I find myself in the Upper Derwent Valley most weeks of the year, it helps being a Ranger in that area for the Peak District National Park, which gives me a reason to be there, other than loving the beauty of the place. I first came across the area back in the 70’s when Mick Dyson and I cycled from his home at the side of Tinsley viaduct to the summit of the Snake Pass. Some feat for a couple of kids and even bigger feat for me, Mick had a 10 speed bike with go faster handle bars, I had a cast off sit up and beg Raleigh with no gears and a saddle that cut you in half. We cycled up the A57 stopping off at Philips little garden shed where he sold bacon butties and mugs of tea at the side of the road. We didn’t know it then but we were in the presence of a legend, the hut being Philips precursor to his cafe at Grindleford station. I don’t recall any scrawled signs giving strict instruction not to ask for mushrooms, because he doesn’t do them and how many more times do people need telling that, but there probably were some. Dropping down from Moscar Top and crossing the Ashopton Viaduct with the road entrance into the valley on the right I was awestruck by what I saw. I had never imagined there could be such a wild place, the moors seemed brooding, oppressive and menacing, especially to a skinny lad from Rotherham who had only ever seen the woods at the bottom of the street and, once a year, Blackpool Tower. It would be a long time before I ever ventured up that road but when I did eventually drive up to the Ranger centre I was captivated by what I saw and experienced. The first impression of that drive was one of grandeur, majestic trees and towering ridges. It was, for me, an epiphany, I had come home.
The valley is conjoined by a series of cloughs, miniature secluded valleys, the joy of which is their isolation from the outside world. You never know quite what you will find or indeed if you will ever emerge once you have stepped down from the rim off the moorland that sits above the clough. This action is often the first part of the adventure for there is rarely a path down and you have to find the best way, often a scramble over greasy, moss encrusted gritstone. A frisson of fear shivers through the body as you hold on as tight as can be done with cold fingers and an unsure step. Grabbing at clumps of grass and fern probably isn’t the most sensible way to achieve descent but then who ever said walking had to be sensible? Reaching ground a decision has to be made where to go for there are no human signs to guide you. The clough is thick with bracken, waist high and smelling fresh and green. It makes walking difficult, your feet cannot be seen so you trust in touch, judgement and luck and the bracken wraps around your feet so every so often you need to stop and force your legs through the tangle. Working along the sides I start to gradually descend until my eye is caught with some feature that looks interesting.
Best are the old quarry workings now engulfed by nature they fascinate me. Man was here before I was and he wasn’t having fun he was hewing stone from these ancient rocks. How did he arrive in this isolated place, did he walk, was there a form of transport. In winter was he drenched in sweat and rain or snow, cold hands working colder tools to break rock and for what, what was so special about this place that it needed to become an industrial site, where did the rock go to, what was it used for.
You can stop and sit here for hours; no one will disturb you it’s yours for as long as you want. Find a rock or a grassy shelf and just take it in. Once the clough has got used to you being here it goes back to its normal life. Birds flit about eating, collecting, and the odd rustle in the bracken indicates some creature going about its business. At times I think I can here voices and steel hitting gritstone and fancy I see men working away whilst in the background a stream bubbles away running along the floor.
One day for whatever reason the men left and no longer was the stone required. Why is lost now, no one thought to document these places and so they slipped back to nature who re-claimed them and continued on the process of millions of years.