Tuesday 29 August 2017

Gun - odd name, small hill, big views.

"An undistinguished hill at the southern end of the Peak District" is the rather sad Wikipedia description of Gun, a small, raised patch of heather moorland in north Staffordshire. And I suppose it does pale in comparison to the hills around it - The Cloud stands proud and distinct over the Cheshire plain to the west;  in the north, the rolling heights of Axe Edge Moor and and Shining Tor form a backdrop to Shutingsloe, the ambitiously-nicknamed "Cheshire Matterhorn" that looks every bit as pointy and properly hill-like as Gun signally fails to do; while to the east of our modest and flat-topped mound, Hen Cloud, Ramshaw Rocks and The Roaches provide a dramatic display of jagged rocks and ridges that draw walkers and climbers alike. On a clear day - and even through an evening haze such as on our visit yesterday - The Wrekin can be made out on the horizon, some forty miles away to the south east, its presence in Shropshire a thumbed-nose to Gun from afar, "See, this is what a real hill looks like!"

But it's exactly those vistas that make this quiet, oddly-named hill such a gem. If you live close enough or you're visiting the White Peak area, Gun makes for an ideal short stroll with rewards far in excess of the effort or time you put in to walk it. What's more, there's roadside parking on its south-western aspect and the farmland around it is criss-crossed with public footpaths, meaning you can also easily incorporate it into a longer day walk if you choose.

Looking south into Staffordshire from near our parking spot.
Gun is about half-an-hour south of Buxton in the car so it seemed eminently suitable for a pre-dinner, evening walk at the end of a Bank Holiday weekend when we hadn't been able to get out walking otherwise. We drove down past Axe Edge into Staffordshire, where we then left the main road to cross the top of Tittesworth Reservoir and pass through the charming village of Meerbrook. The beer garden at the village pub, The Lazy Trout, was packed with people as you'd expect on a hot, sunny Bank Holiday Monday evening. We were very - very! - tempted to swap both the walk and the dinner we had waiting at home for a pint and some pub grub in the sunshine but discipline prevailed and we carried on up the lane to a parking spot by the entrance to a byway.

The hilltop area is open access land and there was a gate practically opposite where we parked up; from here an obvious path leads to the summit on a very gentle gradient. Once we cleared the vegetation, we were greeted by an expanse of heather and could see the trig column ahead of us at the summit, a mere 75 feet above us.

Making our way onto Gun Hill.
The heather was in bloom all around us and smelled glorious.

Sadly, some of the views across the Cheshire Plain were indistinct with the sun so low in the sky and the day having been so hot.

The Cloud, around four and half miles away.
The Wrekin, very hazy and at full zoom, around 40 miles away in Shropshire.

The skies above us, however, were beautiful:

When we reached the trig, we hung around for quite a while, taking pictures and enjoying the peace. (There had been a family on the hill ahead of us but they were heading back down as we made our way upwards.) Even the breeze was warm, but it was a gentle one and refreshing enough to prevent you feeling overheated.

Looking north to Shutlingsloe and Axe Edge Moor.
The southern end of The Roaches (l), Ramshaw Rocks behind, and Hen Cloud (r).
The southern end of The Roaches (l) and Ramshaw Rocks (r).
Hen Cloud, with the Staffordshire Moors behind.
Tittesworth Reservoir.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away - it felt like such an idyllic setting, with barely a sound aside from the occasional bird call - but we pressed on north to the other end of the hilltop, passing a small plantation that seemed to be the source of a lively gang of midges on a rowdy night out.

Shutlingsloe, as we left the summit.
Shadow cast by the plantation behind me.

We had clearer views now of Shutlingsloe and Croker Hill, site of the Sutton Common telecoms mast.

Shutlingsloe as we make our way down from the summit of Gun.
Croker Hill and the Sutton Common mast.
The Roaches in full, dwarfed somewhat by the Staffordshire Moors behind.

We came to a lane at the northern end of the hilltop and here we turned left, following the ribbon of tarmac downwards in a south-westerly direction. As we descended, trees blocked in the views, although sometimes they provided a frame for the farmland around and below us. And this was very much working land - bales of hay dotted some fields, gleaming in their black plastic covering, while sheep wandered others.

Our plan was to cut back across this farmland, following a public footpath that ran parallel with the summit path along the lower side of the plantation. We did start out along this route, after clumsily negotiating the remains of a stile that was missing its steps - in fact there were just two stumps sticking up on either side of the fence and the public footpath indicator had been removed from the signpost too, which suggested that walkers might not be welcome on this land.

"We're keeping a close eye on you, so no mischief!"
A chiffchaff perhaps? Sounded like one and there were half a dozen of them flying in and out of the trees.

Just inside the field, however, after we'd gained a little height, we spotted a group of cows and calves ahead so we decided to head back to the lane. It didn't add much to our return journey nor would there be much difference in terms of views, so discretion seemed the better part of valour.

All in all, it was a very pleasant walk. I wouldn't normally write up such a short stroll but when I looked up Gun online this morning, I couldn't help but feel that "undistinguished" was a harsh judgement of this minor prominence. It strikes me as a good setting for a winter walk too, especially when frost and snow lies on the uplands around it and we've made a note to return here then.

I'll sign off with a link to this interesting blog post, which provides a surprising amount of historical and mythological information about Gun: click here.

Date: August 2017

Walk length: 3.5 km

Total ascent: 93 metres


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