2011 The Spine of England Tour

This was a 127-mile, 10-day walk on a horseshoe-shaped route in and around the Peak District. On the first night gig in Rushton, the Reluctant Ramblers were supported by Blair Dunlop, who walked the next day – as did Dan Donnelly, in the tightest pair of walking trousers ever seen…Via a pint at the Cat & Fiddle, they walked to Buxworth for a packed gig in the Navigation. Next day John and some of the Ramblers, including Tim Cotterell and Al Scott, tackled Kinder Scout, at 633 metres the highest point of the whole walk. JJ said “there have been some amazing views – even Manchester looks attractive from up here!” Then on to a gig in Glossop: “We discovered a great place in Glossop last night in The Globe – where else can you get beer for £1.80 and vegan food? The band absolutely loved it. And it was a great venue, a fantastic traditional old social club – I guess we really are getting to the places where we don’t usually get to, and that people don’t normally play.

West NabNext day a walk to Holmfirth via West Nab, where John blogged: “We’re on the top of West Nab, looking down on the area where I was brought up, pointing out various landmarks to the others. It’s an absolutely fantastic day. Yesterday we really saw the highs and the lows of moorland walking, coming out over the Tew from Glossop. We started with 14 and ended up with 6 walking in the pouring rain over to Dobcross. Today is absolutely beautiful, very windy. We’re just coming out of the Wessenden Valley, probably Shepley is in the distance. I can see Castle Hill and Holmfirth, so Shepley’s somewhere out there. Lots of stories are going through my mind, as this is an area I used to come into a lot as a kid. We’re just going to walk down Royd Edge past where my dad worked, and then to the Huntsman Pub and into Holmfirth – for a night off!”

Shepley FestivalThen a short five-mile walk to the Shepley Festival, and a welcome pint of Shepley FestivAle in the beer tent. “The gig was great, with Anna Esslemont and Conor Byrne from Uiscedwr as guest Reluctant Ramblers. They live in Maltham, and as one of the focuses of this tour is to highlight some of the talented young folk musicians in the area, we sort of picked them up on the way! We were supported by Gavin Davenport from Sheffield, and listening to his set I was impressed by his powerful voice. We had a chance to chat for a while on the walk and he’s a really interesting guy.“The following day’s walk to Low Bradfield took in wild wind and rain. “To get down from the high moorlands through the fields of Bradfield in a keen wind and bright sunshine was a joy. To find Mr Phil Beer there in fine form and do a gig with him was a real pleasure. Hasty soundchecks and quick rehearsals meant we had a final set we could play together. So the Reluctant Ramblers opened to a packed village hall with a 40-minute set; then Phil played a wide-ranging solo set packed with humour; and then a final set with Phil joining us on tracks from Rising Road. We went on to ‘Road to Nowhere’; The Band’s ‘Let The Night Fall’; and Lowell George’s ‘Willin’ – so a Little Feat track on a walking tour. Previous to that, I joined Phil for a duet on the much-abused classic,  ‘Pleasant and Delightful’, and it was fantastic to sing again with a man whom I met in my first folk club years ago in Exeter. A great Monday night.

Next day’s blog saw JJ in thoughtful mood: “One of the features of the walk has been discovering beautiful villages, some clearly thriving, but others so quiet and peaceful that they seem as though they could be dying. Picturesque houses with no-one around. Descending into Bradfield through the stone walls and finding a village so alive on a Monday evening – people walking, kids playing, the village hall a hive of activity – you couldn’t help feeling this might be the village we’d all like to live in. Coming off the Pennines and suddenly hitting a busy arterial road like the A57 heading off into the big conurbations which press in on this precious stretch of high ground, which acts as a breathing space and safety valve for all that goes on around it, to find real village life where people work as well as live just makes the place seem like it has real continuity. Walking today on the last day through the beautiful Derbyshire dales, we’ve been through a series of attractive villages – Over Haddon, Youlgreave, Winster – desirable places to live in today, but 150 years ago inhabited by lead miners and their families, who worked in the toughest of conditions. I like to think that the village where we can live and where there is still work can still exist.

The final gig of the tour was in the Fishpond, Matlock Bath – a lovely emotional night. “Right now it feels to have been an epic journey, tougher than previous walks but so gratifying to see so many people walking…In the end the mental exhaustion was more a problem than the physical, but each night that disappeared when performing. From the tricky descent down the Heights of Abraham into the seaside atmosphere of Matlock Bath to the huge isolated church at New Mills, this unique spine of high moorland, craggy edges and deep dales has the imprint of people all over it. Isolated mining communities, mills, solitary chapels and churches attempting to escape to a simpler, more primitive form of worship and everywhere the stone farmhouses the reveal the underlying rock. Walking it you become aware of huge conurbations pressing in on this invaluable elevated breathing-space in the heart of England, important now for climbers, bikers, 4-wheel drivers!!, day-trippers, hikers and even itinerant musicians, who are all trying to escape from routine and urban life into somewhere that frees them and perhaps reconnects them with something they have lost. It is indeed a very precious area.”