A few hours in the Peak District – Burbage

Alison and I live on the edge of the Dark Peak and recently we have taken to escaping to the Peak District National Park for a few hours of an evening. Pack up some food, a flask of tea, camera and away. The thing is not to make it complicated and to do it for just a few hours.

Last night we paid a visit to Burbage Valley, Carl Wark and Higger Tor. Almost clear skies meant that a flaming sunset was in the offing, so some good photo opportunities. As often happens on these small excursions a subject presents itself and last night it was gritstone markings, manmade and natural. Burbage Valley is full of them if you keep the eyes peeled and know what to look for.

We found declarations of love and ownership. The remains of World War Two still evident on the bullet pockmarked boulders that lay all around. Did none of these bullets ever ricochet off and kill someone I always wonder. Natural rock features that look like a human fist. And what could possibly be the progenitor to the grouse water bowls on Stanage Edge, what look to be natural rock bowls, eroded by wind, rain and ice all around Higger Tor.

Three hours from house to return and we had a small adventure and tea in the park.

All of the items mentioned in the post can be found on or near walk 4 and walk 5 of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press

 

Peak District Gritstone Graffiti

The mixed “VM” appears on lots of Peak District gritstone from the 17th and 18th century. Of the possible explanations three seem to be the most probable. The first is that it is a Catholic sign for the Virgin Mary in the era of the Reformation, when persecution of Catholics was rife following the Glorious Revolution of 1689 when James the second a Catholic sympathiser was overthrown.

Practicing Catholics marked boulders and buildings with the ‘VM” inverted or otherwise to signify places where people gathered for worship. Which may fit with the markings on the gate post that sits in a dry stone wall above Marsden near Standedge Tunnel. Close by is an old farm with mullioned windows from the same period.

It could also be used to signify supporters of the protestant William and Mary who became joint monarchs in 1689 following the Glorious Revolution. The use of the intertwined WM was seen as a denouncement of the Catholic VM. As may well be the case with the markings at Stanedge Pole near Stanage Edge in the Peak District. Or perhaps these signified Catholic markings and were connected to the Catholic Chapel at Padley where the priests were caught, hung drawn and quartered and became Martyrs in the process.

Of course it could just plainly be some ones initials and they liked chiseling it on to gritstone.

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.

Gritstone Graffiti

It pays to keep your eyes open on a walk in the Dark Peak. It is also an advantage to look around at the gritstone that forms this wonderful landscape, because you might just spot some graffiti from another age.

Centuries ago people signified their claim on the land by making marks in the rock. These would often be used to signify boundaries and ownership. Beating the bounds, an annual perambulation, a word that means to traverse to inspect, meant a walk across the moors to check the marks were still there. Parish boundaries were a favourite as were boundaries where two estates met.

Some marks were simple crosses, such as the one on Hathersage Moor, made in the 19th century and which lies between the Sheepfold and Higger Tor. Others combined initials or motifs, such as the ‘T’ and ‘E’ at Back Tor on Derwent Edge. This one also sits beside and early surveyors mark made by the Ordnance Survey.

 

Grouse Water Bowls

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Grouse Water Bowl No.8 on Stanage Edge

I had a wonderful walk recently up onto gritstone edges then home across moorland, no more than 8 miles with less than 200m of ascent over the whole route, this gentle saunter gave me time to appreciate a unique aspect of this particular landscape.

Alison dropped me at Moscar on a Snake road cloaked in low cloud so that I could get easy access onto Stanage Edge. This is the easiest way in, with little ascent and a good view across the Moscar moor to Derwent Edge and Win Hill to keep the eyes occupied. I got on to the Edge by the old quarry, passing the boundary stones marking Mr Wilson and Mr Mappin land ownership. Didn’t they trust each other I wondered, Stanage Edge is a pretty obvious boundary line surely.

By the old quarry are some fine grouse water bowls, carved by George Broomhead, no relation of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, who are no relations of the Wilsons of Moscar Moor who didn’t have a hall but did have and to my knowledge still have a snuff mill in Sheffield. Wilson, the snuff one, had young George carve out great long lines of these bowls to, it is said, provide water for the parched grouse that were the moors only inhabitant. They say there are 108 of them, how long it took I don’t know. These are little works of art in a way. Beautiful bowls of all shapes and sizes carved into the gritstone boulders of Stanage Edge and the moor beyond. Each bowl has one or more runnels, exquisitely chased into the stone to channel water into the small reservoirs. The skill to produce these flat-bottomed ‘Vees’ and the lozenge-shaped bowls is evident to see. What is not so apparent is the choice of boulder and the position of the bowl. George Broomhead must have watched during downpours to see which would be most efficient at collecting the water, for these are not like the dewponds of the White Peak, these rely on rain water. And then have worked out the best position and shape of the collecting bowl and where to position the feeder runnels.

Each bowl is numbered, although these are not consecutive so I suspect the whole were not completed in one go, but in stages as the moor was developed for grouse. As yet I have not found one that bears Georges name or initials or that of his employer, but I live in hope.  Many of the ones away from the edge are overgrown with heather and moss, making it difficult to locate them, which all adds to the day out, a bit of detective work and a frisson of excitement at a find. I have spent a good few hours in such activity and as a consequence have covered the moor more deeply than I would normally, which has brought other delights too.

 

History on Higger Tor

Yesterday I spent a few hours on Hathersage Moor and Higger Tor seeing if any benchmarks shown on old maps would still be evident today.

The image from the old map above is taken from a survey of the Moor carried out in 1852. Would the benchmarks shown still be there, did they actually exist or were they just markings on the map showing where a measurement had been taken from? What did they actually look like?

The one on Higger Tor, (Higher Tor), seemed to be the easiest to find. It’s the small arrow between the ‘r’ and ‘T’ of ‘Higger Tor’. The marking is not to scale obviously, nearby there is a triangle denting a triangulation point. It also has lots of features to aim from and sure enough that’s how it turned out. It took a while of rummaging around and at first I was looking for a benchmark on a vertical surface and chiselled in the style that is normally seen on buildings and gate posts. Then I found it, on a large flat stone, in the middle of the edge path. The marking was on a horizontal surface and pointed west, not north as in the map. It was a simple arrow with no levelling line at the tip of the arrow. The mark was still very clear, although if you weren’t looking for it you probably wouldn’t notice it. Did they take the measurement and then make the mark or vice versa? A Benchmark denoted a levelling point, hence the number, in feet, nearby, and the triangle marked the spot for triangulation. Are they one and the same place or was the triangulation in a different spot. Close by there was a spot that would have been perfect for a tripod and theodolite.

Dropping down from the Tor onto the Moor I set out to find the other two marks that are shown on the map as you head south-west towards the walled enclosure. Success was not to be mine. I needed to do a great deal more work on the position of the marks. The bracken hid many boulders and time had allowed moss and lichen to grow over a large number. I didn’t want to disturb too much so looked but could not find the two.

I did find other items of interest though. A possible burial cairn, complete with chamber. A partially finished grindstone, some way from the traditional grindstone fields and more markings that were different to the Ordnance Survey marks.

A few hours spent walking in the foot steps of surveyors and masons and perhaps Bronze Age man.

Dark Peak Gritstone graffiti

Its always nice to find some interesting graffiti when out on the Peak District. Gritstone retains the carved word really well.

Today I had a walk in the Woodlands Valley and paid a visit to the Alphabet Stone by Bellhagg Barn, below Bellhagg Tor. The stone has the alphabet carved in both upper and lower case. Legend has it that the carving was done by the local school teacher as a means of keeping the children occupied  when he had to leave for brief periods to tend to sheep, he being a part time shepherd too. I can certainly picture children tracing out the words with their fingers.

Nearby is another stone with graffiti. This says Red Dragons and the initials WF. The words seem to have been scratched on to the stone, unlike the Alphabet Stone which has been carved, so may have been put there by someone not used to stone work. Who were the Red Dragons and who was or is WF I do not know.

Autumn

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The East Track approaching Derwent Dam, Peak District

The September Equinox and Solstice will soon be upon us, my favourite time of year. The photo is of the East Track along Derwent Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley last year. Nature put on a wonderful display before its winter slumber.

I am often to be found in woods in autumn, especially beech and oak. I like the smell as the trees release their fragrance out into the air, earthy and rich in truth. After a dry summer the woodland floor will be dry, the leaves creating deep carpets of orange and gold, the colours of the earth starting to rest.

It has already started to get dark earlier now, 7:30pm and the sun is going down. A well-timed walk in late afternoon rewards with deepening shadows as the sun heads for the horizon a blazing golden ball, so bright nothing else can be discerned. It is a wonderful spectacle.

Out in the Peak District you can find ancient woodlands, woods of oak and beech, intermingled with the gritstone, warmed by the autumn sun. Some of the woodland is hundreds of years old, some a mere few decades.

Back in 2014 I helped school children plant a new wood in the Woodlands Valley. Two thousand native beech trees, planted by the hand of a future generation. When they reach my age they can take their grandchildren into the wood they planted and sit and watch the autumn sun setting and the shadows stretching out towards them. Now isn’t that something.

The Grand Hotel

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Mixed weather last week meant walking in sunshine or low cloud if you picked your days right. I picked both, sun along the Chew Valley edges and low cloud along Stanage Edge. I could have done with sun on Stanage but who am I to argue.

I like Stanage Edge especially the Plantation and the Popular End. Lots going on with climbers on any day and at any time crawling all over the set menu. Climbers always seem to have that little bit extra fun over walkers, as though they have unlocked the secret of the land whereas walkers are merely bystanders looking on wistfully. The verticality of a climbers walk is the thing I guess. It just requires a bit more skill than walking, even though it’s still one foot in front of the other, and you have to use your hands, which you don’t have to in walking. Climbers go where walkers cannot and that makes them a little more special. Of course once you have climbed to the top, especially on Stanage, then all you can do is going back down and climb up again, sort of Groundhog Day repetition, with walking the scenery keeps moving past you on a conveyor bringing you new delights all the way through.

I invariably stop off at Robin Hoods Cave as I work my way across the edge. I am still amazed people do not know about this place. It’s on the map. Dropping down from the path and working across to that great slab still brings excitement, particularly on a day with good weather, dark clouds or bright, it’s all good. Always a relief to get inside and find no one has used it as a toilet, there is usually the odd can or two to clear up before settling down with a brew and gaze out of that window. It really is magical. Read enough climbing history and you can place the people at the side of you, have a meeting if you like, discuss the finer points of how to name a route, Christmas Crack is still my favourite here, but best of all time has to be Ed Drummonds, A Dream of White Horses. (Between the sea and sky, a white sheet. Ed Drummond). But that’s in Wales by the sea, which Stanage definitely is not these days.

They called it The Grand Hotel in the 60’s, all those names that became icons. It’s a good and fitting name. Smacks of sticking a finger up to the establishment whilst at the same time accurately describing the lodgings for a nights bivvy. Its a shame the sun doesn’t rise through the balcony, you have to be content with seeing the valley reveal itself in the dawn. Worse ways to wake up of course. It has a sandy floor which comes as a surprise and with the balcony has the effect of being on a beach looking out to see over a sandcastle wall. On the walls if you look carefully you can see the calling cards  of many who have booked bed and breakfast here over the years, climbers, perhaps lovers even, achieving ecstasy in the moonlight, with a view.

Drystone Walls

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Peak District Drystone Wall

I often wonder about the drystone walls that form the field boundaries in the Peak District. The White Peak has limestone walls enclosing a larger number of small sized fields than the Dark Peak gritstone. This is a result of habitation and enclosure for sheep rearing being more concentrated in the south of the area.

Gritstone is a dark line stretching far in to the horizon. Dark Peak fields have a tendency to be larger and more uniform in shape until you reach the high moorlands then the walls run straight, up and down cloughs enclosing as much area as possible.

Gritstone walls are dark. They used to be sand coloured but years of weather and pollution have discoloured them so that now the sit as part of the moorland landscape as though they were made for each other. The stone came straight out of the land where the wall sits, why would you transport stone from miles away to just build a wall. They have a smooth side and a rough side. Stacking the stone would mean aligning one side leaving the opposite with all sorts of lumps and bumps. There was no need to dress this rough side, it wasn’t supposed to be decorative, so it just got left. One result of this was that the good side tended to face the landowner, so it looked good at the end of being built, the landowner was happy and the builders got paid, it also gave an indication of who owned the wall.

If you stay long enough you can see and find lots of interest in a drystone wall. I once sat and watched a stoat weave in and out of a wall. He would enter through an unseen hole and then minutes later reappear in a completely different spot. The walls can hold secret letter boxes, used long before geocaching became popular, they hold note books, letters, drawings for the seeker to add to.

At the beginning of spring in 2013, the walls disappeared under huge snow drifts, removing miles and miles of features and making walking a lot more interesting, if only to avoid hitting your shins on an unseen wall.

In recent years walls in need of repair were left, and a wire fence erected to plug the breach. But there is signs of a renaissance in drystone walling. On my way to the Ranger Centre this last few months I have driven past Sugworth Hall where a little down the road a wall has been renovated, or is it maintained. The old wall taken down and then rebuilt, with new stone added where necessary. Hopefully this can happen to others.