One of the many dew ponds in the Peak District National Park
Verges at the side of lanes are miniature nature reserves
A typical lane in Green Dale near Bradwell. Peak District National Park
A White Peak meadow in springtime.
I have started on the next book in the Cicerone Peak District trilogy. The second one, the first being Dark Peak Walks, covers the Ordnance Survey map OL24 East sheet and will be called White Peak Walks East. It still involves quite a bit of gritstone on the edges, with some peat as well. Heading towards the south and west limestone and pasture become dominant.
The White Peak has a marvellous collection of dales, carved out of the limestone by crystal clear streams. These run broadly west to east, taking water from the higher pasture land and feeding it through the dales into the Derwent which flows north west to south east.
Around the dales and the streams are the villages. Beautiful limestone built cottages and farms, settled by a people engaged in agriculture and mining. Families go back a long time in the White Peak, its old money unlike the new money of the Dark Peak shooting estates. White Peak was monastic, huge sheep farms used for producing wool to send out to Italy. The monks were the ones who really knew how to industrialise sheep farming, walk anywhere in the area and you walk on monastic land, farms with the word ‘Grange’ in the title were owned by the abbeys.
The land saw early enclosures around the villages and hamlets, you can tell the age by the shape of the fields, narrow and long close to the communities getting larger as subsequent enclosures moved up the sides of the dales.
Mining also played its part, right back to Roman times, lead had been mined in the area. The land is littered with mine shafts around villages that grew into small markets as money flowed in from the lead. Winster is an excellent example, and has Moot Hall, where the Barmote Court sat to settle mining disputes. Amazingly the court still sits to this day.
Prosperity brought new buildings and and alterations to existing ones. A particular favourite for adornment was the local church. Many villages had a church that dated back to Norman times these were added to, built upon rebuilt. Then came money from wool and then from lead and the local gentry wanted to be remembered so added windows, fonts, a new altar. Then came the victorians who really did go to town re-styling the churches in their own image. What this leaves us with today is a wonderful historical record not just of the religious fervour of the village but also its economic history and the landed gentries entitlement.
The land is criss crossed with ancient footpaths and green lanes bounded by verges deep with wild life and bounded by lichen covered limestone walls. The fields are surrounded by walls hundreds of years old, punctured by squeeze stiles, that for todays walker may be a challenge. Often the walker will come across a dish shaped depression in a field, the dew ponds were placed there to collect water for livestock to drink, hundreds dot the landscape, many have fallen in to dis-repair, but some still survive. Hedgerows, centuries old outline the land and field strips surround small villages, a living record of a feudal system that provided for all. Meadows, a countryside form that almost died out, can be found in the White Peak. Lush with buttercups in spring the meadow adds a vivid splash of colour to the pastures.
It all makes for wonderful walking, following in the footsteps of human history.