Strange objects in the Peak District

Sighting Pillar
Sighting Pillar near Upper Head Moss. Peak District National Park

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.

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.
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Heather moorland – Peak District

Typical Dark Peak heather moor. Peak District National Park
Typical Dark Peak heather moor. Peak District National Park

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.



Secret places of worship – Peak District

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.


Upper Derwent Valley – Peak District

Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park. Paul Besley
Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park.

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.

Buy the book here

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.



Short Escapes – Peak District

Short escapes into the Peak District National Park are within reach of anyone. All it takes is a few hours after work for a walk.

Alison and I started to escape at the end of our workday a few months ago. So far we have had short escapes in the Dark Peak to the reservoirs around Bradfield, Burbage Valley, Higger Tor, Carl Wark, Stanage Edge, and last night Owler Tor.

The plan is simple.

  1. Pick a night when there will be a fair chance of a nice sunset
  2. Somewhere within 30 minutes or so of home
  3. Nice food for tea, or supper if you are posh
  4. Make sure we have a view.

A close watch on the weather is always good, so looking at the forecast a few days in advance of a planned escape. The place to eat should be facing west for the sunset and not too far from where we are. Food, is simple tasty and what we have in the cupboards.

  1. Picnic or cooking kit
  2. Insulated jacket to put on if need be, plus a head torch in case.
  3. Camera
  4. Phone for uploading pics to Social Media

We cooked last night, on our new pans from Alpkit which worked really well. Come 19:30 the sun was dropping and the temp started to fall, so on with the jacket. Eat, drink tea and chat whilst watching the sun set. We took photos and uploaded some to twitter and Instagram, it’s amazing where you can get 4G these days. I kept switching the phone from airplane mode to conserve battery power.

And we chatted. Both of us had a few busy days, as well as dealing with the occasional bit of tough stuff along the way. It was a nice way to unwind. A really nice way. Alison talked about new ventures and projects, it was lovely to just sit and listen. A few people were around doing the same thing I guess. The best was a couple with four dogs who sat on the edge of Owler Tor looking out to the sunset. The dogs all sat in a line, all facing west making a connection. A part of my day that had me a smidgeon upset, became settled and was no longer important.

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

Ouzelden Clough – Peak District

Around this time each year I pay a visit to Ouzelden Clough that sits at the head of the Ouzelden inlet in the Upper Derwent Valley. Another couple of weeks and the Clough will become submerged under a green blanket of waist high bracken, hiding all the interesting little features that make this Clough special.
Ouzelden Clough is a narrow, almost perfectly right-angled valley, cut out of the gritstone and peat by the Ouzelden Brook which drains the pastures of Rowlee and Birchinlee and decants the waters, along with its tributaries, out of its north-east facing mouth into the Derwent reservoir. Walk its length east to west and you will have risen 600ft in little more than a mile, finishing on the wide open moorland that separates it from Alport Dale. It sits like a long forgotten land amidst the great moors above and the vast waters below.
The hidden entrance to the Clough intensifies the mythical island feeling. You step off the reservoir road and follow a forest track, through oak woodlands and across a flat plain pasture to the bank of Ouzelden Brook. As I walked across the flood plain I could see long thin beaches of gravel, brought down from the peat moorlands last winter. The sedge was still flat in places and further up stream laid a beech tree its large flat root base sticking out of the water and above the bank. The rains collect on the moors until the peat can absorb no further downpours and then it heads down the brook, breaking out of the banks and spreading wide across the flat grassy pasture. Today the waters were low, a short step and I was across to the remnants of an old dry stone wall from the days when farms stretched out along the valley floor. The word Ouzelden is a combination of Ouzel or Ousel, the bird, and den meaning pasture. So this is the pasture of the Ouzels. Ouzelden Barn sat by the brook, now all that remains are some low walls. When they built the reservoirs in Derwent Valley there was a thought that some buildings might contaminate the waters and so they were removed.
I sat on a small grassy knoll and watched the woodland, a mixture of ancient oak, scots pines and modern forest plantation. A Short Eared Owl flew through the trees, its flight straight and silent. It was the wingspan that caught my attention a long straight block of brown moving horizontally across the eye line. As it passed each tree the image of the bird flickered like a Victorian zoopraxiscope. It disappeared into the darkness of the woodlands interior but my gaze still held the last point I saw it, as if I was waiting for it to return.
The Owl did not return and I moved on up to the old quarry that was used to provide stone for the dam construction in the early part of last century. There are the remains of a small stone hut, perhaps the foreman’s office, still clearly defined. It is a favoured spot of mine for watching and brewing, the low walls making a perfect seat. From here you can see the whole of Ouzelden Clough and out across Derwent reservoir and onwards to Howden moor. The land curves where the waters have cut their way through peat and stone. Steep slopes extend down to the valley floor and along the moorland edge are outcrops of millstone grit. Here in the quarry the stone edge is high from the removal of material for the constructions. Mounds of spoil, grassed now, dot the floor of the quarry, piles of stone, some worked lay around as if found to be wanting in quality and therefore not required. On some you can see initials, carved by the quarrymen perhaps in an idle few minutes. The features that I have come to see are tracks. The tracks work their way up the slopes, away from the quarry floor, intermittently switching back in the opposite direction forming a zigzag pattern up the slope. Where the track changes direction there is a stone seat for want of a better word. It is embedded into the slope at ground level and comprises of a back and two sides mounted around a base, sometimes the base is missing. They are always at the junctions where tracks meet.

I have spent the last few years tracing these tracks and their features, imagining what they were for. In my minds eye I see workmen walking along the pathways from the top of the quarry to the bottom. I see them hewing away at the crag face and fashioning blocks to be taken down to the construction site in the valley below. In winter this would have been a cold depressing place to work. In the rain too.

When access land was introduced the national park installed fencing and a stile from the quarry out on to the moor above. They thought at that time people would come in drives. They haven’t. Save for, what I assume are workmen’s tracks, the only other trails are sheep trods from the valley floor to the moor. Occasionally I see a human footprint, but to all intent and purpose Ouzelden Clough is a hidden valley.

Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks – Peak District

Image of a B29 Superfortress engine on Bleaklow, in the Peak District National Park. Part of Walk No 20 in Dark Peak Walks
B29 Superfortress Engine on Bleaklow. Part of Walk No. 20 in Dark Peak Walks

Many of the walks in the Peak District National Park that are in the book Dark Peak Walks pass by or close to many of the aircraft wrecks that are on the moors. They make for an interesting navigational challenge and often a poignant reminder of the fragility of human life. Many aircrew survived the crash, but many did not. The wrecks in the Peak District National Park, range from a 1918 Tiger Moth to modern day planes. Many but not all, are military. RAF Mountain Rescue was based at Harpur Hill and played a vital role in rescuing aircrews. They also removed any sensitive equipment. Some sites contain a large amount of plane debris, others very little or none at all. Some sites are marked with a form or memorial, a simple cross, a plaque, others are unmarked and simply a very small pile of metal.

If you do make a journey out to a wreck, please act appropriately with respect for the site and do not remove any material.


Full list of Peak District walks in the Dark Peak Walks book

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Ordnance Survey Map Markings

Ordnance Survey map 2017 Derwent Moor, Peak District National Park
Ordnance Survey map 2017, Derwent Moor
Ordnance Survey map 1884 of Derwent Moor Peak District National Park
Ordnance Survey map of Derwent Moor 1884

This week seems to have been all about Ordnance Survey and surveyors markings. The OS maps tell secrets if you know how to read them.

The present day maps don’t just allow us to get from A-B without getting our feet wet. If you know what you are looking for and have the time to do a bit of research they can be portals into history. The lines on the map aren’t just a whim, they actually mean something, occasionally something of social, political and economic importance.

Take the two maps above, both of Derwent Moor, the top a present day 1:50 OS map, the bottom one from the 1880’s. Notice the dash and dotted line on the top map running from the road bottom right to Dovestone Tor top left. It has the words Boundary Stones written underneath and above plus the words “Met Dist Bdy” in grey above the line. Met Dist Bdy is Metropolitan District Boundary. The line denotes the boundary here between Yorkshire or originally Hallamshire and Derbyshire.

The county boundary is the same on the 1882 map runs the same line as today, but it is not called that. Bottom right are the words “Union By”. The line is still a dot and a dash denoting County and Parish but the addition of Union By gives it a more sinister meaning. It meant Union Workhouse with each Union having a specific area tin which they were responsible for the application of the Poor Laws.

To the right of the boundary and you were within Bradfield or Ecclesall Union territory. To the left and you were in Hathersage. There were workhouses at High Bradfield and also on the Sheffield to Manchester road at Hollow Meadows, both are now residential properties.

It was important to know which side of the boundary a person was on, financial gain depended on it for the Union, and a less harsh environment could be available for the inmate, not all had treadmills. Hence the boundary stones, marking the line and which would be checked each year when officials of the parish would Beat the Bounds. Boundary stones were often placed as markers to avoid being on the wrong side of the boundary. These stones are still in place.

County, Parish and Union Workhouse Boundary on Derwent Moor. Peak District National Park
County, Parish and Union Workhouse Boundary on Derwent Moor.

This is the boundary today. A gamekeeper track now runs along its length from the Strines Road almost to Dovestone Edge as it crosses Derwent Moor. In the picture on the right of the track can be seen one of the boundary stones, there are several more along the line along with several Ordnance Survey benchmarks on the gritstone rocks that are scattered around the boundary line.

All that history from two square kilometres on the map. Next time you are on Derwent Edge and get to Dovestone Tor turn away from the edge and follow the line on the map and have a look.


Dark Peak Walks Book

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

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This guidebook describes 40 walks in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park. Ranging from short strolls to full-day adventures, they showcase the region’s unique character. Dramatic waterfalls, striking gritstone edges, heath and woodland are just some of the delights encountered, with many of the routes venturing off-path to explore hidden cloughs and valleys. Detailed route description is provided for 35 walks, accompanied by 1:50,000 OS mapping and interesting facts about local points of interest, then a further five longer walks (of 25-45km) are summarised in the final section, including a classic circuit of the Kinder Scout skyline.

Taking in the high moors of Derwent, Bleaklow, Kinder and Howden, the walks reveal not only the area’s wild beauty but also some of its fascinating stories. 10,000 years of history lie waiting to be uncovered – from Neolithic burial mounds and Bronze Age cairns to remnants of the region’s more recent industrial past. This guide is a perfect companion to discovering the secrets of the Dark Peak and experiencing its magnificent landscape in all its glory.