I managed to catch a little bit of winter yesterday in my monthly ascent of Parkin Clough to Win Hill in the Peak District. It was one of those days when the weather makes all the difference to a photo.
I shot this photo as Scout and I were descending from the trig pillar. Scout was frolicking in the snow near to the boundary wall and I just happened to look across at Crookhill to see light moving across the landscape and illuminating Crookhill and then onto Crookhill Grange and the barn. It was a wonderful sight, one of those moments that I hope for in winter, something of nature and the elements touching me.
Looking at the photo now, I see the hand of man going back thousands of years. Nestled to the east of Crookhill, almost in line with the centre of the saddle is a neolithic stone circle or curbed cairn. Inside the circle sit to mounds which could have been separate cairns. The circle sits amid other ceremonial features indicating this place was of some importance.
The circle and features date from the neolithic and bronze ages. Interestingly the monks of Welbeck Abbey chose this same spot to build Crookhill Grange/ now farm. The establishment of religious settlements near to ancient sites of ceremony is not unusual in the Peak District.
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.
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.
Looking out across Derwent Reservoir from the East Track
Down the East Track towards Derwent Dam
Heading back to Derwent Dam
Heading up the East Track
It’s beautiful in the Upper Derwent Valley right now. The Beech, Oak and Larch are putting on a fantastic display of colour. The valley is probably one of the best places in the Peak District to see autumn in all it’s glory.
Thankfully the planners and builders of the reservoirs and the present day custodians saw fit to plant glorious woodlands including natural species, hence the colour.
The East Track is the easier walk, no traffic so you can amble along taking in the colours and that wonderful aroma of autumn.
The drive into Fairholmes from the Snake Road has to be one of the best in the country in autumn, a bit like New England, all golds, yellows, reds and browns.
Here is what the Upper Derwent and Woodlands Valley should have looked like. Originally there were set to be five reservoirs, Howden, Derwent, Bamford, Ashopton and Hagglee, each with a dam spanning the relevant valley.
The first two, Howden and Derwent were constructed at the turn of last century. The Derwent Valley Water Board also had the rights to the water in the Woodlands valley and developed plans to construct three huge reservoirs stretching up the Woodlands valley, consuming the Snake Road and most of the farms and Hamlets on either side.
The major problem with the plan was the Snake Road, one of only two trans Pennine routes, the other being the Woodhead Road. Re-routing the Snake was a major construction project with huge cost implications. To reduce the cost an alternative proposal was put forward. If you have to move the road, why not just construct one enormous dam spanning the Derwent Valley at Bamford and rising to the top of Bamford Edge and across to Win Hill. Both the Derwent and Howden dams would have been consumed beneath the waters.
Eventually, cost and the inter war years moved the focus on to a third reservoir, Ladybower, stretching from Yorkshire Bridge up to Fairholmes, flooding the villages of Derwent and Ashopton.
Of course if one huge dam had been built there may not have been the Dambusters raid in Germany, no Four Inns walk and the start of Peak District Mountain Rescue, no Upper Derwent Valley.
So there you have it, that’s why the Upper Derwent looks like it does today.
Views rarely seen by the public. This is the inside of Derwent Dam. Beautiful crafted walls show the original untainted colour of the stone. The stone is dressed which is amazing considering that it would never be viewed, a nice touch of quality by the builders. There are two staircases in the cross tunnel leading each to the East and West Towers. The interior has a slightly eerie feel to it, monastic in a way. The temperature is constant and the slightly sandy floor gives the impression of the inside of a Pharoahs Tomb to an imaginative mind.
Not many people will know that the Dam stretches for hundreds of feet in to the hillside on both sides, which is one way to stop it sliding down the valley and losing all that water.
The interior of the Dam is made of stone “Plums”. Plum shaped boulders that were placed near to but not touching each other. When the concrete was poured in it filled the gaps and hence no air pockets of weakness.
A common misconception with the Dam is that it was used for target practice during the war. This is not true. The Dambuster Squadron did practice there as it was similar in design to the Mohne and Eider Dams. This fact combined with what seem to be pock mocks on the stonework developed into the myth of the RAF firing at the Dam for practice. The mundane truth about the pock marks is that they were made to accept the scissor lifting device used to place the large and heavy stones into place during construction.
A changing landscape has always fascinated me. I think the interest comes when I find out things are there that I never even knew about. I have a boyish attraction to the man made artefacts that were once of use and even important but now are long forgotten.
Benchmarks are a particular delight when I find one. A friend and fellow Ranger sent me a picture of one this week and it prompted me to look for more, so I got out my old maps and started to look.
The map above is from a survey in 1880 and it shows the now submerged village of Derwent. You can still walk around the village when the waters or low, discerning streets and boundary walls. Some of the village still exists, the school for instance, the one at the top, not in the village, I had not realised there were two. The gates to the Vicarage can be seen but the building along with Derwent Hall and the church have long gone. Grindle Barn is still there although the path up now sets off from a different place.
What is interesting are the OS benchmarks. There is one by the road between the upper school building and Wellhead at a height of 712 feet and 4 inches. Something to go and seek out next time I am there.
The September Equinox and Solstice will soon be upon us, my favourite time of year. The photo is of the East Track along Derwent Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley last year. Nature put on a wonderful display before its winter slumber.
I am often to be found in woods in autumn, especially beech and oak. I like the smell as the trees release their fragrance out into the air, earthy and rich in truth. After a dry summer the woodland floor will be dry, the leaves creating deep carpets of orange and gold, the colours of the earth starting to rest.
It has already started to get dark earlier now, 7:30pm and the sun is going down. A well-timed walk in late afternoon rewards with deepening shadows as the sun heads for the horizon a blazing golden ball, so bright nothing else can be discerned. It is a wonderful spectacle.
Out in the Peak District you can find ancient woodlands, woods of oak and beech, intermingled with the gritstone, warmed by the autumn sun. Some of the woodland is hundreds of years old, some a mere few decades.
Back in 2014 I helped school children plant a new wood in the Woodlands Valley. Two thousand native beech trees, planted by the hand of a future generation. When they reach my age they can take their grandchildren into the wood they planted and sit and watch the autumn sun setting and the shadows stretching out towards them. Now isn’t that something.
The Upper Derwent Valley has a special place in my life. I spend a good deal of my time there, as a Ranger working out of the Fairholmes Ranger station, or as a walker exploring its many hidden secrets.
It is a long narrow valley, cut by the River Derwent which rises near to Bleaklow a few miles away and up onto the moors. There are three reservoirs all in line and only one access road. This means that as you work your way up the valley civilisation gradually disappears. The hand of man does not quite leave, but you have to know where and how to look,a neolithic burning platform is pretty hard to spot.
The valley sides at the beginning are covered in farm pasture near to the reservoir, a remnant from before the waters came and farming was held close to the two villages Derwent and Ashopton, both now below the waters. The fields have classic enclosures, walled fields, fairly regular in size and shape.
Further up the valley sides moorland starts to assert its presence. Long dry stone walls enclosing fields so large you cannot define the edges. Moorland is peat country and heather, a managed landscape for grouse and for sheep.
Sentinels sit at the top looking down on all they survey. Gritstone edges, long and shear stand out against the skyline. They march down the valley in long straight lines, carved by water and the wind over millions of years. In places, the gritstone sits perilously balanced on a tapered stone post, thin at the bottom and much much wider at the top, so that you feel if you got too close you might topple the lot and ruin millions of years of geological evolution.
On the west side of the valley are the forest plantations of conifer and some mixed woodland. Forest walking is very different from the high moorland. Wide trails, pine needles, quiet, and cool in summer, dark and foreboding on a grey winter afternoon.
All seasons bring a different aspect, as though the valley has its own weather patterns that stick to the established seasons. It is protected to an extent from the outside world by its length and north-south line at the entrance then turning west on to the moors at its birthplace. Because of this, it holds the weather close to itself, once in the weather has difficulty in getting out again.
Get away from the honeypot that is the national park visitor centre and you can have freedom and if you know where to look, solitude. I have my favourite spots, where I can sit and watch, but I won’t be telling where.
I really like night time walking. The secret for me is not to make it an epic, not too long in distance or time and pick a place to walk to that has some significance.
The other night I went for a walk with friends up to The Shepherds Meeting Stones high above the Upper Derwent Valley. A couple of miles from the car park and only a little ascent. Met some friends who were out doing their own thing which made me think birds of a feather flock together and this was now my world, and one I find really exciting and rewarding. Work colleagues ask me what I did at the weekend and I say, went for a walk at night on the moors and they look at me as if I am mad. I ask them what they did and they say, stayed in and watched the telly, in a kind of sad, resigned way.
The good thing about a short night walk to a nice spot is that when you get there, there’s not much to see if its a bit clouded over. A spot with plenty of seating, grit stone is good for seating, crack out the flask and the food and sit and have a laugh. Intensifies the experience of friendship. Makes you focus on your friends rather than on the the scenery. Things like that stay in the memory.