Matlock to Macclesfield - narrative

This is a lovely and varied walk across the grain of the Derbyshire Dales. We did it in September 2011, and had a range of Autumn weathers. The surroundings include the intimate Dales and the grand mountain views. There were some good gastro pubs too. We walked east to west, across the grain of the country, and into the wind; this was not a problem, except at the top of Shining Tor, where it was exceptionally strong. We were lucky to have good weather on our final day of splendid views. There were many pleasures, from the peace of the Dales to the grand open spaces of the Moors; their unspoilt openness were all the more special for knowing that we were not far from big towns. [In June 2015 we did a variation of this walk, going below Buxton. The differences are described in the 'Practicalities' page.]

DAY 1. Matlock to Youlgreave.
The fast train from London to Derby got us to a charming local train to Matlock, which passed under Victorian iron-work footbridges and sweet little '50s stations. Out of the station, across the road, and we were immediately on the path by the River Derwent. Walking upstream, against the gentle, muddy flow of the river, we were fairly soon clear of the town. After the Peak Railway Riverside Station, we went across the fields, while the river looped occasionally to the right. It was not long before the Eastern Edges were visible on our right. As it was early Autumn, we enjoyed the variety of leaf colours, browns, reds, oranges and yellows. We'd hoped to get lunch at Darley Bridge, but the pub was closed. So we walked on, rather fast, and climbed up the holloway path to Cowley Knowl; the path flattened out at the top on Clough Lane. We took footpaths across the fields past Brookfield Farm, and into Birchover just in time for a late lunch. Birchover, as usual, seemed deserted, but the Druids Inn didn't disappoint; its open sandwich of Goat's cheese on mushroom on onion marmalade was particularly welcome after the efforts of the morning!

Then one of the 'laws of walking' showed up: it's always uphill after lunch. Through the woods, with lots of birch trees, the climb wasn't too long and took us past various quarryings up on to Stanton Moor. This is a lovely open area, with heather and more birch trees. We spent some time at the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, partly because the sun had come out, and partly to muse on how come the ladies were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath 4000 years ago (ie 2000 years BC). Then we continued northwards, past the Stanton in the Peak Cricket Club. After a little road walking through the village, we took a path across the fields, through farms producing sheep and cattle. Back on the road, we went a little south and then west, cutting down to Alport, again through the fields. Finally we walked along the here-rather-small River Lathkill, and then up the lane into Youlgreave.

This was a day of Autumnal mists and mellow fruitfulness, with rose hips and blackberry brambles. We saw a gray heron by the river, and there were some splendid sheep, with dark brown bodies and white tails. I think they were a Welsh sheep called Balwen.

DAY 2. Youlgreave to Buxton.
Light rain and almost continual drizzle dampened our jackets but not our spirits. Of all the Derbyshire Dales, Lathkill is my favourite, for its peaceful and private atmosphere. Wanting to join the Dale as soon as possible, we left Youlgreave on the little road going to Conksbury, crossed the Conksbury Bridge and turned left into the River valley. We were surrounded by the limestone hillsides, covered in autumnal trees. This part of the Dale has numerous weirs, from the days of intensive trout farming. The pools were a deep turquoise; sometimes there were colonies of mallards, enjoying the lovely weather for ducks; and there was one swan, plus one more grey heron.

The porousness of the rocks meant that the river was often underground. The riverbed was mostly mud or grasses, frequently littered with moss-covered boulders. There were charming little wooden foot bridges, and further up, more visible layering in the limestone. At the top of the Dale, we came up to Monyash, another of the many grey and brown stone Derbyshire settlements. The Old Smithy could have provided lunch, but we were a bit early, and decided to continue on across the fields, passing cows (we heard were good for special milk) to the Church Inn in Chelmorton (which had been recommended to us in Youlgreave).

After lunch, we walked south a little in order to get to the entrance to Horseshoe Dale. It was worth the detour: this is a delightful small dale, very gentle, with a grassy, open U-shape. After this unemcumbered space, Deep Dale was rather rocky and full of trees - slippery and much harder to negotiate, with no view.

We clambered our way up to the busy A6, crossed it, and hoping we'd find a footbridge across the River Wye, set off eastward on the Bridleway. This was unsuccessful, so we turned round. The better route was the other way: there was a footbridge about a third of a mile westward on the A6, connecting to the entrance to Woo Dale, a mild, grassy Dale that became a green lane at the top. We had difficulty in finding Buxton. It was a strange experience, mislaying the largest town in the Peaks; but it nestles among the hills, and we didn't really know we had arrived until we found our way to the Industrial Estate. Even then we had difficulty getting into the centre of town - not helped by the fact that our compass was on the blink. (Our 'mini adventure' strap-line came to mind as we wound our way through endless small roads.) Kings Croft B&B would amuse anyone slightly interested in the Victorian style. Buxton has loads of places to eat, though perhaps not as interesting as the gastro pubs we'd already visited.

DAY 3. Buxton to Macclefield.
Getting out of Buxton was more straightforward. The Macclesfield Road took us to Burbage; after a sharp right turn and a short walk, it was left down Bishop's Lane to Edgemoor. It was a bright sunny morning and the autumn colours were looking beautiful. The views of the Moors opened up ahead. We climbed up over Beet Wood to views of the surrounding cloughs and 'lows' (meaning hills!). Past the dismantled railway, we ambled down the hillside, and with Wildmoorstone Brook on our left we walked through boggy heather and fine cream grasses, down to Errwood Reservoir. Anyone who doesn't like improvising could take the footpath left over the bridge in the photo at the top of this page, but we did a bit more adventuring and went straight on. As there was no easy path by the water, we scrambled down the hillside to the Reservoir, and then along to our left, clambering over three sweet little feeder streams (though the third one was challengingly wide), finally arriving at the Car Park below Errwood Hall, by the water.

A good path rises up, just to the left of the Car Park, Stake Side to its left, and woods to the right, with grander views growing with every step. Near the top, there's a right turn to Shining Tor, where the whole panorama of Derbyshire and Cheshire spreads out all round. The great, brown, broad-backed hills have a primaeval feel. There's a huge amount of space, the views spreading for miles on this fine morning, reservoirs behind, and pointy Shutlingsloe to the south. The great conurbations beyond and out of sight. However, it was VERY windy and Jeremy's glasses were blown off; so we spent 15 minutes searching in the grasses before finding them. We retraced our steps, then turned right down to Stake Farm. We decided to give the large and popular Cat & Fiddle a miss (this has to be one of the few pubs to be marked on the trail signs), and went on down, turning right at the A537, and then immediately left, to reach the Stanley Arms for lunch.

We continued south, past Bottom-of-the-Oven, forking left up a mild climb, to reach the edge of Macclesfield Forest. Although this is Forestry Commission planting, they've edged the plantations with a variety of trees, so it wasn't exclusively pines. We took the westward road through the middle going to Trentabank Reservoir, swinging right past Ridgegate Reservoir. It made for a gentle afternoon's walking. All the reservoirs here were strikingly low in water, even though this hasn't been a dry summer. We went along Clark Lane, and just before Langley, we struck up northwards on the Gritstone Trail, to climb Tegg's Nose. Meanwhile the day had clouded over, and the wind was still strong, but we had more views of the local farms and reservoirs. Then we went off to the north, joining the Buxton Old Road, and it was an easy walk into Macclesfield, and straight down to the station.

© Diana Ambache 2011

"When Jeremy suggested we walk across the Peak District in three days I didn't really believe him - I assumed we'd be cutting off a little segment. So after the walk I was astounded to see from the map that we really had." Henry Mintz