Wednesday 22 June 2016

Here Be Dragons: Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill

"Chattering Charteris"
Sadly none of the Ordnance Survey maps for the upper Dove Valley bear the legend "Hic sunt dracones" but you could be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled across a pair of sleeping dragons when you first see the distinctive knobbly ridges of Chrome Hill and its companion, Parkhouse Hill, in the distance. These hills nestle in the shadow of Axe Edge Moor, just south of Buxton, and while they might be relatively small prominences compared to the moorland heights of the Dark Peak, they still provide challenges of their own to the walker, with narrow summit paths and steep sides you certainly wouldn't want to take a tumble down. Parkhouse Hill in particular, whichever end you approach it from, has precipitous slopes that test both your knees and your balance.

Our walk started from the small village of Earl Sterndale, most notable for its curiously-named pub, The Quiet Woman. The unfortunate woman in question (who appears on the pub sign, minus her head but still admirably devoted to her job) was allegedly the overly-talkative wife of a former innkeeper, "Chattering" Charteris. When she took to nagging him in her sleep as well as their waking hours, he lopped off her head. The story doesn't say what happened to the innkeeper in the end but in the short term the villagers had a whip round to help him buy a headstone for his wife's grave -  an uplifting story of how small communities can pull together in times of unexpected financial need from one perspective, I suppose, though I doubt poor Chattering Charteris would have seen it that way.

Glutton Dale.
We left this hopefully apocryphal local tale behind and headed north east out of the village along the lane that forms its main thoroughfare, turned left at the crossroads and headed down Glutton Dale. Even leaving aside the three hills that were the focus of our outing, this was to be something of a rollercoaster of a walk: some 350 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period, this whole area was a warm, shallow sea and the limestone this eventually produced has been riven by glaciers, weather and subterranean water to form the classic hills, narrow valleys and caves of the Derbyshire Dales.

At the bottom of the steep-sided dale, having descended about 120 feet, we came to Glutton Grange farm and walked through the yard on one of the public footpaths that criss-cross this area. To our left, behind the farm, Parkhouse Hill dominated the skyline but we had planned a circular walk that would bring us back via its craggy ridge so for now we headed north and away from its steep slopes. The footpath meanders gently through another dale, limestone breaking through the banks of neatly-grazed grass that form its sides. Some of the sheep that so dedicatedly maintain the tidiness of these pastures skipped away from as we approached while others stood seemingly randomly on the limestone outcrops that rose up around us.

Parkhouse Hill

This area is open access land and marked on the OS map as "Hatch-a-way"; having descended Glutton Dale, we were now climbing again (regaining the height we'd lost and then some) before arriving at the border of the access land and heading increasingly sharply downhill to Dowel Dale. I really need to pay more attention to contour lines when I'm plotting a route, though its hard to see how you could walk any significant distance around these parts without either calf muscles or knees suffering!

This area was a tropical reef in the Carboniferous Period.
Just hanging around...
Preparing for the final steep descent into Dowel Dale.

Dowel Dale.
I had planned that we continue in a roughly north direction to High Edge but I also noticed, when we reached the lane running down the dale, that there was a cave - named Dowel Cave, appropriately enough - further downhill. So, martyrs to the cause, we took a diversion and made our way further down. The cave entrance sits in the side of the dale, set back from the road and a few metres up a very muddy slope. We weren't sure at first if we were allowed access but one of the benefits of the mud at least was that it showed many other people had been exploring here before us.

Rich decided to wait this one out - or at least see how I fared on the short climb up; how I made it without slipping back or falling on my face I'm not sure - it felt like my feet had just discovered their independence but eventually I got to the cave mouth and regained control of them. There was a natural step down into the cave, which I followed after cautiously checking for unexpected chasms or potholes. You can walk a metre or so into the side of the dale without so much as bowing your head but the passageway narrows and the roof drops after a short while; I was curious to know what else lay ahead but not so much that I was prepared to crawl on hands and knees, so I did an about turn and made my way back to the lane.

Dowel Cave.
Inside the cave.
The passageway at the back of the cave.

We were back on course for High Edge now, following the lane up Dowel Dale and, I have to admit, slightly regretting our deviation from our planned course. Through a gate at the top of the dale, the lane crossed an enclosed pasture belonging to Greensides Farm. It was a hefty 273 feet from the cave to this point and we still hadn't made any of the three summits on our itinerary.

High Edge, as we emerged from Dowel Dale.
The sight of a herd of cows to our right took our mind off that pretty quickly. They were gathered a fair distance from us in a corner of the enclosure just near the farmhouse but, either out of general curiosity or because they thought we were the farmer, they immediately started to amble towards us as one. There followed a short but intense period of sweaty power-walking as we attempted to get to the gate on the far side as quickly as possible while giving the appearance that we were just gently strolling along without a care in the world.

The World War Two pill box.
Feeling like we'd dodged a couple of dozen big, hairy bullets we crossed into safety and carried on up the lane's fairly gentle gradient. 

From the tarmac road, there were a couple of footpaths marked on the map that swung around the summit of High Edge but none that led to the top, where a concrete WW2 pill box sits, built as part of the defences for RAF Harpur HillI'm calling the hill High Edge but I suspect that name on the map might just refer to the steep slope that drops away on its eastern flank; there doesn't appear to be a name for the summit itself.

This was where we'd settled on as a suitable spot for lunch and our rumbling bellies were nagging away at us so in the end we just struck out uphill where there seemed to be a rough trail through the grass and hoped for the best. It wasn't difficult terrain underfoot so it didn't take too long to reach the top.

Sitting on top of the concrete structure (which took some effort and didn't demonstrate much in the way of athletic grace), we were treated to quite wide-ranging views all around. Just below us to the north west was Buxton Raceway, which provided a constant backdrop of buzzing car engines, but to the east were the huge limestone cliffs that had been gouged out of the natural landscape by the Buxton Quarry; to the south, the prospect was more attractive - the Derbyshire Dales might have been hazy in the distance, but in the foreground at least we could see our journey ahead clearly and some of the hills that neighboured the ones we still had to climb.

On top of the pillbox, with Hillhead Quarry (l) and Buxton Quarry (r) behind.
The scars left on the landscape by the quarrying at Hind Low.
Looking south along the ridge - Chrome Hill (left) and Tor Rock next to it; the whaleback ridge of Hollins End on the right.

Looking back at Tor Rock, with Hollins Hill behind.
We had to double back on ourselves from our picnic spot to continue onwards, as our route to Chrome Hill was via the access road to Stoop Farm, halfway along the lane we'd just walked. The prospect of tramping back the way we'd come on tarmac didn't appeal so we took a slightly more direct route and followed the ridge of High Edge downwards, clambering over or around its exposed limestone.

The public footpath that follows the access road to Stoop Farm doesn't lead to Chrome Hill. Instead, it heads off west across farmland and around the northern end of Hollins Hill. There is, however, a permissive path that leads to the hill, past the left of Tor Rock (a natural landmark that's easy to use as a guide), and this is well sign-posted and visible in the grass. We followed this downhill to the corner of a fence, which it (and we) then shadowed until we began the climb up Chrome Hill's northern slopes.

Chrome Hill.
Following the permissive path along the fence line.
Swallow Tor across the valley, below Hollins Hill.

The sides of Chrome Hill are steep and rocky but the path is well-trodden and easy to follow, and the ridge along the top is fairly broad when you are standing on it, which means there is no real exposure unless you choose to explore near the edges. That said, for such a small hill the sense of height and the views are tremendous and we took our time to make the most of it.

The route ahead along the ridge.
Looking back, with High Edge in the middle of the horizon.
A natural rock arch (and my shadow).
Looking over to Nabend.

Looking fairly diminutive and innocuous, Parkhouse Hill came into view as we wandered along the ridge; the hill broadens out still further as you head downhill here and for those who don't feel comfortable with heights (or steep drops!), you could walk up Chrome Hill this way and back down again to get the views without the shivers down your spine.

The fascinating limestone outcrops along the summit ridge.
Parkhouse Hill.
Parkhouse Hill, with High Wheeldon behind it (r).

The route we took up runs between the two bushes to the right of the picture.
That couldn't be said for the dragon slumbering beside it, though. Once down at the lane, Parkhouse Hill was directly in front of us, much steeper than we had thought it from afar. We wandered around to try and ascertain the best route up: there was a path straight ahead, directly upwards from it's westernmost tip and there was another, less distinct one visible in the grass heading up the slightly less steep northern slope; the two appeared to meet closer to the summit.

In the end we plumped for the direct route, sending showers of loose earth and pebbles down behind us and sometimes travelling backwards with it. Thankfully, there was no-one following or else we'd have been continually apologising as we went. It was a case of using hands and feet most of the time as the ground underfoot was so loose and the angle of inclination felt like it was between 70 and 80 degrees;perhaps indeed it was, at times, and it was a relief to find ourselves on a section that levelled out prior to joining the alternative path.

The path levelled out a bit before the final climb up to the ridge.
The final climb up to the ridge - steep but easier than it looks here.
Looking back to Chrome Hill.

From here, the exposure was no less but the path climbed in a more circuitous fashion that meant it was on a less severe gradient and could easily be walked, bringing us to the top in short time. Parkhouse Hill's ridge felt much narrower than the one we had just walked and the path that had been worn from the grass by the tread of boots seemed scantier too as it weaved its way above the steep slopes on either side. Climbing, descending or traversing the summit, this isn't a hill I would like to be on in poor weather conditions or strong winds. The light of the setting sun was against us now, so I although I took plenty of snaps not many of them really passed muster when we viewed them at home.

Looking back along the ridge.
Looking south east - the three hills from closest to furthest: Hitter Hill, Aldery Cliff and High Wheeldon.
Dowel Dale cuts through the landscape on the left; in the centre, Upper Edge with Hind Low on the horizon.

Heading down, the slopes around us were rucked, almost as though the hill was proudly replicating the closely packed contour lines it wears on the map. The descent was steep but not as precipitously so as the climb had been at the other end. We took it fairly steady nonetheless as we made our way down to the farmland around Glutton Grange farm.

The way down from Parkhouse Hill - note the "contour lines", most visible on the left.

End of a great day's walking.
From here, it was a short hop across a couple of fields to regain the lane that winds through Glutton Dale and on a trip that had contained so many ups-and-downs along our route, it seemed only fitting that we should end the day with one last climb to get back to Earl Sterndale and the car.

Date: March 2015

Walk length: 10 km

Total ascent: 538 metres



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