Gaz: Shorts Col? That’s brave.
Col: There’s nowt more waterproof that your legs is there?
After picking up on my re-kindled passion for walking, my good friend Colin offered to guide me on one of his favorite treks through the Peak District. Our route would begin in the picturesque village of Hope, follow the River Noe along to Castleton then ascend Mam Tor and walk a section of the ‘Great Ridge’. I was very much looking forward to this walk as it was to incorporate quite a few interesting areas of the Peak district, as well as bagging four ‘Peaks’ in the process.
We arrived in Hope at around 0930 and it was wet. Wet, grey and misty. Hardly ideal conditions for taking in the beautiful views of the Hope Valley and Edale, but you can’t win them all as they say and I wasn’t going to let this spoil a promising adventure. Hope is a village seeped in history, originally being a Roman settlement (there are the remains of a fort somewhere, I shall investigate on another day), then being occupied by Norse settlers and the Saxons under King Ǣthelstan. It seems that Hope and Castleton must have had some significance in ancient Britain and I make a note to research this further sometime in the future.
We set forth from Hope and headed up to the footpath from the village that followed the River Noe and along to Peakshole Water reservoir, which on reflection is more of a large pond. It’s a gentle and reasonable level walk across the fields, with the ever present monolithic Hope Valley Cement Works looming over to our left. After a few steady miles we hit Castleton, which is a fine day out in its own right, but today’s business is walking and there’s a Peak to climb. The path leads us out of Castleton and past the ‘Devil’s Arse’ cave which rests just below Peverel Castle. We cut across a series of fields along a path called ‘Odin’s Sitch’ which leads to the Odin Mines at the foot of the Peak. Between ‘Castle-town’, the ‘Devil’s Arse’, the castle on the cliff side, Odin Mines, the promise of a disappearing road (more of that in a bit) and the ever present ominous Winn Hill that looks like Mount Doom (Orodruin) from Middle-Earth, this trek already has a distinctly Tolkien feeling about it.
Onwards towards the Odin Mine, an old lead mine that has been present since Roman times. The exact dates of the mine opening are unclear, but the name certainly indicated Norse settlers opening a shaft and naming it after their chief deity. In fact older maps and records show then name as ‘Oden’ mine, more in common with the original Nordic translation. There are plenty of ruins and features to explore, but I resolve to return in more clement weather and investigate properly and take some decent photographs. Unfortunately it is definitely not the weather to stop and soak in the atmosphere, it was just the weather to stop and soak so we press on and begin our ascent of the Tor.
The next section of the walk has an interesting history. It follows what was the old A625 road which originally circumvented the old pack-horse route on Winnats Pass and linked Sheffield to Whaley Bridge. Constructed in 1819 by the Sheffield Turnpike Company, this section of the road was embroiled in a (futile) battle against a 4,000 year old landslide that blights the Tor from its foot to its summit. The land the road was build upon has deep lying ‘geological flaws’ in that its underlying foundation is weak shale and soft sandstone are ‘constantly’ giving way, resulting in the debris flow from the foot of the mountain upwards. The resulting nick-name of the ‘Shivering Mountain’ emerged, though today I am inclined to call it that for more meteorological reasons. These landslips, common in this region of the Peaks, result in the distinctive appearance of the Tor with its ‘fallen away’ side. We will happen upon an even more severe example at Back Tor, a few miles further along the great ridge.
Because of this slippage, pretty much since its inception the original A625 was constantly subject to repair work. Major repair works were carried out in 1912, 1933, 1946, 1952 and 1966. On the latter occasion, the road was closed for 6 weeks. In 1974 large parts of the Mam Tor section collapsed during a massive landslip, repairs were successful but subsequent years of heavy rain caused even more landslides and eventually the road was abandoned for good in 1979. Walking up the road is quite peculiar, seeing these mighty great chunks of asphalt and concrete (still complete with markings and cats-eyes) warped and twisted by the ever moving mountain. Though oddly beautiful, it’s a profound reminder that although we like to believe our human mark on this earth is indelible and lasting; we are but a speck of dust in the sands of geological time and might. I think old J.R.R. would have liked that;
“It is not the not-man (e.g. weather) nor man (even at a bad level), but the man-made that is ultimately daunting and insupportable. If a ragnarök would burn all the slums and gas-works, and shabby garages, and long arc-lit suburbs, it could for me burn all the works of art–and I’d go back to trees.”
– JRR Tolkien, Letter #83
As we approach the entrance to the Blue John Caverns, we come across a newly built café and it seems entirely appropriate to stop for a quick break to dry off a little and slurp something warm. No time to explore the Caverns today (but a must for a future visit), it’s onwards and upwards (literally) towards the summit. As the road gives way (literally) to the earthen trail, the wind and rain cut across the mountain side as if blown by Njörður himself and the path becomes steeper with every stip. Looking over our shoulders; despite the weather we are afforded a spectacular view of the Hope Valley, complete with cement works nestled in its basin, but its not the time, weather or place to stop. After a final few thigh-burning meters of muddy, almost vertical ascent we reach the summit. 517 meters above sea level with views down the Hope Valley, across Edale, over towards Kinder Scout and beyond. Spectacular. Spectacularly wet and freezing also.
Mam Tor summit once was home to ancient hill-top fortress from the Bronze Age/Iron Age. Research has suggested that it was occupied as early as 1200 BC, they must have had bloody warm animal skins! There are some interesting markings in the rocks that celebrate the Tor’s ancient heritage but there are too many people milling around to really take them all in. A project for a return trip in more clement weather on a quieter day methinks. I grab a few pictures but they don’t really come out due to the conditions, make a note of the Trig Point and we press on along the Great Ridge.
The Great Ridge of the Peak District is a footpath approximately 2 miles long, beginning at Mam Tor and finishing Lose Hill (or vice versa depending on your direction). It takes in Mam Tor, Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Lose Hill along with spectacular panoramic views the whole way. It has been paved by the National Trust which may not be the preference of walking purists (one can only imagine the grumpy AW’s musings on such a thing), but does preserve the path from erosion. This particular walk is possibly the most popular one in the Peak District and without such reinforcements the state of the land would be surely diabolical, so such compromises must be made to ensure enjoyment for all.
As we trek along the ridge I muse that even on a day with such dreadful weather conditions, the Peaks are still crowded. There are literally hundreds of people walking on the ridge all at the same time as us, braving the wind and rain to enjoy the views, the walk and the challenge. On a sunny weekend in August, this place must be like Piccadilly Circus! This really highlights the popularity of the Peak District; by comparison I have often walked the Yorkshire Dales on a fine day and seldom come across another sole. It leads me to philosophize a little on why I like to walk; is it for the solitude? the peace and quiet? the escape from the bustle of the town? It’s maybe all of those things that I yearn for, yet seeing so many people braving the elements to enjoy the simple pleasure that the countryside has to offer us makes me happy.
Enough philosophy! Onwards we heard to Hollins Cross, the lowest point of the ridge. Hollins Cross is so called because it once originally had a cross raised at this point, but that apparently vanished some 100 years or so ago. From Hollins Cross the gentle descent turns back to a gentle ascent towards Back Tor. The gentle ascent soon turns to a fairly severe one and the well maintained pavement gives way to a worn and broken stony path. Back Tor is a striking feature of the ridge with its North-West face severely fallen away and solitary tree atop its rocky summit. Facing back South-West we have a fine view of our route here from Mam Tor and North-East we can see our final Peak of the day Lose Hill. There is a legend that Lose Hill and its neighbor Win Hill are so named after the ancient Kingdoms of Wessex and Northumbria did battle here. The Northumbrians’ encampment was situated on Win Hill and the forces of Wessex on Lose Hill. The men from the North supposedly triumphed from their superior positioning and as such that hill was the winner, hence Win Hill and the other the loser, so Lose Hill. Fanciful, unsupported, undocumented and almost certainly a tall tale, it makes for a good story though.
Speaking of Lose Hill, we are soon 476 meters above sea level at its summit and finally the rain and wind begin to ease off. There are some interesting rock formations of grit-stone and some lovely views, but again the crowded summit prevents any serious photography and we soon resolve to descend the fell and head back towards Hope. My praise of the maintenance of the footpaths along the ridge does not extend to the trail back to the village. Unfortunately they are of a condition I would more associate with another outdoor pursuit of mine, Tough Mudder obstacle running. Regardless we are soon back in Hope and able to look back over our shoulders at this impressive range of fells we have traversed.
A fine walk indeed, though we ended up a little wetter and muddier than is socially acceptable we were still completely satisfied with our day of trekking. We rounded off the day’s proceedings with a pint of North Yorkshire’s finest Black Sheep Ale in the Millstone at Hathersage before wearily retreating back to the confines of civilization (well, Sheffield).
The more I venture into the Peak District the hungrier I become for further adventure. Kinder Scout is likely to be on the horizon in the near future as it my unfinished business with Higger Tor. With Spring and Summer creeping up on us (slower than I’d like), there’s also the prospect of getting back to my beloved Lakeland in the coming months too, so keep coming back. I’d like to thank my good friend Colin for introducing me to this walk and joining me, he’s certainly got a decent working knowledge of the Peaks and I’m sure it won’t be our last day out walking together.