Walk: Hathersage & Stanage Edge


Follow in the footsteps of the Bronte sisters with a 9.5km walk from Hathersage to Stanage Edge in the Peak District National Park.

Walking boots laced up – says outdoors writer Helen Moat – and I’m on the trail of Charlotte Brontë. Read the rest in BBC Countryfile


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Walk: Middleton to Youlgreave

Find poetry around a pretty Peak District dale with 4.5km ramble

In Middleton-by-Youlgreave I find the village stone, a focal point radiating lines out to the 17 Sites of Meaning, which mark the 17 entrance points to the parish. They include boulders, kerbs, fence posts, clapper bridges, drystone walls and commissioned sculptures, all carved with a text of poetry or prose chosen by someone living in the parish. Read the rest in BBC Countryfile

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Day Out: Cycle Manifold Way Staffordshire

From a tropical ocean floor to an ice world roamed by mammoths, this southern corner of the Peak District National Park has an extensive and varied past, best explored by bike. Read more at BBC Countryfile.

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Walk: Birchover

Surrounding the Peak District village of Birchover is a haunting landscape of gritstone bluffs, standing stones, burial mounds and Bronze-Age stone circles, hidden in inky woodland or exposed on windswept upland. 

The paths here are littered with the history and mythology of the south-east Peak, from the hermit of Cratcliffe Tor who led travellers to safety off the ancient Portway trail, to the notorious outlaw who leapt across the soaring pillars that straddled Robin Hood’s StrideRowtor Rocks tells a story of prehistoric rock art and Victorian sculpture, while Stanton Moor reveals 4,000 years of human activity.

Read more in BBC Countryfile

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A Day Out: Cromford Canal

For a quiet backwater, Cromford Canal has a lot to shout about – it’s part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a local nature reserve. 

Read more at BBC Countryfile:

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Walking With Poetry in the White Peak

This is a story of a literary treasure hunt that took place over three late summer, early autumn days. The ‘Sites of Meaning’ project, a stone and literature hunt, was dreamed up by the local parish of Middleton and Smerrill to mark the New Millennium. The idea was to engage the local community, craftsmen and woman as well as artists in the creation of poetry and prose engravings that would be positioned in strategic places around the parish.

Day 1

We drove today to Middleton-by-Youlgreave; a late summer’s day. There was a whiff of Autumn in the air, a cooling, the light softer , the birdsong more subdued, the trees beginning to mottle.
Middleton-by-Youlgreave always seems uneerily quiet. Today there was just a woman sitting in her front garden warming her hands on a mug of coffee, and a man in a checked shirt, arms stretched out on the back of a bench at the bus-stop with his collie dog. He didn’t look as if he was going anywhere soon.

00. Middleton-by-Youlgreave

We quickly found the focal stone combining all the inscriptions just off the memorial garden in the picnic area of Middleton-by-Youlgreave. The raised stone with 17 inscriptions spread out like sunrays from a circle. Each line of prose points in the direction of its location.


02 and 01: Roughwood Kerb and Hollow Seat

We headed out the Youlgreave road until we came to a sweeping curve in the road.  Soon we came to the first inscription engraved into the kerb. I’d almost missed it by my feet.

Down the dale feel the wet soggy dogs which have just come out of the river. He’s beautiful, golden, white fur, wild, free, ready to come and go as he pleases. (Youlgreave Primary School infants)

To the right, a tree-shaded path led down to the Bradford, home of dog walkers, their Labradors and retrievers. We’ve spent many a summer day, ducking picnic-makers, running children and dogs – shaking off water from the river.

Right next to the engraved kerbstones is the next inscription carved on a stone seat that is set into the dry-stone wall .
In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. – Isaiah 3

Walking down into Youlgreave, I felt the quietness; felt at ease with the world. Sweet William and wall flowers lined the top of the valley. Stone houses hung on to the hilltop. Below them, the dale-side sloped steeply down to the Bradford. Beyond, wide meadows tucked villages into their folds.
A quick water-stop at the George Hotel and we were heading down the lane into Bradford Dale, plucking fat, juicy blackberries along the way. We quickly filled our bag, dreaming of apple and blackberry crumble.

Most people stop at the wide grassy banks of the Bradford below Youlgreave, but it’s only when you cross the Clapper Bridge and head right that you leave the crowds behind. Here you’ll just find the occasional dog walker and hiker.
This is one of the loveliest dales in the Peak District. The series of dammed ponds created by Haddon Estate (for fishing purposes) are crystal-clear. Usually they are Monet shades of blue and green. Today they held hues of purple and brown. The water was unusually low. Between the waterweed dippers, moorhens and mallards feasted on the weed, bums up, legs peddling furiously. Rainbow trout curved a path between the water plants.

03: Bradford Bridge

We found the next inscription at one of the little stone bridges along the Bradford:
Still glides the stream, and shall forever glide; The form remains, the function never dies (by William Wordsworth.)
The words faded into the white lichen. Contrary to the inscription, beyond the bridge the river had almost dried out; the cascades of water gone, and in its place a tumble of moss-covered boulders.

04: Sheep Dip

The most contemporary inscription stood at the sheep dip just a little further up in Bradford Dale.  In late May or June – The farmers brought their sheep – To wash their fleeces – In this deep pool – Burbling, bumbling, bleating – The waters bleat like a flock of sheep it dipped – Dip your ghosts into this hard, cold merky place – Hear their bleat in the water’s rush to escape – The foam like wool pulsates – Damp leaves nothing behind but the trees’ readiness . (Written by the Youlgreave and Smerrill communities)


06: Clapper Bridge

We took a left turn that led up towards Row Dale, fighting back nettles.  We crossed a makeshift bridge and climbed a metal staircase stepping over the exposed seabed of a lagoon, the lime encrusted with crinoids. Strange to think of this place – so far from the coast – once covered by the sea.

We found the next inscription at the little clapper bridge in Row Dale. The authorities were initially not happy about marking the ancient bridge but when it came to light that the clapper bridge needed restoration, they agreed to the engraving. And there it stood looking as if it had been there as long as the bridge:
Consult the Genius of the Place in all; That tells the Waters or to rise or fall – Alexander Pope

This was our last inscription. We climbed up the rough stone path lined with ancient moss-covered dry-stone walls, ash trees and cliffs.

At Middleton, I took a double take at the unusual guard on a farmhouse doorstep – a goose!

The house is owned by an eccentric character with a love of East German vehicles. Once, the road outside his house was lined with trabies. Today, the East German paraphernalia is hidden behind the house: just one trabant reminds, but there’s also a classic VW campervan and an East-German army truck, all with German registrations on them.

Our circle finished, I’m feeling inspired by the beautiful landscape on my doorstep. My wanderlust need not take me far and this one has filled my day with poetry – in the stone engravings and in the countryside itself.
And it’s satisfying to know there are still twelve inscriptions awaiting me.


When we returned to Middleton-by-Youlgreave one week later, there was more than a whiff of autumn: the air was damp and chilled; the sky low and dark; the birds soundlessly gathering for the long migration south; the scent of rotten vegetation stronger in the nostrils. The chestnut trees were spreading gold and orange – first to revive, and first to die off. 

07: Rowlow Brook

This time, we headed off in the opposite direction, down a mucky lane. At first we couldn’t see the inscription; then we noticed the stone partially covered with greenery – The peace of running water to you.
A gift! We stood in the nook of the dale and listened to the bubbling of water in the brook. And indeed I felt at peace as I listened to the quiet sound of running water.

05: Over Rusden

We climbed the steps slotted into the dry stone wall and crossed meadows into Rusden Wood, a dark, secret dale covered over by ashes and sycamore. Kids had made a den across a wide-mouthed cave, covering the entrance with large sticks. I peered inside – there was just a bit of rope and planks of wood; not much of a home.


We climbed up and out of the valley, realising we’d come too far and backtracked along the ridge. I stumbled on the next inscription engraved into cobble stones in the shape of a circle, hidden in the grass.
But when I try to imagine a faultless love / Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur / Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape – WH Auden

08: Smerrill

We strode up the road towards Smerrill. The parish of Smerrill seemed to be composed of nothing more than a single farm, Smerrill Grange.
On the crook of the road we found the next inscription:
To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour. – William Blake
The large stone had two faces in relief chiselled out of the corners. A mosaic of flowers and the words of Blake weaved over and around the stone.

09: Longdale

We had to backtrack down the hill to the elbow, where we took the track up the Holloway, a dip between two dry stone walls. Soon we reached Long Dale. The steep sides of the valley at this point were scarred and pocked by the overgrazing of sheep.

Three roughly hewn stones of different heights marked the next inscription:
We meet to create memories and depart to cherish them
The inscription was taken from a Nepalese Tea House menu.


Further down the dale, swallows circled on the crest of the hill. ‘Don’t go yet,’ Tom called to them. ‘It’s going to get warm again!’
Further on LBJs – little brown jobs – meadow pipets, wheatears or siskins, or some-such-thing, were all a flutter, wings beating in quick time, like black butterflies on the skyline. They dipped and rose and rose and dipped, then scooped down to fly low along the crest of the dale.

We pushed open a wooden gate and continued down a wide flat runway of meadow sandwiched between stone walls and a mixed woodland of ash, sycamore and Scots pine.
Overhead two buzzards circled the sky, hovering on the uplift of air before beating their wide serrated wings.
10: Balderstone

On the path that was the site of the old Roman road, two slabs sat adjacent to each other, containing the next inscription. The inscriptions mirrored each other, including the reversed script.
The road up and the road down are one and the same – Heraclitus


11. Friden Bends

We found the next inscription on what looked like a contemporary stone road sign at the side of the road. It read:
left – right
quick – march
past – enough
earth – to spy
and beat – the bounds
breathless – death
ere – owns
– David Fine


This was the last inscription.
We headed down a long narrow lane, marvelling at the coral embedded into the stones that made up the dry stone wall; then back down into Middleton, tripping over the empty cases of conkers that scattered the pavement.

It was a fine early autumn walk with the bonus of a literary treasure hunt – but there’s always a down side. I realised half way through the walk that Middleton and Smerrill is a ‘dry’ parish, with not one single pub inside their boundaries. We had to make do with crisps, oranges and a bottle of water.
Oh well, poetry is food and drink for the soul.


It was a time of transition: Summer slipping into autumn; autumn sliding back into summer – an Indian summer. The air was cool but the sun still had warmth in it, the sky a pale English Wedgewood blue, smudged white. The light was intense, the meadows a luminous green. A fair and pleasant land.

The Istrian Karun


We drove to Parsley Hay this time. Before starting on our search for poetry, I walked down the High Peak Trail a couple of hundred yards to see a strange circular building; a dry stone shelter made with a corbelled roof. These buildings were built in North West Croatia in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to shelter those working the land. There are other versions of the Karun found all over the Mediterranean countries and further north as well. There is a version of the Croatian hut in Britain – known here as a beehive.
The Karun was a gift to the Peak District on Croatia’s entry to the European Union in July 2013. It seems an appropriate gift for a part of the land that has a long tradition of dry stone building.

08: Arbor Low

Time, you old gipsy man
Will you not stay
Put up you caravan
Just for one day?
 Ralph Hodgson

We found the first inscription easily enough on the western edge of the Long Rake. Across from the stone, a farmer was ploughing his field. The smell of the turned earth returned me to my youth, gathering potatoes on my uncle’s farm. Strange how smells evoke the past like no other sense. Much time has passed from my potato picking days …  ancient times, when spuds were still picked by hand!

Arbor Low Stone Henge

It seems strange that I’ve lived on the edge of the Peak District a dozen years and more before visiting Arbor Low, ‘The Chatsworth of the Bronze Age’, by husband said dryly.
Arbor Low doesn’t have the drama of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, but it is still an inspirational site. The stones are smaller than those of Stonehenge and they lie scattered on the ground. A gross act of vandalism? The circular arrangement of the stones is echoed by a ditch and high mound. Beyond the peaks and dales stretch out in all directions.
“I’ve noticed the henges are always chosen for sites with wide-open views,” a photographer and henge enthusiast pointed out to me as we took in the views.

14: Cales Farm West

Bright Under Green Limestone Edges. With Queen Ann Lace and Cranesbill in her Hedges
Michael Dower

The next inscription is written on a cube-shaped stone on the edge of a field. I didn’t see any cranebill, but the Queen Ann Lace was thick in the field, drained of colour and moisture, dried out and brown, crackling in the breeze. Nettles, now flowering, made their presence felt on the gate.

15: Cales Farm East

The rakes and spoils of man’s hard toil, has shaped this land
 Yvonne Vaines, Wendy Andrews, Carol Mansbach


The inscription is found on a slab in the grass between a gap in a dry stone wall. Across the way, is an aggregates company. Employees penned these words. This part of the Peak District is filled with large quarries scarring the landscape. When exhausted, they return to nature and slowly over time become interesting features rich in wildlife. But in the meantime they are unsightly, the land torn-up and clawed out, raped.

16: Long Rake

A dull sky, Feel the cold. Touch the snow, A lonely landscape. Hear the wind, See the hills. It’s freezing cold, And empty. –
Rheanne Smith and Lucy Mead of Youlgreave Primary School

We walked along the geological line of the rake until we came to a junction. At first we couldn’t see the inscription. We wandered around until we spotted each phrase inscribed in stones that were slotted into a dry stone wall. The words were inspired by a vist to Arbor Low in winter under snow.

17: Pen Close

Live as if you’ll die tomorrow
Farm as if you’ll live forever

The lines are inscribed on two  gateposts. I don’t know how ‘traditional’ this inscription is, but it is a very modern message. The Peak District is fortunate in its National Park status and the fact that so much that may have been lost has been protected. Environmentalists work alongside farmers to conserve this wonderful natural heritage.


12: Roman Road

Hvivs viae cvram cvratores viarvm non svscepervnt

We took a turning off the road and followed a lane that deteriorated to raised cobble, loose stone and muddy rut. We passed on by a an old led mine, a kind of hills-and-holes.


The inscription is written where Green Lane crosses a Roman road. The Roman road is no longer visible, but the long line of trees follows the course of the old Roman Road.
I am no Latin scholar and strangely the website doesn’t translate the Latin, but I think the inscription says that the road has not been maintained – neither the Roman Road, nor Green Lane.


So this is the last inscription. Green Lane crosses the High Peak Trail and here we turn right onto the (well) maintained cycle path, once a railway track.

High Peak Trail
No sound of trains now, just the rustle of seeds from the Rose Bay willow herb that line the path, great swathes of feathers that float through the air.
Some flowers are still blooming: thistle, harebell and Granny’s Toenails – Butter and Eggs, Eggs and Bacon, Hens and Chickens – all  wonderful names. Take your pick.

So we have completed our walk with poetry – and managed to find every single inscription, thanks to the expert map reading of my husband.

As we walked the roads I thought how blessed I am to walk this earth, walk in this place of beauty; to feel its poetry, with or without the inscriptions.

Note: I would really recommend cycling the last section if you’re a cyclist as there’s a lot of road walking – a bit of a trudge. Green Lane, admittedly is a challenge for all but the most skilled of mountain bikers, but you can always walk this section with the bike.


Map and grid references are found on the Sites of Meaning website found here


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Strange Goings-on in Winnats Pass: Waterlicht


There’s a story: two elopers, making their way to Peak Forest (Gretna Green of the Peak District), are robbed and murdered on Winnats Pass by three miners. And now, their spirits haunt the pass. If you listen carefully through the wind whistling down the ravine on stormy nights, you may hear their frantic whispers – pleading for their lives.

Last night, lights like blue spirits flickered across the sky in ghostly forms. If you’d happened to stumble on the ghostly shapes above the pass, and knew the story of Allan and Clara, you might have been alarmed.

Perhaps equally disconcerting: Dutch artist, Daan Roosegaarde shows us what Winnats Pass would look like submerged under water – with a little bit of technological trickery. The question is raised: What happens when sea-levels rise dramatically?
It’s an imagined dystopian future, but also a glimpse of a real past – as the fossilised shells in the surrounding limestone demonstrate.
With a touch of magic, and modern technology in conjunction with design company AND, Abandon Normal Devices, Roosegaarde allows us to travel back in time and experience Winnats Pass as it once was, under a tropical sea. The pass, a coral reef caught in landlocked Derbyshire, is flooded with laser lights that sweep the valley in waves of blue.
Dive in and enjoy.

The installation continues tonight and tomorrow (Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd of September, 7-11pm).



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Star-gazing in the Peak District



In January,  a mix of frost and snow lay on the ground of Stoney Wood just outside Wirksworth. My husband, Tom and I parked the car at the entrance, by an iron-wrought gate that depicted dancing children and love hearts and the twisting of trees.


We cut across the common land and slipped and slid our way up the hillside to the StarDisc. The ground was almost vertical and the ice and snow threatened to slide us down to the bottom of the hill again. On the top, we crossed the ridge to the granite disc imprinted with the constellations that fill our northern skies. Twelve stone benches encircled the granite – each representing a month of the year.


We climbed up to the viewing platform with the StarDisc below and the village of  Bolehill across the valley with the Black Rocks beyond.

There were also six boulder stones pin-pointing the summer and winter solstices, and the equinox sunrises and sunsets. Sure enough, boulder number 4 located the winter solstice sunset – the exact spot where the sun dropped through the sky, a smooth round pebble of luminous light slipping below the ridge on the horizon.


There was no point waiting for darkness as the sky was filled with cloud. We would have to wait for a clear night to return to see the night-sky and the stone benches lit up by the energy of our nearest star, the sun.

Little did we know how long we would have to wait for a clear night when we could go out star-gazing – and with it came the realisation that there are not many cloudless nights on our northern island. And on those occasional nights when the sky was clear, we were occupied with other matters.

Finally, almost half a year later, a friend and I made our way to the StarDisc, Phil to practise his nighttime photography and me to research an article for a magazine.
We identified Jupiter and the Plough – and watched a satellite cruise across the sky. Village lights twinkled on the hillside and the light still glowed on the horizon even as the sky filled in black.
Stoney Wood is an inspirational location – but to see the stars in all their glory, you need to head for one of the Dark Skies sites in the Peak District National Park.


The next evening, Tom and I drove out to Parsley Hay – one of the three Dark Skies sites in the Park.  At eleven o-clock, there was still a surprising amount of light in the sky. We weren’t sure if the light on the edge of the hills was the remaining day-light, or if it was emitting from the quarry and the town of Buxton beyond.
We hunted for the astronomy interpretation map with no success. The traffic from the road seemed more intense in the chill of the night – and the bright lights and noise of the tractors and balers from the fields across the road spoiled any chance of nighttime ambience.

We left for Minninglow – the second Dark Skies site, hoping that the sky would be completely dark by the time we reached it; hoping that this site in the heart of the Peak District, far from lights, would show us a sky flung with cut-glass stars.
We drove up a single-track road and switched off the engine in the car park, surrounded by trees. It felt as if we were far from civilisation – yet the car park next to the High Peak Trail was very familiar to me: I’d cycled through it many times.

At night, everything feels different. Sounds are intensified; the land and the sky become one. Only the horizon has a pale glow. We climbed out of the car into a space surrounded by tall trees that encircled the stars in an embrace.

We quickly found the star-map (changed seasonally), but with our star map app we just needed to hold our mobiles up to the heavens.
The sky was thick with stars. Tom peered into the darkness, determined to locate the Milky Way. He imagined he could see a fuzziness surrounding a thick path of stars – but he wasn’t sure.
We followed the path of the High Peak Trail out into the open, the wind cutting across it; the stars swirling around our heads. It was gone midnight. We stood in silence – Tom lost in his childhood obsession with the stars, space exploration and Patrick Moore. I, lost in the thrill of our midnight adventure.

The cold began to bite and we returned to the car park – the last Dark Skies Site, Surprise View would have to wait for another time.
We turned the car and headed for home.

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A Tale of Two Churches – Christmas Trees at All Saints, Bakewell: Part 2

Cakes and Christmas Trees
Youlgreave and Bakewell churches

All Saints Church in Bakewell makes a grand entrance – literally. Its south doorway is casually stacked to the rafters with carved masonry from the Middle Ages, representing the Mercians, Celts, Northumbrians and the Danish and Norse Vikings. What a roll call!
Inside, Vernon Chapel contains fine effigies and memorials to Bakewell’s most influential families – including the Vernons and Manners, as well as a medieval knight.
It’s a beautiful church, adorned with a finely carved 14th Century font, a pre-Raphaelite stained glass window, detailed wood carvings and an intricately patterned mosaic floor.
All of this makes All Saints in Bakewell a place full of historic atmosphere – and the presence of over 100 Christmas trees this December in the dimly lit church only adds to the ambience.
The Christmas Tree Festival was opened on the 8th December and runs to 18th December with a closing service. There are various events and services happening while the trees are up, enabling you to soak up the festive atmosphere – or you can just wander around by yourself. The cafe beside the Vernon Chapel is open for coffee, tea and cake as well as sandwiches and soup.
It’s a lovely way to while away an hour or two with trees decorated imaginatively by local businesses, clubs and charities. The proceeds go towards the preservation of the church – benefiting the building and visitors alike.
Come and have a look.

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A Tale of Two Churches – A Village in Cake: Part 1

Cakes and Christmas Trees:
Youlgreave and Bakewell All Saints Churches

The thing about churches is they’re not just places of worship – they’re also museums of local history, art galleries, design and heritage centres.
Take All Saints at Youlgreave. There are stained glass windows salvaged from Ypres Cathedral, the panes of glass damaged in World War I by the Germans. They were brought to Youlgreave by Charlie Waterhouse in memory of his brother Rennie, who was killed in action during the Great War in France.
Another stunning pre-Raphaelite window was designed by the esteemed Edward Burne-Jones and made in the William Morris workshops. Then there are a couple of fascinating effigies – one of a young gentleman who (rather ungentlemanly) was killed in a squabble on the way to church. You couldn’t make it up.

But on a grey December day, I had come to All Saints at Youlgreave to look at… cakes. The cakes were baked back in October and given a good dousing in whisky to preserve them. Hours and hours (more than two weeks) of work were undertaken in their creation – in order to help raise funds for the church roof. Around £120,000 is needed to carry out its restoration.

When I arrived at the church, ITV were interviewing a member of the community along with the cake-maker. The good news is, if you were hungry enough and rich enough, you could buy up Youlgreave at auction next week (at the reading rooms) and eat your way through the whole village in cake. More realistically, you might just invest in a small piece of real estate. I might be able to afford Thimble Cottage – in cake if not in mortar.


All Saints Church (looking as if the whole tower might need restoration) with the school next to it.


The Youth Hostel (once the Co-operative store) sits next to the church with Thimble Cottage (one of the smallest detached buildings in the world) opposite. Artistic licence has been applied to the geographical recreation of the village.


The Bull’s Head Hotel, one of three pubs in the village. The old coaching inn has a striking arched entrance and if you look carefully to the left (and below), you can just about see the blue light of a haunted room.


Looking down along the village with the Conduit Head, a reservoir of water created to provide Youlgreave with clean water.


The Methodist Chapel.


The detail in the local  stores is incredible.



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