How to write a Peak District guidebook

The Vale of Edale from Ringing Roger. Peak District National Park. Dark Peak Walks. Author Paul Besley. Published by Cicerone Press.
The Vale of Edale from Ringing Roger. Peak District National Park

Someone asked me the other day how I write a Peak District guide book. The question took me aback somewhat, I had to think about an answer. Put simply; I go out on a walk and when I get home I write where I have been.

Then I thought of all the things that lay behind that. The books that are hunted down in the research. Talking to people about an area. Historical and geological websites to spend hours getting lost in. Old maps to peruse and old newspaper cuttings to view. Public archives to spend days in.

Then there are the days spent wandering around an area, looking at rock graffiti. Churches, church yards and old abandoned buildings to crawl over and imagine what it was like for the people who built these places.

Some of the best days are when I trace the old ways across the land, walk in the footsteps of the Jaggers and quarrymen, peat cutters and farmers. The old saltways and the millstone trails. Sit by the quarries and listen to the ghosts hewing out the stone. Stand in a churchyard looking out onto where navvies were buried without, and wondering how someone could do that to a human being.

The best days include all of this plus a good old chat with walkers. Some of my most memorable walks have been when I have met up with groups of people and just chatted.

All of this goes into a book, and what doesn’t goes into a blog or on social media.

That’s how I write a Peak District guide book.


Trees in the Peak District

This Oak tree stands at the top of an ancient track that leads to Navio from Hope. White Peak Walks East, Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
Oak Tree. On the track that leads to Navio from Hope. Peak District National Park

There is something solid about a tree. Something that is timeless. Trees do not work by our clocks and it is for this reason that they hold a special place in my view of the natural world.

There is a tree that sits at the side of an ancient track leading from Hope, up through the fields to Eccles House farm. A map from 1880 shows trees lining both sides of the track that led to Batham Gate, the old Roman road.  Now the hedge is gone but the tree remains.

This is the allure of the singular tree, standing like a sentinel over the landscape. It has quietly stood and watched the passage of centuries. People passing by underneath, working on the land nearby. The seasons and ages of weather, warm and cold, wind, rain and drought. Generations of animals and birds will have made it their home, a symbiotic relationship that seems beyond the intelligence of humans. In all that time is has destroyed nothing; spent its energies growing at the expense of no one.

The tree has no view on human activity excepting in one matter and that is its access to food and water and air. We are the only creatures that can affect this, save for a plague of oak eating insects. All things being equal the tree will outlast us and many of descendants to come.

The trees measure of time is aeons.

Shortlisted for the TGO Book Awards 2017

Dark Peak Walks has been shortlisted for The Great Outdoors magazine book of the year award 2017
TGO Annual Awards 2017

Well this is great news. Dark Peak Walks, published by Cicerone Press has been shortlisted for The Great Outdoors magazine 2017 award in the book category.

You can vote in the awards here

Autumn in the Peak District

The east track of Derwent Reservoir in autumn. Upper Derwent Valley. Dark Peak. Peak District National Park
Down the East Track towards Derwent Dam 2016

The first day of September and there is a cool breeze coming through my open window.

Autumn is on its way.

Scout at the vets. Scout is a trainee search and rescue dog with me in Mountain Rescue.
Scout at the vets.

I have just taken Scout to the vets to be neutered, its not a thing I have been looking forward to and advice I have sought has gone either way, leaving me constantly thinking if I have made the right decision. It is not a good feeling. I decided to get the operation done now because I myself am laid up with a sprained ankle after slipping on limestone chipping in the Yorkshire Dales. So all in all its an odd time.

Monty standing guard
Monty standing guard and giving me accusing looks

Monty, one of our other dogs, sits across the landing from my office door just looking at me. Its as though he is asking me what have I done with Scout? Where is he?

I love this time of year in the Peak District National Park, the colours, the smells, birds scratching in the fallen leaf for food. Its a time of slowing down, shorter cooler days, longer shadows. The crowds soon stop coming into the Upper Derwent Valley leaving it to those who love to explore its hidden corners.

As nature shuts down for winter the landscape changes, it feels, smells and sounds different. Leaf is the first to fall, carpeting the ground in hues of brown, red and yellow. One of the greatest delights is the drive down the larch tree lined Derwent Lane to Fairholmes ranger centre in the valley on successive days and weeks and notice the colours turn from green to a vivid, almost fluorescent, yellow before the needles coat the floor in deep drifts.



Navigating using Apps and GPS


I once did a math calculation in my head, a simple multiplication, I was faster with the answer than all the young people around me who were firing up their apps. One looked at me amazed and asked how on earth had I done that. Well, I spent my early years learning my times tables and that stuff never leaves you. Another didn’t bother doing the calculation because she didn’t have an app on her phone and anyway someone else would have the answer.

Recently on social media there has been lots of posting about using Ordnance Survey’s phone app for navigating in difficult weather conditions or when the user was not sure where they were. It’s a good app, I have OS Maps on all my devices, iphone, ipad, Macbook. I use the app on my Mac to reproduce routes to 1:50k scale for my guidebooks. The ipad is good for sitting in bed and exploring new routes without spreading out my 1:25k map, it sort of keeps Alison awake if I do that. I put the map on my phone because I could, it is rare that I use it and to be honest its just taking up space.

What has intrigued me about the different postings and threads is that they all seem to default to the use of apps when the going gets tough, bad weather appears to be the most common reason, getting lost a close second. And there is nothing wrong in that. But what would the person have done if the phone had not worked and why is the app now the default for getting out of a sticky situation?

I was taught that the easiest way to know where you are, is, to know where you are. And that means having the map to hand and following your route, ticking off features, tracking distances and timings, knowing what is ahead and around. That way I knew where I was at all times.

The use of technology is great, if it gets people out exploring then that is a good thing. What I detect now is a growing reliance on technology and a disconnection with map, compass and the landscape. The map and compass are now somewhere in the rucksack. The app has become a shortcut to navigation. The problem is that using a phone or an app or a device removes so much from the skill base to my mind. When I look at a map I look at a far wider area than my walk route. I see the little nooks and crannies that look so interesting its worth exploring them. Little bits of information on the map draw my eye and I build up a picture of the terrain, it’s an exciting thing to do. And I carry that information in my head and use it on the walk along with the map.

Using a map and compass is a hill craft that is a part of a much wider range of skills, how to move over difficult ground, what to take on a walk, how to plan a route that does not lead to exhaustion, escape routes when things don’t go to plan etc.

In truth, it’s not necessary to use a compass in good visibility, all the information is on the map. Compass comes into its own in bad visibility when used in conjunction with a map. Or, and here is a confession, checking which way to go after walking to Ben Macdui, having lunch, relaxing, moving around and then setting off back in the wrong direction. Thankfully saved by a mate who had switched his brain on. They say the hardest part of any walk is always getting out of the car park in the right direction and often it’s true.

Using technology is good, but relying on it is not so good. And that is what I am seeing more and more of. Recently on social media and in the press there have been several reports of people having to be rescued by Mountain Rescue teams because they were reliant on an app. Along with battery failure there is often an inability to cope with the terrain and to be poorly attired for a day on the hill.

What now seems to be happening is a transfer of responsibility to technology and when that fails a transfer of responsibility to other humans. Isn’t it much better to have the skills to navigate out on the hill using a map and compass? Use the app if you want, but don’t make it the default device. Don’t be reliant on technology.

My best time out on the hill navigating was doing my triennial MR navigation assessment in visibility of no more than three metres on Saddleworth Moor at night in winter. Five check points spread across 8 square kilometres each one a 25cm stick painted brown stuck into a peat grough, 2 hours to complete using only map and compass.


If you want to learn navigations skills using a map and compass these two outdoor professionals will be able to teach you.

Everyday Adventures 

Everything Outdoors



Hepworth Gallery

Alison and I went for a visit to the Hepworth Gallery yesterday. It is a fine day out, even if it was school holidays. Barbara Hepworth lived and worked in Wakefield where the gallery is situated to display some of her work and that of other artists. Along with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park it is a major cultural attraction. I cannot think of anywhere comparable in the Peak District National Park, nor do I know of any long term programs run by the Park that are associated with the arts, and I think this is something that is missing. The landscape is not just about walking, biking and climbing to my mind. It is a cultural asset and should be constantly developing.

As always at galleries, once I have had a look at the art, it is people that start to attract my attention.

Short Escapes – Peak District

Short escapes into the Peak District National Park are within reach of anyone. All it takes is a few hours after work for a walk.

Alison and I started to escape at the end of our workday a few months ago. So far we have had short escapes in the Dark Peak to the reservoirs around Bradfield, Burbage Valley, Higger Tor, Carl Wark, Stanage Edge, and last night Owler Tor.

The plan is simple.

  1. Pick a night when there will be a fair chance of a nice sunset
  2. Somewhere within 30 minutes or so of home
  3. Nice food for tea, or supper if you are posh
  4. Make sure we have a view.

A close watch on the weather is always good, so looking at the forecast a few days in advance of a planned escape. The place to eat should be facing west for the sunset and not too far from where we are. Food, is simple tasty and what we have in the cupboards.

  1. Picnic or cooking kit
  2. Insulated jacket to put on if need be, plus a head torch in case.
  3. Camera
  4. Phone for uploading pics to Social Media

We cooked last night, on our new pans from Alpkit which worked really well. Come 19:30 the sun was dropping and the temp started to fall, so on with the jacket. Eat, drink tea and chat whilst watching the sun set. We took photos and uploaded some to twitter and Instagram, it’s amazing where you can get 4G these days. I kept switching the phone from airplane mode to conserve battery power.

And we chatted. Both of us had a few busy days, as well as dealing with the occasional bit of tough stuff along the way. It was a nice way to unwind. A really nice way. Alison talked about new ventures and projects, it was lovely to just sit and listen. A few people were around doing the same thing I guess. The best was a couple with four dogs who sat on the edge of Owler Tor looking out to the sunset. The dogs all sat in a line, all facing west making a connection. A part of my day that had me a smidgeon upset, became settled and was no longer important.

Fox Cub on Loxley Common

Fox Cub on Loxley Common

Scout and I were out on Loxley Common this morning. It is a wonderful place of ancient woodland and heath, low gritstone edges and sandy paths. We go there just about everyday, to play and learn.

It was a sad start to the day, Scout had his first find. He shot over to what at first I took for a rabbit, but turned out to be a Fox Cub. Scout lost interest and moved on, but Alison and I just stood transfixed by this beautiful creature that lay so still at our feet.

He was just laid on open common. I could not leave him there so picked him up to move him to a place of rest. He was still warm and showed no signs of injury except a broken neck. He laid almost as though he was running and about to pounce on some prey. Front legs raised back legs powered out.

He was a beautiful creature, the eyes still alive, his fur, brown and white, soft to the touch. I cradled him in my hands and found a spot in the woodlands, under brambles and on a bed of leaves and laid him to rest in a place of nature, somewhere he would have spent hours with his mother.

I stood back and looked and thought, and saw him chasing rabbits across the heath.

Fox Cub at peace


Ordnance Survey surveyor marks

Lots of discussion on social media this weekend about Ordnance Survey marks on the gritstone of the Dark Peak in the Peak District. A topic that fascinates me with every walk including a foray into the wilderness to try to find some elusive mark made more than a century and a half ago.

Top left is a benchmark used to establish height at a point on the footpath to Stanage End from Moscar.

Below that is a benchmark used to mark a survey position on Higger Tor.

Top right is a really interesting one. An arrow below a square box with a dot in the middle. This denotes a survey height taken from the ground and not estimated. On modern maps today these are denoted as a black dot with a height number as opposed to an orange dot which denotes a measurement taken from the air.

Bottom left is a lovely levelling bolt, indicating a survey position near Laddow Rocks.

Bottom right two survey marks, one for levelling and one for triangulation found on Back Tor on Derwent Edge. On the left hand mark is a benchmark made by Lieut Barlow RE when he carried out the triangulation in 185. The right hand mark denotes a spot height taken in 1854 by Capt Kerr RE to establish the contour lines.

All heights back then used the Liverpool datum and approximate average of the sea height there. Nowadays the OS maps use the Newlyn datum taken from the tidal measuring station in Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall.


Dark Peak Walks – Giving Back

See here’s the thing.

Some people who bought my book Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press directly from me collected the book in person, either at the event or meeting me out in the Peak. But they had ordered the book online from Wapentac, our shop and paid for postage and packaging.

Some people bought the book from me that unknowingly had been allocated a book free for checking the walks or providing information. They also paid for the book and the postage and packaging.

Some people paid for the book, but I didn’t have change for the amount they gave.

At the time I asked people if they wanted the money back or would they prefer it to be donated to a charity like Mountain Rescue. Most, in fact all I think, said donate it.

So, having had a thought about this; I would like to propose the following.

If you want your postage and packaging back, then send me a private message on Facebook and I will refund via Paypal. No problem.

If you bought a book, but received a free one because you helped and want the money for the book and postage etc back then as above, private message me on Facebook. No problem.

If you want me to donate the money then DO NOTHING. I intend to channel the money one of three ways.

Way One

Donate the money to Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation, the umbrella organisation for the seven teams that cover the Peak District. Unfortunately, walking in the Dark Peak means sometimes coming a cropper and its these people, all volunteers, all unpaid, who get out of bed on a cold stormy winter night to find people and remove them from a place of distress to a place of safety.

Way Two

Donate the money to a footpath appeal run by the British Mountaineering Council. My books do have an impact on the environment, feet thudding down on peat and moorland. Anyone, who has seen the state of the footpath up Ringing Roger, now repaired with a sustainable surface with funding from the BMC, will understand the need for maintenance and in these times, its down to us to make it happen.

Way Three

There are some people or organisations who for whatever reason, cannot get out into the Peak District with a guidebook. There are also some who do fantastic things, picking up litter, volunteering, taking people out into the Peak District. Maybe they would like a book as a gift. I don’t know, but I would like to send them one free. You never know, it might just make a difference.

I don’t want to make a thing of this, so will not be announcing any gifts or donations, I will just give as I see fit.

So, if you want the money that I owe you to do some of these things then, DO NOTHING. Don’t private message me on FB. Then I will accept that as your approval to donate the money as a gift.