Wednesday 26 April 2017

Bee Low and Sparrowpit

Since we moved to Dove Holes last month we've had typically changeable April weather, albeit a few degrees colder perhaps than we were used to living down in Manchester. As I write, the snowflakes that were swirling past the window fifteen minutes ago have given way to the same bright sunshine that arrived unheralded yesterday afternoon and prompted me to head out for an impromptu wander along the footpaths by the village.

I headed to the northern end of Dove Holes and joined a bridleway that leads steadily but gently up towards what's left of Bee Low. Once a substantial hill with its own trig point, Bee Low has been gutted by extensive quarrying over the years and I'm guessing it must have been taller than it's current elevation of 1355 feet, even if only slightly. Certainly the trig column that stood at the top has gone the same way as the ancient limestone bedrock that once supported it.

The walk was a pleasant one as the massive Cemex quarry was still hidden from view and the bridleway was surrounded by lush green fields. Behind me, I could hear the deep lowing of cattle, still in their shed from over-wintering and no doubt eager to be out in the bright green pastures. The views across these fields were quite extensive: to the south west Dove Holes looked startlingly small and distant below Combs Moss and to the north was Bennetston Hall, a rather grand Victorian house that currently sits empty.

The bridleway to Bee Low from Dove Holes.
Bennetston Hall nestles below Bolt Edge.
Lush farmland surrounded the track on both sides.

Dove Holes quarry.
The byway would have crossed Bee Low hillside as it made its way east, I presume, as you can clearly see the continuation of it on the OS map just south of Lodesbarn Farm. If you look at aerial pictures on OS Maps or Google, a track is shown going across the quarry. These must be old images, though, as a new trail now diverts you north around the blasted wreck of Bee Low hill and access across the quarry is barred. It seems that there was still a spur of land (including fields) that divided Bee Low from the main quarry workings but that appears to have also been quarried now. The resulting diversion is just under a mile in length and added about two thirds of a mile to my route.

Eventually, I descended again to the original byway, passing an attractive limestone outcrop on the way that I would only have seen from a distance otherwise. From here I left the trappings of heavy industry behind and from now on my journey would be predominantly through farmland. From my vantage point on the diverted track, I could see a lot of the fields I was due to cross and I was happy to note that there appeared to be nothing four-legged bigger than a sheep ahead of me. The weather forecast of strong winds had been right on the mark and it was freezing cold. There was an advantage to this though - excellent visibility for miles beneath a picture-book canopy of blue skies and fluffy white clouds, well worth a red nose and numb earlobes.

A pair of new home-makers.
A limestone outcrop on the edge of Bee Low.
What remains of Bee Low hill.
Swapping the industrial for the pastoral.

I headed north-east now on a public footpath that brought me past a small plantation to Lower Bee Low, a knobbly limestone tump. I saw a striking-looking bird on the wall here but the instant our eyes met it fluttered down into the grass and then bounced along the meadow beyond the wall. It eventually alighted some distance away on a post and I leant over as far as I could to get a photo. Unfortunately, it didn't come out very clearly with the fully extended zoom constantly buffeted by the wind. I wasn't sure what it was and struggled to identify it on the RSPB website but it turned out to be a wheatear, for which information I'm indebted to fellow members of the Walking Forum. I'm thinking, in the hope that this is its regular stamping ground, I might head back to the same place in less gusty conditions to see if I can get a better shot as it really was very handsome.

Laughman Tor.
Below Lower Bee Low (try saying that after a few ales...).
The mystery bird I encounted by Lower Bee Low.

The footpath lead downhill now following the wall in a straight line along the margins of fields dotted with sheep. As I passed by Chamber Farm, I encountered some of the tiniest lambs I've seen - they could only have been a few days old and they generally looked quite bemused by the whole affair of being out in the wide world. I wanted to get a snap of them but they and the sheep seemed so disconcerted by my presence I felt a little guilty and decided to pass by as quickly and quietly as I could.

Dry stone wall country.
The footpath followed the edge of the field.

On the other side of the A623.
After crossing the unexpectedly busy A623 just outside Peak Forest, it was my turn to be disconcerted when I realised that the footpath traced a course alongside the drive of a house and then down the side of the house itself. I'm more used to walking on higher, open access ground so following strictly-delineated footpaths across private land is still something of a novelty, especially when the homeowners are getting their groceries out of the car no more than two or three feet away from me. They said hello and seemed unfazed, however, and it was the large sheep in the small enclosure on the other side of the path that appeared to be more irritated by my intrusion.

I soon left the house and garden behind and struck out diagonally from here across a series of long rectangular fields, climbing over the step stiles in the walls and past a small quarry (disused) to eventually reach Nether Barn. Standing near the southern end of Perry Dale and erected in 1781 (the date is carved into the lintel), this is a large and handsome structure that is a grade II listed building. Although I didn't examine it in great detail it looks well-maintained from the outside at least and more than worthy of its name being printed on the OS map.

This was the furthest point away from home on my walk and the point where I began to loop back to Dove Holes. A line of trees leading up from the dale and across the top of Gautries Hill had been visible for a while now and beneath their still mostly bare branches lay my route to Sparrowpit. This wooded area is Rake Vein, a name that indicates lead mining took place here, as it did in many parts of the Peak District from Roman times or even earlier. A "rake" was the local name given to the veins of lead that ran through the rock and which were laboriously excavated with a pick. More information can be found in this fascinating article: Lead Mining in the Peak District.

Nether Barn.
Rake Vein.
The first uphill walk for a while.
Is this what an ent's face would look like?

Cows in a field by Rakes View eyed me curiously as I made my way through the trees. The wall was tumbled down in places and deep prints in the very muddy ground suggested that my bovine audience sometimes wandered around here too, so I was glad to find a wall and stile that divided the copse into discrete sections. Briefly the path brought me out of the tree cover by the summit of Gautries Hill, affording views of Rushup Edge and Mam Tor, before leading back through the grove to farmland by Sparrowpit.

Keeping watch as I pass...
Mam Tor and Eldon Hill from Rake Vein.
The sheep also kept a close eye as I passed near the summit of Gautries Hill.
Sparrowpit is a small village situated high up above the Blackbrook Valley, a strip of pretty stone cottages along a road that used to be the salt trading route from Cheshire to Yorkshire, via the Hope Valley. Tiny though it might be, it boasts a pub (with the curious name The Wanted Inn - explanation here) and a Methodist chapel, either of which could offer shelter and comfort to locals and visitors alike depending on on their preferred house of worship. According to Wikipedia, its name is industrial in origin rather than ornithological and is a compound noun - "spar row pit" - relating to the mining of fluorspar in the area.

The Wanted Inn.
Sparrowpit Methodist chapel.

I resisted the temptations of the pub, attractive though it looked, and followed the old turnpike road up and then down towards Chapel-en-le-Frith. On the way I passed Bennett Well, which used to be the village's source of water. Sparrowpit's elevated location is the site of a watershed from which streams flow west into the River Mersey and then the Irish sea, and east via the Rivers Noe and Humber into the North Sea.

Bennett Well.

The plaque by the ancient well also explains the significance of the name Bennett, which belonged to a local family of some influence: John Bennett was born in Chapel-en-le-Frith to parents who were dissenters and as a preacher he was instrumental in the early development of the Methodist church alongside John Wesley. It was one of his descendants that built Bennetston Hall, just below Sparrowpit, in the nineteenth century.

Plaque at Bennett Well.
Signs of spring as I left the village.

By way of compensation for the gale-force wind tearing up the lane and into the village there were splendid, sun-bathed views to be had from here: to the north west lay Chinley Churn and South Head; Combs Moss rose up on the horizon to the south; and Brown Knoll stretched out to the north. The town of Chapel-en-le-Frith lay directly in front of me - a band of rooftops and trees gathered around Eccles Pike, the conical profile of which rose above them, slightly hazy in the early evening sun.

Chinley Churn and South Head.
Combs Moss.
South Head and Brown Knoll.
Eccles Pike.
Halfway down the hill into Chapel I took a sharp left to join a public footpath across a field of almost knee-deep grass, which swept back and forth in gleaming lines in the wind like ripples on the surface of a green lake. The effect was quite magical, though it was the wind up here on this exposed hillside that literally took my breath away as I leaned into it to make my way to the next stile.

A sea of grass.
Dove Holes comes into view as I head down into Barmoor Clough.

A couple more fields crossed and I found myself at Higher Plumpton and at the start of a steep descent into Barmoor Clough, through which the A6 runs. I could see Dove Holes from here and it was just a ten minute walk now to get back home. The novelty of the scenery compared to the terrain I'm used to walking added interest to the afternoon's outing but even so this is a very enjoyable outing in itself. Using public transport you would need to start at Dove Holes, which has frequent bus services, but with a car it could just as easily be done from several points along the circuit.

Date: April 2017

Walk length: 13.25 km

Total ascent: 298 metres



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