Pecsaetan – Ancient Peak District tribe

Some thing for the weekend. How about stepping into a time in the Dark Peak, when the Peak District was not a district at all, it was the northern edge of territory for the Pesaetan tribe way back in the Anglo-Saxon era.

Stanedge Pole on the boundary of Northumbria and Mercia
Stanedge Pole on the boundary of Northumbria and Mercia

The boundary is still there today at Stanedge Pole which sits on the boundary of the old Northumbria and Mercia territories, now it separates Yorkshire and Derbyshire and the Sees of Canterbury and York.

The Peaklanders as they were known called Kinder Scout “Cyn dwr scwd” which translates as “The hill of the waterfall”, Kinder Downfall.

Dwr gwent “the white water” became Derwent.

The many “lows” Bleaklow, Shuttlinsloe, Pike Lowe, White Lowe, signify an ancient burial-place. Perhaps there is something to the Longdendale lights after all.

It seems perhaps odd to our modern day minds that these places should be inhabited, maybe that is because for many years mere mortals were banned from setting foot, it was the privilege of the chosen few. Not too different from when it formed part of the ancient Peak Royal Forest then.

This weekend, have a walk in an ancient landscape, there is plenty of information on this blog to wet your appetite and you can find lots more in my book Dark Peak Walks.

Dark Peak Walks Book by Paul Besley, published by Cicerone Press. 40 walks in the Dark Peak with detailed route descriptions, maps, photos and points of interest.
Dark Peak Walks by Paul Besley

A few hours in the Peak District

Pennine Way
The Pennine Way from Snake Summit to Bleaklow Head, Peak District National Park

Alison and I are both busy at present but wanted to make sure we still managed to get out together in to the Peak District National Park. So we decided each week we would make the effort to go for a walk at least once, preferably early morning or late afternoon, then the rest of the day is good for doing what we need to do.

Late afternoon yesterday we took off for Higher Shelfstones near Bleaklow. Alison, who is a metalsmith, had never seen the wreck of the B29 plane and was interested in having a look and I fancied playing with my Jetboil. We walked in from Snake summit and cut across to Hern Stones as I always think approaching the wreck from the north produces the most impact on a first time visitor. Alison thought it like a scene from some Mars adventure, I was struck by how it reminded me of the film, Chronicles of Riddick.

At Higher Shelfstones we looked at all the graffiti. Some of it is so well carved in to the gritstone, it makes me wonder of the artists were stone masons perhaps. The more modern graffiti isn’t a patch on the old stuff.

We had tea by the trig. Alison had made pizza, mine heavily loaded with anchovy, and had sliced and stacked them three deep so it was like a triple decker, it was really nice. I got the Jetboil out then realised I had brought tea bags and milk but no water. So we sat and ate pizza and watched the sun setting over Glossop and Manchester.

 

The Mountain Hare – Peak District

A Grough in the Dark Peak
A grough in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park

Anyone who has walked in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park will know of the Mountain Hare (Lepus Timidus) and how they frequent the high moors and peaty plateaus that range above the valleys.

I followed Lepus Timidus the other day. He led the walk from a position about 25m in front of me, stopping and waiting when the distance between us became too great for normal conversation. We met at the top of a grough on Bleaklow. He startled me as I extricated myself from the fondant slope, fingers clasping onto a tussock of grass. Please hold, I muttered to myself as I hauled my bulk upwards and over to be met with the steady gaze of a Mountain Hare sat on the soft grass of the moor.

As I flailed around, trying with some decorum to get up, his gaze never left me nor did he move. Instead he sat there pondering this strange creature that had suddenly appeared in his world from some place below. Perhaps he thought there may be others, and that his day would be filled with these odd animals with the odd clothes and odd ways of moving over the moor.

I sat up and dusted myself off as well I could, some of the wet peat proving too difficult to remove by hand. The exertion had made my throat dry and as I rummaged around for my bottle I noticed that he, the Mountain Hare, was still there, still watching. I drank water and watched back.

He was a fine animal. Youngish I think judging by his size. His coat was a beautiful mottled grey, almost the colour of gritstone with deeper brown patches around his legs. His eyes were the most wonderful brown, dark pupils surrounded by a circle of solid brown. A grey nose that twitched, as it smelled the air and all finished off with erect almond shaped ears that pointed to the sky.

Raising myself to my feet I started to move forward and as soon as I did he moved off too, except not quite in the direction I was going. And that was when he took the lead. I followed him from then on. As we moved across the plateau I realised he never descended in to any of the groughs, but charted a course that took him across the moor, just below any viewing line, so that to all intent and purpose the only living being out there was me, a human, standing out like a telegraph pole in a desert. He moved much better than me, conserving energy, taking the easier route, which made his progress quicker too. This enabled him to stop and watch my cumbersome walk. What must he have thought as he saw this animal lumbering up and down the groughs, making those strange noises like a beast in its death throws. If he thought any of this he never spoke of it, he was, in his manners, the perfect Mountain Hare.

We walked for a half hour or more, just us, and the grass swaying in the breeze. Sometime he disappeared and I thought I had lost him, which left me feeling a little sad. Then there he would be, in front, or to one side, a little further ahead, looking back and waiting patiently. He never complained, never asked for anything, the best walking companion a person could have.

At some point he decided enough was enough, a noise or a smell, something, made him decide to move on, no longer to keep this odd animal for company. He left without word, no looking back, in a few seconds he was gone.

I stood there for a few minutes, my eyes scanning the moor for any sight of him, but there was nothing. I felt cheated in a way, then I realised he had chosen me as a companion, had let me into his world.

I turned east and headed for home.

 

The Salt Cellar on Derwent Edge

The Salt Cellar on Derwent Edge, Peak District National Park
The Salt Cellar on Derwent Edge, Peak District National Park

The Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park is full of gritstone rock formations that have being hewn and sanded over millions of years by the wind and rain. One of the most iconic is the Salt Cellar on Derwent Edge in the Upper Derwent Valley.

It sits, or more accurately, balances on the very edge of the long gritstone escarpment that runs up the eastern side of the valley and presides over a spectacular view of the moors of Howden and Bleaklow and the reservoirs of Howden, Derwent and Ladybower.

It is easy to spot from below, but surprisingly easy to miss when walking along the newly laid path that traverses the edge. You pass the Wheelstones on the right and go up the slight rise of White Tor then a matter of 500m further on you come to the gritstone outcrop on the left that hides the Salt Cellar. A faint path leads through the heather directly to it, or you can walk a little further on until reaching a dry stone wall coming up from the valley floor on your left, which you then follow back to the Salt Cellar.

The Salt Cellar balances precariously on a thin post of gritstone, looking almost like a wine glass with its wide base, stem and bowl. I have never known anyone climb it, probably from fear of knocking it over.

On a recent visit I sat looking around at the rocks, when a little old couple appeared, the man holding a toy penguin, as you would. They were a little furtive in their actions so I feigned indifference whilst all the while keeping my eye on them. The man scrabbled around the rocks and reaching into a cleft pulled out a world war two ammunition box.They were Geocachers, if that’s the word. And the penguin was his offering.

We sat and talked awhile, they both telling me that they had been walking these hills for more than 60 years, and me a mere 40. Not a bad way to spend a life.

Parkin Clough to Win Hill

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Parkin Clough, Dark Peak, Peak District National Park
One of the toughest ascents in the Peak District can be found just by Ladybower Reservoir in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park.

Parkin Clough leads up to Win Hill, a total ascent of some 300m in little over one Kilometer. The path, such that it is, is the old boundary wall running up the side of the stream which tumbles down the hillside. Parkin Clough is a narrow V shaped gorge cut by the stream, with steep sides, you would not want to slip down. It is very slippery under foot in wet weather as you are walking along what remains of the wall, with some high stepping required in places to get the thighs and calfs burning.

The climb up Parkin Clough is something of a test piece for fitness, the test being to make it to the top in the shortest time, the quickest I have heard of is 12 minutes unladen and a little over 15 minutes with full hill kit. The test for lesser mortals is to make it to the top without stopping.  Ascending to the summit begins at the foot of Parkin Clough by the Peak and Northern Footpath Society signpost and ends when the hand touches the thoughtfully placed triangulation pillar on the top of Win Hill. The views across to the Upper Derwent Valley and along the skyline to Kinder Scout and Bleaklow make the effort worthwhile.

The climb appears in Walk 9 of Dark Peak Walks

Moorland Walking

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Looking from Westend Trig to Barrow Stones

Yesterday was a Ranger Patrol day. The first duty was to marshall road traffic whilst the Remembrance Day service was being conducted at the Derwent Village War Memorial. It always stirs something when I hear the bugle reaching out across the valley to the sunken village below Derwent Reservoir.

After with a trainee Ranger we walked up to Hagg Guide Post for a spot of lunch, whilst we looked out over the Woodlands Valley up into Blackden Clough. No matter what perspective you look from, Kinder Scout always has something to offer. We sat and traced the old routes, from Hope Cross some say a Roman Road, the shooting track up to Jubilee Lodge, the best shooting lodge in the area and always locked. The aqueduct path following the course of the water stolen from the River Ashop and poured into Derwent Reservoir just by the dam. We could see the line of Jaggers Clough where, sitting above and a little up in to the Vale of Edale sits a small cairn that used to be named on the 1850 maps as the site of an altar.

Below us lay the Snake Road, and between us a landscape not often explored. The track going down passing by Hagg Farm and across to Haggwater Bridge on the River Ashop. Another track leading down to Rowlee Farm, one of the oldest and passing Bellhagg Barn on the way, with the Alphabet Stone opposite, a favourite for navigation assessments. Hagg is an old word meaning clearing, where the farms were situated in forest clearings.

We left our lunch spot and ascended to Bellhagg Tor, on our way walking by a bronze age barrow, letting sleeping ancients lie. Then on to Pasture Tor, moorland taking over now, opening up, below us and ahead Alport Dale gradually coming into view, the scene of the worst of tragedies when young lives were lost and still today the scene of many a find of a lost walker as they take the wrong turn off the Pennine Way coming down from Bleaklow Head. An easy thing to do when conversation or visibility take the mind away from the path.

As we walked along the Dale edge the wind picked up a little, but amazingly still quite warm for November. We meet a large group from Lockerbrook and I regale them with tales of the Love Feast at Alport Hamlet and one of the Dark Peaks great daughters Hannah Mitchell who escaped cruelty from that Hamlet and her mother to rise in prominence in Manchester and become a light in the Suffragette movement. On we go, the ground becoming wetter after the recent snow and rain. We can just see the West End triangulation pillar gleaming in the sporadic beams of sunlight.

At Ditch Clough we turn into the moor and begin our descent. The shooting cabin has now returned and I show my companion. We sit inside and feel the warmth and I tell him of bringing a young couple and baby in there to warm up, one harsh winter ago. Ill dressed for the terrain and the weather, the baby struggling in the conditions, the father holding it inside his coat, looking frightened. Then out and past the grouse butts and through the gate into the forest. I noticed the wall, with crenellations and marvel at the neatness, even after all these years, the wall being at least one hundred years old.

They laid a new track up Ditch Clough, to get the landy’s up there with their expensive cargoes of shooters. It makes for a nice descent down in to Westend coming out on the track nearby the remains of Westend Farm, now long gone.

A good days moorland walking. One to remember.

Dark Peak

 

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Alport Moor looking over to Grinah Stones

I had a day out on the high moors of the Dark Peak last Friday. The more I visit this area, the more time I want to spend here.  In large measure it is the desolation, the quietness. No paths on a map mean very few people, long windswept views and time.

Just after the trig I sat on a spot height and just looked at the landscape. Following its contours with my eyes, seeing the shapes, curves, how sensual the wind and rain have made this moor with its rises and falls, like the shape of a woman laying on her side.

Following the curves with my eyes colours started to split, it wasn’t just brown, there were greens and orange, flame reds, yellows the black oily ooze on the surface of the peat, iridescent with blues and purples. The moor is dotted now with the vivid green, almost fluorescent, shock of Sphagnum Mosses, planted to hold the water there and regenerate the peat. It really is a shocking contrast in the midst of all the earth colours. Soon white cotton grass will bud near the mosses, splashes of white, like an impressionist painting.  A double rainbow arched over Grinah stones against a deep powder blue sky, that changed with each new front of the storm, the sky shifting from blue to white to gray and then deep black.

Then the smell of the moor. The first I detected was of the peat, it was reasonably dry where I sat but the peat gave up its scent, earthy, metallic, primal. An old tree stub poked out of the peat bog grey and stark against the black peat backdrop. As I sat I became aware of another more powerful smell. Sea air, brought in off the west coast by the storm. It was heavy with sea salt and I was immediately transported back five decades to the end of the south pier at Blackpool and the smell of the green salty sea. I faced the wind and breathed deeply savouring the salty taste.