Friday 23 February 2018

Stanton Moor and Oaker Hill

We'd originally planned to go to Wales overnight last weekend, lured by the forecast of fine weather, but car trouble put a stop to that. Assured the repairs would be complete by Saturday lunchtime, we scouted around for a short walk locally and settled on Stanton Moor, which we'd never visited before. I plotted a circular route from Rowsley which would take us up and over the moor, with an easy flat return journey along the Derwent Valley - although I couldn't resist tagging on another little hill at the far end before we'd begin the walk back.

Crossing the Wye.
As you travel along the A6 from Bakewell to Rowsley, there's a side road on the right, just after the Grouse and Claret, which gives you access to a free car park. Seemingly managed by the council, it doesn't appear on the OS Map or Google Maps but it's very handy, a decent size and well-worth making a note of if you're planning a walk in the area. We parked here and set off back along the main road, before taking a left turn opposite The Peacock, a handsome old inn that was originally a seventeenth century manor house. Walking past the village school and Caudwell's Mill, we crossed the River Wye and finally found ourselves on a lane surrounded by farmland.

After a murky morning of drizzle and fog, it was good to feel the sunshine on our faces and see it illuminating the greenery around us - fresh air would've been lovely too after leaving the busy road behind but we had to wait a little longer for that, as a farmer was muck-spreading in the adjacent field.

Beyond him was one of my favourite hills, although I've never climbed to the top as it's on private land. This is Peak Tor (also sometimes known locally as Picta and Pillow Hill): once the site of a Celtic settlement, there are the remains of a dry moat around its summit. The top of this shapely prominence is crowned with beech trees and it looks quite beautiful in summer. One day, I'll have to find out which farm owns the land and ask permission to explore it in detail.

We kept an eye out for signs of spring as we gradually climbed the lane but there didn't seem to be many around, aside from catkins on otherwise bare trees. The lively song of a thrush and the bold chirping of a robin accompanied us as we walked but, generally, nature still seemed deep in the quiet repose of winter.

As we gained height, we passed through a cluster of attractive cottages and then struck out across farmland. There were fine views down into the Derwent Valley as we followed a public footpath around the hillside.

A couple of buzzards were wheeling around in the sky above our heads and we paused to watch them for a while. They were moving far too fast for me to get a decent photo of them sadly, though the picture below at least enabled me to make an ID.

An increasingly muddy path took us across a heath-like stretch of ground (pictured above) before we reached a lane that circumnavigates the whole of Stanton Moor.

We were only on it for a short space of time before crossing over and taking a track into woodland. This zig-zags along the hillside, climbing as it goes. There was a lot of quarrying here in the past and relics of this abandoned industry were visible as we ascended.

It was damp under the trees, a product of the melt water from recent snows and the rain. Some sections of the track were a river of ankle-deep mud, which made walking a slow and laborious task. We heaved a sigh of relief when we reached the northern end of the trail and began to double back on ourselves. The tree cover thinned out here and our surroundings were noticeably drier - although there were still some fine examples of moss and bracket fungus around.

View Quarry.
Looking north-west, we could see the man-made cliffs of the long-disused View Quarry, tucked away in the farmland. There were some quite different examples of the  quarry workers' expertise closer at hand, however, as we found out when we reached the nearby Duke of York Stone.

This is one of several large rocks that stand in isolation on the moor. Some sources claim these to be natural outcrops of gritstone such as you find on the escarpments of the Dark Peak. However, the Historic England listing for Stanton Moor suggests that many of them aren't weathered enough to have been exposed to the elements since prehistoric times and that they were quarried, then subsequently abandoned. Some of them have carvings and inscriptions on them, the result of quarry workers displaying their masonry skills. The Duke of York Stone is fine example of this.

The Duke of York Stone.
Inscription on the Duke of York Stone.
Just west of here is the main reason I'd gravitated towards Stanton Moor for that afternoon's walk, the Nine Ladies stone circle. The whole of Stanton Moor is a Scheduled Ancient Monument because it's so extraordinarily rich in history, ancient and modern, and this stone circle is probably the most impressive example on the moor of that diverse past.

The name Nine Ladies derives from local folklore. It's a tale of nine women and a fiddler who unwisely decided to head up onto the moor for a bit of a rave. Unfortunately for them, it was the Sabbath when they chose to show off their moves and they were promptly turned to stone for the sacrilegious act. The fiddler, who aided and abetted their rash behaviour, was supposedly transformed into the King Stone, which lies flat a short distance from the circle itself. It's a salutary warning about inappropriate dancing and, as far as I'm concerned, dancing in general.

Nine Ladies might not be as large as some other stone circles around the country nor can it boast the distinctive and obvious henge structure of Arbor Low (although it does sit on a man-made embankment) but it is very well-preserved. The groves of trees that are dotted around this northern end of the moor add further atmosphere to a beautiful and evocative location.

There are various paths crossing the moor and as we headed south along one of them heather became the predominant sight around us. The view and the scent in high summer, when the purple flowers are in full bloom, must be a fantastic one.

We didn't have time to explore the area as much as we'd have liked but before we headed down from the moor we made a brief diversion west to take in the Cork Stone and the trig column

(What is so enticing about these things? I'm not a trig bagger as such and don't go out of my way to find them or record them but if there's one nearby I almost always feel obliged to visit it!).

The Cork Stone is certainly a striking sight when it comes into view - precariously top heavy in appearance, it has "steps" (more indentations really) carved into one side to enable you to scale its fifteen feet height. More recently, metal handholds have been added to make this feat easier and safer but I still decided my feet were better off kept firmly on the ground. Despite these additions it does look more naturally weathered than the Duke of York Stone so I assume it's not man-made. It reminded me a little of the Bridestones, on the hills above Todmorden.

The Cork Stone.
The unmistakable outline of Minninglow in the distance.
Heading off the moor.

Doubling back on ourselves briefly, we left the moor above Barn Farm and then crossed over its fields via public footpaths. The views were attractive but the ground underfoot, churned up by walking boots, livestock and farm vehicles, made this right of way another slog where maintaining your balance was a challenge with every step. Eventually we came to Clough Lane, and turned left, back towards the Derwent Valley, and this was much easier going.

I'd planned a shortcut by taking a public footpath down from Clough Lane to another road between Wensley and Darley Bridge. Despite the intimidating sign next to the stile, the footpath is a Right of Way so we ventured into the plantation it traverses. We didn't get far though. The route was so incredibly muddy it proved almost impossible to walk along. I nearly went flying several times and ended up holding onto branches at the side of the track as I walked. After about 30 feet, with a steep descent still to come, we decided to cut our losses and made our way back to the road. It was annoying to have to extend the walk  but it seemed better than sliding headlong down the hillside or turning an ankle.

Nearing the top of Oaker Hill.
After following the road into Darley Bridge we headed uphill again and turned left at a fork in the road. This brings you to an area marked on the map as Crossgreen.

Although not named on the OS Map, the small hill here is Oaker Hill (sometimes spelled Oker, like the name of the farm on the other side of it) and there's permissive access to it until 2020 under an agreement with Natural England.

The concessionary path that's been agreed runs from Crossgreen across the top of the hill's ridge to a public footpath just outside the hamlet of Oaker, passing a trig column at the highest point. For the small effort it takes to to climb up here, the views from the summit are tremendous in all directions.

Looking south west towards Bonsall Moor.
Looking north along the Derwent Valley towards Beeley Moor.
Looking west towards Winster.

I'd never heard of Oaker Hill until I was browsing the map to plot this walk but it has a certain amount of fame. There's a local legend of two brothers who planted a sycamore tree each to commemorate them going separate ways in life, one to remain at home and the other to seek fortune in the world. Wordsworth even wrote a poem about it. Sadly only one tree remains now.

Heading to Churchtown from Darley Bridge.
After some coffee and a snack, we headed down. As the photos show, we were losing the daylight and we still had a fairly long walk back to Rowsley. We descended the same way we'd climbed the hill and walked back down through Darley Bridge.

Small rain showers were drifting lazily in from the west so the camera went in the bag as we joined the Derwent Valley Heritage Way  and crossed farmland into Churchtown. From here, a managed trail runs alongside the line of Peak Rail, a heritage railway operating between Rowsley and Matlock. This path brought us directly back to the car park, by which time it was dark.

I've a feeling this will turn out to be the first of many future walks we'll be doing in the area and there's definitely a lot more for us to explore on Stanton Moor when we're not pushed for time. For now, though, it was a great introduction to countryside we'd only previously seen from the road as we travelled the A6 and enjoyable compensation for missing out on our planned trip to Wales.

Date: February 2018

Walk length: 17 km

Total ascent: 495 metres


  1. A lovely walk. I've passed that Enthoven sign a couple of times and wondered if it might actually be a public footpath...the wording is very precise - it doesn't say you can't enter. Like the carpark at Rowsley though, it's not marked on the OS map.

    Peak Tor is a perfectly proportioned hill and the summit of Oker Hill is ideal for a picnic.

  2. There are quite a few of those signs all along the lane now. Where we entered the plantation there is a PROW on the OS map but it was impassable due to the levels of mud. It was hard enough staying upright on the flat let alone the steep incline ahead of us.