Thursday 30 July 2015

Burbage Rocks and Stanage Edge

Or, "How Poor Decision Making and Stubbornness Deprived Me of My Beer and Made Me Late for Dinner."

A station house, clad in white painted wooden boards with black painted edging.
The Dark Peak is famous for its huge grit stone edges, draws for walkers and climbers alike, but few are quite as impressive as Stanage Edge: viewed from its southern end near Upper Burbage Bridge, the six kilometre sweep of millstone grit undulates before you like a breaking wave, permanently suspended above the Hope Valley. From the 458 metre vantage point of High Neb, Win Hill and the peaks of the Great Ridge seem diminished, while the vista over towards Eyam Moor is a gently rolling, pastoral affair; only the dark bulk of the Kinder Plateau beyond them feels like it can match this iconic escarpment in might.

My walk was to take in Stanage Edge as its climax but I also wanted to explore Burbage Rocks first, another escarpment that runs south in the form of a broken crescent, from Upper Burbage Bridge to the Longshaw Estate

I arrived in the area at Grindleford Station just after 8am. It was a lovely morning, as forecast, and a short climb up the public footpath by the side of the station house brought me to Main Road; a brief stroll along the lane and I turned left into Yarncliff Wood. Through the wood runs Padley Gorge and the water coursing along it is Burbage Brook, making its way down from the moors to join the River Derwent. It was really uplifting to have this magical place to myself - the wood was silent apart from the occasional chime of birdsong and the stream's repeated plash as it worked around and down the boulder-strewn bed. 

A woodland stream with large rocks in the bed and a small wooden footbridge.
Crossing Burbage Brook, the first of several times that morning.
A view from the bridge upstream. Trees line the steep riverbanks and the water courses around large boulders and rocks.
In Padley Gorge.

Open ground with high moorland in the distance below blue skies.
Looking up to Hathersage Moor
Eventually the trees cleared, and rocks and roots gave way to a smooth expanse of grass on either side of the brook. We've walked along this stretch of Burbage Brook before, on a summer's afternoon, and the banks of the stream were busy with families, picnicking and paddling in the cold water. Now it was deserted. Banks of heather, purple blossom just beginning to appear in places, crowded at the edge of this pleasure spot, a reminder of the wild moor that loomed over it. Looking up to Hathersage Moor itself, Higger Tor and Carl Wark were now in sight. The latter is a naturally defensible rock outcrop on three sides that had first been fortified with earthworks on its exposed flank in prehistoric times. 

I pressed on and crossed the brook by a little footbridge, which took me briefly through trees again before I came out on the A6187. Just across the road were two footpaths - the left hand one was the Sheffield Country Walk, a managed trail that crosses the moor below Burbage Rocks, but my route was to the right along the escarpment itself. 

A narrow path through heather below a rock face.
Approaching the disused quarry.
Although I was now heading up some way above the moor, the climb was a gentle one, with a light breeze taking the edge off any exertion, and I couldn't resist a brief diversion along the base of the rocks to visit an abandoned quarry below my planned route.

I find these places - common in areas of millstone grit -  as fascinating in their own way as the natural rock formations that edge the moors and this one didn't disappoint, providing plenty of opportunities to clamber over rocks and investigate nooks and crannies. The corner of the quarry was marked by one particularly gravity-defying hewn piece of rock, daring the passer-by to stand beneath it, and there were several mill stones dotted around. To my uneducated eye they pretty much seemed finished and I wondered why they would go to so much trouble to carve them first from the rock face and then into shape only to abandon them on the hillside. It gave the site a Marie Celeste quality, as if the quarry had been abandoned suddenly. They weren't the only ones I would pass that day: I spotted others at the base of Stanage Edge later on and on a previous walk here had encountered others below the aptly-named Millstone Edge on the far side of the moor. 

It was time to push on, interesting though this place was. There was a clearly defined climb up the side of the quarry that would get me to the top of Burbage Rocks much quicker than retracing my steps to rejoin my original route, and soon I was on top of the edge without much huffing and puffing. 

Looking from below at a large, pointed piece of rock. The bottom section has been sheared off to create an overhang.
The gravity-defying quarry corner.
A pair of abandoned millstones, one leaning upright and one lying in the grass.
Carved out but abandoned.
A view of the quarry, with sheer rock faces like man-made cliffs.
Looking back at the quarry, on my way up to the top of Burbage Rocks.
Looking down the narrow path up which I scrambled to the top of Burbage Rocks
My route up onto Burbage Rocks.

The morning was a clear one and I had tremendous views from here of Hathersage Moor itself, of course, but also - beyond it - the Great Ridge and Kinder. The trail was an easy one to follow along the top of the edge though I had to descend at the break in the middle of Burbage Rocks and then head back up again.

A view across moorland from the southern end of the escarpment to the northern end. Large rock formations fill the right hand side of the picture.
The northern arc of Burbage Rocks from the southern section.
A vista across moorland to the long, undulating ridge between the Hope Valley and Vale of Edale.
The Great Ridge, in the middle ground - Rushup Edge is to its left and Win Hill on its right;
Carl Wark is in the foreground and the Kinder plateau looms behind the Great Ridge.

A group of walkers following a narrow path through the moorland heather.
The walkers I passed as I crossed the moor.
As I rambled along the northern section of the scarp, I noticed a feature on the map named the Ox Stones, and a trig point. This was to the west of me on the other side of Burbage Moor and though there was no path marked on the map, there was one on my GPS and it was perfectly clear on the ground too. I needed no second bidding and began a yomp across the moor. It stretched out all around me, seemingly flat to the eye, and the feeling of isolation was exhilarating. In fact the ground was rising up gently in front of me before descending again to the Ox Stones so I was taken by surprise when a sizeable group of walkers suddenly showed up, coming towards me from the opposite direction and previously hidden by the moor's elevation. I stood to one side and we exchanged smiles and greetings as they filed past along the narrow channel in the heather, disappearing into the distance behind me almost as quickly as they had appeared.

A self-portrait at the trig pillar.
At the Ox Stones trig column.
The Ox Stones proved to be a sizeable set of outcrops with the distinctive weather-worn ridges that you see around this landscape. They were handsome examples of their kind and I was glad I made the excursion to visit them. I paid an obligatory visit to the nearby trig pillar and pondered whether to take a break here for lunch. In the end I decided to return to my planned route before satisfying that nagging rumble in my belly. A chocolate flapjack primed me for the return trip across Burbage Moor and I headed back the way I had come. Despite the decidedly mixed summer weather we have experienced so far this year, the peat below my boots was surprisingly dry and it was good, springy walking that took little effort.

A large, weathered outcrop of gritstone, bracken at its base and blue skies behind it.
The larger of the Ox Stones.
A view across moorland, past the Ox Stones, to the start of Stanage Edge on the horizon.
Looking back across Burbage Moor to the start of Stanage Edge from the Ox Stones.

Where the northern curve of Burbage Rocks ends it meets a smaller gritstone edge - Fiddlers Elbow -  at the head of the clough formed by Burbage Brook; where the waters begin their journey down from Hallam Moors is Upper Burbage Bridge. A road runs across the top of the bridge but it was possible to avoid this and step across the rocky beds of the two confluences that form the brook below the watershed. I paused here to look back at the local Mountain Rescue team, who were practising winching a colleague on a stretcher up the rock face, and I exchanged pleasantries with a fellow walker who was watching the same while he ate his lunch. It turned out he had been out early like me and had booked an impromptu day's leave from work, as I had done, as soon as today's weather forecast looked certain.

Two gritstone tors on Hathersage Moor. A plantation of trees lies below them and above a gorge cut by a stream.
Carl Wark (l) and Higger Tor (r) as I approached the end of Burbage Rocks.
Looking at a stone bridge from below. An arch allows the brook to flow beneath the road from the moors above down into the valley.
Upper Burbage Bridge.
A large outcrop of gritstone in the bracken. A group of helmeted and roped up MRT members are practising hoisting someone up the rocks.
Mountain Rescue on a training exercise.

I carried on now across the road and back onto moorland. Ahead of me was the start of Stanage Edge, a strikingly verdant crag, its boulders interspersed with bushes and numerous bright green splashes from the ledges of grass that dotted its slopes and wreathed the outcrops of stone. 

A sandy path runs through moorland to an escarpment running across the horizon.
The crag at the start of Stanage Edge.

To the right of the crag, overlooking the southern part of Hallam Moors, was the Cowper Stone, looking as if it were one of the Ox Stones that had been left behind by the herd in a trek across the moors. 

A gritstone outcrop rising out of heather and bracken.
The Cowper Stone.
There is a trig pillar here at this end of the escarpment, which is easily accessible from several areas of roadside parking nearby, and the area was crowded with visitors. I decided to wait and see if it would quieten down and clambered onto a boulder below the edge, which made for a lunch spot with excellent views across to Eyam Moor. Unsurprisingly since it was such a sunny day, there was a steady stream of people walking towards Stanage Edge from the car park at Hooks Car below me and this was an indication of how busy the first section of the ridge was to be. I finished my sandwiches and chocolate and negotiated a route over the rocks to the top of the escarpment. It's while I was climbing and jumping from rock to rock here that I'm guessing I lost my sunglasses. I didn't realise at the time but in the picture I took shortly afterwards at the trig point above me they were missing from the loop on my shoulder strap.

A view from the gritstone escarpment across moorland to rolling hills and valleys.
A nice spot for lunch, looking over the valley towards Eyam Moor.
A view across open moorland to Burbage Rocks, a crescent-shaped escarpment with a gap in the middle.
Looking back across Hathersage Moor to the "broken crescent" of Burbage Rocks.
A long escarpent winding its way along the edge of the moor into the distance. A path runs along the edge and people are walking it.
Stanage Edge stretched out ahead of me.

A photo of farmland and woods, framed by a gap in the rocks.
A rock with a view.
From the trig I followed the edge north-west. At times it felt a little like being on a conveyor belt here but it was good to see families and couples out enjoying the scenery, and to hear accents from as far afield as London, Birmingham and Scotland; several people I passed repeatedly as either they lingered to explore a rock feature or I did. Not knowing what to look for on the ground, my GPS handily let me know when I was by Robin Hood's Cave and I clambered down onto the ledge in the rock face from where the cave commands a view over the valley. To the left of the cave entrance there was what looked like a man-made terrace or balcony, not accessible from the ledge on which I was standing. The only access was through the cave itself - I briefly considered crawling into the cave but it would have meant leaving my backpack behind and the sandy floor of the ledge and cave entrance was strewn with sheep droppings so I decided to leave that particular adventure for another time.

A small, sandy ledge just below the escaprment. Moorland and trees below.
Climbing down to the ledge that leads into Robin Hood's Cave.
A low-roofed cave entrance, with a sandy floor scattered with sheep droppings.
I baulked at the idea of crawling on hands and knees over the carpet thoughtfully left by the local sheep.

A broad, straight track stretching away into the distance across the moor.
The Long Causeway to
Stanege Pole
The next feature I had plotted on my route lay away from the precipitous rock faces of the escarpment, east across White Path Moss. There were NT signs here advising the minor path through the heather was closed to protect this fragile and boggy section of the moor from further erosion. The object of my detour was Stanedge Pole, of which I knew nothing aside from the fact that a trig point was displayed on the OS map. An old packhorse track slightly further along the edge, the Long Causeway, would take me to the same place and after following it for some while I arrived at a low clump of rocks in the middle of the moor. I reached it at the same time as a cyclist from the opposite direction: "No pole!" was his greeting, adding that there had been a pole here last time he passed through the area. 

A low outcrop of rock surrounded by grass.
Neither a pole nor a trig column to be seen...
The Wikipedia entry on Stanedge Pole states that the top part of the pole, a way marker on this route from Sheffield to Hathersage (and a marker of the boundary between their respective counties), had been removed in February 2015 - now it seems that the whole structure has been dismantled too. I hope a new pole is constructed, since it seems that one has stood there in some form or other since at least the sixteenth century and it would be a shame to see the tradition fade. [Update, 2016: the pole has now been replaced.]

"No trig column!" might also have been the cyclist's greeting for curiously there was no OS marker here either, even  though it shows on the OS 1:25000 map (and on the online version I am looking at now too). As far as I can tell there never was one constructed here either, making the spot something of a curiosity in British map lore. Comforted by the fact that there was still at least something notable about the spot, I tramped back along the Long Causeway and rejoined my route along the edge.

A view back along the escarpment which rises up in the distance. The sandy edge path is empty here.
Looking back as I headed further along the ridge, passers-by were a rarity now.
The view ahead: the escarpment rises up again - some climbers can just be seen on the edge of the high point; on the moors to the right, a stone hut for grouse shooters.
High Neb ahead of me - the climbers on the ridge were out of sight by the time I reached the top.
A barren stretch of grass with the charred remains of heather plants.
The result of last season's heather burning, I assume.

A picture of me by an OS trig column.
At High Neb.
From here on there was a sudden and drastic drop in the number of people I passed - High Neb, the highest point of the escarpment at 458 metres, now lay ahead of me. 

I passed barely a handful of walkers between the Long Causeway and this point, and none at all once I continued on to Stanage End. The only other people around were a few climbers that I could see at High Neb and by the time I reached the summit I could only tell they still around at all from the sound of their voices below. 

There was a trig column at High Neb and I paused to mark bagging this summit before carrying on. I had made decent time, considering the diversions I had made and the pauses to explore the rock features that were a defining feature of this walk, so I had a spring in my step. The views across Bamford Moor and Moscar Moor were tremendous from here too and they gave me an extra bounce in my stride as I went.

Across moorland, Winhill Pike in the centre. Behind it on either side, the summits of Mam Tor and Lose Hill.
Across Bamford Moor: Mam Tor (l), Winhill Pike (m) and Lose Hill (r), with Kinder behind.
Surrounded by hills and woods, a reservoir sits in the valley.
Across Moscar Moor: Ladybower Reservoir.
Moorland stretching out into the distance, with a glimpse of another escarpment on its edge.
Across Derwent Moor: Derwent Edge.

The gritstone edge viewed from halfway down across a mass of bracken.
Heading down onto Bamford Moor.
Just after Stanage End and Crows Chin Rocks, I had plotted a route down to Bamford Moor, below the escarpment. I could have walked along the base of the edge and joined the lane into Bamford by that route but it would involve a lengthy walk by the roadside, which I try to avoid where possible. Today especially that seemed like a good idea given the amount of traffic the sunshine had brought to the narrow lanes. There were two paths marked across the moor and I estimated that I would be in Bamford within the hour, with plenty of time to have a pint or two in the pub before my planned train home. As I bounced down the slope through the bracken, all seemed to bode well, my route unmistakeable on map, GPS and on the ground beneath me.

A narrow path in a clearing - the edge is now above.
Looking up at the edge from Bamford Moor, while the path was still visible.
When I left the cover of the bracken and heather, the path still remained well-trodden and the GPS confirmed I was on course so I was taken aback when the trail petered out in front of me into a wide bog of grass tufts and sphagnum moss. I ventured forward a few steps and tested the sodden ground with my pole - this was clearly not going to work as a route. Frustratingly I could see all my potential exit points onto the lane on the far side of the moor, including my planned one. Rather than climb back up to the base of the edge, which suddenly seemed a long way above me in the heat of the afternoon, I decided to try and skirt the bog.

To my left bracken and heather seemed to promise drier ground underfoot and I struck out through it - to say it was hard work was an understatement. The bracken was growing at shoulder height the further in I went and was wrapping itself around my lower legs as I forced my way through it. After a fruitless 45 minutes' worth of struggling I found myself in another mire, one in which there was nowhere to stand still and regroup. Whenever I paused I began sinking slowly but steadily into the bog. So I hopped around and cursed loudly at the obstinacy that had led me there. In real terms I was no closer to Bamford and its railway station; in fact, time-wise I was further away than ever, something another 45 minute battle through the undergrowth back to my starting point subsequently proved.

An expanse of moorland in various shades of green - the brightest swathe indicates the wet ground and bogs.
My nemesis.

A forest of thick bracken with the gritstone edge above it.
Heading back up to Stanage Edge.
Here I sat on a rock and counted to ten, and then another ten for the sheer hell of it - it was a relief to be able to stop and count without running the danger of being submerged in the bog. There was no chance whatsoever that I'd make my train, even by the straightforward route along the base of Stanage Edge. Ordinarily that wouldn't matter, frustrating though it might be, as I could simply get the next train. Today however I needed to be back for a family meal and the next train would get me back after the meal had started. So I had to swallow my pride and call Rich to come and collect me in the car. The walk back up to the base of Stanage Edge from the moor wasn't nearly as effortful as I'd imagined when I made the decision to try and find a way round the bogs and I was glad to find a scramble route up the rock face that brought me out quite quickly to the top not far from Stanage End. 

A path of rock and sand leads downwards through grassland on the periphery of the moor.
The grim and squelchy trudge down to the Snake Road.

From here it was a trudge, distinctly damp from the knees down, back to Crows Chin Rocks and then onwards to the Snake Road, where Rich was to pick me up from the Cutthroat Bridge lay-by.

In the event, we were still late for dinner by the time we'd got back to Manchester and I'd showered and changed, but if nothing else I had worked up both a hearty appetite and a saga of derring-do with which to regale the family over our meal. It wasn't the best end to what had been a great day's walking but nor was it the disaster it'd seemed for a while when I was swallowed up in bracken and sphagnum moss. And - having been slap bang in the middle of my own cautionary tale - I learned the valuable lesson there's nothing wrong with turning back and plotting a more convenient or easier route when the going gets tough underfoot.

Date: July 2015

Walk length:  22.5 km 

Total ascent:  748 metres



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