We featured Wild Bank Hill in our recent ‘Peak’s Best Small Hills‘ article, and it’s a cracking place with a lot going for it for the serious walker: Open Access moorland; views of the metropolis of Manchester to the west, the wilds of the Dark Peak to the east; a trig point for the enthusiastic bagger. Indeed, for such a small hill we suspect it will probably make it into our #EssentialPeak bagging list, such are the joys it offers the serious walker.
However, some of us aren’t (always) serious walkers, are we? So, we are pleased to report Wild Bank Hill holds further delights, namely the shapely prominence of Cock Knarr, a north-eastern spur of the hill giving great views out over the reservoirs in the valley below.
Should you wish to bag Wild Bank Hill (and you should), we would therefore suggest a route taking in Cock Knarr Dam, (helping hold back the tide trying to rush forth), before strolling through Cock Wood, the thicket of foliage nestling around the foot of the Knarr, before striding up the short (but pleasing) flank of the hill to the head of Cock Knarr itself.
But, having really scrapped the barrel with the coarse but rewarding similes and metaphors above, we feel a little bit of Public Service Education is probably in order, just to make ourselves feel a touch less, well, daft. So: Knarr, it appears, is a word to describe an old Viking sea-going ship, which seems to fit given these parts were well up in the Danelaw, where Viking names are prevalent. When viewed from the valley below you can certainly see how the hill resembles a ship – especially now the reservoirs have created some ‘sea’ for it to rest upon. Where the cock comes from is anyone’s guess – however, interestingly, a Cog or Cock was also a type of ship, developed after the knarr fell out of favour. So it’s possible that Cock Knarr could be a tautological name meaning Ship Ship Hill (akin to Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria, the elements of whose name translate from their various sources as Hill-hill-hill Hill).
So there you go, after a rather silly attempt to turn local landmarks into a cheap gag about a chap’s privates we’ve all actually learned something today. Positively Reithian.
The Great Outdoors Magazine recently published an article looking at the UK’s best small hills. It was, of course, great to see the Peak District well represented, with Shutlinsloe and Mam Tor being two of the 12. There was also plenty of great inspiration for further afield. However… being picky about it (and someone’s got to right?!), most of the hills represented were actually pretty big hills. In the UK a mountain is seen as being over 600m in height (2000ft in old money), and many of TGO’s list were between 500m and 600m. So, we’d say, pretty big hills really.
But look, it is nit-picking, and really just a thinly veiled excuse to list what we think are some of the Peak District’s best actual small hills. We’ve chosen five – but we’d love to hear your suggestions.
Crich Stand – 286m
It’s location outside the National Park means Crich Stand is often overlooked. On days when Mam Tor or Kinder will be crowded with day trippers, and wile the nearby tram museum will be full of tourists, Crich Stand itself will still be quitely looking out over the lowlands of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It’s a great shame, as the views are second to none. On a clear day you can see over 20 miles to Nottingham, the towers of Ratcliffe Power Station and the distant hills of Leicestershire’s county top at Beacon Hill. The stand itself is the name given to the tower topping the hill, a memorial to the Sherwood Foresters. There’s also a trig point to add to your collection!
Walk it: The best route is to head from the Cromford Canal parking at Lea Mills. Alternatively try the rolling hillside between the stand and South Wingfield with it’s romantic ruins. If you are feeling very sluggish you could drive to the top – but that would be cheating.
The Stand from the canal
View from the Stand
Hen Cloud – 410m
In a region of such geological diversity there is nothing quite so dramatic as Hen Cloud and the Roaches. The Edges of the north-eastern fringe present a relatively flat landscape behind their gritstone faces. Not at Hen Cloud. Here the rock has been folded, and prods out of the surrounding landscape at a precipitous angle. Climbing up the rear of Hen Cloud, and looking back on it from the Roaches you really get an impression of the forces at work in twisting and fracturing solid rock in a way even Stanage can’t quite muster.
Walk it: Park along the road below the Roaches for a simple walk up to Hen Cloud – though it gets steep towards the top. For a longer walk park at Tittesworth Reservoir and head up from there – you can’t miss Hen Cloud.
Grin Low – 434m
A short walk up through the woods of Buxton Country Park brings you out onto what is essentially a post industrial landscape – but one softened by nature and time. The area of the summit of Grin Low is covered in old limestone quarries, waste heaps and the remains of lime kilns. The woodland below was originally planted to hide what was then an eyesore from the Duke of Devonshire’s home in Buxton! Now its a great natural playground for kids (and grown ups) to clamber on the rocks and admire the views across to the Dark Peak moors and into Buxton. The small tower crowning the very top of the hill is Soloman’s Temple, built as a folly upon the remains of ancient burial mounds.
Walk it: Park at the country park and walk up through the wood – Poole Cavern is also onsite and worth a visit.
Thorpe Cloud – 287m
What to say about Thorpe Cloud? If there’s a more dramatic, imposing peak standing at under 300m we’d like to know about it! Standing guard over Dovedale and it’s famous stepping stones Thorpe Cloud is another hill ideally suited to family adventures. There are little crags low down the hill to scramble up, then a steep climb up to the summit, where you are rewarded with fine views over Dovedale and across to the rolling countryside of lowland Derbyshire.
Walk it: The western face of the hill has some fun scrambling low down, but is too steep to climb right to the top. Well defined paths head up the edges of this flank, starting from either the bridge by the gauging weir or from the stepping stones (see our route here). For a slightly gentler climb walk from the stepping stones up Lin Dale, and the path doubles back upon itself up the northern flank of the hill.
View from the summit
Thorpe Cloud from Dovedale
Wild Bank Hill – 399m
Of all the hills in this short list Wild Bank Hill is the one that’s probably least well known. But it makes for a great short walk, with some amazing and varied views. From the summit each point of the compass holds a different and contrasting views. To the south the view is of the Kinder and Bleaklow range, with Snake Pass visible, along with the towns of Glossop and Hadfield. West is an incredible view over Manchester. North lie the little reservoirs of the Swineshaw Moor. Lastly, looking east is the imposing Woodhead Pass, which looks particularly dramatic and wild from here.
Walk it: Park on Hobson Moor Road for a short walk up to the summit, or for a longer (and much steeper!) walk start in Stalybridge or from the country park by the Swineshaw Reservoirs.
Over the years I’ve walked in Dovedale several times, but usually in the particularly busy bits. My daughter’s first hill bagging experience was up on Thorpe Cloud last summer, and I’d seen the stepping stones, Lover’s Leap and Dove Holes caves a few times on shorter strolls. Anywhere in Dovedale is special – and I really don’t mind crowds, it’s great to see people out in the countryside. However, I wanted to see some of the other areas around the dale I’d missed before. So, over the past couple of months I’ve had a couple of trips back to try and see some more of the place – and what a contrast they were!
My first trip was in pretty grim weather, with wind and rain for much of the day. Down in the dale itself the views were still pretty impressive. However, while bagging the summits of Bunster Hill and Baley Hill I could barely see my hand in front of my face at times! However, a couple of weeks ago the first real sunshine of Spring came out, so I headed back to prove what amazing views there are from those tops – with Bunster Hill giving particularly amazing views out over Dovedale and the surrounding countryside.
Walk 1 – Dovedale, Baley Hill and Bunster Hill – 7.5 miles
After parking in the pay and display at the entry to Dovedale (sadly the car park at the entrance to the dale was missing it’s usual grumpy attendant – never make the mistake of asking him about the National Trust!) I was quick out and into the dale, crossing the river at the bridge by the gauging station before marching over Lover’s Leap. There are some amazing limestone rock formations all along Dovedale – and if anyone in your party likes a bit of a scramble the steep slopes are perfect, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
At Dove Holes there was a team of climbers tackling the inside of the cave, then abseiling down from the roofs. They made it look easy work, but I’m not that nimble! Past the caves I was into new territory. As with the busier stretch before the dale is still easy walking with a solid path, but it widens out a touch, with Raven’s Tor looming in the murk to the left, and my target of Baley Hill out of sight up to the right. Viator’s Bridge at Mill Dale made a perfect lunch stop – the village really is as chocolate-box pretty as guidebooks make it sound, even on a gloomy day.
After lunch I took the route up the hill towards Baley Hill. All the way to the top it was pretty easy walking on clear paths, with a concessionary route connecting to the access land occupied by the summit. The ridge of Baley Hill forms a series of raised humps of limestone, which are fun to explore – which is just as well as the views were almost none existent! Working south from the summit is The Nabs, where the little humps of limestone expand and form small crags, which descend steeply down towards a side-dale. I followed the ridges straight down hill. For the most part this was fine but steep – however the last section before joining the path back to Dovedale itself was really a bit too steep, requiring me to hang onto the rock and trees to avoid slipping. It’s probably best to skirt along the top of The Nabs until reaching the top of the path near Hanson Grange. The path back down the side-dale is steep, and was very muddy – but being forested it provided something different to the more exposed nature of the rest of Dovedale.
Once back at the dale I turned left and headed for Ilam Bridge. My aim was to climb up out of the dale to towards Ilam Tops. The OS maps show a footpath apparently heading from besides Ilam Rock, so I tried to find this. A scramble up past the rock and I found what appeared to be a rough path, so followed it up the hill. It was very steep and direct, but always fairly obvious. At the top the path joins to a more well-worn and clearly planned path. I later found that this path (a newer path added as the old one was so steep?) actually appears in the dale slightly north of Ilam Rock, just before Hall Dale. Even this path is sign-posted as being very steep – but it’s probably the safest bet, especially as this initial part of the route I took required a small amount of very basic scrambling past Ilam Rock.
The path along from the Ilam Tops area towards Bunster is pretty clear, along with some ‘welcoming’ signs making it clear you mustn’t step foot off the approved line – which i’m not entirely sure is the ‘definitive’ line, but there you go. Bunster Hill itself is really just the southern end of Ilam Tops – it doesn’t even merit an addition on hill bagging sites as it’s prominence is so small. However, as with so much of the Peak District, the highest ground isn’t always where the walker wants to be aiming for (not least as Ilam Tops itself doesn’t have any ‘official’ public access – probably a problem considering the signage in the area!).
Like Baley Hill, Bunster is topped with small crests of limestone, which are great for exploring and give it a ‘dragon’s back’ appearance from Ilam (on a clearer day!). The actual summit is within a small copse of trees, but it’s barely any higher than any of the other bumps along the ridge. With no views on show today, I quickly took a fairly direct route down the steep flank of the hill, which is all Access Land. From there it was a short, but very muddy, walk past the Issac Walton Hotel and back to the car park.
And, then, with the sun shining! This walk really highlighted just how amazing the views from the hills surrounding Dovedale are – if you get the weather right! This time round I started from the National Trust car park at Ilam Hall, and once on the Access Land at the foot of Bunster Hill I left the footpaths and headed straight upwards. Bunster Hill has two ridges leading away from it’s summit. One heads south-west to Ilam, while one heads east. If the River Dove hadn’t ripped it’s way through the hill the dramatic peak of Thorpe Cloud would be no more than the end of the eastern spur.
After taking in the views across to Thorpe Cloud and across the lower Manifold Valley I descended down towards Dovedale itself. It’s steep, but never too steep, and a rough path helps guide the way down.
Heading over Lover’s Leap I started looking out for the path up to the natural arch and Reynard’s Cave. I’d always missed it, concentrating too hard on marching along the valley, so I wasn’t sure if I’d find it difficult to locate. But, just meters into a pretty distinct path (about halfway between Tissington Spires and Pickering Tor), the arch opens out in front of you, like a trick of the eye (think the invisible bridge in Raiders of the Lost Ark!).
To get back out of Dovedale I crossed Ilam Bridge – and passed the start of the ‘easier’ path up towards Ilam Tops (see above). Hall Dale looks to be a dry valley, and slopes fairly gently (by Dovedale standards) up towards Stanshope. There’s evidence of working of the limestone, which is confirmed by the remains of an old limekiln at the top of a concessionary footpath leading from the dale to Damgate.
From here it was a simple stroll through the rolling countryside of the lower reaches of the River Manifold’s valley. The views across to wooded hills are a contrast to those in Dovedale, with gentler slopes, more green (especially at this time of year) and more cows! As the Manifold falls into the Dove the walk ended back at Ilam Hall. And I can honestly say there’s no better place to have been walking on a fresh, sunny Spring day.