I hadn’t expected to feel such an impact of place on my psyche as happened when we visited Gardom’s Edge the other evening. Maybe it was the quiet, or the cool of the evening. Or the advancing ink black clouds of the storm rolling in from the west. Watching the dogs twist and turn there was certainly some sort of charge in the air. Or maybe they sensed something else.
We sat by the ring and cup stone that lay along a line stretching form the Menhir to the Three Old Men of Gardom Cairns. This was a good place to live back then. Flat, protected by gritstone edges to the east and west with a long flat plain in between giving good line of sight. My mind conjured up a clearing in the trees, the round house to the south with an entrance in the north from Leash Fen. And, a young man or woman carving out the delicate intricate shapes on the rock.
I fancied they did this not for art or ceremony but to leave something of themselves. Make a mark; speak down the ages to the young man or woman today. Did they have that sense of their place in time?
Something thick and heavy muffling out all other senses. I had gone through weeks of emotional extremes and that had opened a door in to a long passageway to the past. I leaned back against ancient gritstone and settled for the first time in many a day.
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.
I love church doors and entrance porches. The church door of St John the Baptist, Tideswell in the Peak District is a real beauty. The door is oak, hand carved with beautiful fluting and studding.
Quam Dilecta is from the second line of Psalm 83;
Quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum
How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host!
An indication of what lay on the other side of the door in the Cathedral of the Peak. The church is well worth a visit with some beautiful Poppy Heads showing the stages of a humans life from birth to death.
I always try to have something to look at on a walk and walking in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park means there is a plethora of things to view and wonder at.
I recently did a walk for my new book White Peak Walks East, published by Cicerone Press along the boundary between the white and dark areas of the Peak. It’s a place full of ancient sites with a history going back to neolithic times. A very productive period was in Roman times, this part of the world getting towards the northern edge of their domain.
My walk took in Navio, the Roman fort at Brough. It is one of a number of forts linking Templeborough, Melandra, Castleshaw. There is not a deal left now, a few stones in a hole in the middle of a field, the stones may or may not be connected. But you can still discern the square plinth of the fort, raised above the surrounding land. It is near a stream and has views in all directions across both the Derwent and Hope valley’s. A good spot to check movements. As often is the case, it now sits alongside major roads and junctions, I always find it amazing how we still walk and live in the places designed for us many thousands of years ago.
The White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is punctured with lead mines. Often the small indentations in the earth string out along the landscape as the miners followed the lead veins below.
Many have now been lost on the present day Ordnance Survey OL24 map but thankfully surveyors in the 19th century placed many features on their maps, so looking back can reveal places of interest well worth visiting.
I came across this offering on a field gate near Foolow in the Peak District National Park the other day. A beautifully made ball, the straw carefully manipulated to form a perfect sphere.
I find quite a lot of this in White Peak. Offerings hanging from trees, placed on stones, hidden in walls. It makes me think that the White Peak has a connection with a pagan past. Certainly it has more evidence of human involvement than the Dark Peak, so perhaps their spirits live on.
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 Peak District’s proximity to the industrial cities brought many of the great steel masters to the area. Charles Cammell of Cammell Laird, armour-plate manufacturers lived at Brookfield Manor in Hathersage and is buried in the churchyard there. Joseph Whitworth of screw thread fame lived at Darley Dale and is buried in the churchyard of St Helen’s.
One of the major steel makers in Sheffield was the company of Thomas Firth, a major armaments manufacturer and the supplier of high-grade steel to Samuel Colt in Connecticut USA, for his gun barrels. Thomas firth and his son Mark are buried in Sheffield, but other offspring reside in the churchyard of St Peter’s in Hope, their twin graves facing the city of Sheffield.
Eyam in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is well-known as the plague village. Virtually everyone knows the story of a bag of cloth from London arriving with the plague and many of the inhabitants of the village succumbing to it and their subsequent death. You can walk around the village, looking at the cottages with their little notices of who died and visit the graves of the dead.
The villagers were true heroes, every last one of them, for the sacrifice they made. Religion and persecution played a major part in their actions once the plague took hold. Civil war, Royal decrees all had a hand. Strength of character, bravery and responsibility were also present.
There were two vicars in the village. The conformist priest Mompesson for whom the well is named after had replaced the nonconformist Stanley, who had refused to conform to Charles II’s new Book of Common Prayer. Stanley had remained in the village after losing his post and livelihood. As the plague swept through other parts of England the conformists priests beat a hasty retreat leaving communities to fend for themselves and at the mercy of the plague. It was the non conformists priests who stayed and tended the flock, a fact not gone unnoticed by many of the communities in the country. Mompesson decided, wisely to stay and, give him credit, teamed up with Stanley, to care for and guide the community. Perhaps this one single act was the catalyst for the whole village acting as they did.
The two proposed a radical and unique approach to the plague now raging through the village. Contrary to the rest of the country who kept people out and expelled infected inhabitants. The priests proposed sealing the village completely, no one in or out, and thereby protecting the surrounding areas from infection. It was radical and it carried the prospect of almost certain death for the whole village. Every single inhabitant agreed to the proposal, effectively committing themselves to mass suicide.
Arrangements were made with local landowners, for food and supplies to be left outside the village boundary, hence Mompessons Well. This quarantined the village from the outside world. Each day the dead would dragged outside the house and buried close by in the fields, by the remaining inhabitants.
Over half the population of the village died, many from the same family. It must have been a desperate time and by sealing the village off from the outside world a lonely bleak existence.
The villagers selfless act prevented the spread of the disease to other parts of the County, a heroic act by the whole community.