The Peak District was Britains first national park. The Dark Peak is formed from the gritstone and peat landscapes of areas such Kinder Scout and Bleaklow. The White Peak is formed from limestone with deep gorges such as Dovedale.
This is the Buck Stone below Stanage Edge in the Peak District National Park. It stands within its own walled enclosure, a little way down from the Long Causeway that rises up to the top of Stanage Edge from Dennis Knoll.
This large boulder was once used as a sort of transport cafe for the packhorse trains that used the Long Causeway to deliver goods to and from Sheffield. The holes in the boulder were sockets for a primitive timber shelter and around the boulder are runnels, grooves chiselled into the surface that deflected rain water away from the structure. The trains used to stop here, the walled enclosure useful for holding the ponies, whilst the Jagger, the man who guided the packhorse train, would take in refreshment and rest.
The boulder is often ignored now, being off the beaten track, but its past is of importance tot he trade routes that criss crossed the area. It has some nice bouldering problems, quite easy even for old people like me. There is a reward at the top, but I will leave it for you to find out for yourself.
The Buck Stone appears in Walk No. 6 in Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press
Getting lost in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District is a very common thing. Most people manage to get back on the right track, or find other walkers to help them out, or maybe a road to walk back to civilisation even if it’s in the wrong direction. Some people have to be found and rescued by Mountain Rescue, generally at night after the person has wandered around for hours trying to extricate themselves from the predicament.
The Dark Peak does give the walker a helping hand. Signs that say, “walker beware”, not in those words but if you study your OS map the clues just jump out at you.
Above is the signpost to the Wilderness from Chew Valley, take care not to go over Lads Leap as you reach the Longdendale Valley. You would want to avoid The Swamp on Alport Moor as you made your way over to Lost Lad above the Upper Derwent Valley. Mind you if you agreed to meet someone there make sure its the right Lost Lad as there is another just off Cut Gate near Langsett. And definitely stay away from the Black Hole on Black Hole Moor, it does exist, I promise you. Hades Peat Pits are possibly the entrance to another world, one of everlasting pain.
Of course if it says, Shooting Cabins, then stay well clear, goodness knows what goes on there. Which reminds me, any area that is called Target, begs the question, target who?And talking of mad things, do not enrage the woman at Madwoman’s Stones on Kinder, there is an ancient altar site nearby, goodness knows what became of people, when the encountered the enraged lady.
The mixed “VM” appears on lots of Peak District gritstone from the 17th and 18th century. Of the possible explanations three seem to be the most probable. The first is that it is a Catholic sign for the Virgin Mary in the era of the Reformation, when persecution of Catholics was rife following the Glorious Revolution of 1689 when James the second a Catholic sympathiser was overthrown.
Practicing Catholics marked boulders and buildings with the ‘VM” inverted or otherwise to signify places where people gathered for worship. Which may fit with the markings on the gate post that sits in a dry stone wall above Marsden near Standedge Tunnel. Close by is an old farm with mullioned windows from the same period.
It could also be used to signify supporters of the protestant William and Mary who became joint monarchs in 1689 following the Glorious Revolution. The use of the intertwined WM was seen as a denouncement of the Catholic VM. As may well be the case with the markings at Stanedge Pole near Stanage Edge in the Peak District. Or perhaps these signified Catholic markings and were connected to the Catholic Chapel at Padley where the priests were caught, hung drawn and quartered and became Martyrs in the process.
Of course it could just plainly be some ones initials and they liked chiseling it on to gritstone.
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.
This is one of my favourite photos of one of the many monuments to be found in the Peak District National Park. Taken on Birchen Edge, almost at the very end of the eastern arm of the Dark Peak, it shows the monument erected to Lord Nelson viewed from Victory one of the three gritstone tors that stand slightly back from the edge.
The monument looks out over the valley to the north-west and the monument to Wellington on Baslow Edge erected some 60 years later. Below Birchen Edge a large area of flat moorland is dotted with ancient cairns and field systems as it spreads out towards Gardom Edge with its Menhirs and cup rings.
A good place to spend a few hours exploring ancient civilisations going back to Neolithic times.
The traditional Christmas day walk and lunch was up in the higher reaches of the Upper Derwent Valley. Very few people about. The weather, unseasonably warm at 12 degrees even with a strong wind coming in from the west. The lack of cold has not killed off the last of the autumnal colours and so the valley and cloughs remain resplendent in their reds and browns and yellows. Alison had made some spicy tomato soup, very warming, which we then followed with fresh brewed coffee. The infant River Derwent was quite deep causing much too-ing and fro-ing at Stainery Clough as we sought a crossing without getting feet wet. The grasses on the bank side were flattened and there was a great deal of silt and grit around, signs of flooding after the heavy rains. We thought about carrying on to the cabins but decided to turn for home, having Scout with us we didn’t want to stretch his legs too much. Once again he kept diving in to the river and just enjoying himself whilst Monty and Olly played on the banks. A lovely Christmas lunch and a great part of the world.
A few years back Alison and I were walking up Cut Gate on a cold autumn day that had a wind cutting in to you with icy strokes. As we approached Mickleden Edge Alison wandered off to have a look at something and I carried on a little then waited for her to catch up. As she approached me she seemed to be walking slowly and a little ungainly. I asked her if she was OK and she said her legs were tired and she had no energy, she said this with a slurring voice. We had not been out that long and the day was dry, but it struck me that she might be suffering from light hypothermia. I got her out of the wind and gave her some hot tea to sip and cake to eat, whilst putting on a few extra layers. I could see the woods around Langsett Ranger Station, it was ridiculous this could be happening, we had hardly walked any distance, Alison had recently run the New York Marathon so was not unfit, but here we were dealing with the effects of wind chill on the human body. Alison recovered quickly and we made our way back to Langsett. It turned out that some medication she had been given had thinned her blood making her more susceptible to cold.
Norah Leary was not so fortunate. The seventeen year old rambler from Sheffield froze to death on Broomhead Moor on the 14th December 1937. A rescue party made up of police, local people and gamekeepers, found her body beneath a 10ft snow drift. The report, above, from the Manchester Guardian on the inquest gives further details. A photo here shows the rescue party bringing the body down Mortimer Road towards Ewden Beck. The clothing on the rescue party would have been very similar to the clothing worn by the ramblers.
A recent rescue of a walker near to the Cut Gate path could have had a very different outcome if Woodhead Mountain Rescue had not found them in time. A day walk in good conditions had turned into a life threatening event in harsh winter conditions with snow and sub zero night time temperatures. Being correctly equipped can make the difference between getting home safe or not at all.
The Dark Peak makes you pay for simple mistakes, especially in winter. The area can be at its most beautiful at this time of year, it can also be at its most brutal. So far the winter has been mild, many of us had wished for better winter conditions, hopefully it will come, for there is nothing better than walking across moorland in snow with a blue sky above.
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.
I had a wonderful walk recently up onto gritstone edges then home across moorland, no more than 8 miles with less than 200m of ascent over the whole route, this gentle saunter gave me time to appreciate a unique aspect of this particular landscape.
Alison dropped me at Moscar on a Snake road cloaked in low cloud so that I could get easy access onto Stanage Edge. This is the easiest way in, with little ascent and a good view across the Moscar moor to Derwent Edge and Win Hill to keep the eyes occupied. I got on to the Edge by the old quarry, passing the boundary stones marking Mr Wilson and Mr Mappin land ownership. Didn’t they trust each other I wondered, Stanage Edge is a pretty obvious boundary line surely.
By the old quarry are some fine grouse water bowls, carved by George Broomhead, no relation of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, who are no relations of the Wilsons of Moscar Moor who didn’t have a hall but did have and to my knowledge still have a snuff mill in Sheffield. Wilson, the snuff one, had young George carve out great long lines of these bowls to, it is said, provide water for the parched grouse that were the moors only inhabitant. They say there are 108 of them, how long it took I don’t know. These are little works of art in a way. Beautiful bowls of all shapes and sizes carved into the gritstone boulders of Stanage Edge and the moor beyond. Each bowl has one or more runnels, exquisitely chased into the stone to channel water into the small reservoirs. The skill to produce these flat-bottomed ‘Vees’ and the lozenge-shaped bowls is evident to see. What is not so apparent is the choice of boulder and the position of the bowl. George Broomhead must have watched during downpours to see which would be most efficient at collecting the water, for these are not like the dewponds of the White Peak, these rely on rain water. And then have worked out the best position and shape of the collecting bowl and where to position the feeder runnels.
Each bowl is numbered, although these are not consecutive so I suspect the whole were not completed in one go, but in stages as the moor was developed for grouse. As yet I have not found one that bears Georges name or initials or that of his employer, but I live in hope. Many of the ones away from the edge are overgrown with heather and moss, making it difficult to locate them, which all adds to the day out, a bit of detective work and a frisson of excitement at a find. I have spent a good few hours in such activity and as a consequence have covered the moor more deeply than I would normally, which has brought other delights too.