The Head Stone – Peak District

The Head Stone. Head Stone Bank. Dark Peak Peak District National Park. Dark Peak Walks. PB Walk No.7 Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press.
The Head Stone. Head Stone Bank. Peak District National Park

Drive along the Snake road heading for Manchester and as you pass the Rivelin reservoir glance over to your left and you will see a tall rock tower standing alone on the moor. This is the Head Stone, so-called by Ordnance Survey.

It is unusual but not unique in the Dark Peak, being a rock tower devoid of any other surrounding towers. The Head Stone stands at the western end of a gritstone outcrop, not great in height but long and thin, with an accompanying boulder field strewn along its length.

As with any prominent rocks the Head Stone has gained its own mythology. It is said to be used in Pagan rituals, one of its names is the Cock Crowing Stone, a reference perhaps to the slaying of a Cockerel at the stone on the midwinter solstice. The ‘Head” is said to rotate on certain days of the year and at sunrise a face will appear in the stone on a particular morning. None of which are have specified days, which probably means it is not true! The Eagle Stone on Eaglestone Flat near Baslow Edge is said to do the same. Sunrise is obviously a busy time for geology in the Peak District.

It is also known as Stump John and Priestley Stone after John Priestley of Overstones Farm just below Stanage Edge, although why this should be so is not clear and could be erroneous.

The easiest way to it is by leaving the track that is Wyming Brook Drive and ascend up through Wyming Nature Reserve at Reddicar Clough. It is a nice little detour from PB Walk No.7 . As you come out of the Clough and through the sheep fence you work your way west across the boulder field, there is a nice path, towards the Head Stone. On the way you will pass several grouse water bowls carved into the gritstone rocks, and below the Head Stone you will find number 15, not often visible as the heather obscures its position.

PB Walk No.7

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Alphin Pike – Peak District

This is perverse I know, but believe me when I say there are people out there in the Dark Peak who will like nothing better.

As we have had some rain lately the moors of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park will be wet, perhaps even boggy, maybe if luck is in, up to the thigh in deep clawing peat bog boggy. The bogtrotters will be in their heaven.

If you want a really good mash then head out to Dove Stones over in the north west of the park. Ignore the dog walkers and ice cream lickers around the car park and disappear down the Bradbury Lane, noticing the Ordnance Survey benchmark on the wall and aim for Alphin Pike a short hop up on to the top.

Incredible views if the weather is playing the game. Follow the edge around, above the Chew Road, spot Dead Man’s Layby, then head out across to Ashway Gap.

You are on your own across this and don’t blame me if you lose a boot or one of those ballet slippers the fell runners wear. Just keep heading north. Cry if you want, no one is around to hear you. Pass the Platt memorial, the irony of a shooter getting shot.

Then DOWN Birchen Clough. I am supposed to let you know here, if you are scared you can go up, reverse the route. Me I loved the challenge of dropping down those two sections where decorum is lost, almost as good as trying to get out of a grough after a heavy storm. Look you take responsibility for you own actions, if it is too much for you then don’t do it. Stay in the car park with the ice cream lickers.

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Birchen Clough, Peak District

I love this bit after heavy rains. The water just thunders. Deafens the ears. Gets the blood pumping. Take your time and enjoy it. This is one of the best waterfalls in the whole Peak. This is the outdoors, not a bloody shopping mall. At the bottom, if you are lucky it will be deep, not that deep that you cannot cross with care, a bit of excitement. It has never been more than knee deep when I have done it. The best way is to avoid trying to keep yourself dry and just step firmly out, poles might be needed for stability, just enjoy it. For crying out loud when do you get to wade across a stream, a stream, not a river, in the Peak District.

After that it gets boring, a reservoir track, a slog back to base. Get yourself an ice cream, you are the only one there who has earned a lick.

Dark Peak Walks PB Walk 30

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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. Author Paul Besley. Published by Cicerone Press.

Derwent Village School – Peak District

 

I took a few moments on a recent walk through Derwent village in the Peak District National Park to have a look around the old school porch.

The education act of 1870 required all children between the ages of 5 and 12 to receive an education, and this meant that a new school was needed at Derwent to teach in excess of 50 children. The Duke of Norfolk who owned the land and was at the time making extensive alterations to the hall was advised by his managers that failure to provide a school would not be well received in the local community and worse a school governed by local officials would be established to comply with the act. The Dukes main concern was the position of the school which needed to be unseen from the house. A site further down the valley was an alternative but the owner would not relinquish it without a transaction of money. Hence the school and its present position.

Derwent Hall and school were redesigned by Joseph Aloysius Hansom the designer of the Hansom Cab out of Kinder Scout stone with ironwork by local blacksmith. The beautiful porch entrance has a Minton tiled floor, leaded side windows and stone benches. It is a delight to view.

Dark Peak Walk No.12

Strange objects in the Peak District

Sighting Pillar
Sighting Pillar near Upper Head Moss. Peak District National Park

If you follow my walks in Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press eventually you will come across some weird objects. This is not uncommon on the Dark Peak moors of the Peak District National Park.

Aircraft wrecks abound, some wreckage such as the B29 on Bleaklow is extensive, others such as the Meteor in the Hagg Side plantation just a small pile of rusting metal.

There are the grouse butts and shooting cabins, some more elaborate than others. And occasionally you get strange wire compounds in the trees, used by the gamekeepers for rearing young.

One of the strangest sights are the towers, shafts and pillars associated with the tunnels that criss cross the Dark Peak.

On PB Walk 26 in Dark Peak Walks, Snailsden to Ramsden Clough there is a plethora of structures associated with the building of the tunnels. The shafts dug down to tunnel depth draw the line of the tunnel as it crosses beneath the moors. Often steam can be seen billowing out of the shaft and wafting its way across the moor. This lifts the spirits of avid steam rail fans in the hope that steam trains are once again running across the pennines. Alas it is not to be. The tunnels closed to trains 1981. It now serves as a massive conduit for National Grid power lines.

In the middle of the moor, seemingly at random is a concrete pillar with a strange rusting metal plate mounted on the top. It seems incongruous in this wild place, a man made object surrounded by wilderness. It is a sighting pillar made when the tunnels were being constructed. Used to mount a theodolite, it allowed the line of the tunnel construction to be checked to ensure it was running true to plan.

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.
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Summer time in the Peak District

Keeping cool on a summer walk in the Peak District National Park
Keeping cool on a summer walk in the Peak District National Park

I had a lovely little walk yesterday with Scout. We crossed from one side of a valley to another, from one gritstone edge to another, and in between we passed through time.

It was hot, hotter than I expected with the temperature continuing to rise well up to the afternoon zenith. We had skirted below a long low gritstone edge waving to a climber, a new learner, as he tried to workout a simple route. He was confident enough to turn around and wave to us, one of his companions, a girl, talked on a mobile phone, hands gesticulating as she fired off staccato monosyllables to the person on the other end of the line. Scout and I pressed on, wondering if there was anyone on the end of the belay line.

Finding our turning point we followed a wall west then turned south with the wall still on our left. Long grass spread out on the flat land between two slopes. Heather dotted the landscape and long thin fingers of trees marched out like walls of a corridor.

Being the hottest part of the day and a little worried about Scout I found some shade to stop in. Scout had other ideas and set up camp in the shade of the wall, so I moved there too. It was a good choice; soft grass to sit on, shade from a lone oak tree and a cool gritstone wall to lean against.

I got out our lunch and poured out water and tea. We both sat there quietly enjoying the shade and the soft grass. Two men walked by and did not even notice us just a few metres away. It occurred to me then that this is how you walk in summer, slow pace, find  shade, do not be afraid to stop and sit. We spent a whole hour there, nothing much happened, but I looked out at the grass and the trees and saw more as time went by.

Scout snoozed, glad of the rest, his ears flicking the odd insect away his eyes occasionally opening slightly to check that all was still well. I kicked off my shoes and had a look at the map, drank tea, leaned back against the cool wall and relaxed.

 

Chocolate Box Peak District

I don’t really associate the Peak District National Park with the chocolate box type image so eponymous of places such as the Cotswolds, but turn a corner in Baslow in the White Peak and there they are.

Standing on Baslow Edge looking up to Curbar the eye gets drawn to the horizon and the Upper Derwent Vally with Derwent Edge clearly visible. Just below Baslow Edge are fields of wheat and barley, not something normally associated with the Peak but obviously a need exists.

Dropping down in to Baslow and over the tiny bridge then a right to walk into Chatsworth Park and there are cottages with thatched roofs with hanging eaves, just waiting for the photo-op and the man from the Derbyshire Clotted Cream Company to come along and slap the picture on a box.

Go through the kissing gate and its is straight into a fantasy land, created by Capability Brown. You always know when you are in park land just by looking at the position and height of the trees. For all it tries to be natural it still looks staged.

Black Hill – Peak District

Black Hill Triangulation Pillar Peak District National Park. Dark Peak Walks. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Black Hill Triangulation Pillar Peak District National Park

If you want a visual explanation of environmental damage, you could do no better than a walk up to Black Hill triangulation pillar in the north of the Dark Peak, Peak District National Park. This weekend take a walk; PB Walk 29, Dark Peak Walks 

The trig base sits a good metre above ground level. This is not for dramatic effect; the trig is in exactly the same place that the Ordnance Survey surveyors levelled it in 1945, it is the ground that has shifted.

The Manchester and Lancashire cotton mills dumped all their heavy metal laden fumes out on to the moors. This simply killed any plant life, turned the soil to solid acid and prevented any further growth. Wind scoured the surface, stripping away any roots systems and then the job was finished by rain, which washed away the peat, down into the valley below. Considering the base of the pillar was at ground level, looking around it is hard to imagine the amount of peat that has been removed.

Black Hill was famous of course for the hell of its peat bog, made all the more famous by Alfred Wainwright who got stuck in it, because he was good at walking up hard rock and bits of grass, but crap at walking across a peat moor. A quote from 1975 on trigpointuk puts it thus;

A mess. Stands in acres of peat on Black Hill’s summit. Visited during Pennine Way walk.

Today the trig pillar stands surrounded by cotton grass and a healthier moor, thanks to Moors for the Future and its work. It is no longer approached through a thigh squelching peat bog, but along stone slabs retrieved from the derelict cotton mills that spewed out the poison all those years ago.

The pillar now sits surrounded by a stone plinth, courtesy of the Pennine Way rangers from the Peak District National Park. The pillar still sits on its concrete base which extends down well below the peat to bedrock where the lower centre mark sits.

Black Hill in winter

Black Hill in summer

Moors for the Future

Trigpoint Walk

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.
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Heather moorland – Peak District

Typical Dark Peak heather moor. Peak District National Park
Typical Dark Peak heather moor. Peak District National Park

A mention recently about the difficulty of walking across heather moors in the Peak District at this time of year prompted me to dig out a photo of a typical moorland scene.

Common heather is the most widespread in the Dark Peak and has four stages of growth, pioneer, building, mature, and degenerate. Most moors are a patchwork of all four making a walk a bit of a logistical challenge. The easiest is pioneer, short in height its great for cleaning boots, see how polished they are when you have walked across a patch. Building heather is relatively easy but you need to start watching where you put your feet as the ground is starting to get covered and difficult to see. Mature is the hardest, thigh high, thick and with little movement, this is tiring walking. The ground has now disappeared so the chance of a twisted or broken ankle has increased dramatically. Degenerate is much the same but the height is getting lower as the weight of the plant is dragging it down.

If you look at building and mature heather there are fissures in the cover, these make for wonderful pathways and make it easy to walk across. A walk across a moor should not be a straight line, but rather a meander trying to keep to the low heather patches and the burnt areas, this makes it less tiring and lowers the opportunity for a Mountain Rescue callout.

Take time and enjoy the scenery as you zig zag your way down. Having tight laces, with the heel held well reduces the chance of a painful ankle twist. Watch out for holes too. The worst are where the peat has been eroded and a deep hole has formed, generally known as leg breakers. Keeping your pace slow and choosing where to place feet can avoid this. The golden rule is, if you cannot see where your foot is going to land, do not put it there. Occasionally you will Step on a grouse hidden in the heather, this is one of the true heart stopping experiences of the Dark Peak.

Boulder fields covered in heather and bracken are a nightmare and best avoided. They sap the energy increase the risk of injury and are basically unpleasant.

Walking across moors develops new skills. Picking a line across a heather moor to the objective without the walk sapping energy, breaking a leg, twisting an ankle and not gaining or losing height unnecessarily is a skill well worth developing. It is part of hill craft and the more experience gained leads to greater adventures.