Grainfoot Farm – World War Two

Above is Grainfoot Farm in the Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park, as it can be seen today, alongside a watercolour by Kenneth Rowntree from 1940, shortly before it was demolished to make way for the new Ladybower Reservoir. The two Ordnance Survey maps, one from 2018 and one from 1852 show the position of the map in the landscape and perhaps more importantly today the position of the field boundaries and other landscape items.

The farm was, at one time in the possession of the Eyre family, well-known landowners in Derbyshire, still in existence today. It passed through various other hands, by marriage and purchase, before finding itself in the way of the new reservoir and scheduled for demolition.

The farm was painted by Kenneth Rowntree of the War artists Advisory Committee, not because of its imminent demise but as part of a project to record the changing face of Britain. This started in 1939, overseen by Kenneth Clark, father of the Tory MP Alan Clark, and was devised to record important buildings and artefacts of Britain incase they were destroyed by the second world war. It also coincided with a growing realisation that the landscape was changing at a rapid rate, due to urban development, industrial growth, changing agricultural practices and a shift in the social cohesion of the country after world war one. It followed similar projects carried out in America under the Federal Arts Project. It was felt that by celebrating the unique British landscape in art, morale would be boosted during the darkest hours of the war.

V&A Museum Collection

Kenneth Rowntree

War Artists Advisory Committee

Derwent Village – Peak District

Brick made by Skyers Spring. Found in the remains of Derwent Village. Peak District
Brick made by Skyers Spring. Found in the remains of Derwent Village. Peak District

Here is a little bit of social industrial history.

I found this brick sat in the remains of the flooded Peak District village of Derwent, it was sat in the mud on what would have been the main street. The brick was made at Skyers Spring brickworks in Hoyland, Barnsley around 1880 and found its way to the village for some use or other. It is an engineering brick, not used for adornment, so probably formed some infrastructure of the village.

It probably travelled over via Penistone, either across Strines along the Mortimer Road and then hang a right at Moscar Cross, up the bridleway to Whinstone Lee Tor and then down via Grindle Barn to the village. Or alternatively via Cut Gate from Langsett over the top and into the Upper Derwent Valley. The brickworks were run by James Smith and had connections to the Earls Fitzwilliam, who still have extensive shooting moors along the Strines Road. There was extensive trade between the two areas which accounts for the routes across the tops. It’s nice to see artifacts around that were from local sources.


Autumn in the Peak District

The east track of Derwent Reservoir in autumn. Upper Derwent Valley. Dark Peak. Peak District National Park
Down the East Track towards Derwent Dam 2016

The first day of September and there is a cool breeze coming through my open window.

Autumn is on its way.

Scout at the vets. Scout is a trainee search and rescue dog with me in Mountain Rescue.
Scout at the vets.

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 standing guard
Monty standing guard and giving me accusing looks

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.



Birchinlee – Peak District

Remains of the railway trestle at Westend, Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park
Remains of the railway trestle at Westend, Peak District National Park

Most people know of the two villages submerged beneath the Ladybower reservoir in the Peak District National Park. Derwent and the lesser know Ashopton villages have become synonymous with the Upper Derwent Valley. Few people realise that there was a third village in the valley, one with a greater population than the other two combined.

Birchinlee was sited on the west side of the valley between the Howden and Derwent dams. Most people now will walk or cycle through the village, perhaps take time to read the information board and maybe stare down into the remains of the pub cellar. Few will walk its streets running north south, the only evidence that something once existed here, is the raised platforms and occasional stone walling.

At its height over 900 people lived here. Schools, library, hospital, pub and homes all were built to house the workforce between 1902 and 1916. The buildings were made from corrugated iron, quick, cheap and sturdy, it is a material you can still find in old buildings today. The reason for the construction of Tin Town, as it became known, was in no small part to do with previous reservoir constructions over the hill in the Longdendale Valley.

St James’s church Woodhead, Peak District National Park

It was common at the time for workers on the reservoir and dam construction to have to fend for themselves, this included finding accommodation.  When the Woodhead reservoirs were built, living quarters for the men and their families consisted of makeshift shelters constructed out of whatever the men could find, peat, wood, stone, and sited  on the moors above the valley. There was no sanitation, no running water and no provision for health or hygiene. It was not uncommon.

An outbreak of Cholera in the workforce of the Woodhead reservoirs killed many and to add insult to injury the dead were buried outside the grave yard of St James’s church at the village of Woodhead, having been deemed to be socially unsuitable to rest with those interred within the church grounds.

This and other such instances caused a public outcry and it started the move towards better working conditions for workers. Birchinlee village came about partly as a result of such tragedy.

The tragedy today is that very little remains of Tin Town. There are plenty of photographs but little physical evidence. At the end of the construction of the dams the village was dismantled and sold off for scrap. A few buildings did survive and became garden sheds and workshops. Pieces of history that found their way in to the everyday life of surrounding communities.

The only surviving building from Birchinlee, in the Upper Derwent Valley. Peak District National Park
The only surviving building from Birchinlee. Hope, Peak District National Park

If you turn off the main Hathersage to Castleton road at Hope, just opposite the church as though heading for Edale, on the right hand side of the road is a small white corrugated shed. Today it is a hair salon, sat on stone, with white corrugated iron walls and roof, wooden framework painted black and a large window that takes up most of the side facing the road. This is the last remaining building from Tin Town, an important piece of social and industrial history that is all but forgotten.


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

Abbey Farm – Upper Derwent Valley

Derwent Valley. dwr gwent. Dark Peak. Peak District National Park
Derwent Valley. Dark Peak. Peak District National Park

The island below Howden Dam in the Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park. Made from spoil out of the trench that the dam sits in, at low water in Derwent reservoir a small bridge can be walked across.

The bridge led to Abbey Farm, now below the island. A clue as to the owners of the area in past centuries is in the name. Abbey Farm was owned by the the monks of Welbeck Abbey, as was the nearby Abbey Grange the site of which today is beneath the waters near to the mouth of Abbey Brook. A chapel was situated just down from Abbey Brook, all owned by the monks who would pay visits annually to collect their tithes and make sure that the land was being used to its maximum potential.

Upper Derwent Valley – Peak District

Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park. Paul Besley
Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park.

The Upper Derwent Valley. I spend a great deal of my time here and never tire of it.

Each visit brings up something new. A benchmark never seen, a view transformed by sunlight, saltness in the air from the sea.   Some days I just sit and look. A buzzard soaring high above Crookhill, people walking along Derwent Edge chatting as they go. The Grouse who accompanied me down Abbey Brook, chattering away and when I went to photograph him he would turn the other way, so I had to be sneaky to get a shot. Sheep at Slippery Stones, not yet have they worked out how to cadge food from the walkers, not like the sheep on Kinder who basically mug you. Not yet they haven’t. I have seen two stoats this last few weeks, first in years, darting across my path, lovely slender creatures with that creamy stripe underneath. And in the woods at Lockerbrook I saw an owl fly straight as an arrow across the woodland and perch high on an old pine tree.

I love the place.

All of the items mentioned in the post can be found on or near Walks No.10,11,12,13,14 of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press.

Buy the book here

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 Storms – Peak District

Spring storm hitting Slippery Stones in the Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park
Spring storm passing over Slippery Stones

Saturday’s small storm passing over Slippery Stones.

I like a nice summer storm when out, I find them exhilarating. Now I pay more attention to what is happening around me on a walk I notice the stuff that literally flew over my head as a young man.

I notice the air now as the storm comes in, it becomes charged with energy, electricity I guess.  The best bit is colour. As the storm clouds move on in front of me the sunlight hits them and it bounces back onto the landscape. The greens become incredibly  vivid against the dark indigo of the sky and seem to have been photoshopped.

I once watched the rain work its way towards me. Great sheets of steel grey moving across the landscape in a vertical curtain that had a defined edge.

As the storm hits sheep remain unconcerned throughout the tumult, which was interesting, not even looking around to see why the trees are suddenly swaying.

I like how the storm goes through its phases. Black sky on the horizon. Then the wind, trees swaying, the noise of the wind whirring around. Then the rain, the odd spot at first, so I’m unclear whether I felt it, then more, then the deluge. Thunder overhead now and with luck the lightning cracking down, bright flashes so quick I am never sure they happened. Then the quiet. No sound, all still. Sometimes there is a back edge where the storm has a final throw, other times not.

After the storm has passed, everything seems fresh, as though it has just put the landscape on a quick wash.

Experiencing a storm, sitting one out and watching the display is a real joy.

Ouzelden Clough – Peak District

Around this time each year I pay a visit to Ouzelden Clough that sits at the head of the Ouzelden inlet in the Upper Derwent Valley. Another couple of weeks and the Clough will become submerged under a green blanket of waist high bracken, hiding all the interesting little features that make this Clough special.
Ouzelden Clough is a narrow, almost perfectly right-angled valley, cut out of the gritstone and peat by the Ouzelden Brook which drains the pastures of Rowlee and Birchinlee and decants the waters, along with its tributaries, out of its north-east facing mouth into the Derwent reservoir. Walk its length east to west and you will have risen 600ft in little more than a mile, finishing on the wide open moorland that separates it from Alport Dale. It sits like a long forgotten land amidst the great moors above and the vast waters below.
The hidden entrance to the Clough intensifies the mythical island feeling. You step off the reservoir road and follow a forest track, through oak woodlands and across a flat plain pasture to the bank of Ouzelden Brook. As I walked across the flood plain I could see long thin beaches of gravel, brought down from the peat moorlands last winter. The sedge was still flat in places and further up stream laid a beech tree its large flat root base sticking out of the water and above the bank. The rains collect on the moors until the peat can absorb no further downpours and then it heads down the brook, breaking out of the banks and spreading wide across the flat grassy pasture. Today the waters were low, a short step and I was across to the remnants of an old dry stone wall from the days when farms stretched out along the valley floor. The word Ouzelden is a combination of Ouzel or Ousel, the bird, and den meaning pasture. So this is the pasture of the Ouzels. Ouzelden Barn sat by the brook, now all that remains are some low walls. When they built the reservoirs in Derwent Valley there was a thought that some buildings might contaminate the waters and so they were removed.
I sat on a small grassy knoll and watched the woodland, a mixture of ancient oak, scots pines and modern forest plantation. A Short Eared Owl flew through the trees, its flight straight and silent. It was the wingspan that caught my attention a long straight block of brown moving horizontally across the eye line. As it passed each tree the image of the bird flickered like a Victorian zoopraxiscope. It disappeared into the darkness of the woodlands interior but my gaze still held the last point I saw it, as if I was waiting for it to return.
The Owl did not return and I moved on up to the old quarry that was used to provide stone for the dam construction in the early part of last century. There are the remains of a small stone hut, perhaps the foreman’s office, still clearly defined. It is a favoured spot of mine for watching and brewing, the low walls making a perfect seat. From here you can see the whole of Ouzelden Clough and out across Derwent reservoir and onwards to Howden moor. The land curves where the waters have cut their way through peat and stone. Steep slopes extend down to the valley floor and along the moorland edge are outcrops of millstone grit. Here in the quarry the stone edge is high from the removal of material for the constructions. Mounds of spoil, grassed now, dot the floor of the quarry, piles of stone, some worked lay around as if found to be wanting in quality and therefore not required. On some you can see initials, carved by the quarrymen perhaps in an idle few minutes. The features that I have come to see are tracks. The tracks work their way up the slopes, away from the quarry floor, intermittently switching back in the opposite direction forming a zigzag pattern up the slope. Where the track changes direction there is a stone seat for want of a better word. It is embedded into the slope at ground level and comprises of a back and two sides mounted around a base, sometimes the base is missing. They are always at the junctions where tracks meet.

I have spent the last few years tracing these tracks and their features, imagining what they were for. In my minds eye I see workmen walking along the pathways from the top of the quarry to the bottom. I see them hewing away at the crag face and fashioning blocks to be taken down to the construction site in the valley below. In winter this would have been a cold depressing place to work. In the rain too.

When access land was introduced the national park installed fencing and a stile from the quarry out on to the moor above. They thought at that time people would come in drives. They haven’t. Save for, what I assume are workmen’s tracks, the only other trails are sheep trods from the valley floor to the moor. Occasionally I see a human footprint, but to all intent and purpose Ouzelden Clough is a hidden valley.