Old Ways – Peak District

The old salt route at Humber Knolls. Upper Derwent Valley. Peak District
The old salt route at Humber Knolls. Upper Derwent Valley

It is a couple of years now since I walked along the old way to Salter’s Brook from the Derwent Valley. The path has existed since the 13th century and closely follows the county boundary between Derbyshire and Yorkshire and before that Yorkshire and Cheshire, Salter’s Brook being the main access point into Yorshire and from there the port of Bawtry and on to Europe for the salt from the Cheshire mines.

The old way heads south from Salter’s Brook over the watershed and down into the Derwent valley where it closely follows the river’s course. At Humber Knolls the path is paved indicating it was so heavily used at some point the ground needed protection. Now the slabs are disappearing under the grass, the passage of feet is so infrequent. It is a lovely quiet spot and an unexpected one too, the Humber Knolls are a surprise when a walker first comes across them, closing in on the path as they do. They seem manmade but are merely deposits from the silt that flowed down the river millions of years before, the nearby Long Barrow in Barrow Clough is a similar deposit and not as the name suggests an ancient burial mound.

Following the path along eventually leads to the foot of Hoar Clough. Ascend this and you will meet up with the ghosts of the shepherds who met at the Shepherds Meeting Stones to exchange errant sheep, it is a wonderful place to sit and talk with friends specially in the dead of night.

Woodland management

These summer days have been stifling, particularly in the afternoon, so we have resorted to dog walks early and late in the day through the forest. The later walk I suspect is the most favoured by the dogs as it always involves a dip in the river and a game of sticks.

There are no other humans around that I can see this morning, but I can hear chainsaws working somewhere deep in the interior. I choose a favoured route along wide forest roads that gives long vistas down through the trees. Scout works from side to side, sniffing out the scent of numerous animals, sometimes darting into the trees and disappearing for several minutes. I listen for the rustle of the leaves and bracken, the tell tale signs he is following some scent track. Eventually he will re-appear back on the track, sometimes he comes from behind his paws cantering along like a racehorse as he blasts past.

The track takes me through plantations of pine, larch, oak and birch. In small clearings ash is also evident and in the older woodlands there is a preponderance of Holly from the days when this was a hunting forest and holly was a mainstay winter feed for cattle. We skirt the edge of grazing land; there is no stock today. I notice near the fence a charred and blackened area where fire has taken hold. It isn’t too large so must have been extinguished quickly, but maybe this is why the stock have gone.

The chainsaws are louder now so we must be near them. Turning the corner of the track we enter an area of birch and ash, lots of saplings and young trees. Piled along the side of the track is a long line of twigs, bundled together and stacked chest high. This is what the chainsaws are cutting. The twigs are all the same length as I look at the ends a breeze brings their scent to my nose. It smells of freshly brewed tea. I stand there and take it in. The aroma ranges from fresh green tea of the newly cut saplings to full on thick builders tea of the oldest stacks.

I notice Scout has gone ahead and is sniffing around a car parked at the side of the track. Then I see a man knelt on the ground filing a chainsaw. I call Scout back before he starts to make a nuisance of himself. As I get up to the man he stands and says hello. I ask about the twigs and he tells me it is brush for racecourse jumps. I see it now; it makes sense.

Footpaths in the Peak District

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I have been spending a great deal of time in the last 18 months walking the footpaths across the eastern side of the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park. I am writing a new guidebook about a landscape that is rich in natural and human history. Two of the aims of a guide-book is to entertain and inform, another is to produce routes that are pleasurable to walk along. It is a major task in the White Peak for two reasons.

The first is the lack of open access. This means that you are confined to public rights of way footpaths and trails. Where there is open access land there is often no access to the land itself, thereby obliterating the need for the access land. There is also a weird setup to access monuments of local and national importance.

Look at the map above and notice the two footpaths coming south out of Cales Farm. They both end at a road. A person may expect a footpath to be at the opposite side of the road. But this is not the case. The paths just end. There is no linking up with other footpaths so that a journey can be carried onward without resorting to walking along a road. This is not walking in the countryside, its walking along a road. The second thing to notice about the map is public access to Arbor Low. There is none. In fact a donation is solicited by the landowner. And access is only at certain times of the day. There are no footpaths leading to the site and parking for only a minute number of vehicles nearby. Yet this is a national monument of significant importance, so why make it so difficult to get to.

The second reason is one that is easy to rectify, if there was a will to do so. The state of many of the stiles and access gates in the white peak area is a disgrace. A person may have expected that the dark peak area with far fewer visitors and stiles may see more of the poorly maintained infrastructure but this is clearly not the case. Note the two stiles above, a random selection of the many thousands that I have encountered. The wooden stile is falling to pieces, creaking and swaying as a person attempts to stride over. The stone stile is much cleverer because it lulls the walker into a false sense of security. Only when the walker steps down on the opposite side and the stone step swings out of the way is the walker appraised of the stiles failings. These stiles are not unusual, nor is it unusual to find access blocked by any amount of metal. Signposts missing are par for the course. Stiles hidden beneath mountains of bramble and thistle are plentiful in supply.

The question has to be who is responsible. If it is the national park authority then what have they been doing since 1951 in achieving a footpath network that is complete in all aspects with footpaths linking up to make access much easier. And what about those stiles. Is this a cutback measure, are we waiting for someone to come a cropper before a defective stile is replaced. Is that now the plan. Or is the ranger service not aware of the problem, because they have not visited the paths due to a lack of time, or funding or desire.

Whatever the reasons there is much work to be done in the white peak to open up access to the public and make it safer for walkers to enjoy the land. The national park has its work cut out, whether it is capable is another matter.

The long read…Trust your dog

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Scout. Trainee border collie search dog.

Experienced handlers say that training a dog is as much about trust as anything else.

I’ve asked Paul to walk down a footpath for 200 paces then go right into woodland for 100 paces and lay down. Scout strains at the lead, knowing that the game is on; I let him off and tell him to “go find”. He barks and does his little dance and I tell him to “get on” before he shoots off making ever-larger circles searching for the scent cone of Paul, occasionally blasting past me on his next orbit as we work our way through the woodland.

Suddenly Scout disappears into undergrowth. I stay on the path listening to his falconry bell as it jingles through the bracken. Then it stops. Silence. Eventually the jingle starts again and I see bracken moving as Scout makes his way back to me. He reaches the path and looks around, spots me and heads with purpose towards me as he gets close he barks then immediately turns around and heads back the same way. I have learned that heading back the same way means he has found a person. I follow him as the woodland engulfs him till eventually I am standing by the side of Paul. I give Paul the reward command and he pops up with Scouts toy and has a game of tug, this is Scouts reward and as he plays I tell him what a great dog he is and let Paul know where to go next.

Minutes later Scout and I are heading for a logging track that winds through the forest. Paul will be hiding at it’s top end and I want to approach from the bottom to extend the amount of time for searching. Scout is ahead and I watch him closely looking for any sign that he has found a trace of Paul. He turns sharp right into trees, when I get to the place there is no sight of him. I stand on the track and wait. Minutes pass and nothing. I have told Paul to hide on my left, but Scout is on the right. I whistle for Scout to return. A minute passes then I hear the bell and soon Scout is heading to me. But it’s with a purpose, the look on his face says he has found Paul, but that cannot be right, it’s the wrong area. He barks telling me he has found. I hedge my bets and tell him to get on and he heads straight back along the same line eventually leading me to a tree, but no Paul. There is nothing here I tell him. He looks up, so do I. Nothing. I start to move back to the track 400m away. He refuses to follow, looking at me in a serious way I have not seen before, he barks again, telling me he has found then heads back to the tree. He keeps looking up or at least I think that’s what he is doing. I look around.

There is a fallen tree nearby and a wide gully with a thin stream running down and thick bracken and the outline of the upturned roots of a tree on the opposite bank. A smooth breeze slips straight through us from across the gully. There is nothing else here so I make him reluctantly head back to the track and continue the search. We pass the point where I expect Paul to be and Scout has no interest. It dawns on me that Paul is not here and that the curve in the track I told him about is not this one but the one higher up.

We reach the right curve and head down the adjacent track. Scout runs straight to the bottom then returns and indicates, but it’s half-hearted and I suspect there is nothing there. When I reach him he is down a gully drinking from a stream and I call him out, knowing we have gone too far. I start to work back. The wind is blowing from my right heading for the direction of where Paul should be. Scout is on the wrong side of the wind so will not be able to detect Paul’s scent. Then I see Scout turn sharp left and head into the bracken; I follow him through flattened leaves realising Scout is on Paul’s ground scent. Scout comes back and indicates and in another 50m and I am there with Paul.

As they play I look around. It’s a good spot beneath a huge root ball from an upturned tree, well hidden in the bracken. Downwind is a gully with a small stream and across the gully woodland. As I am looking at this Paul tells me he thought we had him 30 minutes a go when we were the other side of the gully.

What do you mean I ask?

He tells me he heard me saying to Scout that there was nothing there and he points to a fallen tree across the gully. It’s then I realise where I am. We are across from the tree that Scout took me to earlier; it’s less than 20 meters away. It all starts to fit in to place. I realise Scout wasn’t looking up; he was pointing his nose up in the air to catch Paul’s scent. And when he went down to the stream he was picking Paul’s scent up as it drifted down on the water.

I’m stunned. Scout had Paul 30 minutes ago that’s why he would not leave the tree, he was telling me there was something there, that’s where the body was. I think about this and I know I am the weak link in the team. Trust your dog they say.

Later that evening I think about what happened. I’m amazed at Scout and how good he is and I’m disappointed in my performance how my actions let the team down. It is a massive learning experience.

Wensley Dale – Peak District

Wensley Dale in the White Peak area of the Peak District
Wensley Dale in the Peak District

I walked into Wensley Dale in the Peak District one afternoon. It had been a hot day and I was looking forward to finishing my walk. As soon as I entered it I knew I had found a special place. Its wide flat bottom rises almost imperceptibly towards the west; a dark green line of fresh grass indicating the central and lowest point. It reminded me of the keel of a boat.

Scout made for the shade of the northern slope and hugged the cool of the tree line for as long as he could. Sheep were taking rest a few meters in to the trees, and some moved out when they saw Scout but others stayed where they were, too hot and tired for a game of chase. Scout ignored them. Every now and again he would emerge to check my own position and progress then dart quickly back in to the shade.

I took my time, enjoying the gentle slope but not the heat. There were a few limestone outcrops all covered in bramble and tree, offering no shelter or comfortable seat on which to sit out the heat of the day. I could do nothing but press on. I kept to the line of the keel and perhaps this put the notion in my head of a Saxon burial, complete with boat and golden hoard.

Wensley Dale sits in an area that is rich in ancient sites, barrows, cairns and stone circles freckle the landscape. The land is also at the centre of druidic influences giving rise to a great deal of soul replenishment on midsummers day as those in concert with nature prepare for winter.

Dawn first touches the dale as it clears the rocks of Ravensnest Tor in the east, shining a beam of light directly down the length of Wensley Dale’s upper reaches that lay on an exact east-west axis. It then crosses the ancient Portway near Elton and hits the tumuli of Gratton Moor in the west. Each side of the life giving sunlight is littered with tumuli, barrows and lows, including the two most famous, Minninglow to the south and Arbor Low in the north. In the evening this process would be reversed as the light draws in and dusk falls along the dale from the east.

I could sense some strong connection with natural forces, but I was too far entwined in the modern world to be able to place a finger on its pulse.

Living within the landscape

The Long Causeway on Stanage Edge. Peak District
The Long Causeway on Stanage Edge. Peak District

I spent time walking up and down a 580m length of the Long Causeway last week. I wanted to get a feel for the old packhorse route, to see if today there was any resonance of the past, any connection that placed me in the same sense of being there as someone two hundred years ago.

The section between Stanage Pole and the junction with the bridleway from Stanage Plantation is still beautifully paved with the original stone setts. The setts have a concave surface, worn by hundreds of years of cartwheels as they trundled between Sheffield and Hathersage. The causeway is a strong feature in the landscape, a line placed by human hand but perhaps following thousands of feet before.

Stanedge Pole graffiti. Dark Peak. Peak District National Park
Stanedge Pole with the inverted VM for Virgin Mary

Stanage pole bears the mark of the Virgin Mary, VM, a signifier of a place of worship by the Roman Catholic community who in the time of the reformation sought out of the way places to practice their faith. Three and a half miles directly south as the crow flies sits Padley Chapel where priests were found celebrating mass. For their pains, they were hanged, drawn and quartered at Derby. Directly north of Stanage Pole is said to be the place where the Catholics worshipped, a rock. It has yet to be found. So there is much that resonates in the surroundings.

The line of the causeway must have been surveyed for

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The boundary stone marking the edge of Hallamshire and Yorkshire today.

the setts form perfect lines running slightly off an east-west axis away from the boundary of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Mercia and Northumbria. The same boundary exists today, has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years and much nearer to our own time. A little further along Stanage Edge is a stone bearing the markings, CP96, a boundary stone that had to be beaten during the annual perambulation by the great and good of the Lordship of Hallamshire accompanied by members of the church. They would have first called at Stanage Pole, beaten the rock with their sticks, said prayers then moved on along the line of the Long Causeway to the rock sits near High Neb. It is a route thousands of people walk today, perhaps we never walk anywhere new, but are guided by unseen ancient hands.

 

So as I stand there thinking all this and looking, walking back and forth along the stone way I wonder if people back then thought someone in the future would be trying to touch their existence. I wonder if in two thousand years time someone will try and touch my thoughts and feelings that day. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88b7I headed back east towards the pole and my eye was caught by a small homemade plaque screwed to a fence post. It was beautiful in its simplicity. A memorial to John Hartle facing south-west over Stanage Edge. A modern-day signifier of who had gone before me. I wondered who he was, a runner perhaps, maybe a walker. Why in this age of data and information do we know so much about the past yet so little about today?

Is this an indication of our disconnect with the landscape or our relationship with it that defines it as an amenity to be used and enjoyed at our will. Did the Mercians, Catholic, burghers of Hallamshire view it in much the same way? Is this the connection I have been looking for or have I missed the one I truly wanted, not the people who used the Long Causeway but those who made it?

 

 

Clouds on Bleaklow – Peak District

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I set off from the tiny car park at the bottom of Doctors Gate. Storm Hector was battering Scotland and had its tail curled around Bleaklow shoving great volumes of warm damp air across the moor.  In these parts ‘Gate’ means ‘Way’, coming from the Norse people who inhabited these lands, their Wapentac, administrative districts connected by ‘Gates’ that often followed the old Roman ways and before that Neolithic man, who used the lay of the land, commuting between settlements and hunting grounds. It is rare to be the first in this land. Time and the land mark this animal’s progress.

In my mind I see a vicar, Doctor Talbot, travelling along this ancient path on horseback. Why would you travel from Glossop to the Snake Pass up a steep Clough and across windswept moorland? What was there to visit?

Tracking a stream northeast, skipping across sphagnum moss, a patchwork of yellow, lime green, grass green, dark green, trying to make sure that I step on the dark green and hoping for it to be solid. I follow a shallow grough, shallow enough to step down into, the water has not yet cut its way to bedrock, the floor of the clough is soft tussocks of grass. Where the grough climbs out of the landscape I find a strange device sticking out of the ground. Aerials and solar cells festoon its tiny structure. A board tells me it is part of a project by a University to log the levels of peat erosion on the moors that surround the Peak District. Moors for the future, the EU funded body that is restoring the moors had planted billions of sphagnum across the moors in a bid to soak up water, a tiny plant that could save a city and restore peat growth.

This monitoring station sends data about theUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e0 teeming clouds via the clouds in the ether.
How many drops of CO2 does this make to calculate how much CO2 we generate?
Data centres are now a major contributor to CO2 emissions and who knows, climate change, global warming.

I think back to Doctor Talbot walking along his gate to see a patient in some remote farm on the flanks of Kinder Scout. See him battling the wind and rain. Breathing out his CO2 that is immediately dispersed by the wind and rain to be captured by the moorland grass. Perhaps he was heading to the tiny chapel at Gillott Hey.

I was walking on the eastern watershed; this water would eventually work its way via the rivers Derwent and Trent into the Humber and then out past Spurn Point into the North Sea. Hundreds of millions of years ago the water had flowed the other way and brought silt and sand from what is now the Rhine and deposited it at my feet for it to become gritstone. Later as trees and vegetation rotted and piled up layer upon layer, the gritstone disappeared below hundreds of feet of peat. A millimetre at a time for hundreds of millions of years.

I navigate between groughs, some with water; down narrow spits of land that curve down towards the Cloughs that run north-south in these parts. My aim is to keep my feet dry and not waste energy climbing out of the groughs. I’m heading east so the wind swirls from behind curving around my body as I move, a cylinder of water, carbon, data moving eastwards towards the water’s destination.

For a time I sit and watch the Cottongrass UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e9heads swaying in the wind. Large tufts of white candyfloss indicating wind direction. I’m amazed that they don’t fly off but they tenaciously cling to the slender stalks. Sometimes the air is filled with salt from the Irish Sea, but not today. Today it is laden with moisture, the sky filled with Mares Tails stretching for miles above my head.

I’m not far from Hern Clough and Alport Dale. It makes me think of Hannah Mitchell. Is this the way she came when she escaped the tortures of her troubled mother in Alport Valley and walked across the moors to a new life? Did she tread the stones of Doctors Gate, of Doctor Talbot, of the Roman Legionnaire, of the Norse warrior? Am I going not where I want, but where others take me?

Microsoft subsea data centre

https://news.microsoft.com/features/under-the-sea-microsoft-tests-a-datacenter-thats-quick-to-deploy-could-provide-internet-connectivity-for-years/

Data Centre Power

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/data-center-virtualization/unified-computing/white_paper_c11-680202.pdf

Moors for the Future

https://paulbesley.blog/2017/04/27/moors-for-the-future-peak-district/

Hannah Mitchell

https://paulbesley.blog/2015/12/04/alport-hamlet/