Saturday 22nd October 2011
Chatsworth To Cromford – approx 12.00 miles
Ordnance Survey Explorer OL24 – The Peak District: White Peak Area
Calton Lees – DVHW South – Rowsley – Congreave – Pilhough Lane – Lees Road – Stanton Moor – Barn Farm – Winster – Luntor Rocks – Limestone Way – Blakelow Lane – Moorlands Lane – Upper Town – Bonsall – Upperwood – Scarthin – Cromford
Calton Lees: Café, Transport
Rowsley: Pub, Shop, Café, Transport, Accommodation
Winster: Pub, Shop, Café, Transport, Accommodation
Bonsall: Pub, Shop, Transport, Accommodation
Cromford: Pub, Shops, Café, Transport, Accommodation
Overcast to begin with, clearing to give a warm, sunny day later.
I’m going to kick this report off with a controversial statement: the Derwent Valley, in autumn sunshine, is one of the finest spots in the UK.
Sure, the valley has been a transport conduit (road, river, canal and rail) for over two centuries, and true, it is justifiably famed as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and is today besmirched by many a modern housing scheme. But look beyond that development and you begin to get a glimpse of why, in his leisure time, the enlightened seventeenth century gentleman would head to the Matlock gorge – practically the birthplace of modern geology – in search of the sublime and the awful (as in “full of awe” that is, not as in “horrible”) – a mini Grand Tour, if you like.
Come Friday night, I suddenly found myself faced with the prospect of more free time than on Saturday than expected, so I ditched plans for a local walk and hastily cobbled together this route – one which followed on from a rather epic weekend (by my own modest standards) back in June (details of which can be found here and here) - continuing a southbound trail in the company of the Derwent, begun near Ladybower.
Having parked up in Matlock, I caught the bus to Calton Lees and by 10.15am was making my way south along the Derwent Valley Heritage Way (DVHW) in glorious sunshine, the early cloud having now cleared. Because of the position of the sun, the best views were behind me, over the Chatsworth estate to Beeley Moor beyond, and the trees were looking fine in their full autumn regalia.
After crossing a short stretch of grassland and parkland pasture, the path joined the riverside, and before long I’d reached the village of Rowsley straddling the A6. Here, I decided to cut through the grounds of Caudwell’s Mill, a restored, working flourmill powered by water from the River Wye.
My next objective was Stanton Moor, gained by a series of paths and quiet lanes. The steadily steepening climb via Congreave and Sheepwalk Wood brought reward in the form of increasingly good views west along the Wye Valley towards Bakewell.
Skirting to the east of the village of Stanton-in-the-Peak, I soon gained the path on to the moor.
It is an oft-overused phrase to describe a place as magical, but here, on Stanton Moor, there is an element of truth to it. The sun-dappled woodland conjures up images of Asterix’s Gaul or Cezanne’s Provence – I’m sure he would have been inspired by the quality of the light hereabouts – and it is easy to visualise a more ancient time when Wild Boor roamed the undergrowth.
As if to capitalise on this most Druidic of scenes, set in a grassy clearing is the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, a symbol of the 4,000 years of human history played out on these moors, and for the more mystically minded, the site forms the hub for the area’s ley lines.
Indeed, the summer solstice is still celebrated here, although I gather that some of the “enlightenment” to be gained these days is rather more herbally assisted than back in the Bronze Age.
The southern half of the moor is much more open, covered thickly with heather rather than woodland. Keeping to the east of Birchover, I continued southwards towards Winster, crossing the Clough Lane track along the way. A steep descent through woodland pre-empted a stretch of boggy ground at the head of a stream, after which a short climb took me up into the village where I stopped for lunch.
Somewhere round here, beneath my feet, a change had taken place. Behind me the Gritstone of Stanton Moor was clearly visible, whilst ahead lay the low, Limestone hills of the southern Derbyshire Peak. This transformation from Dark Peak to White Peak is evident in a number of places (for example when looking south from Kinder Scout across the shale and mudstone ridge of Mam Tor towards Castleton) but rarely over such a short distance.
I made my way up the hillside to join the Limestone Way near Luntor Rocks.
For the next couple of miles the route threaded its way through a series of fields and walled tracks so typical of the agricultural White Peak, where progress was slowed by a succession of annoyingly too-narrow squeeze stiles and the avoidance of a large bull.
The small hamlet of Upper Town came and went before a narrow, walled path dropped steeply down towards the ancient village of Bonsall. Having dawdled earlier, I was now running slightly short on time, so I saved further exploration for another day and followed the lane, past the church, out towards Upperwood, a handful of houses perched high on the cliff-side above Matlock Bath.
I picked up a balcony path skirting above the top of the town, the buildings below tinged with the air of faded glories. But there were tantalising views of the Matlock Gorge to be had through the trees until, rounding the end of the cliff, the path zigzagged steeply down into Cromford, where an Apple Day celebration waylaid me sufficiently to miss the bus I intended to catch by just two minutes.
No matter, another came along soon, and a short while later I was loading my stuff back into the car. It had been a good walk (around 5 hours, including stops), greatly enhanced by the unseasonably fine weather for the time of year – always a bonus when a lengthy journey is involved – requiring few, if any, modifications.
Walking in the Peak District is always a pleasure, especially on a fine day. I never fail to find inspiration for future trips – there are so many special corners of this wonderful area to discover – and the planning juices are already working overtime.
I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m back.