Grindle Barn. Upper Derwent Valley of the Peak District. A resting place. A place of contemplation. A place of meeting new people. A place of stories.
Polished with countless bums
sitting in contemplation
If you follow my walks in Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press eventually you will come across some weird objects. This is not uncommon on the Dark Peak moors of the Peak District National Park.
Aircraft wrecks abound, some wreckage such as the B29 on Bleaklow is extensive, others such as the Meteor in the Hagg Side plantation just a small pile of rusting metal.
There are the grouse butts and shooting cabins, some more elaborate than others. And occasionally you get strange wire compounds in the trees, used by the gamekeepers for rearing young.
One of the strangest sights are the towers, shafts and pillars associated with the tunnels that criss cross the Dark Peak.
On PB Walk 26 in Dark Peak Walks, Snailsden to Ramsden Clough there is a plethora of structures associated with the building of the tunnels. The shafts dug down to tunnel depth draw the line of the tunnel as it crosses beneath the moors. Often steam can be seen billowing out of the shaft and wafting its way across the moor. This lifts the spirits of avid steam rail fans in the hope that steam trains are once again running across the pennines. Alas it is not to be. The tunnels closed to trains 1981. It now serves as a massive conduit for National Grid power lines.
In the middle of the moor, seemingly at random is a concrete pillar with a strange rusting metal plate mounted on the top. It seems incongruous in this wild place, a man made object surrounded by wilderness. It is a sighting pillar made when the tunnels were being constructed. Used to mount a theodolite, it allowed the line of the tunnel construction to be checked to ensure it was running true to plan.
If you want a visual explanation of environmental damage, you could do no better than a walk up to Black Hill triangulation pillar in the north of the Dark Peak, Peak District National Park. This weekend take a walk; PB Walk 29, Dark Peak Walks
The trig base sits a good metre above ground level. This is not for dramatic effect; the trig is in exactly the same place that the Ordnance Survey surveyors levelled it in 1945, it is the ground that has shifted.
The Manchester and Lancashire cotton mills dumped all their heavy metal laden fumes out on to the moors. This simply killed any plant life, turned the soil to solid acid and prevented any further growth. Wind scoured the surface, stripping away any roots systems and then the job was finished by rain, which washed away the peat, down into the valley below. Considering the base of the pillar was at ground level, looking around it is hard to imagine the amount of peat that has been removed.
Black Hill was famous of course for the hell of its peat bog, made all the more famous by Alfred Wainwright who got stuck in it, because he was good at walking up hard rock and bits of grass, but crap at walking across a peat moor. A quote from 1975 on trigpointuk puts it thus;
A mess. Stands in acres of peat on Black Hill’s summit. Visited during Pennine Way walk.
Today the trig pillar stands surrounded by cotton grass and a healthier moor, thanks to Moors for the Future and its work. It is no longer approached through a thigh squelching peat bog, but along stone slabs retrieved from the derelict cotton mills that spewed out the poison all those years ago.
The pillar now sits surrounded by a stone plinth, courtesy of the Pennine Way rangers from the Peak District National Park. The pillar still sits on its concrete base which extends down well below the peat to bedrock where the lower centre mark sits.
A mention recently about the difficulty of walking across heather moors in the Peak District at this time of year prompted me to dig out a photo of a typical moorland scene.
Common heather is the most widespread in the Dark Peak and has four stages of growth, pioneer, building, mature, and degenerate. Most moors are a patchwork of all four making a walk a bit of a logistical challenge. The easiest is pioneer, short in height its great for cleaning boots, see how polished they are when you have walked across a patch. Building heather is relatively easy but you need to start watching where you put your feet as the ground is starting to get covered and difficult to see. Mature is the hardest, thigh high, thick and with little movement, this is tiring walking. The ground has now disappeared so the chance of a twisted or broken ankle has increased dramatically. Degenerate is much the same but the height is getting lower as the weight of the plant is dragging it down.
If you look at building and mature heather there are fissures in the cover, these make for wonderful pathways and make it easy to walk across. A walk across a moor should not be a straight line, but rather a meander trying to keep to the low heather patches and the burnt areas, this makes it less tiring and lowers the opportunity for a Mountain Rescue callout.
Take time and enjoy the scenery as you zig zag your way down. Having tight laces, with the heel held well reduces the chance of a painful ankle twist. Watch out for holes too. The worst are where the peat has been eroded and a deep hole has formed, generally known as leg breakers. Keeping your pace slow and choosing where to place feet can avoid this. The golden rule is, if you cannot see where your foot is going to land, do not put it there. Occasionally you will Step on a grouse hidden in the heather, this is one of the true heart stopping experiences of the Dark Peak.
Boulder fields covered in heather and bracken are a nightmare and best avoided. They sap the energy increase the risk of injury and are basically unpleasant.
Walking across moors develops new skills. Picking a line across a heather moor to the objective without the walk sapping energy, breaking a leg, twisting an ankle and not gaining or losing height unnecessarily is a skill well worth developing. It is part of hill craft and the more experience gained leads to greater adventures.
Walk anywhere in the Peak District and you will find lots of markings made into the rock. Gritstone is a particular favourite as it has retained the marks over centuries whereas limestone has tended to lose its rock graffiti.
One of the most common marks to see out on the moor, well away from centres of population is the conjoined ‘V’ and ‘M’ often inverted and with a date. The letters denote the Virgin Mary and were a sign of catholic following, that was banned during the period. Except for a brief three year period in 1685 under King James II reign, practising catholicism was punishable by death.
The gate post above Marsden, pictured on the left has the date 1676 and it sits within the curtilage of a tudor farmhouse. The date on the stone at Stanedge Pole, pictured right is 1697, possibly, the pole sits within a few hundred meters of a known worship site for Catholics during this time.
Fancy a good walk in the Peak District National Park this weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday look to be good for the weather.
PB Walk 7 out of the book Dark Peak Walks is a real beauty. A circular walk from Wyming Brook to Stanage Edge, it leads you down a stunning gorge filled with Scots Pines, dippers and the tumbling Wyming Brook.
On the way round there is much to see and spot, old mile posts on the original Sheffield to Manchester Road. Ordnance Survey benchmarks on random rocks around Stanage Edge. Two trig points, one, a pillar and the other a pole! Then the weird and wonderful water bowls carved into the Peak gritstone. The views will be amazing as will the experience.
The island below Howden Dam in the Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park. Made from spoil out of the trench that the dam sits in, at low water in Derwent reservoir a small bridge can be walked across.
The bridge led to Abbey Farm, now below the island. A clue as to the owners of the area in past centuries is in the name. Abbey Farm was owned by the the monks of Welbeck Abbey, as was the nearby Abbey Grange the site of which today is beneath the waters near to the mouth of Abbey Brook. A chapel was situated just down from Abbey Brook, all owned by the monks who would pay visits annually to collect their tithes and make sure that the land was being used to its maximum potential.
The Upper Derwent Valley. I spend a great deal of my time here and never tire of it.
Each visit brings up something new. A benchmark never seen, a view transformed by sunlight, saltness in the air from the sea. Some days I just sit and look. A buzzard soaring high above Crookhill, people walking along Derwent Edge chatting as they go. The Grouse who accompanied me down Abbey Brook, chattering away and when I went to photograph him he would turn the other way, so I had to be sneaky to get a shot. Sheep at Slippery Stones, not yet have they worked out how to cadge food from the walkers, not like the sheep on Kinder who basically mug you. Not yet they haven’t. I have seen two stoats this last few weeks, first in years, darting across my path, lovely slender creatures with that creamy stripe underneath. And in the woods at Lockerbrook I saw an owl fly straight as an arrow across the woodland and perch high on an old pine tree.
I love the place.
All of the items mentioned in the post can be found on or near Walks No.10,11,12,13,14 of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press.
Combs Edge from Castle Naze. Gritstone within the limestone country of the White Peak in the Peak District National Park.
It sits on the very edge of the national park boundary, to the left of the edge is outside the national park. What seems to be an odd exclusion from the park makes sense once you look at a map. A guiding principle in establishing national parks back in the 40’s and 50’s was the exclusion of major built up areas. Behind Castle Naze sits the towns of Buxton, Whaley Bridge and Chapel en le Frith, all major centers of habitation and commerce.
They point a barren finger in to the park boundary and at night can clearly be seen from space as a tentacle of light within the darkness of the national park. The Peak District National Park is the only national park in the world that can be seen from space at night.
Saturday’s small storm passing over Slippery Stones.
I like a nice summer storm when out, I find them exhilarating. Now I pay more attention to what is happening around me on a walk I notice the stuff that literally flew over my head as a young man.
I notice the air now as the storm comes in, it becomes charged with energy, electricity I guess. The best bit is colour. As the storm clouds move on in front of me the sunlight hits them and it bounces back onto the landscape. The greens become incredibly vivid against the dark indigo of the sky and seem to have been photoshopped.
I once watched the rain work its way towards me. Great sheets of steel grey moving across the landscape in a vertical curtain that had a defined edge.
As the storm hits sheep remain unconcerned throughout the tumult, which was interesting, not even looking around to see why the trees are suddenly swaying.
I like how the storm goes through its phases. Black sky on the horizon. Then the wind, trees swaying, the noise of the wind whirring around. Then the rain, the odd spot at first, so I’m unclear whether I felt it, then more, then the deluge. Thunder overhead now and with luck the lightning cracking down, bright flashes so quick I am never sure they happened. Then the quiet. No sound, all still. Sometimes there is a back edge where the storm has a final throw, other times not.
After the storm has passed, everything seems fresh, as though it has just put the landscape on a quick wash.
Experiencing a storm, sitting one out and watching the display is a real joy.