Grindle Barn – Peak District

 

One of my favourite short walks in the Derwent Valley takes me from Derwent Dam, through what remains of Derwent village and up via an old packhorse route onto Derwent Edge. It is not a taxing walk, the ascent up on to the edge a mere 160m along a well marked and in places paved path. What it has that draws me back to it on a regular basis is quietness and contemplation.

Once the crowds have been left behind at the dam I can amble south down the valley along a single-track road, passing along the way a bright red phone box by the gateway to the remaining lodge to Derwent Hall, a terrace of workers cottages and an empty farmhouse. Soon on the left is the old school, no longer in use, the image of the Virgin Mary and Christ above the doorway, telling me that I am on the Roman Catholic side of the valley and therefore on Norfolk land. It is a lovely building; the porch has a beautifully tiled floor with plain black and red Minton tiles and stone benches on either side of the entrance each below a small leaded window. In the garden lays a carved lintel from the Derwent Hall, showing the date and the coat of arms of Henry Balguy a previous owner.

The road continues on through the site of the village, crossing over Millbrook where it becomes a track and soon the way south is barred by a gate. To its left is the bridleway that will take me up on to Derwent Edge, part of the old 14th century packhorse route from Derwent Village in to Sheffield. It begins its ascent by working a ribbon of stone through a meadow, the stone from the old cotton mills of Lancashire, the meadow filled in spring, with Buttercup, Scabious, Saxifrage, Mallow, Cowslip and Cranesbill and more. It is a wonderful and sadly rare sight these days to see a meadow in full bloom. The colours of white, reds, yellows and blues dotted across a huge expanse serves as a painful reminder of what we have lost in the countryside.

The path ends at a collection of stone barns, known as Grindle Barn. The barns are made of coursed and roughly dressed stone with stone roofs. They sit well in the landscape, clustered together on either side of the packhorse trail, the trail having to form an “S” bend as it weaves between the buildings. The first barn is dated 1647 above a doorway and has the initials of “LG”, probably the person who built it structure. A second barn opposite remains closed, but the third around the corner has been converted in to a shelter for walkers and bikers and perhaps horse riders. This is the barn now known as Grindle Barn.

Grindle Barn is one of my main objectives of this walk for it affords a comfortable stopping off point, particularly in inclement weather. There is the best bench in the whole of the Peak District to sit on, placed in such a way as to afford a spectacular view in any season, down the valley to Win Hill on the opposite side. The floor sits high so is not prone to flooding or gathering dirt. The walls are adorned with small tiles, each with a drawing or poem from local children in the villages down the valley. Above the entrance, just a large opening is a carved wooden board, depicting packhorse trains working their way down the trail.

I love to sit here and simply watch. Sometimes people are present or passing by and it is nice to chat about the day, the view, different walks, what flowers are present in the meadow. But it is solitude and watching that I seek most. To find the barn empty is a delight. I can take a seat, and just look. It does not matter about the weather or season. Looking out in winter and studying the old field boundaries, or the long forgotten ways up to the high grounds that snow has now brought back to life, the way it does by laying in the hidden dips long after the rest has melted. In summer the area around the barn is filled with swallows swooping up and down the trail, flashing across the barn opening. Occasionally a mouse will appear, out of the wall, once a stoat suddenly put in an appearance, disappearing as soon as it heard people approaching. I have never seen a horse, much is the pity, and it would be nice to see a small team of horses working their way down into the valley.

Derwent Valley Autumn

It’s beautiful in the Upper Derwent Valley right now. The Beech, Oak and Larch are putting on a fantastic display of colour. The valley is probably one of the best places in the Peak District to see autumn in all it’s glory.

Thankfully the planners and builders of the reservoirs and the present day custodians saw fit to plant glorious woodlands including natural species, hence the colour.

The East Track is the easier walk, no traffic so you can amble along taking in the colours and that wonderful aroma of autumn.

The drive into Fairholmes from the Snake Road has to be one of the best in the country in autumn, a bit like New England, all golds, yellows, reds and browns.

Derwent Dam

Views rarely seen by the public. This is the inside of Derwent Dam. Beautiful crafted walls show the original untainted colour of the stone. The stone is dressed which is amazing considering that it would never be viewed, a nice touch of quality by the builders. There are two staircases in the cross tunnel leading each to the East and West Towers. The interior has a slightly eerie feel to it, monastic in a way. The temperature is constant and the slightly sandy floor gives the impression of the inside of a Pharoahs Tomb to an imaginative mind.

Not many people will know that the Dam stretches for hundreds of feet in to the hillside on both sides, which is one way to stop it sliding down the valley and losing all that water.

The interior of the Dam is made of stone “Plums”. Plum shaped boulders that were placed near to but not touching each other. When the concrete was poured in it filled the gaps and hence no air pockets of weakness.

A common misconception with the Dam is that it was used for target practice during the war. This is not true. The Dambuster Squadron did practice there as it was similar in design to the Mohne and Eider Dams. This fact combined with what seem to be pock mocks on the stonework developed into the myth of the RAF firing at the Dam for practice. The mundane truth about the pock marks is that they were made to accept the scissor lifting device used to place the large and heavy stones into place during construction.

Upper Derwent Valley

Upper Derwent Valley looking over to Derwent Edge from the war memorial.
Upper Derwent Valley looking over to Derwent Edge from the war memorial.

The Upper Derwent Valley has a special place in my life. I spend a good deal of my time there, as a Ranger working out of the Fairholmes Ranger station, or as a walker exploring its many hidden secrets.

It is a long narrow valley, cut by the River Derwent which rises near to Bleaklow a few miles away and up onto the moors. There are three reservoirs all in line and only one access road. This means that as you work your way up the valley civilisation gradually disappears. The hand of man does not quite leave, but you have to know where and how to look,a neolithic burning platform is pretty hard to spot.

The valley sides at the beginning are covered in farm pasture near to the reservoir, a remnant from before the waters came and farming was held close to the two villages Derwent and Ashopton, both now below the waters. The fields have classic enclosures, walled fields, fairly regular in size and shape.

Further up the valley sides moorland starts to assert its presence. Long dry stone walls enclosing fields so large you cannot define the edges. Moorland is peat country and heather, a managed landscape for grouse and for sheep.

Sentinels sit at the top looking down on all they survey. Gritstone edges, long and shear stand out against the skyline. They march down the valley in long straight lines, carved by water and the wind over millions of years. In places, the gritstone sits perilously balanced on a tapered stone post, thin at the bottom and much much wider at the top, so that you feel if you got too close you might topple the lot and ruin millions of years of geological evolution.

On the west side of the valley are the forest plantations of conifer and some mixed woodland. Forest walking is very different from the high moorland. Wide trails, pine needles, quiet, and cool in summer, dark and foreboding on a grey winter afternoon.

All seasons bring a different aspect, as though the valley has its own weather patterns that stick to the established seasons. It is protected to an extent from the outside world by its length and north-south line at the entrance then turning west on to the moors at its birthplace. Because of this, it holds the weather close to itself, once in the weather has difficulty in getting out again.

Get away from the honeypot that is the national park visitor centre and you can have freedom and if you know where to look, solitude. I have my favourite spots, where I can sit and watch, but I won’t be telling where.

Upper Derwent Valley

The first time I drove along Derwent Lane up to Fairholmes was in autumn and to me it felt like driving in to the Yellowstone National Park in America. The leaves had not fallen yet so the trees on either side of the narrow road were like spikes towering into the sky with hues of gold and lime. It lifts me still.

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Derwent Dam, Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park

I have just finished the section for the Upper Derwent Valley in the guidebook I am writing. It is a section I have laboured over with much love as it is where I spend a great deal of my time as a Ranger for the Peak District National Park and as a solo explorer.

The first time I drove along Derwent Lane up to Fairholmes was in autumn and to me it felt like driving in to the Yellowstone National Park in America.  The leaves had not fallen yet so the trees on either side of the narrow road were like spikes towering into the sky with hues of gold and lime. It lifts me still.

I always look across to Derwent edge and the Wheelstones  then down to the reservoir to see how much if any of the old village is showing through the surface. The reasons I chose the area as my Ranger station, the scenery, the geology, the history and the valley does not disappoint on any of these. If you want to explore, discover history then this is the place.

The more time I have spent the narrower my focus has become. Somedays it is a single clough, deep, incised, generally wet but full of hidden nooks and crannies teaming with wildlife and history. I recently spent time in a clough and sat having tea in an old sheepfold now derelict. Near to it was a small ford I had crossed and a flat piece of land, enough for a shepherd to drive sheep out of the fold and onto the flat plain before heading down the valley and into the village, or up on to the high moorland. I sat and imagined the scene in my mind, a shepherd in old worn beige clothing, string around the coat to keep it closed. A Collie keeping the sheep in line stopping them from running away. The noise of the sheep and the sound of the shepherds voice as he gave the dog commands. A real hive of activity now quiet and forgotten.

The sheepfold is on the map and true to OS is there on the ground.