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.
One of the toughest ascents in the Peak District can be found just by Ladybower Reservoir in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park.
Parkin Clough leads up to Win Hill, a total ascent of some 300m in little over one Kilometer. The path, such that it is, is the old boundary wall running up the side of the stream which tumbles down the hillside. Parkin Clough is a narrow V shaped gorge cut by the stream, with steep sides, you would not want to slip down. It is very slippery under foot in wet weather as you are walking along what remains of the wall, with some high stepping required in places to get the thighs and calfs burning.
The climb up Parkin Clough is something of a test piece for fitness, the test being to make it to the top in the shortest time, the quickest I have heard of is 12 minutes unladen and a little over 15 minutes with full hill kit. The test for lesser mortals is to make it to the top without stopping. Ascending to the summit begins at the foot of Parkin Clough by the Peak and Northern Footpath Society signpost and ends when the hand touches the thoughtfully placed triangulation pillar on the top of Win Hill. The views across to the Upper Derwent Valley and along the skyline to Kinder Scout and Bleaklow make the effort worthwhile.
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.