Eyam in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is well-known as the plague village. Virtually everyone knows the story of a bag of cloth from London arriving with the plague and many of the inhabitants of the village succumbing to it and their subsequent death. You can walk around the village, looking at the cottages with their little notices of who died and visit the graves of the dead.
The villagers were true heroes, every last one of them, for the sacrifice they made. Religion and persecution played a major part in their actions once the plague took hold. Civil war, Royal decrees all had a hand. Strength of character, bravery and responsibility were also present.
There were two vicars in the village. The conformist priest Mompesson for whom the well is named after had replaced the nonconformist Stanley, who had refused to conform to Charles II’s new Book of Common Prayer. Stanley had remained in the village after losing his post and livelihood. As the plague swept through other parts of England the conformists priests beat a hasty retreat leaving communities to fend for themselves and at the mercy of the plague. It was the non conformists priests who stayed and tended the flock, a fact not gone unnoticed by many of the communities in the country. Mompesson decided, wisely to stay and, give him credit, teamed up with Stanley, to care for and guide the community. Perhaps this one single act was the catalyst for the whole village acting as they did.
The two proposed a radical and unique approach to the plague now raging through the village. Contrary to the rest of the country who kept people out and expelled infected inhabitants. The priests proposed sealing the village completely, no one in or out, and thereby protecting the surrounding areas from infection. It was radical and it carried the prospect of almost certain death for the whole village. Every single inhabitant agreed to the proposal, effectively committing themselves to mass suicide.
Arrangements were made with local landowners, for food and supplies to be left outside the village boundary, hence Mompessons Well. This quarantined the village from the outside world. Each day the dead would dragged outside the house and buried close by in the fields, by the remaining inhabitants.
Over half the population of the village died, many from the same family. It must have been a desperate time and by sealing the village off from the outside world a lonely bleak existence.
The villagers selfless act prevented the spread of the disease to other parts of the County, a heroic act by the whole community.
Harsh times in Great Longstone in the White Peak of the Peak District National Park.
From the Parish Registers of St Giles, Great Longstone
“From the Parliamentary Rolls, Vol. III, p518 petition dated 4th Henry IV –
From Godfrey Rowland , who styles himself “un pauvre et simple esquyer” praying “convenable et haste remedie” against Sir Thoma Wendesley, John Dean, vicar of Hope, and others who are stated to have come to the petitioner’s house at Longsdon, with force and arms; to have carried of goods and stock to the value of 200 marks; to have taken the petitioner prisoner, and carried him to the castle of the High Peak, where he was kept six days without victuals or drinks; after which they are stated to have cut off his right hand and then to have released him.”
Baslow and Curbar Edges leading up the Derwent Valley. Peak District National Park
Thatched cottages in Baslow. Peak District National Park.
Capability Brown landscape. Chatsworth Park. Peak District National Park.
Agricultural Crops below Baslow Edge. Peak District National Park.
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.
Combs Edge from Castle Naze. Gritstone within the limestone country of the White Peak in the Peak District National Park.
It sits on the very edge of the national park boundary, to the left of the edge is outside the national park. What seems to be an odd exclusion from the park makes sense once you look at a map. A guiding principle in establishing national parks back in the 40’s and 50’s was the exclusion of major built up areas. Behind Castle Naze sits the towns of Buxton, Whaley Bridge and Chapel en le Frith, all major centers of habitation and commerce.
They point a barren finger in to the park boundary and at night can clearly be seen from space as a tentacle of light within the darkness of the national park. The Peak District National Park is the only national park in the world that can be seen from space at night.
Not all triangulation points have a triangulation pillar or a benchmark plate. The latest walk started at the Grade 1 listed All Saints Church in Bakewell, the triangulation point being the church spire. The church is interesting for its architecture and stained glass windows, the local benefactor and landowner features large in the proceedings. From the church I headed south east for the next trig.
Noton Barn is at the top of a small rise overlooking Bakewell and Haddon. Tracks and pasture land make the walk a pleasant stroll especially on a sunny day. The triangulation pillar itself is situated in the corner of a field, unadorned and in perfect order. Heading back across the fields to the next trig there are wonderful views of the medieval Haddon Hall estate, which is reached following a short descent to the A6 road.
The route rises from the road, through the Haddon Estate and on to the Chatsworth Estate. Climbing up the hill and through the trees, a rail tunnel, now sealed is passed. The tunnel was used to hide the rail line from Rowsley to Bakewell from the sensitivities of the Duke of Rutland who owned Haddon Hall. The Monsal Trail starts at Bakewell and continues on to Topley Pike east of Buxton, it is a fine walk or cycle especially now that the tunnels have been opened and floodlight during daylight. Calton Pastures sits between Bakewell and Chatsworth House, nestled against a wall, with views across to Edensor and Chatsworth Park. From the trig it is a simple and pleasant descent back in to Bakewell. The route does cross a golf course, and a large bell has to be rung to warn golfers of your presence, this is very satisfying, especially if one can time the ringing in the golfers mid stroke, such pleasures should be taken whenever they can be had.
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 like moorland walking. Its a great way to get fit, improve calf and thigh muscles and once you get walking across peat moorland with lots of grass tussocks it will definitely improve you ankle strength, all in all a winner. I was scared of the moorlands as a kid because someone, I cannot remember who, put the idea in to my head that they were dangerous places where people died. I have grown to love the high moors, the loneliness mixed with wild beauty has a transfixing effect on my mind, after a few miles walking I have completely left my other lives behind.
The path up to Flask Edge was almost a sheep track, it was so narrow as it wound its way through calf high heather. In places I had to divert due to the amount of standing water. We have had so much rain this winter, peat bogs have become a soup as they stop being able to absorb any more rain. The path rises to a small plateau with broken down walls forming a handrail to the triangulation pillar. As I arrived, a huge group of ramblers also appeared and what seemed to be a bit of a stand off ensued. I wanted my photo they didn’t want to move. I decided to say my good mornings and take in the view. You can see for miles from here, across Sheffield, over to the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Power Stations, up in to North Yorkshire and down the Derwent Valley through Derbyshire. Eventually the oldies grew tired of the metaphorical staring contest and buggered off down the path I had ascended. I got my photo!
Then set off after them. They were surprisingly quick and noisy so I let them get on ahead. I am with Wainwright on walking. Being alone is enough company and being quiet is even better.
There is a track that winds its way down to the old abandoned Barbrook Reservoir and I ambled along it enjoying the easy walking. Along the track I came across a leaning stone pillar and noticed it had a benchmark with the levelling mark perfectly level, so assume this is how it is supposed to look and time has not pulled the pillar over. It would be easy to become disoriented in the area there being no water in the reservoir, the bottom being well overgrown with moorland grass. At first I thought, hang on, there should be a big blue bit here, then saw the hole, of Dambuster proportions in the dam. There is no way this reservoir could ever hold water with a hole that big, whatever are the water people playing at, come to think of it what are OS playing at, colouring in water when there plainly could not be any. By the way never ever ever call the thing that is supposed to hold the water in the reservoir a Dam Wall. Dam builders become very agitated when hearing this. The “Wall” is The Dam, there is no wall. Got It.
I did a little nav exercise here to a stone circle not far away. Got to the right point but couldn’t see the circle. I was looking for a small circle of stones, maybe a few feet in diameter. It slowly dawned on me that the stone I was standing in front of was part of a large stone circle and that I had in fact found it.
Lunch at a lovely little bridge where I enjoyed my Big Soup in my Thermos Soup Flask and some nice cheese and pickle sandwiches. The boys played around and had the odd chew to gnaw. Then we headed off across Big Moor,now part of the Eastern Moors Partnership of the National Trust and RSPB.
As we crested the hill I noticed quite a lot of people watching us, I could see their heads turned in our direction. It was only as we got closer that I realised it was the herd of deer that live on the moor. It is purportedly the largest wild herd in England, I have no doubt this is correct. Once they had a whiff of the boys, or maybe it was me and all that man made base layer technology, they scarpered and were never seen by us again.
We hit White Edge just to the left of the trig, this is called aiming off in navigational terms or just plain lucky in layman terms. The views were magnificent, Bleaklow, Kinder, Wing Hill, Lose Hill, The Great Ridge, Burbage and Stanage. Then down the Derwent Valley deep into the White Peak ans going east towards the coast. Viewpoints like this are magical places, giving a sense of scale to the landscape and the human. We really are of no consequence when placed in a landscape that does not even register our existence.
We worked our way along White Edge, the wind gusting strongly, but still quite warm. Ollie enjoyed it tremendously and kept stopping to face in to the wind for a bit of surfing. Monty was not so keen as the wind would have ruffled his coiffed hair doo. Heading back to the car we passed two relics of a lost transportation infrastructure.
The side tells the traveller this is the Dronfield Road, it also has a benchmark on the face. It was used to guide travellers between Sheffield, Dronfield, Tideswell and Bakewell. There is further information at artsinthepeak
There is something satisfying about walking an ancient route. I imagine all sorts of characters struggling along in dark days with howling gales across desolate moorland. Trains of horses loaded with goods, monks moving from monastery to grange, journeymen, quarrymen, stone masons and of course vagabonds. Imagine being out on these moors in bad weather, the depths of winter, no fancy hi tech clothing, no maps or compasses, only stories and the stones to tell you the way.
There are several salt routes that cross the moors around Big Moor and Leach Fen further south, major trade and communication routes. Many were marked by crosses, Ladys Cross on Big Moor is the third and most complete example I have seen on these walks. It still has some of its perimeter wall surrounding it. As a traveller these crosses must have been a welcome sight and visible for many miles.
Shortly after leaving Ladys Cross I arrived back at my car and the third and final Trig Point. This was the hardest to find. No pillar just a surface bolt in a lump of stone below ground level as it transpired. Some prodding around with a Leki eventually located it. This would be a fine nav test.
Walking through thousands of years of history all within a nine square kilometres is one of the joys of being outdoors, made all the more special when that history is so easily to hand and visible.