I always try to have something to look at on a walk and walking in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park means there is a plethora of things to view and wonder at.
I recently did a walk for my new book White Peak Walks East, published by Cicerone Press along the boundary between the white and dark areas of the Peak. It’s a place full of ancient sites with a history going back to neolithic times. A very productive period was in Roman times, this part of the world getting towards the northern edge of their domain.
My walk took in Navio, the Roman fort at Brough. It is one of a number of forts linking Templeborough, Melandra, Castleshaw. There is not a deal left now, a few stones in a hole in the middle of a field, the stones may or may not be connected. But you can still discern the square plinth of the fort, raised above the surrounding land. It is near a stream and has views in all directions across both the Derwent and Hope valley’s. A good spot to check movements. As often is the case, it now sits alongside major roads and junctions, I always find it amazing how we still walk and live in the places designed for us many thousands of years ago.
The White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is punctured with lead mines. Often the small indentations in the earth string out along the landscape as the miners followed the lead veins below.
Many have now been lost on the present day Ordnance Survey OL24 map but thankfully surveyors in the 19th century placed many features on their maps, so looking back can reveal places of interest well worth visiting.
Spend enough time in an area and you quickly pick up the distinctive features that make up a places character.
The photo above has many features that characterise the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park. The limestone, and limestone walls. The narrow lanes leading to fields, walled on each side by limestone. The dewpond now covered in grass through lack of use, like many more in the White Peak. The pasture with its green grass, often Italian grass is used for its high sugar content and suitability for silage. The barn, squarish in structure, limestone walls with dressed corners and a stone roof. The ancient trees that denote the line of boundaries prior to walling under the enclosure acts.
All that is missing from this photo is the tiny hamlet or small village with Norman church and the odd sheep staring at the camera.
I came across this offering on a field gate near Foolow in the Peak District National Park the other day. A beautifully made ball, the straw carefully manipulated to form a perfect sphere.
I find quite a lot of this in White Peak. Offerings hanging from trees, placed on stones, hidden in walls. It makes me think that the White Peak has a connection with a pagan past. Certainly it has more evidence of human involvement than the Dark Peak, so perhaps their spirits live on.
Someone asked me the other day how I write a Peak District guide book. The question took me aback somewhat, I had to think about an answer. Put simply; I go out on a walk and when I get home I write where I have been.
Then I thought of all the things that lay behind that. The books that are hunted down in the research. Talking to people about an area. Historical and geological websites to spend hours getting lost in. Old maps to peruse and old newspaper cuttings to view. Public archives to spend days in.
Then there are the days spent wandering around an area, looking at rock graffiti. Churches, church yards and old abandoned buildings to crawl over and imagine what it was like for the people who built these places.
Some of the best days are when I trace the old ways across the land, walk in the footsteps of the Jaggers and quarrymen, peat cutters and farmers. The old saltways and the millstone trails. Sit by the quarries and listen to the ghosts hewing out the stone. Stand in a churchyard looking out onto where navvies were buried without, and wondering how someone could do that to a human being.
The best days include all of this plus a good old chat with walkers. Some of my most memorable walks have been when I have met up with groups of people and just chatted.
All of this goes into a book, and what doesn’t goes into a blog or on social media.
Eyam in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is well-known as the plague village. Virtually everyone knows the story of a bag of cloth from London arriving with the plague and many of the inhabitants of the village succumbing to it and their subsequent death. You can walk around the village, looking at the cottages with their little notices of who died and visit the graves of the dead.
The villagers were true heroes, every last one of them, for the sacrifice they made. Religion and persecution played a major part in their actions once the plague took hold. Civil war, Royal decrees all had a hand. Strength of character, bravery and responsibility were also present.
There were two vicars in the village. The conformist priest Mompesson for whom the well is named after had replaced the nonconformist Stanley, who had refused to conform to Charles II’s new Book of Common Prayer. Stanley had remained in the village after losing his post and livelihood. As the plague swept through other parts of England the conformists priests beat a hasty retreat leaving communities to fend for themselves and at the mercy of the plague. It was the non conformists priests who stayed and tended the flock, a fact not gone unnoticed by many of the communities in the country. Mompesson decided, wisely to stay and, give him credit, teamed up with Stanley, to care for and guide the community. Perhaps this one single act was the catalyst for the whole village acting as they did.
The two proposed a radical and unique approach to the plague now raging through the village. Contrary to the rest of the country who kept people out and expelled infected inhabitants. The priests proposed sealing the village completely, no one in or out, and thereby protecting the surrounding areas from infection. It was radical and it carried the prospect of almost certain death for the whole village. Every single inhabitant agreed to the proposal, effectively committing themselves to mass suicide.
Arrangements were made with local landowners, for food and supplies to be left outside the village boundary, hence Mompessons Well. This quarantined the village from the outside world. Each day the dead would dragged outside the house and buried close by in the fields, by the remaining inhabitants.
Over half the population of the village died, many from the same family. It must have been a desperate time and by sealing the village off from the outside world a lonely bleak existence.
The villagers selfless act prevented the spread of the disease to other parts of the County, a heroic act by the whole community.
The first day of September and there is a cool breeze coming through my open window.
Autumn is on its way.
I have just taken Scout to the vets to be neutered, its not a thing I have been looking forward to and advice I have sought has gone either way, leaving me constantly thinking if I have made the right decision. It is not a good feeling. I decided to get the operation done now because I myself am laid up with a sprained ankle after slipping on limestone chipping in the Yorkshire Dales. So all in all its an odd time.
Monty, one of our other dogs, sits across the landing from my office door just looking at me. Its as though he is asking me what have I done with Scout? Where is he?
I love this time of year in the Peak District National Park, the colours, the smells, birds scratching in the fallen leaf for food. Its a time of slowing down, shorter cooler days, longer shadows. The crowds soon stop coming into the Upper Derwent Valley leaving it to those who love to explore its hidden corners.
As nature shuts down for winter the landscape changes, it feels, smells and sounds different. Leaf is the first to fall, carpeting the ground in hues of brown, red and yellow. One of the greatest delights is the drive down the larch tree lined Derwent Lane to Fairholmes ranger centre in the valley on successive days and weeks and notice the colours turn from green to a vivid, almost fluorescent, yellow before the needles coat the floor in deep drifts.