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.

Birchinlee – Peak District

Remains of the railway trestle at Westend, Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park
Remains of the railway trestle at Westend, Peak District National Park

Most people know of the two villages submerged beneath the Ladybower reservoir in the Peak District National Park. Derwent and the lesser know Ashopton villages have become synonymous with the Upper Derwent Valley. Few people realise that there was a third village in the valley, one with a greater population than the other two combined.

Birchinlee was sited on the west side of the valley between the Howden and Derwent dams. Most people now will walk or cycle through the village, perhaps take time to read the information board and maybe stare down into the remains of the pub cellar. Few will walk its streets running north south, the only evidence that something once existed here, is the raised platforms and occasional stone walling.

At its height over 900 people lived here. Schools, library, hospital, pub and homes all were built to house the workforce between 1902 and 1916. The buildings were made from corrugated iron, quick, cheap and sturdy, it is a material you can still find in old buildings today. The reason for the construction of Tin Town, as it became known, was in no small part to do with previous reservoir constructions over the hill in the Longdendale Valley.

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St James’s church Woodhead, Peak District National Park

It was common at the time for workers on the reservoir and dam construction to have to fend for themselves, this included finding accommodation.  When the Woodhead reservoirs were built, living quarters for the men and their families consisted of makeshift shelters constructed out of whatever the men could find, peat, wood, stone, and sited  on the moors above the valley. There was no sanitation, no running water and no provision for health or hygiene. It was not uncommon.

An outbreak of Cholera in the workforce of the Woodhead reservoirs killed many and to add insult to injury the dead were buried outside the grave yard of St James’s church at the village of Woodhead, having been deemed to be socially unsuitable to rest with those interred within the church grounds.

This and other such instances caused a public outcry and it started the move towards better working conditions for workers. Birchinlee village came about partly as a result of such tragedy.

The tragedy today is that very little remains of Tin Town. There are plenty of photographs but little physical evidence. At the end of the construction of the dams the village was dismantled and sold off for scrap. A few buildings did survive and became garden sheds and workshops. Pieces of history that found their way in to the everyday life of surrounding communities.

The only surviving building from Birchinlee, in the Upper Derwent Valley. Peak District National Park
The only surviving building from Birchinlee. Hope, Peak District National Park

If you turn off the main Hathersage to Castleton road at Hope, just opposite the church as though heading for Edale, on the right hand side of the road is a small white corrugated shed. Today it is a hair salon, sat on stone, with white corrugated iron walls and roof, wooden framework painted black and a large window that takes up most of the side facing the road. This is the last remaining building from Tin Town, an important piece of social and industrial history that is all but forgotten.

 

The Derwent Reservoirs

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The original plan for the Derwent Valley Water Board Reservoirs

Here is what the Upper Derwent and Woodlands Valley should have looked like. Originally there were set to be five reservoirs, Howden, Derwent, Bamford, Ashopton and Hagglee, each with a dam spanning the relevant valley.

The first two, Howden and Derwent were constructed at the turn of last century. The Derwent Valley Water Board also had the rights to the water in the Woodlands valley and developed plans to construct three huge reservoirs stretching up the Woodlands valley, consuming the Snake Road and most of the farms and Hamlets on either side.

The major problem with the plan was the Snake Road, one of only two trans Pennine routes, the other being the Woodhead Road. Re-routing the Snake was a major construction project with huge cost implications. To reduce the cost an alternative proposal was put forward. If you have to move the road, why not just construct one enormous dam spanning the Derwent Valley at Bamford and rising to the top of Bamford Edge and across to Win Hill. Both the Derwent and Howden dams would have been consumed  beneath the waters.

Eventually, cost and the inter war years moved the focus on to a third reservoir, Ladybower, stretching from Yorkshire Bridge up to Fairholmes, flooding the villages of Derwent and Ashopton.

Of course if one huge dam had been built there may not have been the Dambusters raid in Germany, no Four Inns walk and the start of Peak District Mountain Rescue, no Upper Derwent Valley.

So there you have it, that’s why the Upper Derwent looks like it does today.

 

 

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.

Boundary Posts

Derwent Valley Waterboard Post
Derwent Valley Waterboard Post

A couple of Sundays ago on Ranger Patrol I went along the East Track towards Howden Reservoir and took the footpath up Howden Clough on to Penistone Stile.

Close to the tiny reservoir I noticed this beautiful cast post placed on the northern side of the stream. The letters DVWB stand for Derwent Valley Water Board, the original builders and owners of the reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley.

I ran my hand over the surface, it was cool and smooth, I could imagine the foundry worker doing the same after it had come out of its sand cast and been polished. An unusual object to find in that location, the thing that struck me about it was the care that had gone in to the design and manufacture of something as mundane as a marker post. It reflects the design ethos of the dams and associated works down the valley. It was important to some one this looked right.

I guess it marks a boundary but I have no evidence for that. Perhaps it is the limit of the water company land or marks the reservoir as belonging to the company. Back at the Ranger Center we could find no reference to it.

Hidden Valleys

Upper Derwent Valley
Upper Derwent Valley

I find myself in the Upper Derwent Valley most weeks of the year, it helps being a Ranger in that area for the Peak District National Park, which gives me a reason to be there, other than loving the beauty of the place.  I first came across the area back in the 70’s when Mick Dyson and I cycled from his home at the side of Tinsley viaduct to the summit of the Snake Pass.  Some feat for a couple of kids and even bigger feat for me, Mick had a 10 speed bike with go faster handle bars, I had a cast off sit up and beg Raleigh with no gears and a saddle that cut you in half.  We cycled up the A57 stopping off at Philips little garden shed where he sold bacon butties and mugs of tea at the side of the road.  We didn’t know it then but we were in the presence of a legend, the hut being Philips precursor to his cafe at Grindleford station.  I don’t recall any scrawled signs giving strict instruction not to ask for mushrooms, because he doesn’t do them and how many more times do people need telling that, but there probably were some.  Dropping down from Moscar Top and crossing the Ashopton Viaduct with the road entrance into the valley on the right I was awestruck by what I saw.  I had never imagined there could be such a wild place, the moors seemed brooding, oppressive and menacing, especially to a skinny lad from Rotherham who had only ever seen the woods at the bottom of the street and, once a year, Blackpool Tower.  It would be a long time before I ever ventured up that road but when I did eventually drive up to the Ranger centre I was captivated by what I saw and experienced.  The first impression of that drive was one of grandeur, majestic trees and towering ridges.  It was, for me, an epiphany, I had come home.

The valley is conjoined by a series of cloughs, miniature secluded valleys, the joy of which is their isolation from the outside world.  You never know quite what you will find or indeed if you will ever emerge once you have stepped down from the rim off the moorland that sits above the clough.  This action is often the first part of the adventure for there is rarely a path down and you have to find the best way, often a scramble over greasy, moss encrusted gritstone.  A frisson of fear shivers through the body as you hold on as tight as can be done with cold fingers and an unsure step.  Grabbing at clumps of grass and fern probably isn’t the most sensible way to achieve descent but then who ever said walking had to be sensible?  Reaching ground a decision has to be made where to go for there are no human signs to guide you.  The clough is thick with bracken, waist high and smelling fresh and green.  It makes walking difficult, your feet cannot be seen so you trust in touch, judgement and luck and the bracken wraps around your feet so every so often you need to stop and force your legs through the tangle.  Working along the sides I start to gradually descend until my eye is caught with some feature that looks interesting.

Best are the old quarry workings now engulfed by nature they fascinate me.  Man was here before I was and he wasn’t having fun he was hewing stone from these ancient rocks.  How did he arrive in this isolated place, did he walk, was there a form of transport.  In winter was he drenched in sweat and rain or snow, cold hands working colder tools to break rock and for what, what was so special about this place that it needed to become an industrial site, where did the rock go to, what was it used for.

You can stop and sit here for hours; no one will disturb you it’s yours for as long as you want.  Find a rock or a grassy shelf and just take it in.  Once the clough has got used to you being here it goes back to its normal life.  Birds flit about eating, collecting, and the odd rustle in the bracken indicates some creature going about its business.  At times I think I can here voices and steel hitting gritstone and fancy I see men working away whilst in the background a stream bubbles away running along the floor.

One day for whatever reason the men left and no longer was the stone required.  Why is lost now, no one thought to document these places and so they slipped back to nature who re-claimed them and continued on the process of millions of years.