Two walks in Dovedale

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

Get the Dovedale, Baley Hill and Bunster Hill  route card here

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A great view even on a dull day.

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.

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Mill Dale

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.

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The limestone outcrops on Baley Hill approaching The Nabs.

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.

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The ‘view’ from the top of Bunster’s south ridge.

 

Walk 2 – Ilam and Dovedale – 7 miles 

Get the Ilam and Dovedale route card here

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View to Dovedale from Ilam Hall – Bunster Hill’s two ridges to the centre, Thorpe Cloud to the right 
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.

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This is almost the same photo from Bunster as above – but with slightly more of a view!
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.

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Thorpe Cloud – is there a more magnificent small hill?
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!).

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How did I ever miss that?!
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.

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Hall Dale
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.

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Manifold Valley
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#EssentialPeak – A Bagging list for the Peak

What would your ideal Peak District tick list look like? Anything like this?

Everybody loves a good bagging list right? Even if you have no intention of completing them all, they give you a chance to pour over the lists, making plans for future trips. The range of lists is huge – from those based on set, immovable physical criteria, such as the County Tops, listing highest points in our counties to the Munros, detailing the Scottish hills with peaks over 3000ft in height. Then there are the more subjective lists, most famously Wainwright’s ‘love letter to the fells’ covered by the 217 fells in his pictorial guides. The Trail 100 is another example – being Trail Magazine’s list of the ‘top 100’ mountains for walkers in the UK.

I’ve always loved the idea of developing a bagging list for the Peak District. But the problem is the reliance most bagging lists have on ‘hills’. Although the Peak is blessed with many fantastic hills, it’s not an easy area to translate into a bagging list consisting of high points only. For a start, some of it’s highlights don’t involve you going up hill, but down dale – what self-respecting list could miss off Dove Dale or Lathkill Dale? Even up on the hills, the summits often aren’t the greatest attraction in the Peak District. Kinder must surely have the lowest proportion of walkers reaching it’s ‘true’ summit than any other popular mountain. It’s a special sort that braves the bogs to test their skills at ascertaining which of a multitude of rough peat mounds is 10cm higher than the rest. While they do, most sensible folk are at the trig, or the waterfall, or scrambling any of the fantastic rock formations instead. Then there are the edges – a defining feature of the Peak District landscape that set it apart from other upland areas across the country. Again many would be missed by a traditional hill list.

We like to think of bagging lists as an exact science – the heighest of hills, the most prominent peaks. But very often personal opinion and preferences sneak in. No more so than on Wainwright’s epic list (if there is a better hill bagging list I’d love to see it). As two examples how did Walla Crag (sublime) and Mungrisdale Common end up on the list? Walla Crag is just a stumpy ridge/cliff (OK, so an amazing stumpy ridge/cliff!) on the route up to Bleaberry Fell. It’s long been suspected AW included Mungrisdale Common simply to use up space – it’s barely even raised ground, with a prominence of just 1 meter, and barely a redeeming feature about it! And quite right too. Walking is about more than writing off a hill because it’s prominence from the next is too small – it’s about the journey, and the view when you get there!

Even those lists that are based on a set formula don’t necessarily give the best walking experiences. Take the county tops – the highest point in Nottinghamshire is, technically, a trig point, lost behind fencing in a fard yard, with no public acces, right by the M1 motorway. There are plenty of other hills in the county which make for a much more enjoyable walk, and are within a few meters of the actual county top – but rules is rules. Any bagger just sticking to the county tops must visit Nottinghamshire and make a mental note never to darken the county’s footpaths again!

All of the above is essentially me stating my case for casting aside any pretense at making a bagging list for the Peak based on any scientific formula. There are just three rules for each entry on the list:

  1. It must be at it’s best on foot. Or, ideally, at it’s best if you arrive there by foot too. So Crich Stand is in despite it having a car park right by it – because it’s far more special to walk up to it from the canal below.
  2. It must add to the story of what makes the Peak District such a special place. Be that human history, geology, or nature. So Bugsworth Basin, Magpie Mine and High Peak Junction are all in – they tell the human story of the Peak, and they certainly fit Rule 1.
  3. It must be a defined point. The essential part of that location, rather than a line or area to dip in and out of. I’ve tried to include the famous trails in the Peak – the Pennine Way, our first National Trail, and the Monsal Trail. But I’ve chosen key points, rather than including the whole trail. That way anarchy lies!

My list therefore places each point into at least one (often more) of eight themes: Water, Hills, Edges, Dales, Human History, Natural History, Resources (quarrying, mining etc) and Trails. My aim is that anyone who has ticked off each entry on the list will have experienced something from all the stories the Peak has to tell. It’s a grand aim maybe, but one I’m having fun honing down!

The next key decision to make was on the geographical extent of ‘the Peak District’. Often publications stick fairly slavishly to the boundaries of the National Park. I didn’t want to take that approach. It’s boundary is set not by any natural limits, but by political, social and economic considerations. I know from living outside Nottingham that there are many places outside the park boundary to the South-East that are quintessentially Peak in character, and key to the story of the region. Leaving them out wasn’t an option.

Instead I decided to focus on the two key geological characteristics of the Peak – the limestone bedrock of the White Peak, and the darker, more brooding aspects of the sandstone Dark Peak. But even here drawing a line wan’t easy. I used the fantastic mapping resource from the British Geological Survey to try to draw a line around my ‘Great Peak District’ The areas I knew in the South-East, around Matlock especially, had a fairly clear boundary around them. But to the north the Dark Peak simply carries on as the Pennies stretch North through Yorkshire and Lancashire. In the South and West it was hard to decide upon a cut off too. Eventually I decided upon six core sections to base the list, which you can see in the map below. After setting upon these sections I remembered about Natural England’s National Character Areas. These break England down into distinct areas based not on political or cultural boundaries, but by factors dictated by the geography and character of the environment. I was pretty pleased to see my area match up pretty well with the various character areas on Natural England’s list relating to the Peak District!

And now, we really get right down to the nitty-gritty – what are the locations that should be included in the Essential Peak Bagging List? As you can see on the map below (and the spreadsheet below the map), I’ve tried to identify the places I think no list of Peak walking spots should be without. But I need some help! I’d love to hear views from anyone about the list – especially on places I’ve missed, or points that aren’t quite as essential as I thought! I don’t want a list ‘designed by committee’ – but I would like to know what people think!

Some particular issues – partly caused by rejecting the need to go simply for peaks or high points – were:

    • At some locations, what should be the absolute key spot to include – for example at Long Dale.
    • On some hills, Kinder especially, I’ve included more than one point where I think places are too important to miss, for example Kinder Downfall. Are there others that merit being a star in themselves, rather than being a sub-feature

So please – let me know what you think to the map above and list below, either by commenting, tweeting me @Peakrills or by email via Peakrills@gmail.com.

Area Name
Dark Peak Alport Castles
Dark Peak Back Tor
Dark Peak Bleaklow
Dark Peak Brown Knoll
Dark Peak Coombs Rock
Dark Peak Crook Hill
Dark Peak Crowden Tower
Dark Peak Crowstones Edge
Dark Peak Derwent Edge
Dark Peak Featherbed Top
Dark Peak Grindslow Knoll
Dark Peak Higher Shelf Stones
Dark Peak Howden Edge
Dark Peak Kinder Downfall
Dark Peak Kinder Low
Dark Peak Kinder Trespass – William Clough
Dark Peak Ladybower
Dark Peak Langsett
Dark Peak Lantern Pike
Dark Peak Lord’s Seat
Dark Peak Margery Hill
Dark Peak Mount Famine
Dark Peak Outer Edge
Dark Peak Ox Stones (Burbage Moor)
Dark Peak Pike Lowe
Dark Peak Stanedge Pole
Eastern Moors Baslow Edge
Eastern Moors Beeley Moor
Eastern Moors Big Moor – White Edge
Eastern Moors Birchen Edge
Eastern Moors Chatsworth Park
Eastern Moors Curbar Edge
Eastern Moors Eyam Moor
Eastern Moors Froggatt Edge
Eastern Moors Gardom’s Edge
Eastern Moors Matlock Moor Trig
Eastern Moors Padley Gorge
Eastern Moors Sir William Hill
Eastern Moors Totley Moor
Eastern Peak Fringe Alport Heights
Eastern Peak Fringe Black Rocks
Eastern Peak Fringe Carsington Water
Eastern Peak Fringe Crich Stand
Eastern Peak Fringe Harboro Rocks
Eastern Peak Fringe Heights of Abraham
Eastern Peak Fringe High Tor
Eastern Peak Fringe Lovers Walk
Eastern Peak Fringe Lumsdale Falls
Eastern Peak Fringe Middleton Top
Eastern Peak Fringe National Stone Centre
Eastern Peak Fringe Robin Hoods Stride
Eastern Peak Fringe Stanton Moor
Hope Valley Abney Moor/Shatton Edge
Hope Valley Bamford Edge
Hope Valley Burbage Rocks
Hope Valley Carl Wark
Hope Valley Cave Dale
Hope Valley Higger Tor
Hope Valley High Neb
Hope Valley Lose Hill
Hope Valley Mam Tor
Hope Valley Millstone Edge
Hope Valley Navio Fort
Hope Valley Stanage Edge
Hope Valley The Ridge
Hope Valley Win Hill
Hope Valley Winnats Pass
Northern Moors Alderman’s Hill
Northern Moors Black Hill
Northern Moors Dead Edge End
Northern Moors Dove Stones
Northern Moors Featherbed Moss
Northern Moors Hoarstone Edge
Northern Moors Rollick Stones
Northern Moors West Nab
Northern Moors Wild Bank Hill
Western Moors Axe Edge Moor
Western Moors Black Edge
Western Moors High Peak Canal
Western Moors Burbage Edge
Western Moors Cats Tor
Western Moors Chinley Churn
Western Moors Combs Moss
Western Moors Eccles Pike
Western Moors Castle Naze
Western Moors Goyt Valley Reservoirs
Western Moors Gun
Western Moors Hen Cloud
Western Moors Kerridge Hill / White Nancy
Western Moors Lud’s Church
Western Moors Ramshaw Rocks
Western Moors Shining Tor
Western Moors Shutlingslow
Western Moors Sponds Hill
Western Moors Tegg’s Nose
Western Moors The Cloud
Western Moors The Roaches
Western Moors Whalley Moor
Western Moors Windgather Rocks
Western Moors Cheeks Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Biggin Dale
Western White Peak Fringe Bunster Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Carder Low
Western White Peak Fringe Cauldon Lowe
Western White Peak Fringe Chrome Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Dove Dale
Western White Peak Fringe Ecton Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Gratton Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Grindon Moor
Western White Peak Fringe High Wheeldon
Western White Peak Fringe Hitter Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Hollins Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Milldale Bridge
Western White Peak Fringe Narrowdale Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Ossoms Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Parkhouse Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Pilsbury Castle Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Sheen Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Solomon’s Temple
Western White Peak Fringe Thirklow Rocks
Western White Peak Fringe Thor’s Cave
Western White Peak Fringe Thorpe Cloud
Western White Peak Fringe Weaver Hills
Western White Peak Fringe Wetton Hill
Western White Peak Fringe Wolfscote Dale
Western White Peak Fringe Wolfscote Hill
White Peak Plateau Arbor Low
White Peak Plateau Bradford Dale
White Peak Plateau Chee Dale
White Peak Plateau Chelmorton Low
White Peak Plateau Coombs Dale
White Peak Plateau Deep Dale
White Peak Plateau Deep Dale (Topley)
White Peak Plateau Eldon Hill
White Peak Plateau Fin Cop
White Peak Plateau Lathkill Dale
White Peak Plateau Long Dale
White Peak Plateau Magpie Mine
White Peak Plateau Miller’s Dale Viaducts
White Peak Plateau Minninglow Hill
White Peak Plateau Monks Dale
White Peak Plateau Monsal Dale
White Peak Plateau Monsal Head
White Peak Plateau Peters Stone – Cressbrook Dale
White Peak Plateau Slitherstone Hill
White Peak Plateau Sough Top
White Peak Plateau Wardlow Hay Cop
White Peak Plateau Longstone Edge

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

 

Reaching the summit of Ingleborough, we stumbled around, not knowing where to aim for the final trig point on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. The bodies appearing out of the mist provided little in the way of help. The scene resembled an apocalyptic zombie film, with saturated, bedraggled and utterly exhausted bodies appearing out of the gloom from seemingly random directions. It was hard to tell if they were also searching out the elusive trig point or on their way back down. It seemed everyone’s internal compass was on the blink, from a combination of low batteries or water damage! Eventually the shelter appeared from the fog and, just beyond it, the trig. The last summit was done – it was all downhill from here. The hard work was over. Little did I know the remaining five miles would be some of the hardest on the route for me…

If Eskimos have 100 words for snow, on the walk that day we needed nearly as many to describe the murk we had to plod through. Fog, mist, cloud, gloo

Pen-Y-Ghent, really trying its best

m – none of them particularly enticing terms for a walk in the country. Especially a 24 mile one. The nearest we got to dramatic views was at the start on the climb up Pen-Y-Ghent. The summit did its level best to fight through the wall of grey, managing for a few brief minutes to provide a dramatic target for that first steep climb. It lost the battle fairly quickly however, and we were in the pea-soup for several hours before we dropped out of the bottom of it near Ribblehead.

Once the rain set in at the 10 mile mark it never really let up. It simply cycled between nasty drizzle and horrendous downpour for the rest of the afternoon. It put in a rousing crescendo on the last drag up Ingleborough, with hail and strong winds doing their level best to sap any remaining reserves of energy.

The last section of the route back to Horton goes through what I’m sure are, on any other day, stunning sections of limestone pavement. Today, the rain had conspired to combine wet slippery rock with even wetter, more slippery mud, to make it a real test – especially for my knees. My right knee (not the one I usually struggle with) took a beating, and was in considerable pain by now. However I was far too tired, wet and close to finishing to put on the knee support which had sat in my bag all day. So I just stomped onwards. If the zombie apocalypse really had occurred on Ingleborough, I’m pretty sure the good townsfolk of Horton would have gone for removing my head believing there was a better-than-average chance I was the infected rather than the heroic survivor I thought I was.

In the end we got round in 10 hours 15 minutes. Which I was pretty pleased with. If the knee hadn’t been playing up I may have ducked under 10 hours. Maybe if the really steep sections of ascent/descent were a touch less under water I’d have skipped over them a bit quicker too. But then, maybe if they were I’d also have taken more time to enjoy the views and had less resolve to get back as fast as was humanly (or zombily) possible. Who knows. I do know that despite the challenges I really enjoyed the walk. It’s a great blend of testing climbs and long sections where you can really get a head of steam up. I’d love to come back again – not with any aim of beating my time. In fact, quite the opposite. I’d much prefer to come back on a dryer, clearer day and take longer so I could really enjoy it.

Walk this route:

routemapThe route for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks is pretty self explanatory – there is now really good waymarking and finger posts on the route itself. There’s also a pretty constant stream of fellow hikers to follow if all else fails. Don’t be put of by that though – I thought it was good to be sharing a trail with so many others, especially one where you are all challenging yourselves – we spoke to a fair few others on the route, sharing experiences of this and other walks.

I’ve converted my Yorkshire 3 Peaks track on Viewranger so it can be downloaded as a route – I got wet, very wet, but we never diverted from ‘the’ route (mostly to avoid any extra time getting wet!), so it does follow the correct path. There are a few other links here too, all with descriptions and maps of the route:

The Yorkshire Dales website also has details of an app for the trail, an online store for souvenirs (the medals being recommended by me – they are copies of the waymarkers seen on posts around the route) and details of how you can contribute to keeping the route in good nick for future walkers too.

Eastwood Round

eastwoodroundcoverWhile looking through some ideas for routes to add to this site I found the draft for a route I’ve walked many times. I first wrote this up nearly 3 years ago, but I last walked it in May. The only bit of the route I had to change was were a ‘ramshackle old barn’ on the hill between Awsworth and Kimberley is now completely gone!

Eastwood is one of those towns on the edge – too rural to be seen as part of any city, but far too urban to be seen as rural. The second of these two is the most unfair. Despite growing hugely in the last 100 years, the town is still surrounded by some gorgeous countryside. 2009 Erewash Valley 008.JPGIt’s great walking territory . But I would say that, as it’s my home town? Well, this 16.5 mile route takes in a pretty wide variety of landcspaes to say you are never more than a mile from a decent sized town. There are green fields aplenty, with paths crossing lovely low hillsides with great views. There’s parkland to start and finish. There’ no shortage of waterside walking, with nature reserves following the ‘flashes’ (large ponds created by open cast working) at Brinsley (great for wildife); three rural canals (in various states of being!) and two rivers/streams. There’s also woodland at various points along the route. Despite it’s length it’s an easy walk too – with much of it along the canals being flat, and low gradients to the hills.

This area of the world isn’t lacking in heritage interest either. The town of Eastwood is very closely associated with DH Lawrence. The writer hated the town, but loved the countryside around it, with many of the locations around the walk being very recognisable in Lawrence’s books. The route also passes the sites of at least eight old collieries too – but you would never guess it now. All that remains are either deliberate reminders, like coal-trucks at Collier’s Wood or the the headstocks at Brinsley, or hints in the landscape which has almost completly returned to green countryside.

The one part I was never quite happy with was the small urban section through Langley Mill. Nothing against Langley Mill, but a busy road isn’t Giltbrook-Greasley 4.11 006.JPGwhat I wanted in the walk. But using the Cromford Canal would still have left road walking and cut out the lovely countryside around Brinsley, while taking the route out past Heanor would have made it a touch too long, and detracted from it being a circular around Eastwood. So, for that mile you’ll have to bear with it – but I promise the rest of it is gold. And you can at least use it to stock up on food and drink in the shops along the high street. Or have a MaccyDs. No-ones judging here.

There’s a map of the route below. But you can also:

  • Access an interactive, zoomable version of the Eastwood Round through Viewranger.
  • Download the PDF version, with full route instructions and information about the points of interest on the route via this Eastwood Round PDF link – or click the cover image above!
  • Download a GPX file – click the Viewranger link above, and download it from the sharing options on there (in the ‘menu’ section – you may need to sign up with Viewranger to access the GPX).

National Trust – Don’t Forget About Access!

They say a week is a long time in politics. And though the recent upheaval the pre-June 23rd UK seems almost a forgotten and distant era though only a month ago. As Brexit becomes ever more the political reality, more and more organisations, like the National Trust, who spoke out in favour of a Remain vote begin to switch focus to attempts to steer Brexit in a positive direction. This is the thinking behind National Trust’s new push to radically renew the system of farming subsidies in the UK.

The trust have released a six point plan for subsidies, shifting away away from production and acreage-based grants to refocus on protecting, restoring and enhancing the natural environment.

The six points are summarised here, but are given in more detail on the National Trust’s Future of Our Farming news article:

  1. Public money must only pay for public goods.
  2. It should be unacceptable to harm nature but easy to help it.
  3. Nature should be abundant everywhere.
  4. We need to drive better outcomes for nature, thinking long-term and on a large scale.
  5. Farmers that deliver the most public benefit, should get the most.
  6. We must invest in science, new technology and new markets that help nature.

I fully agree with each of these points. It’s great to see one of our biggest national conservation charities (and also one of our biggest farmers) making such a bold intervention in this debate.

However…!

I do feel National Trust have missed a very important Point Seven from their list of six:

Facilitating improved access to the countryside for the British public.

 Public funds should be used to facilitate public access

While great strides have been made in opening access to our uplands, moorlands and other ‘open countryside’ to outdoor recreation in recent decades, people are still broadly excluded from a great deal of our lowlands and other areas subject to farming. These area, and the farmers and landowners who manage them, receive a huge amount in subsidies – around £2.5-3 billion in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments alone. This money comes from the public in the form of taxation – yet the public is excluded from the vast majority of farmland. Attempts to increase public access are heavily resisted by farmers and their representatives. This can be witnessed in the negative response from NFU Cymru to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Green Paper on countryside access.

Of course, a great many farmers and landowners do an awful lot to help walkers and others in the countryside. And many involved in outdoor recreation need to change their attitudes, especially with keeping dogs on leads and respecting property by doing no damage. But all in all farm land presents a potentially incredibly valuable, but under-utilised recreational resource. And one we are all paying to keep going.

DSCF4427.jpgEven the Public Footpaths that do exist in farm land are often treated with contempt by farmers. On a recent walk near Wirksworth, on the edge of the Peak District, a Public Footpath through a farmyard had been completely blocked with taped fencing and locked gates across the legal Right of Way. Being so far from an alternative route I had no choice but to find a way of scrambling over the barriers, and hoping not to meet what was likely to be a hostile farmer. At another point (within a few miles) I came across the pictured sign on a gate – no problem I thought, I have no intention of leaving the path. The only marvernsfarm.jpgtrouble was the path went straight across the middle of the field and hadn’t been maintained. Crops were growing on it, so that the path was invisible. So I had the landowner was making it very clear to me I must stay on the path, while giving me no option but to guess where it was and walk straight through their crop!

The fields in the second picture are by the Malverns, leading up to one of the railway stations walkers can use to access this great range of hills. But the Rights of Way crossing it have been ploughed up, leaving it unclear where a walker should go to either stay on the correct path or even use a route which the farmer might prefer. So the walker is left in the uncomfortable position of just having to strike out across a field and hoping for the best.

Positive Benefits

Although the benefits to outdoor recreation are clear (and all that entails for both physical and mental wellbeing), there are other benefits to increased access to our countryside, and ones that should benefit farmers too.

“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” Sir David Attenborough

I love this quote. It sums up so much about what I believe is great about getting people into the countryside. The charge is often made that people from outside the farming/conservation/upland/rural (delete as applicable) communities don’t understand them, leading to conflict, misunderstand and failed policies. Well, how can people be expected to understand something they are actively excluded from? Unless we stand helping people enjoy, responsibly, their countryside, to see it as theirs to protect, how are we to spread the vital messages we to about the issues such areas face?

With such an adversarial situation between outdoor advocates and the farming sector both sides can come across as intransigent. Organisations like Ramblers and Open Spaces Society get criticised for a ‘militant’ approach to the policing of Public Footpaths, especially in opposing changes to the direction of paths. Again – when such paths present one of the few legal ways to access much of our countryside, when our rights to use these was so hard fought for, and when (as described above) they are still so often abused by some (but nowhere near all) landowners, how can we expect otherwise. By having a more liberal approach to  accessing the countryside (see my ideas below), maybe all can work more positively together in the future, with changes being made through cooperative partnerships, rather than through often hostile relationships.

What Access?

These are just my initial thoughts on the ways in which our countryside could be opened up more effectively to outdoor recreation through conditionality in subsidies (or even, blue sky thinking alert, because it’s just a good idea!). Importantly, I don’t believe any of these ideas need have any detrimental effect on farmers. They should, at worst be neutral in impact, and at best create additional opportunities for landowners (e.g. chargeable facilities, cafes etc) should they wish to take advantage.

If anyone has any ideas to contribute to this, please let me know – it would be great to collate them!

Maintenance of footpaths – ensuring and Rights of Way running through land are maintained, open, and welcoming should be a clear minimum condition. This is already a legal responsibility landowners have – so it should be happening anyway. There should be a zero tolerance approach to handing over public funds to any landowner not fulfilling such responsibilities.

Increasing opportunities for access on foot – where possible audits of the local area should be conducted to identify gaps in local provision. For example local beauty spots which are difficult to access; under-resourced activities (e.g. a lack of Bridleways for horse riders or cyclists); or areas with a low density of either Rights of Way or Access Land. Where gaps are identifies landowners should be encouraged to work with other stakeholders to set up new routes, ideally as Rights of Way, but potentially as Permissive routes.

Access on/along rivers / lakes – only 4% of rivers in England and Wales hold a IMG_20160508_152818551b.jpgRight of Navigation which is recognised (or unopposed) by all parties. This has a severe impact on water sports, especially canoeing. In return for public fund
to maintain land, landowners should be obliged to allow canoes to pass along their waterways. Although this doesn’t answer the deeply entrenched issue of whether permission is needed or whether a legal right already exists (see, for example, River Access For All) it would at least allow paddlers to canoe along a huge amount of water with reduced conflict with other groups.

Support access to specific environments for outdoor recreation – these could range from rocks and crags for climbing, or the chance for newer sports like paragliding, abseiling etc to be able to use land for their recreational use.

Thorpe Cloud – Family Mountaineering!

In a couple of weeks I’m off to the Lakes with my family, including a 4 and 2 year old. I’ve been a couple of times the last year or so, but with my canoe club, getting some good long paddles and walks in. But this time I’m particularly excited about theIMG_20160730_135421061.jpg chance to see my kids tick off their first Wainwright with me – a steamer trip to Hallin Fell awaits!

Being so preoccupied with planning a trip to the lakes, I forgot about some of the great family adventure walks in the Peak District. However, last weekend found us in Dove Dale (along with half of Derbyshire – but I love seeing people out!). My four year old was having great fun scrambling on the rocks around the stepping stones, and pointed up at the rocky staircase leading up the flank of Thorpe Cloud – “can we go up there Daddy?” she asked. So we left the rest of the family and our friends to set up a picnic on the meadow, while we headed up the hill.

For a four year old it was perfect – just the right blend of excitement, gradient and achievability. Being a self-declared girly-girl (at four!) it didn’t hurt that the Cloud bares a passing resemblence to ‘the Elsa Mountain’ too! So here’s a map and directions for the walk.

Thorpe Cloud – Route and Directions

ThorpeCloudWalk

Distance – just under 2 miles

Terrain – The way up is steep, some of it on grass, some a bit rocky, but there is hardly any exposure – don’t let kids wander off too far though.

1 – From the car park take the tarmaced path along the river to the stepping stones.

IMG_20160730_140808979.jpg2 – Cross the stepping stones – small children will need a little assistance. Most of the stepping stones are full of fossils, mostly crinoids. Many of the rocks heading up the hill also have fossils in them – and the loose stone too. We found crinoids and various shells just on this small walk.

3 – There is a small rocky staircase leading up the flank of the hill, head up this, allowing younger kids to choose a route up through the limestone. This is the hardest bit of the climb!

4 – Once past the short rocky staircase the route becomes a steep path alternating between grassy and rocky. The path is fairly distinct and winds its way up to a small summit with views across the stepping stones and along Dove Dale.

5 – Follow the path as it leads fairly steeply up the hill to the summit. Thorpe Cloud looks every bit the mini-mountain from here, and is a great challenge for kids – there is no exposure, but don’t let them roam too far from the path!

6 – Explore the summit. The north-west side is just a little craggy, where it feels as though the hill just falls away, which can be a touch scary for younger kids. But there’s plenty to explore and views to see.

7 – If little legs are up to it you can go back down the steep section – but there is a path that leads off to the right down the northern flank of the hill. This is less steep, and possibly quicker as less time will be spent carefully placing each step!

8 – As you come to a dry stone wall the path turns back on itself to the left, heading back to the stepping stones. Don’t cross the walls. There are a couple of sections needing a little care back over the rocks, but these are fun for kids to scramble over.

9 – Back at the stepping stones you can either head off up the dale, if everyone’s legs are still keen, stop for a picnic by the river, or, if heading back stay this side of the river and head along the bottom of Thorpe Cloud.

10 – When you reach a stone bridge over the river cross it and head back to the car park.

(Mapping comes from OpenStreetMap)

Kinder 1932 – Separating the Myth

The Kinder Mass Trespass. It’s the most well known of all the protests in the rambling/outdoor movement – it’s possibly the ONLY well known aspect of the movement full stop. And therein lies the rub. As its centenary begins to approach (the event was 84 years ago now, in 1932), it’s status becomes ever more legendary. But are we celebrating the reality of the event, or a myth? The tweet quoted above, from the Peak District’s Chief Executive (who has been doing a great job in representing and promoting the Peak District), got me thinking about the debates about the event’s place in rambling history.

mass trespass - libraryemsSo first, some of the contentions any rambler will hear…

  • The Kinder Mass Trespass was the first major protest in the rambling movement – MYTH! Many protests and trespasses had taken place in the 50 years before Kinder (1).
  • The Kinder Mass Trespass was the largest major protest in the rambling movement – MYTH! Some protests, especially those in the North-West, attracted tens-of-thousands of protesters – and got quicker results too (2).
  • The protest helped create or protect Public footpaths for us all to enjoy – MYTH! Public footpaths were already well-protected in law – the Kinder Mass Trespass was concerned with the Right to Roam over open countryside away from the footpaths.
  • The protest helped create our National ParksMYTH!
  • The protest was a major step on the journey towards securing the Right to Roam? MTYH? Ah, well, here’s where it gets interesting!

The Kinder Mass Trespass is now well established in the public’s eye as THE major event in the rambling movement’s long fight to secure a Right to Roam (a fight that still isn’t fully won). Evidence of this can be seen even in information available on the Ramblers website repeating many of the myths above (read on to see why this is especially ironic!). However, once you dig deeper there is a lot more controversy surrounding the protest’s actual role in helping secure greater access.

The Case For

While the Kinder Mass Trespass was a long way from being the first or biggest such event, it probably can be credited with being the first to bring the issue of countryside access to a wider audience. Previous events had either been galvanising to local communities or to those campaigning for increased countryside access. Kinder changed that. This was arguably not through the effects of the trespass itself but through the official reaction to it, especially the harsh jail sentences handed out to the people involved.

kinder trespass - matt bowdenThe draconian punishments given to the ring leaders pushed countryside access into the national eye, far beyond its usual reach, helping creating a surge in interest. Although protests rallies had already been held at Winnat’s Pass (close to Kinder) for many years, the interest generated by the court cases saw crowds surge to over 10,000 in 1932. Many of the new attendees were reacting to what was seen as an example of a ruling class determined to stamp out any claim to the countryside by those in the industrial towns and cities.

Over the years the legend of the Kinder Mass Trespass grew, becoming the poster child for new generations of ramblers, angry with a lack of progress in achieving the aim of a Right to Roam. This is arguably the protest’s lasting legacy, providing a ‘foundation myth’ to spur on new protest movements throughout the 1900s. Although many of these movements never forgot the role of other protests, or the role of other organisations, in the access movement, the Kinder Mass Trespass was always the go-to event to help the public understand the context of their actions, especially in press reports.

The Case Against

tomstephensonAt the time of the protest almost all the leading access campaigners of the day were against it. The Rambers Association, the Open Spaces Society, and leading campaigners such as Tom Stephenson all opposed the protest. Many other stalwarts of the rambling establishment were also critical, claiming the after-effects the protest would set the movement back by decades. Many people involved in the access movement had been attempting to engage with government and landowners to change the laws regarding access to open countryside, and were fearful that the protest would set this back. Some of the criticisms bordered on sour grapes, criticising the protest for not reaching the actual summit of Kinder for example. The leaders of the trespass were also criticised for being agitators, rather than ‘true believers’ in the countryside access cause, seeing it a convenient excuse to engage in a bit of a ruckus with those in authority.

These arguments against have created a powerful counter-argument to the more commonly understood narrative of the primacy of the Kinder trespass’ role in opening up the countryside.

Protest vs Dialogue

The disagreements over the impact and legacy of the Kinder Mass Trespass point to a wider debate regarding the best method of achieving change: a process of dialogue and engagement with authority, or one of actively rebelling against that authority. Tom Stephenson is the epitome of the dialogue approach. Over decades he worked tirelessly to campaign for the political change needed to open up the countryside. He led organisations like the Ramblers Association, and worked as a civil servant, drawing up plans for the Acts pennine way sign - Andrew bowdenof Parliament needed to turn the outdoor access movement’s aims into reality. Many of the things we take for granted in our countryside now come as a direct result of Tom Stephenson’s (and many other’s) work – in particular National Trails and our National Parks (3), but he was also a key player in the groundwork for defining the Access Land that was finally approved through Parliament in the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, years after his passing. All involved in outdoor recreation owe Tom Stephenson a debt.

However, it’s also true to say that protest also plays an active role in delivering change, one that is often under-recognised. For a start, as with the Kinder protest, it brings issues to a much wider audience than they might otherwise achieve. A mass trespass event will always be a greater hook for the press to turn into column inches than the efforts of a civil servant sitting in Westminster defining terms like ‘open countryside’, however vital their work was (and is). Protest can have a galvanising effect, making clear the injustice, and helping promote the cause outside of the narrow interest-groups who initially raise any specific issue. Between the two approaches there needs to be better recognition of the ways each has helped push forwards countryside access, and fewer attempts to play down the achievements of others.

It’s a touch ironic that many of the official organisations that decried the Kinder Mass Trespass originally are now some of the biggest cheerleaders for its recognition – as witnessed by the tweet quoted at the start of this blog. Many in the Open Spaces Society now admit they were ‘on the wrong side’ in relation to the event, National Trust have a ‘Trespass Trail’ available for download. The Ramblers, led by Tom Stephenson for many years, promotes the efforts to preserve the story of the trespass, crediting its role in creating the right to roam. Even the current Duke of Devonshire, whose moorlands the Kinder protestors were fighting to open, admitted at the 2002 anniversary rally to remember the Kinder trespass that his family were on the wrong side of history! A cynic might suggest this is, at least partly, a symptom of the commoditisation of history – the Kinder Mass Trespass sells! But it’s also a reflect that, after time passes it’s easier to see that the efforts of both protestor and peace-maker were both instrumental in the long battle for access to our countryside – a battle not yet fully won!

For my part, as much as I thank those in the trespass for the role they played in securing greater access, I hope people like Tom Stephenson aren’t forgotten.

Don’t forget about the birds?

hen harrier - rob zweersAlmost as a post-script to this blog, there is a current issue that shows the ‘protest vs dialogue’ debate is not only still live – but also still relevant to many of the concerns of the Kinder trespass: protecting/accessing our countryside, the actions of landowners and the Peak District landscape. A recent blog post from the ex-Peak District Chief Executive Jim Dixon picks up on the issues surrounding the campaign for greater protection for the Hen Harrier. The article hands out a severe admonishing to the wildlife campaigner Chris Packham for committing the crime of becoming too passionate about the plight of the Hen Harrier. Chris apparently allowed his passion to spill over into counter-productive anger. Instead of Chris attending events to raise awareness of the issue, it is proposed he simply needs to get out onto the moors and start talk to game keepers – that’s the way progress lies. Through cooperation, communication.

Except, in many instances such an approach doesn’t work. Especially when it comes to Hen Harriers. For a few years campaigners have bemoaned the RSPB for precisely the opposite – for relying too much on cooperation and dialogue by taking part in the Government’s Hen Harrier Action Plan (the Hawk and Owl Trust have also been similarly criticised). However, after a sincere and committed attempt to work with this strategy, RSPB were left with no choice to pull out. You read more about why on Martin Harper’s blog post.

When the sheer determination of some stakeholders to resist change leads to organisations like as RSPB finding themselves unable to continue a dialogue the debate must be seen to be in a bad place. Such situations only serve to push ever larger groups to a more extreme, protest-based angle, as they see no other routes for meaning full progress. I hope, for the Hen Harrier’s benefit, some of the other key players, like the National Parks, DEFRA and others can see this and work positively. Rather than resorting to again distorting the debate by criticising campaigners who are starting to feel like all hope for a positive, consensus-based solution can work. With the Hen Harrier facing such a bleak future this is certainly this is an issue for anyone with a passion for our natural heritage to get involved in – regardless of whether your method of choice is protest or dialogue!

Footnotes / References

 (1) & (2) As an example the Winter Hill Mass Trespass was earlier (1896), bigger (well over 10,000 people) and more successful than the Kinder trespass (at least in the short term)

(3) This is why my own hackles are raised by some of the mythology surrounding the Kinder Mass Trespass – not because I don’t recognise its role, but because I want to see the role of people like Tom Stephenson given more credit!

Picture references: Kinder Trespass plaque via libraryems on Flickr; Kinder Waymarker via Andrew Bowden on Flickr; Tom Stehenson via Tricouni Club; Pennine Way fingerbord via Andrew Bowden on Flickr; Hen Harrier via Rob Zweers on Flickr.

 Some more reading on the Kinder Mass Trespass

Make up your own mind on the 1932 Kinder Mass Trespass with some of these sources!

7 Summits for 2016?

7peakschallengeIf anyone out there is still looking for inspiration for a challenge or resolution for 2016, Trail Magazine may have the thing for you. They have just launched their ‘One Year, Seven Summits‘ challenge, making an achievable goal for anyone’s year to come.

Now, I know the Peak isn’t, somewhat ironically, loaded with England’s highest summits. However, we think you can still craft a great list for the year from the region’s hills. I’ve suggested some themes below, and a hill for each theme – I’d love to add to these with your ideas. Add them in the comments below, or email them over.

1 – The hill less traveled – the hills we do have in the Peak District tend to attract more than their fair share of walkers of all descriptions. There are still some hidden corners however, which are more than worthy of adding to your lists.

high wheeldon summit - George WolfHigh Wheeldon – great views of the coral-reef hills of Chrome and Parkhouse Hills, and a stout little summit. You can make the route up very short, or into a decent hike!

 

2 – A new way up – even those hills that do get the footfall have some quieter ways up, allowing you to avoid the crowds.

parkin clough - dave wildWinn Hill via Parkin Clough – The direct route! A steep climb, best avoided in very wet weather, but it’s a rewarding way up this popular hill. Park alongside Ladybower.

 

3 – A head for heights – One of my aims for the year is to tackle my fear of heights – and there are some great places in the Peak to do this without needing the levels of exposure on a scramble like the Lakes classic Jake’s Rake.

parkhouseParkhouse Hill – a dragon’s-back hill, with a steep, but rewarding hike to the summit. The slopes aren’t sheer, but they are enough to give you goosepimples if your height for heights isn’t fully attuned!

 

4 – The classic – They maybe busy, but they are busy for a reason, with some of the Peak’s best views and climbs, along with easy accessibility.

mam torMam Tor & the Great Ridge – Hard to choose just one for my recommended list, but I just can’t look past Mam Tor. You can be up and down in an hour, or turn it into a nine mile circular hike you’ll never get bored of, with the Great Ridge and a bonus summit at Lose Hill.

5 – One on the fringe – The boundaries of the national park are more than just lines on a map – they suck people into the hills, dales and lakes of the Peak Park. Often this is to the exclusion of some great countryside outside it’s borders, with just as great a claim to call itself the Peak District.

crich standCrich Stand – the stand is the monument on the top of the hill (open to the public), a memorial to the Sherwood Foresters regiment. It’s visible for many miles around, especially from the east, where it represents the first decent sized hill of the Peak. on a good day you’ll see Nottingham and beyond from the top of the hill. You can cheat and drive all the way up – but I’d recommend walking up through the woods from the Cromford Canal / River Derwent and round the back of the quarry. The view will not disappoint.

6 – One in the Dark Peak – The Dark Peak’s hills are often left aside in favour of the limestone ridges of the White Peak, Kinder being the exception, but as the highest peak in the region is has it’s own pulling power to hikers. They are of a different character, often more desolate and windswept, and without the show-stopping views from the peaks. But personally I love a day on the moors – its a special atmosphere, and often much quieter and peaceful. You still get the views too, with views of the valleys and reservoirs sneaking out from the flanks.

black hill cairn - alex pepperhillBlack Hillthis hill can be walked from various start points. It can be very boggy in wet weather, but it’s all access land, so you can find your own way up if you are confident with navigation. Alternatively, chose a route taking in the Pennine Way and the flagged surface will take you right to the summit with your boots barely getting mucky!

7 – One elsewhere – We could fill the list with hills from the Peak, but it’s nice to fly the nest every now-and-again. So, as a gesture to the rest of the UK, I’ve included a free for all category. You could go literally anywhere, but my recommendation for just a single hill elsewhere would be:

crib goch - rockabilly girlSnowden – it might be as busy as Piccadilly Junction, or as quiet as a remote island (occasionally, maybe!). But it is the hill that offers everything – a gentle climb for most walkers, strenuous hikes and the airy thrills of Crib Goch* (pictured).

 

IMG_20160106_174354105An expedition – so many to choose from in the Peak! You can find many multi-day hikes on the Long Distance Walking website. But I think you should go for the 7 day tour in this website’s first post – if only so you can see how it fares in the modern walking world and feed back!

 

 

*Considering I think Parkhouse Hill is a test of my head for heights, you can guess my views on Crib Goch!

Picture credits:

 

A historic tour of the Peak

IMG_20160106_174328786A little while ago, while rummaging around on eBay, I picked this cool little guidebook to the Peak District. It was published by the Manchester Evening News in 1934, with the author given as simply ‘The Rambler’. I can’t see any indication as to who this mysterious (hopefully caped) hiking-superhero is – surely this is before even the great Roly Smith’s time though?! The introduction gives a little description showing some of the access context of the day however – apologising to landowners in advance for any transgressions in the routes and giving some token effort to encouraging readers to comply with any requests to divert from the shown route if requested. Maybe this was why the author’s name must be kept slightly underwraps?

I haven’t had time to read too deeply into the routes and see how they match up to modern walks. The descriptions and maps don’t link great in the text, making a skim read difficult. Check out the note to this effect in the image advising the reader to, ‘see map elsewhere’! They didn’t go overboard on the clues as to where… It’s also a touch fragile in its old age, so I’ve been trying to be gentle with it.

One route that did jump out however was a great plan for a multi-day hike across the Peak. Most of the shorter routes in the book get a full description, whereas each day on the tour gets only a basic paragraph. But this gives plenty of scope for adapting it to the modern path network around the region.

IMG_20160106_174354105
7 Day Tour of the Peak from 1934 ‘Rambles in the Peak District’ book

I’d love to have the time to walk this route as a long-distance walk, and update it with new directions. I considered making it a new year resolution, but that would only damn it to failure! It does look a great hike though, taking in a broad sweep of the best bits of the Peak. These days you might need to rebadge it as a White Peak tour – it doesn’t stray north of the Great Ridge’s dividing line between White & Dark Peaks.

What does anyone think? Can you suggest potential routes to keep this faithful but but to date? Would a new tour take in the Dark Peak too – or do we just need a second tour for that?!