Tales: A ‘senseAble’ walk with Deaf-initely Women


We all have one or more of our senses compromised and this walk was devised to enhance all the others. Read how we found different ways to appreciate nature, from framing to counting flowers with nature’s rosaries!

Our walking group was made up of members of Deaf-initely Women that covers Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The group exists to bring deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing women together. Our aim is to improve the confidence of these women through socialising and trying new experiences. 

Many members experience isolation that can be life changing and life limiting. Through surveys and feedback, the desire to get outdoors and go walking together had been very popular. Many women wanted to walk, though felt they lacked confidence or experience. Others just wanted to walk in company. As one member said, “Getting together helps us to grow in confidence and we gain support from each other.”

We met on a summer’s day at Peak Village, Rowsley which has free long stay parking, is at the end of the cycle trail from Matlock and is handy for buses along the A6 from Buxton and Derby. Crucially it also has coffee shops and toilets!

The Slow Ways route Bakdar two, from Bakewell to Darley Dale. The green square marks the portion of the route we explored

Our rendezvous was by the nature reserve, run in partnership with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and located at the far end of the car park.  It offered a beautiful setting on the banks of the Derwent with a flower meadow and orchard that are home to a wide variety of birds, animals and insects. Kingfishers and dippers can often be seen along the river.

Our aim was to experience a taste of the Slow Ways network with our multiple senses. We wanted to stroll, to amble, to immerse ourselves in our surroundings. We all have one or more of our senses compromised and this walk was devised to enhance all the others.

OS Explorer map OL24 White Peak. Our route is marked in red

Slowing down

We decided to take the idea of Slow Ways literally; could we slow down the pace and immerse ourselves in our environment rather than cracking on along the route? Why not take time to savour where we are, right now at this moment? 

A small but perfectly formed group of inquisitive, eager walkers gathered at the start point under blue skies. Most of our group used lip reading and/or signing. We had a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter and our photographer for the day, Marie, who is also on the board of Deaf-initely Women. 

We started with introductions, a round of names and a moment to check in with ourselves to see how we were feeling. After finding a word or two to express those feelings we wrote them down and placed them in a bag to be reflected upon later. How were we feeling? Like this: relaxed, chilled, thinking a lot, curious, happy, motivated, inspired, peaceful, ready, stressed.

We discussed what we would gather on our walk, ensuring that any objects, plants and materials were non-toxic or harmful in any way, only picking from areas that have a plentiful supply and being mindful about wildlife habitats.

As we began our walk everyone was asked to collect a few leaves of varying size and shape from the trees that we passed. 

We stopped to examine the leaves through a viewing frame (aka a bit of cardboard doubled over with a window cut out of it). We held the frames up to the sky and the light  emphasised the beauty and intricacy of the leaves.

Onwards over the Derwent

We crossed the bridge over the Derwent. The river has its source on Bleaklow in the Peak District National Park. Here at Rowsley it meets with the Wye flowing from Bakewell.

…past the past

We passed the Peacock Hotel, just before our turn into Church Lane. Originally a Manor House, it was built in 1652 which makes the spring opposite a relative newcomer, erected in 1841.

this way…

…on past the farm

Now we were clear of the houses with a long steady climb ahead. It was a wide path with generous wild verges alongside it.

A ‘smorgasbord of botanical delights’

To focus on something other than the gradient, each woman received a string threaded with beads. Every time a different flower was spotted, a bead was moved along the string.

Nature’s rosary is an easy way to keep count.

And what a difference it made. No one noticed the hill, being engrossed in the flora along the track. A smorgasbord of botanical delights was discovered with names that tickle the tongue; red campion, knapweed, meadow pea-vine, self heal, hedge parsley, meadow cranesbill, herb robert, nipplewort, hawksbeard, and rosebay willowherb amongst them. So many beautiful flowers that can be easily overlooked.

There was a real joy and delight in noticing yet another bloom and sharing it with someone nearby. Everyone spotted at least 15 different species.

That’s a lot of flowers!

The climb paid off with a fine view opening up.

Scent and colour

Now, an opportunity for a rest and time to explore our immediate environs further. At this point we all had a sheet of paper to make a pallet of different colours from the landscape. Using the simple technique of rubbing different materials onto the paper produced so many different sensory responses. The texture of the material and how it changed as it was used, the scent, the colour.

It was a really engrossing exercise and the results were unexpected, surprising and delightful. We had colours of the earth, flowers, grasses, bark, moss and stone.

Observing and absorbing

Beautifully rested, under darkening skies we moved on. The next stretch of the way, there was an invitation to walk without communicating with each other, to be alone yet held in the safety of the group.

As deaf and hard of hearing women, when we talk we’re always looking at the person we’re conversing with, either to lip read or sign, so it’s easy to walk through somewhere without really being there… and we do love to talk!

For a quarter of a mile or so we took time to amble, alone, absorbed in the smells, sights, sensations of our surrounds. Everyone naturally slowed right down. No prompting, just a desire to observe, to feel, to be. 

Along this stretch we were asked to gather anything that caught our eye or called out to be noticed.

Time to get creative

We were rather proud of ourselves!

A celebratory cuppa

Then, an opportunity to drink in the view and a drink of another sort. So that we could taste our surroundings, we collected meadowsweet and steeped it in hot water.

Meadowsweet tea is said to provide flavours of ‘hay, vanilla and almonds’. Having said that, I don’t think it was everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak! 

A tea break provided another opportunity for a pause and a half-way check in. How are you feeling now? What have you enjoyed so far? The answers were: fresh air, colours, ‘tasting tea’, really ’seeing’ things, the company, different flowers, beautiful flowers, collection of plants , sharing, blessed, excited, relaxed, meeting everyone, ‘I want to come back again’, energised, nature, views, surprises, happy, mindful, connection, flowers flowers flowers, grateful, collage from nature.

A promise to return

We were now at the highest point of the walk. It was all downhill from here.

After a few hundred yards we came to the point where our path diverged from the Slow Way. In the distance we could make out Haddon Hall and beyond to Bakewell where the Bakdar two route heads. At this point there was an affirmation from a couple of members that they would ‘return and do the whole thing’.

Maybe it was the sadness of leaving the Slow Way route that made the heavens begin to weep. The rain that had threatened for a while came in to greet us.

There was a general consensus to skip the next activity (though I’m sure we would have created wondrous poetry about the aged ash tree) and keep heading back, especially as bellies were rumbling and time was a-ticking and oh yes, it was raining. The showers came and went. We completed our circuit and were back at our starting point and only ever so slightly soggy. A final check in though saw us feeling like this:

Hungry, enjoyed this morning, happy happy, happy with company, ‘I would like to do one again’, invigorating, feeling very refreshed, new blooms seen, sense of achievement, appreciative of nature, good exercise, great day!, thank you so much, a wonderful morning, enjoyed the morning, blessed, hungry feeling ready for lunch and thankful.

…and that’s not a bad way to leave things. Senses stimulated, satisfied yet still keen for more.

 I sense that more Slow Ways will be enjoyed in the future.

Deaf-initely are a group of deaf and hard of hearing women from the Midlands who share a common love of being outdoors. They aim to walk a new route as a group, supporting deaf and hard of hearing women in sensory-exploration of new areas and activities along the way. In doing so they challenge themselves physically, emotionally, geographically and creatively. By sharing their experiences through this project, they hope to encourage others to test their boundaries and experience their walks with a new perspective.

Rachel Murray is, in amongst other things, a storyteller and passionate about walking. She is often to be seen wandering in the Derbyshire Dales muttering stories to the wind and the odd sheep. She tells stories in all manner of places; from caves to castles, care homes to cafes and schools to shopping centres.

Last year we launched ‘Tales from a Slow Way’, a community stories initiative that enabled us to commission creatives and community groups to work together to produce original stories and content situated around Slow Ways walking routes. Each award included a donation to the organisation as well as a project fee to the creative.

Together, the awarded projects map the sheer diversity of walkers across the UK and highlight the importance of forging new paths.

Click here to find out more about our Tales from a Slow Ways project! Why not sign up to walk and review Slow Ways. You can also find and follow us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook