A great family day in the Peak District

 

 

This is probably one of the best book reviews I have received, if not the best. Messages like this make everything worthwhile, especially when the young have such a fantastic time out in the Peak District.

Daniel Simpson sent me this message via facebook of a day out with his family. They chose to do PB Walk 5 Grindleford to Higger Tor. If you want to introduce children to walking and have a good time, then this is definitely the walk to do. Thank you to Daniel and his family.

Hi Paul. Just wanted to say how much we enjoyed our walk today. By far and away the highlight was just how much my son’s enjoyed themselves they wee enjoying it every bit as much as me if not more so. So often I feel like I’m cajoling them in to something they’re not massively keen on but the past two Sundays have been an absolute blast. I didn’t really use the guidebook whilst walking last week but we had loads of time today so I let my 10 year old lead the way following the instructions, when we were at the rear of the chapel and he realised where he was stood was the same as the one in your book it blew his mind…it was lovely honestly, he was almost starstruck and later on when we walked past the gritstones he recognised those as well and demanded the book to confirm what he was seeing was the one from the book. I managed to snap him posting and getting good really giddy, it looks contrived but he was going ‘look !…that’s those from the book’. Thanks again, really enjoyed it today.

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Grindleford Station walk – Peak District

Readers off Dark Peak Walks enjoying the first group walk. Dark Peak Walks. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
Readers of Dark Peak Walks enjoying the first group walk.

It has been a busy few days of late. A couple of call outs with MR, SARDA dog training, and preparation work for magazine articles and walks for the forthcoming books.

Sunday was a big day in a nice sort of way. A group of us went for a walk in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, one from my book Dark Peak Walks.

Speed Limit at Grindleford Station. Peak District National Park. PB Walk 5, Dark Peak Walks Book. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
Speed Limit at Grindleford Station. Peak District National Park

Fourteen people and four dogs set out from Grindleford Station and walked up to Higger Tor, PB Walk 5 in the book, only we did it in reverse so that we could visit Padley Chapel on one of its rare open days.

The Money Tree, Padley Gorge
The money tree in Padley Gorge

Walking up Padley Gorge with the stream thundering below us was a wonderful experience. We came across a money tree, lost of these popping up across the Peak District now.

Arriving at Carl Wark with Higger Tor in the background, Dark Peak, Peak District National Park. Dark Peak Walks book. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
Arriving at Carl Wark with Higger Tor in the background.

It was lovely to meet and talk with so many people interested in the Dark Peak and have a leisurely walk in the wonderful weather. Considering all the rain we have had the day was sunny and warm. The recent wet weather did work in our favour though with a marvellous display of heather across the moors. I cannot ever remember seeing the heather so vibrant in colour, huge great swathes of purple and pink stretching as far as the eye could see. It made for wonderful photo opportunities and great shots appearing on social media later.

The glorious heather surrounding Carl Wark
Vibrant heather on Carl Wark

I got a chance to show people things that are not in the book. Writing and publishing a book becomes a balancing act of what to put in and what to leave out. It is one of the reasons I started this blog, there is so much out there that is interesting in fields as diverse as human activity, wildlife, geology, cartography, history, anthropology, war, it is all there if you know how and where to look.

On Sunday we covered the provision of clean drinking water for the major cities surrounding the Peak District National Park and land ownership of the landed gentry on the Longshaw Estate. Then we moved on to World War II training grounds in the Burbage Valley along with the air raid defences around Sheffield near the Houndkirk Road. We visited the Iron Age hill fort at Carl Wark, packhorse routes across the Peak District and cartographic surveying by the Ordnance Survey on Higger Tor. We passed by the boundaries of Union Workhouses in the 19th century around Hathersage and Sheffield, sheep and crop enclosures on Hathersage moor. Setting of back to Grindleford we looked at millstone production at Bole Hill and discussed the changing fortunes of millstone production caused by the fashion for white bread. Saw the massive civil engineering on the quarry incline that transferred stone from Bole Hill to the Derwent Valley dam construction.

Padley Chapel window
Side window in Padley Chapel

Finally the fate of catholic martyrs in the 16th century at Padley Chapel that we were able to visit and have a guided tour.

We walked and talked for six hours and it was an absolute delight. And to top it all people gave £40 in donations that will go to Glossop and Woodhead Mountain Rescue Teams, for which I am ever so grateful.

To everyone who came thank you so much for your on going interest and your support of Mountain Rescue. After this success, general agreement seemed to be for another walk perhaps in winter, when we have had a good dusting of snow.

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

Ordnance Survey surveyor marks

Lots of discussion on social media this weekend about Ordnance Survey marks on the gritstone of the Dark Peak in the Peak District. A topic that fascinates me with every walk including a foray into the wilderness to try to find some elusive mark made more than a century and a half ago.

Top left is a benchmark used to establish height at a point on the footpath to Stanage End from Moscar.

Below that is a benchmark used to mark a survey position on Higger Tor.

Top right is a really interesting one. An arrow below a square box with a dot in the middle. This denotes a survey height taken from the ground and not estimated. On modern maps today these are denoted as a black dot with a height number as opposed to an orange dot which denotes a measurement taken from the air.

Bottom left is a lovely levelling bolt, indicating a survey position near Laddow Rocks.

Bottom right two survey marks, one for levelling and one for triangulation found on Back Tor on Derwent Edge. On the left hand mark is a benchmark made by Lieut Barlow RE when he carried out the triangulation in 185. The right hand mark denotes a spot height taken in 1854 by Capt Kerr RE to establish the contour lines.

All heights back then used the Liverpool datum and approximate average of the sea height there. Nowadays the OS maps use the Newlyn datum taken from the tidal measuring station in Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall.

 

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

 

Winter on Hathersage Moor

Monty and Olly on Hathersage Moor, Peak District National Park
Monty and Olly on Hathersage Moor

As I look out of the window a few flakes of snow are drifting around, the first real snow flakes this year and the only second lot of snow this winter. Walking in the Peak District National Park when there is snow on the ground is a real joy. Care has to be taken as the weather often changes quickly from a nice winter scene to one of life threatening survival.

I have a friend out on Kinder Scout today, running the Kinder Dozen, a gruelling route up and down the flanks of the plateau. In winter conditions this is one serious undertaking, but well prepared can be a fine way of spending a day out on the high moors.

Some of the best days out walking have been in winter. Back in 2013 I was leading a group of walkers around the White Peak. It snowed heavily in the night, fifteen foot snow drifts were not unusual, so there was no use of the car. We elected to walk from the hotel down in to Dovedale and follow it up to Milldale. We were the first people in the dale. All was white and quiet, and curves. Not a single footprint existed, the land was formed by white billows of snow, obliterating walls and footpaths. It was like walking into Narnia. We all walked without talking, just enjoying the surreal experience.

The picture above was taken a few years ago on Hathersage Moor. When we set out it was just a normal winter day, no snow, but a heavy sky. By mid afternoon it had all changed and as we dropped down from Higger Tor the scene changed to a complete whiteout, unusual in the Peak District. We were heading for the enclosure but that had disappeared. Walking on a bearing we found the walls and then on to Mother Cap. At all times, literally just a few hundred meters away from a road, but we might as well have been in the middle of Bleaklow for all we could see.

Monty and Olly enjoyed it hugely and collected huge great balls of snow on their coats. A day never to forget. Getting out there is what makes the memories.

Hathersage Moor appears on Walk No.5 of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press

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.

 

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.

The Long Causeway on Stanage

Wild Ash trees in Bole Hill Quarry
Wild Ash trees in Bole Hill Quarry

I took a walk along Stanage Edge the other day.  A friend, Mark Richards and I set off from Grindleford station, bypassing the bacon butties and pints of tea and climbed up the old rail incline to reach Bolehill quarry.  It’s a strange looking place as you view the quarry through the vertical blinds of wild ash trees that have colonised the area since working ceased.  It makes for wonderful views and eerie monochromatic photography art galleries in London would probably pay handsomely for.   Light showers had put paid to most climbers attempts on the quarry face, but there were a couple working their way up towards the top.  On fine weekends it is just like a school yard, with lots of people milling around, climbing, trying new techniques, taking instruction, a hive of activity that is nice to sit and watch. 

We moved on past the abandoned millstones, these always make me wonder if the people who ordered them are still waiting for delivery, and crossed over to skirt the bottom if Millstone edge before claiming the top and a fine view down the Hope Valley, with the ribbon of the Sheffield to Manchester Rail line taking the eye on to Mam Tor and Kinder.  Another group of kids tried some bouldering on Owler Tor and as we passed them I pointed out a superb bivvy spot for future reference.  I know that wild camping and bivvying is illegal in England and Wales, but if it leaves no trace then I cannot see the harm.  I accept there are those who trash a place, there will always be thus, but the vast majority of people do it so that they can enjoy the seclusion and majesty of a night spent out on the hills and a welcoming sunrise to enjoy.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached Stanage, a few people were around, none climbing so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It’s a wonderful edge walk, with fine views down the Hope Valley, and across to Kinder.  Descending The Long Causeway we could see recent damage caused by motorised vehicles, I guess 4×4 or trail bikes or maybe a granny in a Toyota Yaris!!  Huge great gouges in what is left of the surface with clear scraping marks on the rocks.  This is not responsible use of a green way, how can this destruction be seen as right.  Then again on Stanage we had walked across man made stone pathways placed there to alleviate the erosion caused by thousands of pairs of feet, so what’s the difference between tyre and boot??  Been up Black Hill lately of Torside Clough and seen what happens and what needs to be done to arrest erosion caused by our own need to demonstrate our legal right by walking where we want when we want and never mind the consequences.  A few days after our walk along the ancient pack-horse route a decision by the Peak District National Park was taken to close the route to all motorised vehicles.  The blue touch paper has been lit, it now remains to be seen how quickly the rocket goes off. 

We dropped down into Hathersage, narrowly missing tea at the café in Outside and caught the train back to Grindleford to pick up the car.  It was a nice days walk and a good way to explore the grit-stone corridor that abounds the rail line.  Leaving the car at Grindleford and returning by rail meant we could allow our route to unfold, taking direction as the will took us, with no worry about how to get back to our vehicles.    

Odd isn’t it that we used public transport to access wonderful countryside whilst at the very same time vehicular access was being removed to protect a ancient way.   

Maybe that’s how it should be.

The climbers apprentice

Winter on Carl Wark in The Peak District National Park

The first fall of snow in the Peak District National Park found us at the National Trusts Longshaw Estate car park just past the Fox House Inn preparing for a walk up the Burbage valley below Burbage Edge and taking in Higger Tor and Carl Wark. Christmas trees were on sale but sadly there was no discount on the parking for a day at a rate of £4.00. Is that expensive? it sounds expensive for a car park with very few cars in on a winters weekday, but then £4 doesn’t sound a lot. Maybe the spirit of christmas scrooge has become part of me. It was snowing a little as we started to get ready and there was a bit of a cold breeze. I was wearing some new gear so was interested in how it would perform. The Scarpa SL Activ boots which I talked about in the latest gear review. After a session on lacing with Lee at Foothills I was hoping that the boots would have now settled in to my foot shape and I need not worry anymore about heel lift with my left foot. I was also trying my new pair of Paramo Gaiters, along with winter Craghopper trousers, Paramo shirt, Odlo Base layer, Paramo top, Berghaus Windstopper gloves and Marks and Spencer thermal long johns.

I was joined by Alison Counsell from Wapentac and her two Bedlington / Lakeland Cross Terriers, Monty (brown) and Olly (black), who had never seen snow before and were clearly excited at this new environment. After a little struggle getting all the clothes ready, running round the car park after the parking ticket which had blown out of the car, we were ready for the off. It was clear and the snow was holding off as we walked out of the car park and onto the drive that leads away from Longshaw Lodge to the Grindleford Road.

Walking down the drive you look across a pasture, part of the Longshaw Estate, which is separated from the house by a Ha Ha, a victorian landscaping device formed by digging a trench so as to allow an uniterrupted view from one side whilst placing a livestock barrier between the house and pasture. A favourite of su ch landsape designers such as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown the Ha Ha is quite common in Victorian landscapes and parks. The pasture is also significant in that it is the home to the Longshaw Sheepdog Trials which take place each year. Founded in 1898 the trials are the oldest in the country and there is no nbetter way of spending a relaxing day watching the competitors coaxing the dogs to round up the sheep.If you can also at the same time work out what is happening then you have become, in my mind an expert, as I have yet to understand the marking system or what the different whistles mean. Soon another road is met, this one needing care to cross as this is the main road to Hathersage and the crossing point is not far from a bad left hand 90 degree bend. Take care!! You then find yourself with two options, the high route along the top of Burbage Edge or the low route walking on a well made track below the edge. As the wind was quite strong, there had been gales in Scotland and Northern England that last few days, with much damage and even one death and the skies were looking somewhat ominous I chose the lower route which offered some protection. It also meant that Monty and Olly could be let off the lead without fear of being blown off the edge by a gust of wind and they could explore the new environment and this white stuff that coated everything in safety. The track winds its way up the valley between Burbage Brook and Edge and offers fine views of Carl Wark and Higger Tor to the west. The valley itself is managed by the National Trust and has a covering of heather in which the occasional sheep can be found as well as the grouse. Several paths lead across west but we take the track heading north up the valley.

You are walking in Dark Peak or Gritstone country, you take your pick on the names. The land is identified by hard gritstone rock, peat moorland, heather grouse shoots, bog, groughs and cloughs in permanent shade. Gritstone country is wild and at times dangerous and attracts those who are enlivened by such environments. The gritstone itself dates back to the carboniferous period when the valley formed a basin in a tropical climate. Seas and rivers flowed in to the basin depositing sand and sediment which formed the millstone grit rock we see today. To think that 300+ million years ago we would have been in a tropical setting takes some believing when today it is zero degree temperatures and starting to snow.

It was starting to snow now, with dark clouds hanging low over the landscape. The dogs were enjoying running around the rocks and diving in to snow clad heather, their coats collecting powdery snow which collected in long lines along their backs. Olly the black coat would disappear from view in to the heather then re-appear like a shadow in some horror movie, moving across the heather under the black sky. The walking was easy and we talked about Alisons recent developments with Wapentac. Alison Counsell is a metalsmith of world renowned, how many people do you know who are on permanent exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of the top five design museums in the world. A few years back Alison had produced a body of work for an exhibition which included a stainless steel three dimensianal sculpture of an Ordnance Survey map complete with rivers, valleys and contours. This led to a smaller version based on National Parks produced as gifts, they are known as Wapenmaps and a fledgling business was born. The range has expanded now to include maps, lights and botanical sculptures and is being sold in high end shops as well as online. It is nice to be involved with such a business, even on a superficial basis.

The snow was now coming in blustery gusts, interspersed by bright sunshine then moving on to wind, darkening skies and more snow. Passing Burbage Edge I pointed out different climbs and the sometimes anarchic names given to them. The edge is one of the major climbing areas in Britain and is often used for training. On weekends the edge is to found bedecked in colour from ropes, helmets and bodies crawling over every centimeter of it’s surface. Hands and fingers jamming in to crevices, limbs being coaxed and forced in to positions humans were not meant to be got into. Burbage Edge provides climbs for all skills from the easy Byrne’s Crack to hard Equilibrium. The edge is split into areas with names such as Nosferatu, Pebble Mill and the descriptive but innocuous Left End. There are over 600 climbing routes on the edge, enough for anyone and everyone. Today there were no takers, rock and snow and wet not being of particular attractive appeal. Bouldering is also a major pastime in the area and there is bountiful opportunities strewn all across the valley and up towards Higger Tor and Carl Wark. Our track had now led us to the head of the valley, a road blocking the tracks northwards march gave us the chance to try a little danger. So we crossed Burbage Brook tributaries twice to gain the western side of the valley. This was a good test for the Scarpa SL Active boot soles and their adhesion to wet rock. They passed with flying colours and I remained dry, with dignity intact. The Paramo gainters were also performing well and I could detect no build up of heat and moisture so evident in my old less technical gaiters. The dogs were a little reticent at first in crossing the rivers which were in spate, albeit a little one. Eventually they worked out what to do and after the first stream crossing the second was achieved with an air of ease, as though they had been doing it for years and nothing phased them. They have such characters.

We stopped for rest and coffee, taking in the scenery. On the road a man with two youths was pointing to a map and then the landscape. It transpired the youths were to be sent off on an exercise in navigation possibly. They did not look happy. Hands in pockets and heads down they looked as though this was some penance they were having to perform. A sad view, especially from the advantage of age. Cloud was starting to descend now, making visibility poor so we packed up and headed for the summit of Higger Tor. There is a clear path in good visibility that was now shrouded in cloud so we hugged the edge, keeping a few meters inland as it were. The snow was falling harder now, but the ground was still soft so you had to be careful where you put your feet or you could find yourself up to your knees in peat bog. A man we spoke to on the track told us how he had lost his boot by doing just such a thing on the ascent of Higger Tor. We managed to avoid such disasters and soon found ourselves on the summit plateau.

So here is some navigation advice, take it or leave it, to be used in very poor visibility in driving snow. First thing is don’t walk with your head down, trying to avoid the snow. This means you are focussed on your feet and not on what is around you, especially obstacles or worse, nothing at all!! Second, don’t just follow a path, in snow it may not be the path you want or a path at all. Third, keep walking legs short. Stop frequently and study map and compass and uses these to establish your position. Then calculate the next leg. Use pacing to establish how far to walk, compass to establish distance and eyes to discern any identifiable features you can use as handrails and attack points. Fourthly, take your time and do not panic. Stop if you need to and confer with other party members. Fifth and last. Do not attempt short cuts, if you become lost, try and work backwards to a known point or identify a major feature such as a road that you can get access to. Never split the party up. Stay together and stay safe. If visibility is zero and you do not feel confident in navigating find shelter and stay where you are until conditions improve. Do not go beyond your own or the parties limits.

Having said all that, because we were talking I missed our path towards Carl Wark and had to back track when I took my compass out to take a bearing only to realise we were heading north instead of south. I didn’t quite believe it, but chose to put trust in my compass and low and behold it delivered us with pinpoint accuracy combined with some good pacing. Moral. Have faith in your map and compass.

We were now in a whiteout, having to use map and compass to navigate from Higger Tor to Carl Wark a distance of no more than 400m. To anyone who knows the area and I include myself in that group, it seems ridiculous to suggest you would need navigation to walk such a short distance. A few miles from Sheffield, within sight and sound of a road and yet dis-orientation occurred before we knew it and then we were off course. I guess that’s why Mountain Rescue Teams get called out in such circumstances and the person or persons being rescued cannot quite believe they have managed to get themselves into such a situation. All in all a good lesson and I was glad that my map and compass work combined with accurate pacing worked just as they should.

Having reached Carl Wark we lunched whilst watching the whiteout clear and then descend again. Carl Wark is a Iron Age hill fort on a millstone grit outcrop amongst the moorland of the Burbage valley. A sign erected there tells us that the fort was built around 2500BC. That’s some time ago and there is still a wall there built out of gritstone blocks the size of a small garden shed. It’s not certain whether or not people lived here or were stationed here in times of trouble. Inside the wall is a an area strewn with boulders so living quarters would have been haphazard to say the least. It does have commanding views, when there is no whiteout, across the valley and down towards Grindleford. Any enemy approaching the fort would have been seen long before they arrived, which must have made attack difficult.

We descended from the fort and worked our way back over to the track we first walked up in the morning. Along the way we crossed back over Burbage Brook, Monty making it whilst Olly took an early bath, which to his credit he took in his stride. The snow was closing in now and traffic was having trouble getting up a moderate hill past Fox House Inn towards Sheffield. Once over the brow of the hill Sheffield came in to view. There was no snow on the road, no abandoned vehicles, no sliding cars. Such is the vagries of the weather in the Peak District.

Here is the thing that astonishes me. People were here in 2500BC that’s 4500 years ago and they have left an imprint on the landscape that we see today. I have walked where Iron Age man has walked, fought, eaten, slept. Based on four score years and ten, i.e seventy years of life and I know we are told that iron age man did not live to that ripe old age, then there are just 64 generations between me and the people who built this fort. There are five generations in my family now. That is the amazing thing about walking through this landscape we call Britain. We walk where others have and will walk. We are merely a spec of time upon time.