Lots of discussion on social media this weekend about Ordnance Survey marks on the gritstone of the Dark Peak in the Peak District. A topic that fascinates me with every walk including a foray into the wilderness to try to find some elusive mark made more than a century and a half ago.
Top left is a benchmark used to establish height at a point on the footpath to Stanage End from Moscar.
Below that is a benchmark used to mark a survey position on Higger Tor.
Top right is a really interesting one. An arrow below a square box with a dot in the middle. This denotes a survey height taken from the ground and not estimated. On modern maps today these are denoted as a black dot with a height number as opposed to an orange dot which denotes a measurement taken from the air.
Bottom left is a lovely levelling bolt, indicating a survey position near Laddow Rocks.
Bottom right two survey marks, one for levelling and one for triangulation found on Back Tor on Derwent Edge. On the left hand mark is a benchmark made by Lieut Barlow RE when he carried out the triangulation in 185. The right hand mark denotes a spot height taken in 1854 by Capt Kerr RE to establish the contour lines.
All heights back then used the Liverpool datum and approximate average of the sea height there. Nowadays the OS maps use the Newlyn datum taken from the tidal measuring station in Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall.
There are quite a few bits of survey ephemera along Cut Gate in the Dark Peak. Benchmarks are much in evidence if you know where to look.
Just above the words “Lost Lad” on the 1852 Ordnance Survey map of Cut Gate, high above Langsett, there are two benchmarks denoted, the B.M followed by the elevation above Mean Sea Level in feet. Mean Sea Level in them days was taken from the measurements obtained at the Liverpool Datum, whereas today it is Newlyn. The first Benchmark happens just before the ford which is the turn off point for the spot height on Lost Lad itself. It is simple arrow beneath a line, but unusually is on a flat surface and not a vertical one, making it a little difficult to be accurate in the measurement. It is also accompanied by the initials RW, Rimmington Wilson the then landowner, chiselled at a later date and certainly with not as much skill.
Heading down the Cut Gate path towards Langsett a further benchmark can be found on the gate post of the boundary wall at Hingcliff Common.
Grouse had been introduced onto the moors for several decades when the benchmark was carved so it would have looked pretty much the same as today with one exception. The Cut Gate track went through the gate posts where as today the line of the path goes someway to the south-east.
A surveying team would consist of a surveyor and his assistant. The surveyor took the reading and the assistant held the staff and lugged the equipment around. It was the surveyor who chiselled in the benchmark. I often try to imagine the team out in all weathers mapping the area. Around these two benchmarks are many more plus triangulation points on Hingcliff Hill and Pike Lowe to the east. The maps they produced are remarkably accurate and can still be followed today on the ground. The really interesting thing about old maps are the items marked that are no longer on modern-day maps.
Yesterday I spent a few hours on Hathersage Moor and Higger Tor seeing if any benchmarks shown on old maps would still be evident today.
The image from the old map above is taken from a survey of the Moor carried out in 1852. Would the benchmarks shown still be there, did they actually exist or were they just markings on the map showing where a measurement had been taken from? What did they actually look like?
The one on Higger Tor, (Higher Tor), seemed to be the easiest to find. It’s the small arrow between the ‘r’ and ‘T’ of ‘Higger Tor’. The marking is not to scale obviously, nearby there is a triangle denting a triangulation point. It also has lots of features to aim from and sure enough that’s how it turned out. It took a while of rummaging around and at first I was looking for a benchmark on a vertical surface and chiselled in the style that is normally seen on buildings and gate posts. Then I found it, on a large flat stone, in the middle of the edge path. The marking was on a horizontal surface and pointed west, not north as in the map. It was a simple arrow with no levelling line at the tip of the arrow. The mark was still very clear, although if you weren’t looking for it you probably wouldn’t notice it. Did they take the measurement and then make the mark or vice versa? A Benchmark denoted a levelling point, hence the number, in feet, nearby, and the triangle marked the spot for triangulation. Are they one and the same place or was the triangulation in a different spot. Close by there was a spot that would have been perfect for a tripod and theodolite.
Dropping down from the Tor onto the Moor I set out to find the other two marks that are shown on the map as you head south-west towards the walled enclosure. Success was not to be mine. I needed to do a great deal more work on the position of the marks. The bracken hid many boulders and time had allowed moss and lichen to grow over a large number. I didn’t want to disturb too much so looked but could not find the two.
I did find other items of interest though. A possible burial cairn, complete with chamber. A partially finished grindstone, some way from the traditional grindstone fields and more markings that were different to the Ordnance Survey marks.
A few hours spent walking in the foot steps of surveyors and masons and perhaps Bronze Age man.
I like collecting things. Triangulation points are a favourite along with benchmarks that can be found along a walk or near to one.
There is something very satisfying about reaching a trig pillar, partly I guess because they invariably involve a walk up hill and a reward of sweeping views, weather permitting. There are 84 pillars within the Peak District National Park boundary and many more triangulation points and thousands more benchmarks.
Some are not shown on maps with the traditional blue triangle, the one at Hey Edge for instance, built but never used for triangulation, but was used for levelling, so does it not qualify for the blue triangle.
Some triangulation points are not even pillars. One of my walks takes in the Hunting Tower on the Chatsworth Estate, the triangulation point being the flagstaff. Another is the centre of the spire of All Saints Church in Bakewell.
With the advent of GPS the triangulation pillar network became largely redundant, but a few still do have a purpose. The pillar at Harland South, levelling bracket number 2998 is part of the Global Positioning Network and as such is protected by Ordnance Survey. A plate informs the visitor that any damage should be reported to the phone number.
Triangulation points always come in a minimum of three so a favoured walk of mine takes in the Hunting Tower at Chatsworth, the pillar at Birchen Edge along with the Three Ships and the pillar at Harland South, passing Hobs House, one of the first ancient monuments to have legal protection in the UK, on the way. Two pillars, one part of the Global Positioning System and one flagstaff on a hunting tower. Not bad for a day out.
This is a levelling benchmark placed and used by Ordnance Survey. Its location is SK 2305 8759 at Moscar on the footpath from the A57 towards Stanage. The mark was made in 1961, is of the third order of surveying and is 600mm above ground level. Its datum is Newlyn. Originally the mark and boulder were on the west of the footpath but time and boots have now placed it east of the path.
There are some 500,000 benchmarks on the UK mainland, most no longer in use. They identify the height at a given point. The base line is the tidal measuring station at Newlyn in Cornwall, that is the point where all height measurements are taken from, including the 190 Fundamental Benchmarks which were the first order and therefore the most accurate, set in chambers deep underground on bedrock , these benchmarks are still in use today by the Global Positioning System for calculating the accuracy of the height calculation.
The classic walks of the Dark Peak offer the walker enjoyment of the highest order whatever the weather, come rain, snow or sunshine. The degree of isolation especially in winter when on a featureless high moorland deep in snow that is invariably being driven hard into the face by an unremitting wind, is a character building experience best savoured in warm surroundings with a hot mug of tea. The walker having endured such a day will quite rightly have earned the soft green hills of the White Peak the following spring.
The walk along the three triangulation pillars that look out over the Upper Derwent Valley is one of the great edge walks of The Peak District. It is not a long walk so there is plenty of time to stand and stare, or, better still find a vantage point and sit and watch, there will be much to view and learn.
I started from The Kings Tree at the end of the public road that winds its way up the valleys western side. A track leads across the young Derwent river via the Slippery Stones bridge, transplanted from the sunken Derwent Village, and heads off up the valley following the river. Above can be seen the edges that fringe the valley and it is to one of these that a shooting track climbs up from the river towards Crow Stones Edge and then onto the first trig at Outer Edge.
The views from the triangulation pillar are magnificent. Bleaklow, Kinder, The Great Ridge, Bamford Edge, West and North Yorkshire, all are there to be seen and no doubt on a crystal clear day well beyond that as well.
The next triangulation pillar, Margery is in line with the valley and in a dry season is a pleasant walk, in wet and continuous rain it is a completely different matter. This is peat grough country, dark, thick, oozing, leg sucking. There is no avoiding it, so you might as well be prepared. Gaiters are a must as are tight laces to save lost boots. You can skirt some groughs but a strange and probably natural mathematical formula means that you can never ever escape the final ignominy of flailing about in a childish fashion whilst trying to look as though you are in control. It is also a natural law that having seen no one all day, as soon as you become stuck a ramblers group will appear out of nowhere, to ask if you need help, to which the answer is of course a firm NO.
From Margery I chose a little bit of a nav exercise, taking a bearing from Featherbed Moss to the shooting track of Dukes Road means a yomp across moorland, navigating between the wetter marsh areas to gain the track across Cartledge Bents. Near by is an old cross possibly used as a marker to the Grange at Abbey Clough nearby and well worth a visit.
The slabbed track for Back Tor which can be seen on the skyline, threads through peat and bog, so at least the feet keep dry. I’m not sure about these paths, I agree they do reduce erosion and something had to be done, but they are sore on the feet, so I was glad on reaching Back Tor, to climb up to the trig, remove my boots and sit back and relax.
The vista really is superb, I was glad I had brought some binoculars so that I could watch the birds and hares and pick out favourite places on the horizon. After half an hours rest I set off down to Fairholmes visitor centre via moor, woodland and track, a great days walking whatever the weather.
Spring for me, always heralds green pastures, rolling hills, white limestone, heavy showers and blue skies. It means for a period of walking in the White Peak where there is a release from peat bog, groughs and bleak desolate moorland. The winter slog slips away to be replaced by a warming sun and longer days.
I chose the boundary between dark and white, strolling up from the plague village of Eyam towards the north and the dark. Eyams an interesting place, one of Ranulph Feinnes heros for their selfless act of sealing themselves off from the outside world when the plague arrived, you can spend hours there tracing out the tragedy, just don’t go in tourist season.
My first trig objective was Sir William Hill, which gives wonderful panoramic views across the whole of the Peak District. Its a gentle climb out of the village, through woodlands and across green pastures, at one point you pass an abandoned lead mine, redundant industrial buildings incongruous in the landscape. A large badger set protects the trig from the Eyam approach and the dogs spent long moments with the snouts down the entrances trying to figure what the scent was. The eye can see right up the Derwent Valley, across to Kinder and Bleaklow, down to Bakewell and across Froggatt and Curbar edges. I sat and took it all in until two people arrived and I left to let them have the trig and the views in peace.
I headed out to Abney Moor via Bretton Clough, a secluded valley sitting between the gritstone and limestone. The Abney Moor trig requires a degree of stealth, although I did not know this at the time. Crossing moorland to reach a stone wall that surrounds the glider airfield a decision has to be made. Do I hop over the wall and hope not to be noticed, or take the long walk round to ask permission. I know which is the right way and after choosing my course of action I strode through the gate that gives access to the trig from the airfield. There is a little plaque on the trig, placed there by the glider club, which is ironic as they refuse access to land based mortals. The views out to Castleton, Mam Tor and the Great Ridge are superb, below is industrial farm buildings blotting the landscape and filling every green patch with junk and rubbish. The sign on this side of the access gate stated no access to pedestrians, so I skirted the wall dropping down to reach a track that took me to Great Hucklow and the door of the pub slammed in my face just as I was about to enter, lovely people.
Head south along old walled trackways through rolling pasture, true limestone country this, the eye seeing for miles, and aim for Wardlow and another stealth trig, protected by drystone walls and gated farmland. No easy access and definitely walls and fences to climb over. This trig a high point in the land around, the vistas long and low, I sat in the fading light, my back to the pillar and just watched. A bird of prey, I could not tell you which, soared up from Cressbrook Dale and quartered the land.
A long walk back to Eyam across pasture and through squeeze stiles, entering Eyam from the old Tideswell Lane and then along quieter streets to the end.
I know this may sound wrong, but walking from the Hayfield quarry where the 1932 Mass Trespass set off from, was a new experience for me, I had never been to this spot before, in fact I had never been to Hayfield. That does sound wrong doesn’t it coming from someone who has walked in the Peak District for near on 40 years and is a National Park Ranger to boot. Well confession over.
I had set off from Hayfield centre and walked along the river to reach the quarry. I didn’t realise that I was on such hallowed ground until I spotted the commemoration plaque on the quarry face. It is quite a thing when you think about it, all those people, extra ordinary people, who worked in everyday jobs during the week and looked for release on a Sunday, having the temerity to go against the land owners and the establishment. It must have been quite exciting and ever so slightly frightening at the same time. What will happen? Will I get into trouble? Will I lose my job? Some lost more than their jobs, some lost their liberty and I need to remember that when I am out on the moors, especially the Kinder plateau.
I retraced their footsteps, up William Clough, a beautiful little ravine complete with tumbling stream and long narrow vistas. I gradually worked my way along, stopping now and then to look back and take in the views. It really is wonderful, the feeling of peace, quiet and solitude is incredibly intoxicating. This is the way to live my life I thought, none of the work day drudgery, but this glorious release into another life. I could see why it was worth contemplating a fracas with the rozzers at the top of the Clough in 1932.
The cloud was low and as I reached the top visibility was down to 50m, nothing unusual in that for Kinder. It did make for some good navigation practice, use of compass, following a bearing, pacing, all good solid stuff. I reached the Triangulation pillar at Harry Hut quite quickly, painted a bright white it is pretty hard to miss. I like to see the pillars painted, but disappointed to see that the Flush Bracket had also been painted white. Would it have been too much trouble to leave the bracket in its natural form?
It was windy up there and so I dropped down the shooting track to have some lunch hidden behind a wall. Today it was soup and corned beef sandwiches, the dogs had some chews which kept them at bay for at least a few seconds, they then turned their attention to me and used telepathic staring techniques to gain more food for them and less for me, very selfish in my view.
Cutting across the moorland I arrived at the Grouse Inn famous for getting snowed in no end of times in bad weather. Just across the road is a surface block, hidden in the grass, these are fun to find, mainly because you get lots of odd looks from passing motorists as you prod away at the ground trying to locate the blasted thing. A walking pole with a pointy tip is a very good location device, sadly I had forgotten to bring mine so I was reduced to tearing bits of grass up with my bare hands until the surface block showed itself.
Down the road I turned off on to an old pack route, now the Pennine Way Bridle Path, a green lane stretching for some miles, passing farms and fields it winds its way up on to Lantern Pike, with panoramic views all round.
Lantern Pike is a forlorn place, windswept and dishevelled it has an air of subsistence about it. The triangulation pillar just adds to the gloom of the place, laid on its side as it is, half way down a slope, abandoned and unkempt. I do not know the history of the pillar, why it has come to such a sorry end or when this happened. In Mark Richards excellent book High Peak Walks mention is made of the view-point panorama from which there are marvellous views of Kinder, Mill Hill, Hayfield and the surrounding hills and valleys, but no mention of the trig. Lantern Pike is National Trust land, but like so much of their estate I feel is not sexy enough or would not generate enough revenue to warrant a helping hand, best save those efforts for the tea shops and stately homes.
It’s in there somewhere, but where was a mystery, should have brought my prodding pole, there was no way I was going to scrabble around the cow muck, I may well have to return.
I followed the Pennine Bridleway back to Hayfield and the car. Quite a nice days walking with varied views and not too much ascent.
This walk was a bit like last minute Christmas shopping, recovering my tracks several times, it’s what comes of leaving one triangulation point out on its own. There was another odd thing about this walk, two of the triangulation pillars were not even shown on the map, but did appear in the definitive list, one has almost completely disappeared but the other still sits there all forlorn and unloved. I’d also made the mistake of parking my car in the wrong place, leaving it miles from my first point and my last whilst passing it during the course of the day.
I started off in Old Glossop a village on the edge of the Peak District. I guess its heyday is long past now, the textile, chemical and engineering works now a fraction of their former self. Glossop is trying to re-invent itself as a gateway to the Peak District and it is well placed geographically to make a viable future on this basis.
I headed across fields to meet up with the Longendale Trail, a 6.6 mile section of the coast to coast Trans Pennine Trail, that runs along the now defunct Woodhead rail line. It is a pleasant walk, with bikers and horse riders all enjoying the easy terrain. The trail follows an old pack horse route that still retains much of its history if you have the time to explore and also leads on to the original Road to the Isles, which must have been a massive journey in the days before the car.
I was heading for the last triangulation pillar, Hey Edge, left on the north side of the Woodhead Trans Pennine Road. This is an odd pillar in more than one sense. Firstly it does not appear as a triangulation pillar on any OS map, but is denoted as “Pillar” on the OS 1:25000 map. Secondly it is surrounded by much higher pillars that would have been more use in the survey, so its a bit hard to understand why it was erected, perhaps they got it wrong and found they had put it in the wrong place.
Its a simple walk up from YHA Crowden on the Pennine Way, through old quarry workings and onto a plateau that sits below Westend Moss and looks across to Laddow Rocks and Featherbed Moss. There are some glorious views from the pillar with wide panoramas stretching far in to the distance.
Head west from the pillar, dropping down into the clough bottom and you pick up The Pennine Way at Crowden, a stopping off point for many long distance walkers on their first day on this classic walk along the spine of England to Scotland. Follow the trail, crossing the Woodhead road, I told there was much re-tracing of steps, and staying on the Pennine Way ascend Torside Clough towards Bleaklow, heading for the second ford on the OS map facing Long Gutter Edge and Torside Naze. Readers of climbing history will know the significance of these rocks and the part they played in the lives of Manchester climbers in the 60’s particularly Don Whillans and Joe Brown. The Peak District in general was the birthplace of a new generation of climbers in the post war period. Working class men and some women, with no real experience of climbing began to put up new, exciting and daring routes along the gritstone edges around the Peak, advancing techniques and skill way beyond the then levels, and leading to many Himalayan conquests in later years.
Turn right at the second ford ascending a small gully, following a fence line until a track is reached. It may well be a noisy walk and do not be surprised to see helicopters constantly ferrying large white bags through the skies. This is Moors for the Future a government-funded project reversing 150 years of destruction of the moorland habitat. The idea is to return the moorland to its natural wet state full of wild flora and fauna, thereby increasing the production of peat aiding more growth. You may agree with the aims, but rest assured as you sink up to your thighs in the latest peat bog, those thoughts will be the furthest from your mind, so console yourself with the fact you are struggling to get out of a good cause!
The final leg led me past the car and over to the other side of Glossop to reach the final triangulation point on the plateau near Cown Edge Rocks. It was a journey through the town and out the other side walking up through horse manured fields with a final short scramble on to the plateau. The biggest problem was finding the remnants of a triangulation pillar that information stated had been removed at the land owners request. Why would you want to do that I wonder, especially when it is in the middle of a field with no real economic value. Doesn’t make sense.
After stumbling around in fading light I eventually found the remains hidden in the grass and was able to call it a day. The long trudge back to the car was, well a trudge. This was the longest day with 32 kilometres of travel and 1332m of ascent and 9 hours of foot pounding.
Wasn’t looking forward to this walk at all. Studying the map I just kept focussing on all that moorland with all those blue lines stretching across and just knew this would be a slog across a quagmire. It wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience, but, not going felt like chickening out and I was on a roll now, a trig walk every week, so I had to keep going.
I took Monty and Ollie along, they’ve started accompanying me on the walks. I’m getting a little more relaxed about the boys being off the lead, they do love to run about the place. I calculated that my walk of 23 km was more like 50 for them. Setting off walking brought up the first problem in four bods from The National Trust mooching around on White Moss looking for goodness knows what, it may have been a contact lens for all I know. Do I let the boys off now, no sheep around and nesting time is a long way off, if I do, will I then be having a conversation with these people and how will it end. I decided to keep them on the lead until I was sure we and the fauna were safe.
The route to the first trig at Saddleworth follows two well-defined drainage ditches which made for comfortable walking. Maybe today wasn’t going to be so bad after all. From the trig you get a fine view of Manchester, a small town that is often trying to emulate the more prosperous and cosmopolitan Yorkshire cities, but with little success. The pillar has a plaque attached to it stating that it had been rebuilt and positioned after vandals had toppled it. This was done in the memory of a member of the Saddleworth Runners Club. I wondered if the height was still correct or indeed the position. A lone sheep watched unconcerned at Monty and Ollie as they sniffed around the base and tried to break free of their leads. If they had this would have been a short blog, as the leads were attached to my rucksack.
I sat an pondered the view whilst eating a few Jelly Babies and drinking a cup of tea. What to eat on walks has become a project in itself of late. I am trying to put together a snap tin that provides energy, taste, interest and self-indulgence, the last I believe sorely needed on moorland walks in winter.
Wandering off for Dovestones reservoir we passed a formidable war memorial, marked on the map as obelisk. It really is impressive, and sad, the names of so many from the villages surrounding the area lost to mans stupidity.
Passing through Dovestones car park, full with people walking and doing goodness knows what I headed up the Chew Valley. From the teeming throngs in the car park, with 200m I was alone, walking the long winding service road that leads to the Chew Reservoir. Superb scenery with huge cliffs, reminiscent of a miniature Troll Wall, the dark rock covered in green moss, and a couple of centuries of soot from the dark satanic mills of Lancashire. The summit is the Chew Reservoir and it is a curious place, probably because I never expected to see a large expanse of water at the top of a climb. It looks odd and out of place.
I did some pacing practice to identify the point on the reservoir track I needed to strike off for the trig on Featherbed Moss. I had it just right and found the trig with no problem. The moor appears to have sunk quite a bit of the base of the trig is anything to go by, can it really have dropped that much?
On my way to Laddow Rocks and the Pennine Way I scouted for a surface bolt, identified by Dave Hewitt and blow me down there it was right where he said and that was without the use of GPS, thanks Dave.
The Pennine Way is quite beautiful and winds its way through rock and moorland, switching at times from a slabbed surface to moorland peat a necessary control for erosion. I enjoyed the ascent to the final trig on Black Hill or Soldiers Lump. It is actually down as Holme Moss in the tables which is even more confusing. This trig has been rebuilt and repositioned and now has a significant list. Captain Hotine would not have approved, and neither do I. Is this really how we treat our history, to just forget all that went before when it is expedient.
I then had a 2Km slog across moorland and peat bog, and was within sight of the car, congratulating myself on not falling into any bogs. No sooner were the thoughts out then I landed face down in the last peat bog of the whole walk. Lovely!