Thursday 22 August 2019

Baslow Edge and Birchen Edge

On its north-eastern side, a long chain of gritstone escarpments stands watch over the Derwent Valley like a series of natural ramparts. Their reach extends from the tracts of moorland at the heart of the Dark Peak to the cultivated landscapes of Chatsworth in the White Peak. I've walked the northern edges many a time but I'd never ventured south of Curbar Edge so a visit to that area had been overdue for a long time.

Heading onto Baslow Edge.
In mid-March 2018* there was a relatively mild and dry interlude between the waves of snow and ice that had washed over Derbyshire that winter, and this seemed the perfect opportunity for heading over that way to explore.

We parked up at Curbar Gap and walked back down the lane to where a gate gives access to Baslow Edge. A broad track leads due south from the gate but there is an "unofficial" path, not marked on the map, that closely follows the rocky edge, affording better views and more interesting terrain.

The cliffs and outcrops that make up Baslow Edge didn't seem as impressive as those on its near neighbour, Curbar Edge, let alone as dramatic as the rock formations further north on Stanage or Derwent Edges, for example, but there were some fine views to be had from here and one or two interesting gritstone features along the way.

Natural or carved out?
Looking west - Curbar (right), Calver (centre) and Stoney Middleton beyond Calver.
Lining them up...
White Edge to the north east.

It doesn't take long at all to get to the other end of Baslow Edge, from where Birchen Edge and Gardoms Edge can be seen to the south east. Trees grow below and on top of the latter, so I'm guessing this is the best time of year to make out the rocks that form the escarpment before the leaves return and hide them.

Gardoms Edge and Birchen Edge above it.

We still had a way to go before we'd get there though - and we had some notable features of Baslow Edge to take in first too. The first of these was the Eagle Stone, a huge outcrop of gritstone that stands in isolation a few hundred feet to the east of the edge. I haven't been able to find out the origin of its name - perhaps it hails from a happier time when eagles soared above the moors and the Derwent Valley - but I did discover that it played an important role in local history: the young men of Baslow had to climb the rock to prove their mettle before they could marry their sweethearts.

The Eagle Stone.

At the stone we encountered some of Baslow Edge's well-known inhabitants. These were the highland cattle that pasture up here, pictures of which grace many a Peak District walking blog or photographer's website. As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm very wary of cattle but it's always a pleasure to see these handsome and placid beasts when out walking. That said, we still kept our distance!

It was shaping up to be a fine afternoon and we got fairly decent views south along the valley from here, where the glistening River Derwent meandered past Chatsworth House.

Leaving the cattle behind, we came next to Wellington's Monument, a rather squat stone cross erected by one Doctor Wrench. A local man with an army background, he built it in 1866 to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo and also, so local lore tells, to act as a counterbalance to the Nelson Monument over on Birchen Edge, which celebrates the naval victory at Trafalgar.

From here we headed up a farm track north east that followed a long, dry stone wall. The track was maintained and clearly used for vehicular access by the landowner but we soon came across a guide stoop that revealed we were walking a route that was far older than it appeared.

These stoops or guide posts are several hundred years old and were installed to help travellers navigate across the uplands. In the days before modern maps and navigational aids, a journey like that was a serious undertaking and a potentially fatal one given the changeable moorland weather, particularly in winter. Beside the stoop here was a contemporary sculpture, one of several around the Peak District and part of a fascinating art installation called Companion Stones.

Eventually we came to Clodhall Lane. We took a right turn here, walking down to the junction with Sheffield Road, which we crossed to gain access to an expanse of open land north of Birchen Edge. There was a path of sorts, a line of trodden grass and patches of mud, which led onto the heather-clad moorland above. Although it wasn't a challenging ascent (around 200 feet over half a mile), the rain and melt from recent heavy snows had left the ground sodden and picking our way across this took some time.

The way ahead...
Looking back to White Edge and Big Moor.

Once you reach Birchen Edge, the trig point is just a few yards away. Looking across the heather from up here, this typical Dark Peak landscape seems boundless but in fact that's only a trick of the topography. The centre of Chesterfield is less than seven miles away as the crow flies and the moorland itself gives way to farmland only a mile and a half to the east of where we stood.

At Birchen Edge trig, looking north.
Looking east across the seemingly endless moors.

On a different scale altogether were the uplands to the south of us, Brampton Moor East and the evocatively-named Gibbet Moor, which dominated the horizon menacingly even on this sunny afternoon. Birchen Edge and Nelson's Monument just below us were dwarfed by their foreboding presence.

Nelson's Monument.

Nelson's Monument was erected in 1810 by a Baslow resident named John Brightman. It takes the shape of an obelisk carved from gritstone and a ball of rock at the top forms the cherry on the cake, as it were. However, not content with a mere column (even one with a cherry on top), the local businessman also co-opted three nearby gritstone outcrops into symbolising the admiral's ships and had the ships' names carved into their sides.

The Three Ships.
Royal Soverin.

We carried on south, following a peaty path along until we reached, a turning point where the track descended steeply to bring us out on another path running below the escarpment. Turning left here, we followed this new track until we reached another lane.

The lane took us down past the Robin Hood pub and onto Baslow Road. Fortunately, there was a pavement along this busy A-road and we weren't on it for very long before we joined another public footpath crossing open land beneath Birchen Edge. This was the start of our return journey northwards. There are some interesting rocks here and evidence of both Bronze and Iron Age activity in the area but we didn't really have time to explore. They don't seem to have a name on the OS map, although I suppose they might have one locally and it's definitely a place to return and explore further.

Just past these rocks, we entered the woods below Gardoms Edge. We could occasionally make out the rocks that form the escarpment through the leafless trees and the wood itself was full of boulders, many clothed in bright green mosses.

The path brought us out on Sheffield Road (the A621) by the intriguingly-named Cupola Cottage. We looked in vain for a cupola on the building but we couldn't see anything the way of a tower or dome so we carried on across the road to join another footpath.

You wouldn't guess it but just below the road here is a hidden gem - moss-covered walls and an old stone bridge crossing Bar Brook on its lively journey down from the moors above. Even in late winter the place had a certain charm and tranquility - although there was a rather utilitarian concrete bridge further upstream that spoiled the effect a bit.

On the far side of the stream, a narrow path curved around the large house and gardens that sits above the brook (to which the ugly modern bridge gave access, we assumed). This led us upwards into more woodland on a steep hillside. Ironically, the area is marked Jack Flat on the map and probably makes for a pleasant walk in dry conditions.

On this day, it was extremely wet and muddy, which made for a slow and sometimes quite tricky ascent. There were more moss-covered boulders here and various types of fungus growing from the trunks and branches of trees, both fallen and still living, which lent some interest to a section of the walk that we didn't particularly enjoy.

Eventually, we cleared the wood and found ourselves back at the southern end of Baslow Edge, from where it was a simple stroll along the broad track back to Curbar Gap as the sun sank low in the sky to the west of us.


* In case you're wondering why it took nearly 18 months for me to produce this trip report, I actually wrote it just after we did the walk. The post then sat unpublished and forgotten in the "Drafts" folder, just lacking the final few photos until I stumbled across it yesterday afternoon.

[22 August 2019]


Date: March 2018

Walk length: 9.5 km 

Total ascent: 383 metres


Post a Comment