Wednesday 12 February 2020

Chelmorton Circular Walk

Our last walk of 2019 was a White Peak one - we'd walked some of these paths earlier in the year and had been meaning to revisit the area for a while, not least to take a look at the chambered cairn high on the hills above the Wye Valley. The route predominantly made use of the old, walled tracks that you often find in the Derbyshire Dales, although there were some fields to cross on public footpaths as well.

Chelmorton, the highest in village in Derbyshire, is situated a few miles south-east of Buxton. It doesn't seem to have a mention in the Domesday Book but there's evidence of human activity here dating back to Neolithic times, perhaps because of the clean water that streams from a natural spring in the limestone bedrock on the northern edge of the village. Almost all of its buildings line a single street that runs downhill south-west from that point, including the church, which we parked outside.

St Johns Church has a complicated history: the original building, according to most sources I've read, hails from the 13th century but it's been subject to several major reconstructions since then - the south transept has windows that have been dated at around the 14th century and the spire was added to the tower in the 15th century. Exposure to the elements high above the Derbyshire countryside also caused significant wear-and-tear over the years and structural repairs had to be undertaken in the 16th and 19th centuries. Maintenance of the building remains an ongoing project.

The handsome porch is particularly interesting as the walls and floor incorporate several stone carvings. It's been suggested that some of these are Saxon in origin - perhaps from a church that stood here before this one or from a nearby place of worship all other traces of which are long lost?

Leaving the church, we made our way to the top of Main Street, where we met a bridleway that sweeps around the base of Chelmorton Low, the large hill above the village. It's here that Chelmorton's original water source bubbles out of the ground. The stream - Illy Willy Water - that once ran down through the village via a series of stone troughs has long since been built over but the spring itself has been restored by the national park authority.

We turned right onto the bridleway, climbing up past the overgrown workings of the Grove Rake lead mines. From this spot, without the village buildings in your line of sight, you really get a sense of how high Chelmorton actually is and there are superb views to the north and west.

Looking back down to Chelmorton, hidden in the trees below.
Overgrown lead mine workings.
Looking back across the mine workings, with Chelmorton Low on the right.
The mine workings are on the edge of the broad, limestone plateau that forms Taddington Moor. Once past them, you meet the Pennine Bridleway on Pillwell Lane. We followed this northwards for about a quarter of a mile until we reached Pillwell Gate, where there's a permissive path (not shown on the OS map) across a couple of fields to Five Wells chambered cairn.

In most respects Five Wells is typical of communal burial mounds from the Early and Middle Neolithic periods (around 3400 BC to 2400 BC). What makes it distinctive is that the barrow was round rather than linear. Unfortunately, over time, it suffered indignities common to many of our prehistoric sites - much of the stone used to construct it was pilfered during the 18th century to be used in local buildings and walls, and then it was further wrecked by the excavations of over-enthusiastic Victorian antiquarians. It's still an impressive site, though, and an atmospheric one, with commanding views across the Wye Valley and over towards the moors above Buxton.

Retracing our steps along the permissive path, we carried on along Pilwell Lane, which now took us downhill. It wasn't long until we came to a junction, the Pennine Bridleway branching off to the north, while we carried on tracing a route around the hillside on Senners Lane. I tried to find the origin of the name "Senners Lane" online but my searches yielded nothing; I did find out, though, that it's the only Senners Lane in Britain, a minor claim to fame for this tiny stretch of Derbyshire track.

It brought us down to the busy A6 that connects Buxton and Bakewell. On the opposite side of the road, a gate in a wall next to a small patch of woodland provided access to a public footpath over fields. This right of way contoured around the hillside, leading us down into the tiny settlement of Priestcliffe Ditch. Above us, limestone outcrops that had shrugged off the thin layer of topsoil, gleamed in the sun.

There was nothing to delay us in Priestcliffe Ditch, a tiny settlement of a few houses strung along a quiet lane. We were out on the other side of the hamlet just minutes after arriving, making our way upwards and eastwards to meet up with the Limestone Way just below Priestcliffe Low. This shapely hill had been in view almost constantly since we reached Five Wells cairn and is the site of a well-defined Bronze Age bowl barrow. Sadly, the hill is on private land and, as far as I can tell, there's no public access to the tumulus or the commanding views the summit must provide.

Priestcliffe Low.
The view northwest, with Combs Moss and Lady Low on the horizon.
We followed the Limestone Way on Long Lane northwards, below Priestcliffe Low. We'd walked this narrow, walled track the previous summer when numerous wildflowers - even including an occasional orchid -  bloomed alongside the path. It wasn't quite so full of colour at the end of December but there were other sights to enjoy as we made our way downhill towards Wye Dale, including a kestrel wheeling around in the sky far above us.

As we neared the Wye valley, we came to a junction and turned right. We'd lost quite a bit of elevation on Long Lane and now it was time to regain it as we began to climb around the northern end of the hill. We huffed and puffed a bit as we made our way back upwards but views of the deep dales and high cliffs around the River Wye provided some compensation for our efforts.

Looking out across the peaceful landscape on that bright winter afternoon, it was hard to picture trains rumbling through the valley below as they did for just over a century, much less the industry - quarries, lime kilns and textile mills - that the railway served.

The track twisted and turned, taking us south east and then southwards, and we exchanged the view down to the deep valley for a broader, more gently sloping landscape. The fields here were strips, their long, sweeping dry stone walls perhaps following the course of medieval boundaries like those around Chelmorton. Lichens and mosses brightened the rocks that formed the walls, coming into their own now they weren't outshone by the wildflowers of spring and summer.

We eventually arrived on the outskirts of Priestcliffe, where a wooden bench on a bank of grass provided a handy spot for a break and a butty. From here, we took a path that led us, via a brief dip, up around the north eastern flank of Horse Stead. In time it would curve around the hillside, swinging southwards and bring us back to the A6. From this track we had views back to the strip fields we'd passed earlier and, nearer to us, Bull Tor and the dip that leads down into High Dale (both noted down for future walks).

After dodging the traffic on the trunk road, we came into Taddington from the north, where several public footpaths criss-cross through fields, gardens and increasingly tightly-packed buildings. We were conscious that we only had an hour until the sun started to go down so we didn't stop in the village, though its website  suggests Taddington is worth a return visit (particularly to investigate the church, which Pevsner esteemed highly).

Taddington's Church of St. Michael and All Angels.
A sassy Taddington sheep.
Turning off from Main Street on an unnamed lane, we took a footpath between two houses. The owners of one of these clearly weren't very happy about having a public right of way so close to their property.

I haven't measured it properly but I'm pretty sure that what followed was the steepest ascent of the day. It certainly felt like it as we climbed up the hillside behind those houses to Slipperlow Lane. The flat road surface when we reached it provided a chance to catch our breath but the footpath opposite us, which continued up onto Taddington Moor, offered no such respite.

It's steeper than it looks!
View back down to Taddington and beyond.
Fortunately, once we reached the crest of the hill we had flat walking ahead of us all the way back to the Grove Rake mines - well, flat aside from the seven or eight stone stiles we had to clamber over to get to them. Perhaps it was my imagination or perhaps it was the mew of a distant buzzard, but I'm sure I heard my knees creaking by stile number five. Part way along this straightforward route, we made a cheeky diversion to the Sough Top trig point; like Five Wells cairn, it had superb views across the dales and into the Dark Peak.

We made our way back down into Chelmorton in the glow of the setting sun, a fitting way to end the last walk of the year and a really enjoyable afternoon in the Derbyshire Dales.

Date: December 2019

Walk length: 11.25 km 

Total ascent:  320 metres


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