I wore it simply over a thick shirt, with the gilet in place on a chilly day of just about 1ºC. There are Lycra inner cuffs in the sleeves with adjustable tabs on the outer cuffs, and a proper lined detachable hood is also included, as are two fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets. If you enjoy shooting there are two large bellows pockets with retainer straps able to hold the flaps open allowing easy access for cartridges. Oh and, my favourite ‘Napoleon’ pocket was also there; ideal dry stowage for wallets, pens, mobiles, etc. The overriding impression is one of quality and attention to detail, from the rubber clad studs to prevent scratching and stop metal-to-metal clinking when hunting, to the fine finish of the fabric which shrugs off the vicious thorns of bramble and hawthorn as one negotiates a thicket.
I must say it was much admired later in the pub when I ‘zipped-out’ the discreet marsh green gilet and stood at the bar enjoying a pint or two. I am usually seen out in my ancient Barbour Sapper jacket, which I love dearly and of which I have written before, but I have to say that with their Sporting Ultimate 3 in 1 Barbour have both remained true to their heritage and quality while offering state-of-the-art performance, lightness, durability and style. My only minor niggle is the name: Sporting Ultimate 3 in 1 is a bit of a gobfull and rather unflattering for such a fine jacket, can I put a plea in for a new name? How about The Peaklander?