Curbar Edge with Baslow Edge in the background

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By the Dove on a crisp winter morning

It was an early morning in late Winter, a few years back. I'd parked the car at Milldale and was walking downstream along the riverside path, the waters of the Dove gurgling away to my right on their way to join the Trent. It was cold and clear, sunny, the early morning sky that unique bright white-blue you only get under those conditions.

The air was cold- very cold - and everything was covered with white hoar-frost jewels, glistening in the shafts of early sunlight which found their way into the depths of the valley. I tramped along, alone. I'd seen no-one except a shepherd and his dog in the hamlet - one of the benefits of an early start.

Eventually I arrived near Ilam Rock, that finger of harder material which resisted the erosion forces that forged the valley from the solid limestone. Suddenly I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye, and froze. There, on the other side of the river, separated from me by only about ten metres of water, a stately grey heron was fishing.

It stood in the shallows at the water's edge, motionless, concentrating intently on the job in hand. I imitated its immobility, hardly daring to move in case I scared it away. After all, herons are secretive and normally take to ungainly flight at the first distant sign of humanity.

The bird advanced into the water a metre or so, preparing to strike with its long javelin of a beak. Sadly, whatever it was stalking must have darted away, as the heron soon retreated haughtily to the bank. There it looked around and saw me for the first time. We were about ten yards apart.

We studied each other for a few seconds, then the bird allowed instinct to take over and flapped noisily into the air, gliding away upstream to be lost around a bend in the river. There ended my close encounter with a heron, but the moment will never be forgotten.

Written by Neil Tonks

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