Moors for the Future – Peak District

Westend Moor across to Grinah and Barrow Stones
Westend Moor across to Grinah and Barrow Stones

The Dark Peak is a beautiful wilderness, where solitude can be found and where if we try, we can see some of the most evocative natural wildlife in the country.

Anyone that has walked in the Dark peak for a number of years will have seen the transformation taking place. From a smelly oozy peat bog that made a walk a test of endurance and reduced grown men to tears, the landscape is now all soft grasses, ponds, wildflowers, mosses, bird life and mammals.

It really is a joy to walk across the moorlands, Yes its wet, but so is Manchester on any given day of the year. Man up and put on the waterproofs.

There is a great community of people who love the Dark Peak, I am one of them Our help is needed. Not money. What is needed are your eyes. What wildlife can you observe when you are out in the Dark Peak. What wonderful encounters can you record. Here is a memory of one encounter I had….

The thrill and awe of sighting a Mountain Hare in its winter cloak, white against the gritstone and dark skies. To stand there and just look at the beauty of that creature, not daring to move lest it take flight and the vision would be lost.

Dark Peak Walks

Moors for the Future (MFTF) need our observations about what we see. It really is important that they can record what is happening on the moors. The organisation is responsible for the regeneration of the moorlands we love. To help achieve this they have asked for walkers, runners, bird watchers, anyone who visits the moors to send them details of the life they see each time they are out. MFTF have produced apps to help anyone identify plants, birds animals mammals, reptiles and have developed an easy interface where you can log your finds.

This makes us all central in the development of the moors, you can even have your own monitoring site, volunteer to help, how good is that.

I for one am up for it and I would urge you all to join me. If anyone wants help then just contact me here,

Below are some websites and pages in my blog that help explain everything.

The Mountain Hare

Red Grouse

Cotton Grass

Moors for the Future Apps

The Moors for the Future community website has all the information you could want and explains how we can all take part in the surveys. Click the links below

Moors for the Future Community Science

Right now MFTF are really interested in Hare sightings. If you see any then go here and log the details.

Hare Log

Survey instructions. How to take part.

This is fun and helps a great cause. I might even put in for my own monitoring site. You can volunteer for loads of different tasks the team needs doing.

The Mountain Hare – Peak District

A Grough in the Dark Peak
A grough in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park

Anyone who has walked in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park will know of the Mountain Hare (Lepus Timidus) and how they frequent the high moors and peaty plateaus that range above the valleys.

I followed Lepus Timidus the other day. He led the walk from a position about 25m in front of me, stopping and waiting when the distance between us became too great for normal conversation. We met at the top of a grough on Bleaklow. He startled me as I extricated myself from the fondant slope, fingers clasping onto a tussock of grass. Please hold, I muttered to myself as I hauled my bulk upwards and over to be met with the steady gaze of a Mountain Hare sat on the soft grass of the moor.

As I flailed around, trying with some decorum to get up, his gaze never left me nor did he move. Instead he sat there pondering this strange creature that had suddenly appeared in his world from some place below. Perhaps he thought there may be others, and that his day would be filled with these odd animals with the odd clothes and odd ways of moving over the moor.

I sat up and dusted myself off as well I could, some of the wet peat proving too difficult to remove by hand. The exertion had made my throat dry and as I rummaged around for my bottle I noticed that he, the Mountain Hare, was still there, still watching. I drank water and watched back.

He was a fine animal. Youngish I think judging by his size. His coat was a beautiful mottled grey, almost the colour of gritstone with deeper brown patches around his legs. His eyes were the most wonderful brown, dark pupils surrounded by a circle of solid brown. A grey nose that twitched, as it smelled the air and all finished off with erect almond shaped ears that pointed to the sky.

Raising myself to my feet I started to move forward and as soon as I did he moved off too, except not quite in the direction I was going. And that was when he took the lead. I followed him from then on. As we moved across the plateau I realised he never descended in to any of the groughs, but charted a course that took him across the moor, just below any viewing line, so that to all intent and purpose the only living being out there was me, a human, standing out like a telegraph pole in a desert. He moved much better than me, conserving energy, taking the easier route, which made his progress quicker too. This enabled him to stop and watch my cumbersome walk. What must he have thought as he saw this animal lumbering up and down the groughs, making those strange noises like a beast in its death throws. If he thought any of this he never spoke of it, he was, in his manners, the perfect Mountain Hare.

We walked for a half hour or more, just us, and the grass swaying in the breeze. Sometime he disappeared and I thought I had lost him, which left me feeling a little sad. Then there he would be, in front, or to one side, a little further ahead, looking back and waiting patiently. He never complained, never asked for anything, the best walking companion a person could have.

At some point he decided enough was enough, a noise or a smell, something, made him decide to move on, no longer to keep this odd animal for company. He left without word, no looking back, in a few seconds he was gone.

I stood there for a few minutes, my eyes scanning the moor for any sight of him, but there was nothing. I felt cheated in a way, then I realised he had chosen me as a companion, had let me into his world.

I turned east and headed for home.


Sentinels of the Dark Peak

Howden Clough in autumn, and the Derwent Valley Water Board marker post by the little reservoir. A wonderful spot and a good way up on to Howden Edge. Did you know there are three places called Howden Edge in that part of the Peak. Could be confusing if you arrange to meet someone.

It is a lovely walk from the east track of Howden Reservoir, up through Clough Wood which is all oak and beech and in autumn sun dappled leaf motifs project onto the woodland floor which makes me slow down, and turn this way and that. I like to stop at the gate that leads in to the Clough, often if I am lucky I see Mountain Hare still in summer coat working away between Howden and Stony Bank Cloughs. Lepus Timidus to my mind is the true owner of these moors, the great icon of the Dark Peak. When one joins me on a walk, which they often do, it is such a joy, such a privilege to have their company.

No sooner have you left the woodland, you are presented with a small reservoir and dam, which seems odd, up here, when there is the great Howden Reservoir below which this flows into. By the side of the track and often overlooked is a small post bearing the letters DVWB, Derwent Valley Water Board. It is beautifully made, a small piece of craftsmanship in this wild place. To the touch it is a pleasure, its surface soft and smooth and cold to the fingers. Someone took time to design this insignificant object, to give its edges a radius so that when you run your hand over it there is no sharpness. And when it had been cast, someone took time to finish it as if it would be on show in the most prestigious of public places. But it isn’t, it’s here on the moor with the Mountain Hare, sentinels of the Dark Peak.


The other mass trespass

Abbey Brook from Cartledge Bents

The other day I did a spot of checking for one of the walks in my Dark Peak book. It is always a quandary when I have more than one possible route. Which will be of more interest and why. Some routes are better at certain times of year, or have a completely different character. Walk on Bleaklow in summer with the cotton grass, golden plover, common lizards and bilberries and then do the same walk in deep winter, with windswept snow and ice  and only the white mountain hare and a few brave walkers for company and you have two very different experiences.

Abbey Brook is a case in point, not so much for the seasons, although it presents a different face at each turn, but because there are so many walks that can lead to it. That is not by accident either, Abbey Brook was a major route across the area in the past. The area was owned by Welbeck Abbey who used it for sheep and the monastic outpost that was situated in this cleft in the hillside was connected to the Grange at Crookhill a little further down the valley by a path. On the moorland above tracks fed into Abbey Brook from North, East and South, the small valley providing easy access to the west.

One of the most prominent was the Dukes Road, named after the Duke of Norfolk, which led from Bar Dike over on Mortimer Road to Abbey Brook and onwards west or alternatively Bradfield Gate and Derwent Village. One of several ways to head east to west in the age before roads. The route was always public until the Duke decided to close it for his Grouse Shooting.

GHB Ward of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers was none too impressed and was convinced it was a public right of way and carried out research to prove so. It was decided to make a stand, this was several months after the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout and things were still tense between walkers and land owners. On Sunday 18th September 1932 several hundred walkers set off from Malin Bridge in Sheffield and headed towards Broomhead Moor and the Dukes Road. They were intent on walking on to Bradfield Gate and returning back to Malin Bridge. All seemed to go well with only the odd Gamekeeper spotted. That was until the reached Cartledge Bents overlooking Abbey Clough, where the Dukes men attempted to stop their progress. A small fracas ensued before the walkers were allowed to proceed unhindered.

The protest did not make the news nor the impact they probably desired and this was very likely due to the outcry that had followed the Kinder Mass Trespass and the imprisonment of the so called ring leaders. Nonetheless, a further blow had been made for walkers.

It must have been a fantastic site to see hundreds of walkers marching down the Dukes Road. Today you get the odd group of Ramblers, some fell runners and the lone single walker.

I have researched the route the mass trespass took from the Tram sheds at Malin Bridge and will walk the route come spring, who knows it may well make it in to the book. It might be nice to have two trespasses.