Wednesday 4 October 2017

Howden Moors - Howden Dean, Back Tor and Lost Lad

This walk is something of a follow-up to one I did on Howden Moors around a year ago, which took in Outer Edge and Margery Hill. As I made my return journey to the Upper Derwent Valley reservoirs via Howden Edge (confusingly, several parts of the Derwent watershed seem to bear this name) and Nether Hey, a large clough to the south east caught my eye. From my vantage point, I could see there was a clear path following the course of this great fold in the landscape.

Abbey Brook Clough from my walk last year.

On the map the terrain looked interesting and it was, I decided a couple of weeks ago, high time I found out for myself what lay hidden within this winding valley.

We parked at the Upper Derwent Valley Visitor Centre at Fairholmes, the spot where I'd started and finished the previous walk. As always, it was busy with cyclists and walkers of all abilities and ages but, once we left it behind and took the path through the trees down to Derwent Dam, the number of people around dropped quite dramatically - quite surprising given it was a Saturday afternoon and the weather was more than fair.

We were just a touch too early to catch the leaves turning but the woodland around Upper Derwent Reservoir still looked quite lovely as it caught the sunlight. It was a pleasant walk alongside the water to Abbey Brook, which feeds into the reservoir below Howden Dam.

Woodland by the visitor centre.
For some reason, I thought of H.P. Lovecraft when I saw this...
Looking back along Upper Derwent Reservoir.

The modest ascent of around 240 feet had been almost imperceptible as we walked the mile and a bit to this point but when we left the service road around the reservoir there was a short, steep climb through trees to join the path along the side of the clough, which came as a sudden shock to the calf muscles.

The sound of sheep here was much louder than we were used to and we looked around in some confusion before we noticed them being corralled along the service road and into the clearing below us. We hung around for a little while to see what would happen next but they simply stood around and bleated as sheep are wont to do, and the herders simply stood and watched them. It was the first time we'd seen any livestock down on the road around the reservoir, plentiful though they are on the uplands above it. Hoping they were on their way to a pasture where the grass was greener rather than starting a journey to local restaurant tables, we carried on.

A gate at the top of this small plantation opened onto the path that would - twisting and turning and rising and falling - eventually lead us onto open moorland. The gradient from here on was much more gentle due to the trail's convoluted route along the hillside and once again we didn't really feel as though we were gaining that much height as we walked. The view of the tree tops in the valley below revealed how much we had climbed, however. Heather was abundant around us, though past its best now. It still held some colour, especially when the sun hit it, but it must have made this section of the walk glorious a month earlier.

Sometimes we'd have to cross one of the streams that flowed as tributaries into Abbey Brook below us but mostly the ascent was steady and uneventful. The track here was fairly broad and clearly regularly-used, if not by hikers then by farmers or shooters I imagine, which meant the walking was easy underfoot.

One of the streams that flow into Abbey Brook.
Cogman Clough - had to take a panoramic picture with my phone to fit it all in shot.

As we gained height, the moorland that we'd glimpsed above the trees now formed the dominant landscape around and above us. As the valley widened out ahead, we began to feel really quite small beneath the massive uplands that were revealed.

Looking back to Forest Knoll - the path descends to cross Cogman Clough.
Sunlight catches the saddle between Row Top and the southern end of Howden Edge.
Robin Hood Moss and Greenfield Howden.
Gravy Clough.
Howden Edge and Berrister's Tor.
Just when I'd begun to think that these smooth slopes would be our accompaniment all the way to the top of the moor, we rounded Howden Dean opposite Gravy Clough...

(Yes, I know - Gravy Clough! I have no idea how it got that deliciously distinctive name but I suspect it's probably - and rather disappointingly - got nothing to do with food. It's surely no coincidence that I immediately began to feel hungry after identifying it on the map though.)

... To our delight a much more rugged vista suddenly opened up in front of us. The sides of the valley grew steeper now as it narrowed and outcrops of rock on one side marked out Howden Edge - a different Howden Edge to the one mentioned and pictured earlier but by no means the last one we'd pass that day. The terrain was fascinating as we neared Sheepfold Clough, with Berrister's Tor an imposing presence over the valley and the ground below us riven by watercourses and gullies.

Berrister's Tor.
Some of the dramatic land forms by Sheepfold Clough.
Looking along Sheepfold Clough with Howshaw Tor on the moors above.

The shattered crags we later saw on the edge of the moor.
In the midst of all this, an isolated ridge rose out of the valley floor. We surmised that it'd been caused by water erosion, though a walker we met further up the path (the only person we'd encountered since leaving the reservoir) suggested that landslips probably accounted for it. Later on, near the top of the clough and right on the edge of the moor, there were shattered crags hanging over boulder-strewn slopes, which provided support for his argument. It was a little sobering to see the latter and realise how prone to collapse seemingly solid rock could be. We wondered, as we looked over, when the last boulder had crashed down here.

Tempted though I was to climb this mini-ridge ("mini" in relation to its surroundings), it would have involved a sharp climb down and up again through thick bracken and heather, which somewhat put me off. Perhaps it's one for the late winter or early spring, when the vegetation has died back and the ticks are deep in slumber and dreaming bloodthirsty dreams. It was difficult to get a good picture of the ridge but here's a couple from the approach and from above after we'd passed it.

The ridge as we approached it.
The ridge from behind, as we carried on along the clough.

We left Sheepfold Clough behind, driven on by rumbling bellies and the pointless motivational decision that "we won't have lunch until we get to the top". We left behind the broad track we'd been following at this point too: it turned into Sheepfold Clough and headed southwest to join up with other grouse-shooting tracks above us on Little Howden Moor. Our path shrivelled to a thin ribbon, clinging to the side of an increasingly steep hillside. Above us were Low Tor and yet another Howden Edge, although we couldn't see either of them from our cautious passage along this narrow and slippery trod of mud and rock.

Although we weren't far below the moors, the path led us on a circuitous, gently-climbing course to reach the level ground they afforded, crossing Bents Clough high above the valley floor before doubling back on itself below Cartledge Bents. Eventually, we reached the top and the deep, steep-sided valley we'd been climbing was suddenly transformed into a shallow stream bed that disappeared into the depths of the moor.

Just below the moor edge, the path a narrow ribbon of mud above quite a steep drop.
The transition from steep clough to moorland stream.

A modest ridge of rock promised better terrain for a lunch stop than the soft, slightly boggy grassland beneath our boots and we followed a line upwards across Cartledge Bents. As always, the sight of the moors stretching out all around was an exhilarating one and the deep clough we'd climbed was a vast fissure in the ground from this viewpoint, with no indication of the fascinating topography hidden within.

Crossing Cartledge Bents.
Our route onto the moors formed a vast fissure in the ground.

To the south west, beyond the Howden Moors and beyond the uplands of Hope Forest, the northern edge of Kinder Scout stretched across the horizon. Seal Edge and Fairbrook Naze glowed slightly in the weak sunlight. Closer by, our next objective was in clear view - Back Tor, the heap of exposed gritstone that marks the northern end of Derwent Edge.

The northen edge of Kinder.
Fairbrook Naze.

After polishing off our sandwiches, we set off through the heather and peat for this target. The ground was unexpectedly dry and firm as we left the Cartledge Stones behind but we were even more surprised to find ourselves on a paved path shortly afterwards and this allowed us to make up quite a bit of time. As we bounced along the slabs the large, water-logged groughs that began to appear around the path made us doubly grateful for the solidity of stone underfoot.

Heading to Back Tor.
Crossing one of the groughs - thankfully on a paved path.

To the east, a small tower caught my eye and then, next to it, a country house. The latter, I later found out, is Sugworth Hall, a Grade II listed building on the eastern fringes of the Peak District National Park. In substance, much of the present structure (which seems to remain private residential property) is nineteenth century but the earliest mention of a hall there dates from the 1560s.

Arriving at Back Tor.
The tower was built by a much later owner of the hall, one Charles Boot, a wealthy building contractor and the founder of Pinewood Studios. It's suggested by some that he built Boot's Folly, as it's known, to provide local employment during the Great Depression though it appears to have been built in 1927, two years before the financial crash, which gives the lie to that idea. A spiral staircase that led to a reception room at the top was later removed after a passing cow apparently decided to climb it and got stuck.

All that information I only found out later, of course, and, after pausing to take a quick snap to remind me to do some research, we carried on to Back Tor. Shamefully, having been here before, we were both too lazy to scramble up the gritstone to visit the trig column. In fact, we barely spent any time here at all, contenting ourselves with a few snaps looking along Derwent Edge before we set off again and headed towards our final destination of the day - Lost Lad.

Looking south along Derwent Edge from Back Tor.
Back Tor trig column.
Looking to Back Tor from the path to Lost Lad.

Lost Lad is the name of a cairn on a subsidiary summit just below Back Tor, dedicated to the memory of a shepherd from the village of Derwent (itself now "lost" below the waters of the reservoir). It's said that this unfortunate youth died on the moors during a snowstorm and that his body wasn't discovered until the following spring. The story appears to be apocryphal but the hill, which has excellent views, now also boasts a toposcope which is a genuine memorial to a member of a local rambling group.

Lost Lad.
Looking across Howden Moors from just below Lost Lad. 
Looking at our route onto the moors from just below Lost Lad.

From Lost Lad, it was all downhill across heathland where coarse grass seemed to hold sway at least as much as heather. It was criss-crossed by grouse-shooting tracks and occasionally a startled bird burst into the air with that distinctive panicky gurgle, startling us in our turn as we passed by. Some iconic Peak District summits came into view as we headed down - Derwent Edge above us, Win Hill and, to the south west, the Great Ridge too. Behind us, ominously dark skies were forming over Lost Lad, which put a spring of urgency in our steps.

Derwent Edge.
Win Hill.
The Great Ridge.
Looking back up to Lost Lad.

Thankfully, although the damp ground sometimes squelched underfoot, this was easy walking on a gentle gradient. When we finally caught a glimpse of how far beneath us the reservoirs still were, however, we had pause to reflect that a steeper incline would've got us down there sooner.

Easy walking...
Hollin Clough.
Derwent Dam.

In the event, a lot of the descent came in a steep section at the end, through a plantation and then on a permissive path to an access road on the eastern side of Ladybower Reservoir. From there, it wasn't far to Fairholmes Visitor Centre where we'd parked.

Path below Pike Low.
The road on the north side of Ladybower Reservoir.

This was my second walk up on the Howden Moors north of Derwent Edge and I enjoyed it just as much as the one last year - so much so, in fact, that I plotted at third walk in the area soon after we got home, which we did the following week. The feeling of remoteness and the beauties of the landscape make this area an endlessly fascinating place and I'm looking forward to exploring it further.

Date: September 2017

Walk length: 14.5 km

Total ascent: 566 metres


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