It’s almost criminal that I have now lived in Sheffield over 15 years and have never gone walking in the nearby Peak District. With scenery and terrain which rivals my beloved Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, it is incredible even to me that I have not spent more time in the Peaks; especially given it is only 30-40 minute drive from my home. All that changed this Sunday however when I decided to finally decided to see what all the fuss is about. I was not disappointed.
The air was cold but fresh and the sun bright and inviting as we headed out of the city towards Hathersage. Originally we planned to park up at the new Upper Burbage Bridge (say that three times fast) car park, which is apparently near the well-know Surprise View. I must have missed something though as I couldn’t find it (I passed it later and the term ‘car park. Is a rather liberal application to what is essentially a lay-by, hence why we missed it), so we parked up at the much more obvious Surprise View car park. Thrown by my complete lack of experience of Peak geography and alternative starting point, we scrapped our original walk to Stanage Edge from Higger Tor. Instead we followed the droves of Sunday walkers to enjoy views of our intended destinations. This hiccup in no way impinged our enjoyment or sullied my maiden voyage in to the grit stone landscapes of Derbyshire’s Dark Peak.
We slowly trekked up through the pretty woodland walk from the car park, soaking in the views as we went. The woodland soon cleared and gave way to a blanket of brilliant white snow, haphazardly punctuated by the gritstone boulders of varying shapes and sizes. The dark, oddly-shaped boulders make for a fantastic contrast against the bright white of the snow. Gritstone was formed over the course of millions of years as layers of course sand pebbles were compressed to form much of the rocks that make up the landscape you see today. The gritstone and sandstone is layered between softer deposits of shale and siltstone, which are eroded by the elements at varying rates. This result is an assortment of oddly shaped, almost wind-swept rock formations and outcrops. These are massively fun to photograph, climb on, picnic under and just generally walk around.
After taking in the spectacular views down the Hope Valley and out towards Grindleford with the clouds gently rolling over the hill, we wander further up the moor as it plateaus out towards Over Owler Tor. The first remarkable thing you notice on approach is the monolithic rock formation known as Mother Cap. As we wander up to the giant 8 metre high lump of grit, I notice a millstone by the side of the footpath, which makes for a half-decent photograph opportunity. I previously knew that millstones were synonymous with the Peak District but I shamefully never knew why. Once up on the top of Hathersage Moor and privy to all the gritstone, it became fairly obvious that millstones were made from the natural resources of the landscape. A little research on my return revealed that my guess was quite correct and millstones production along with lead mining had been one of the chief industries in the area above Hathersage and Baslow since the 14th Century.
Stone Masons would travel up the peak to quarry the gritstone and make pairs of millstones in situ. The completed stones would then be transported down the peak, it is commonly thought by controlled rolling, to be transported to their mills by road or water. This was a huge industry with Peak District Millstones finding their way throughout Great Britain. To give an idea of what a monumental task producing these huge wheels of grit was, the average output of a stone mason in the industry was around 16 pairs of stones a year. Which, unless my maths has failed me completely, means it took around 22-23 days to quarry and carve a pair of stones. Hard, back-breaking but industrious work. Sadly the whole industry collapsed in an incredibly short time period following the Napoleonic War, when cheaper French Millstones capable of grinding white flour flooded the market (the grit and limestone of the Peaks meant that the ground flour of these stones was generally grey in colour). The stones that remained were now worthless and abandoned where they were made or stored, where they still stand to this day. History lesson over.
After taking some time to climb over the Mother Cap rock formation, pose for some silly photographs and engage in what can only be described as a ‘selfie-war’, we head onwards towards Over Owler Tor. I am continually mocked on this leg of the journey by my beautiful travelling companion Kelly, who claims she can take better pictures with her iPhone than I can with my Canon Bridge Camera. Disturbingly, on a few occasions she is probably right (but don’t tell her that) and I have to concede she has a good eye for a picture.
From our approach the Tor looks like a series of huge stone building blocks, randomly stacked by some giant child of old folklore. They form an escarpment of grit and limestone which acts as a natural boundary, marking the edge of the Tor before a steep drop down to the continuing rolling moorland. The rocks which make up the Tor themselves are a beautiful sight to behold, eclipsed only by the panoramic view once you’ve reached their summit. Suddenly with a full face of icy February wind, I am privy to a magnificent 360° vista of beautiful English countryside. Looking North-East I can see the ridge of Higger Tor (or original intended walking route), panning round through the North to see over Callow Bank and North-West to see the bottom tip of Stanage Edge itself. I turn and face the opposite direction and can see the rolling hills with Bollhill and Yarncliffe Woods nestled at their feet. In the distance I can just about make out Grindleford, but the sun is now low in the afternoon sky and obstructs the unfiltered view some.
We climb over the rocks and enjoy the pleasant scenery, before dropping back down in to the sheltered area below the Tor and explore the other rock formations leading over to Millstone Edge. With the sun dipping ahead of us we follow the footpath along the edge, peering down into the old quarry as we go, until we arrive back at the Surprise View. Its not much of a surprise, bit it is very beautiful and as we sit on one of the memorial benches I reflect that regardless of your thoughts on the after-life, this wouldn’t be a bad place at all to spend your eternity. We walk a little further down towards the Longshaw Estate but eventually think better of it and return to the car park, shunning a further few miles for the pursuit of a good meal and decent pint.
Satisfied from our inaugural foray into the Peaks, we head back into Sheffield for a fine feed at the The Grind (http://grindcafe.co.uk/Welcome.html), my favourite café of Steel City and a pint of Pale Rider at the Fat Cat, my favourite pub (http://www.thefatcat.co.uk/).
I really enjoyed my first taste of the Peaks and will venture back very soon. In fact weather permitting I might even head out there again tomorrow…