Mail box spotting in the White Peak villages of the Peak District National Park.
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.
Harsh times in Great Longstone in the White Peak of the Peak District National Park.
From the Parish Registers of St Giles, Great Longstone
“From the Parliamentary Rolls, Vol. III, p518 petition dated 4th Henry IV –
From Godfrey Rowland , who styles himself “un pauvre et simple esquyer” praying “convenable et haste remedie” against Sir Thoma Wendesley, John Dean, vicar of Hope, and others who are stated to have come to the petitioner’s house at Longsdon, with force and arms; to have carried of goods and stock to the value of 200 marks; to have taken the petitioner prisoner, and carried him to the castle of the High Peak, where he was kept six days without victuals or drinks; after which they are stated to have cut off his right hand and then to have released him.”
I don’t really associate the Peak District National Park with the chocolate box type image so eponymous of places such as the Cotswolds, but turn a corner in Baslow in the White Peak and there they are.
Standing on Baslow Edge looking up to Curbar the eye gets drawn to the horizon and the Upper Derwent Vally with Derwent Edge clearly visible. Just below Baslow Edge are fields of wheat and barley, not something normally associated with the Peak but obviously a need exists.
Dropping down in to Baslow and over the tiny bridge then a right to walk into Chatsworth Park and there are cottages with thatched roofs with hanging eaves, just waiting for the photo-op and the man from the Derbyshire Clotted Cream Company to come along and slap the picture on a box.
Go through the kissing gate and its is straight into a fantasy land, created by Capability Brown. You always know when you are in park land just by looking at the position and height of the trees. For all it tries to be natural it still looks staged.
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.
Not all triangulation points have a triangulation pillar or a benchmark plate. The latest walk started at the Grade 1 listed All Saints Church in Bakewell, the triangulation point being the church spire. The church is interesting for its architecture and stained glass windows, the local benefactor and landowner features large in the proceedings. From the church I headed south east for the next trig.
Noton Barn is at the top of a small rise overlooking Bakewell and Haddon. Tracks and pasture land make the walk a pleasant stroll especially on a sunny day. The triangulation pillar itself is situated in the corner of a field, unadorned and in perfect order. Heading back across the fields to the next trig there are wonderful views of the medieval Haddon Hall estate, which is reached following a short descent to the A6 road.
The route rises from the road, through the Haddon Estate and on to the Chatsworth Estate. Climbing up the hill and through the trees, a rail tunnel, now sealed is passed. The tunnel was used to hide the rail line from Rowsley to Bakewell from the sensitivities of the Duke of Rutland who owned Haddon Hall. The Monsal Trail starts at Bakewell and continues on to Topley Pike east of Buxton, it is a fine walk or cycle especially now that the tunnels have been opened and floodlight during daylight. Calton Pastures sits between Bakewell and Chatsworth House, nestled against a wall, with views across to Edensor and Chatsworth Park. From the trig it is a simple and pleasant descent back in to Bakewell. The route does cross a golf course, and a large bell has to be rung to warn golfers of your presence, this is very satisfying, especially if one can time the ringing in the golfers mid stroke, such pleasures should be taken whenever they can be had.
Spring for me, always heralds green pastures, rolling hills, white limestone, heavy showers and blue skies. It means for a period of walking in the White Peak where there is a release from peat bog, groughs and bleak desolate moorland. The winter slog slips away to be replaced by a warming sun and longer days.
I chose the boundary between dark and white, strolling up from the plague village of Eyam towards the north and the dark. Eyams an interesting place, one of Ranulph Feinnes heros for their selfless act of sealing themselves off from the outside world when the plague arrived, you can spend hours there tracing out the tragedy, just don’t go in tourist season.
My first trig objective was Sir William Hill, which gives wonderful panoramic views across the whole of the Peak District. Its a gentle climb out of the village, through woodlands and across green pastures, at one point you pass an abandoned lead mine, redundant industrial buildings incongruous in the landscape. A large badger set protects the trig from the Eyam approach and the dogs spent long moments with the snouts down the entrances trying to figure what the scent was. The eye can see right up the Derwent Valley, across to Kinder and Bleaklow, down to Bakewell and across Froggatt and Curbar edges. I sat and took it all in until two people arrived and I left to let them have the trig and the views in peace.
I headed out to Abney Moor via Bretton Clough, a secluded valley sitting between the gritstone and limestone. The Abney Moor trig requires a degree of stealth, although I did not know this at the time. Crossing moorland to reach a stone wall that surrounds the glider airfield a decision has to be made. Do I hop over the wall and hope not to be noticed, or take the long walk round to ask permission. I know which is the right way and after choosing my course of action I strode through the gate that gives access to the trig from the airfield. There is a little plaque on the trig, placed there by the glider club, which is ironic as they refuse access to land based mortals. The views out to Castleton, Mam Tor and the Great Ridge are superb, below is industrial farm buildings blotting the landscape and filling every green patch with junk and rubbish. The sign on this side of the access gate stated no access to pedestrians, so I skirted the wall dropping down to reach a track that took me to Great Hucklow and the door of the pub slammed in my face just as I was about to enter, lovely people.
Head south along old walled trackways through rolling pasture, true limestone country this, the eye seeing for miles, and aim for Wardlow and another stealth trig, protected by drystone walls and gated farmland. No easy access and definitely walls and fences to climb over. This trig a high point in the land around, the vistas long and low, I sat in the fading light, my back to the pillar and just watched. A bird of prey, I could not tell you which, soared up from Cressbrook Dale and quartered the land.
A long walk back to Eyam across pasture and through squeeze stiles, entering Eyam from the old Tideswell Lane and then along quieter streets to the end.