Congleton to Sheffield - narrative

Barn south of Grindlow (day 3) This four-day walk was inspired by the love of the area we got from Weekend Walks in the Peak District by John and Anne Nuttall. We finally took wing and started creating our own walks, and this diagonal from South West to North East is one of our explorations. It takes in a rich slice of Derbyshire, including nature in many forms, from enchanting waterways to dramatic geological formations. I'd recently started reading a bit about the geology, both on the internet and Granite and Grit by Ronald Turnbull and I enjoyed having a bit more more of an idea of what I was walking on. Appreciating the layers of limestone, Shale and Millstone Grit gave me an inkling of the aeons of time through which this world has evolved.

We risked doing this in March, wanting to get out walking early. Although forecasts were generally not optimistic, we were lucky and it only rained lightly, once. In terms of the route, we chose what we thought would be good paths, from looking at the map; clearly, there are any number of variations.

Dane valley (day 1) DAY 1. Congleton to Wincle:
Given this new interest in geology, we had a most appropriate start: sitting with a drink on the jurassic stone bench at Euston Station which showed loads of fossils. At the beginning of the walk Jeremy said he thought Sheffield seemed rather far away. For much of the train journey, our track followed a canal, and stepping off from the station, we were immediately onto the tow path of the Macclesfield Canal: indeed, the Cheshire Ring Canal Walk; charmed, by its colourful barges, we were clear of the town within 5 minutes. Even on the rather misty day, we were impressed by the great railway viaduct to the west; and then we went eastwards, past the woods and the fields to Cloud Side. True to its name, The Cloud was in the cloud, which was rather tantalising as (in better weather) there was probably a good view. We ate our sandwiches on the bench and moved on before getting cold. Not being able to see produced minor disorientation at the top, and we found we had come down to our start point. It wasn't hard to remedy, and we made our way along the wood edge to find the Gritstone Trail, having to get under only one barbed wire fence.

This soon joined the Dane Valley Way, keeping company with the Dane River and the pleasing sounds of running water. The prettiest bit of it was after crossing to the north bank, with charming sheep-grazing meadows by the water. The river had interesting layered boulders, probably millstone grit. We're less familiar with the west side of Derbyshire, and the stones and houses were a striking red-brown colour. We saw some primroses and daffodils; the hillsides had elegant tall trees: beech and some firs, still bare this early in the year. The mist continued to restrict our view through the afternoon; though only 150 miles north of London, we noticed the difference in the weather.

There was a sizeable Trout Fisheries just before Danebridge; indeed in the biggest pool, the fish were also sizeable. Then we came through Wincle, and clambered up the hillside (again missing our path) and eventually reaching Hill Top Farm.

Parkhouse (L) and Chrome hills (day 2) DAY 2. Wincle to Chelmorton:
One of the pleasures of these walks is stepping out of our B&B to be greeted by a splendid view. (No public transport today, just our own steam.) After last night's mists, we appreciated seeing where we were: among the hills, crunched and folded by time. We ambled down to the river and set off on what, on summer week-ends, is a popular path by the water. The wooded and steep hillsides made a very attractive setting, and again, there were big slabs of dark rock, in tiered layers; (still in the millstone grit red-brown rocks). We paused for a drink at the (rather institutional) Gradbach Youth Hostel, and continued along the Dane Valley Way, branching off eastward round Turn Edge; the grand sweep of the tops makes me think of dinosaurs' spines. We went over the fields and into Flash, where the pub was closed, so we went on to The Knights' Table, at the Head of the Manifold.

In the afternoon, there were more new aspects: we'd not visited Hollinsclough Dale before, and after the wide open vistas, this began with a sweet little dell, and then curved round and down to a grand Hall. Beyond the Dale, there were some fine views of Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill, the latter's dramatic profile illustrating a monumental collision of stone and ice. We were now in the 'bald head' of the Peaks, where the underlying-now-uplifted limestone was exposed.

After Earl Sterndale we reached the massive limestone quarries of Derbyshire: Hindlow and then Brier Low (I always struggle with the local language, where low means high!). Sometimes I'm upset by the violence of man gouging out the land in this way; this time I was impressed by the drama of it - one more massive event in the processes of this place. Then, with a glow of red in the evening clouds in the west, we went across the fields to the attractive, unassuming grey-stone village of Chelmorton.

Rver Wye, Chee Dal (day 3 DAY 3. Chelmorton to Hathersage:
Despite a rather mixed forecast, we stepped out of the pub into lovely sunshine and felt the pleasures of a fresh day, with bright prospects ahead. We headed north to Chee Dale, joining the River Wye in a delightful phase of bubbling waters and wooded slopes. Following it eastwards, it developed through Miller's Dale and was quite grand by Litton Mill. Litton has some elegant limestone mill buildings (contrasting with the 'dark, satanic' of the Blake poem), now being tarted up for trendy waterside flats. We avoided the Monsal Trail (which we find can be quite boring after a while, and would be busy on a sunny Saturday) and chose the north bank, enjoying being right by the river. We saw loads of mallards, some moorhens, and even a colourful mandarin duck. And birds have been plentiful too - especially vocal in the mornings and evenings; we also heard some curlews and skylarks.

At the corner by Cressbrook Hall, we turned north up Cressbrook Dale, which was altogether quieter. Since we've walked in the Hampshire Hangers, I keep noticing steep wooded banks, and there were an attractive set of ascending river-sides here, with tall, elegant beech trees. Some of the banks had bright green grasses glowing in the sunlight; some of the woods had carpets of garlic and rich yellow-green, velvety moss covering stones, dry-stone walls and lining quite a lot of the tree trunks. When clear of the trees, we came to Ravendale Cottages, which have an empty, hermit-like atmosphere. The rest of the Dale was delightfully quiet. It curves eastward at the top, with an easy climb into Wardlow Mires. At first glance the Three Stags' Heads pub seems a bit unusual; the building is a 17th century farm house. It's actually one of the most original pubs I've been in. There's real ale, and we ate well (I had a really tasty vegetable soup). The owners (Geoff & Pat Fuller) are potters, who make very distinctive plates, often picturing horses; we'd just seen a couple of horses silhouetted on the sky-line, before walking into the village. As we entered, we were greeted by two sleek greyhounds (hunting dogs); their pup was passed from lap to lap, and stroked lovingly like a baby.

The afternoon was a complete contrast. After all the different moods of the water through the morning, now we were out on the tops - actually the broad backs of the moors, which again made me think of huge primaeval animals. We went across Stanley Moor to Grindlow, and then took the little road to Bretton. Next was quite a big descent to the sweet little river at the bottom of Bretton Clough, and then a matching ascent up to Abney. All the Peaks villages are different, and Abney was a nice, relaxed little village, with the kids out playing, on this pleasant Saturday afternoon. Then we crossed Offerton Moor, covered in bracken, and with a fine view to the east: returning to the millstone grit of Stanage Edge. By now the clouds had gathered, and we had a short shower as we descended towards the River Derwent. Some of the stepping stones had got tilted by the wash of the water, and I made a meal of getting over the precarious ones. Our final phase of the day, walking into Hathersage, was accompanied by a little bit of magic: a glorious full arc of multi-coloured rainbow: ah! As we walk in, thinking about the day, Jeremy started quoting a robot from The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, when asked if he liked his job: "Well, the hours are good, but now you come to mention it, the actual minutes aren't so good." This was NOT true of our walk: all the minutes were good. The pub was full of the local youth, and showing Sky sports on a huge telly; so we went to the Sangam Indian restuarant, where we were warmly welcomed and ate very well.

Carl Wark from Higger Tow (day 4) DAY 4. Hathersage to Sheffield:
It was a cold morning and a cloudy start; however it brightened up before long, as we headed north from Hathersage, past Brookfield Manor, which reminded us that Charlotte Brontë had been inspired by this place. The serrated edge of Stanage gritstone stretched across the whole northerly horizon, making a dramatic and impressive scene, the dark and ancient evidence of the making of this countryside. The path got steeper after the Car Park, but before long we reached the Edge top, turning round to see the huge open spaces which we'd just crossed, extending in a wide view behind us. The sun now brought light and shade to the huge panorama, the brown moors punctuated by prominent features, such as the Castleton cement works, the layered waves of the hills demonstrating aeons of crunching earth movements.

We turned SE along the now busy path. After having met few other people on this walk, it took a bit of adjusting to the popularity of this place on a sunny Mothering Sunday. After the trig point, we took the path over the interesting shapes of Higgar Tor and Carl Wark - more jumbled piles of gritstone - and then on up to the Fox House Inn.

Our final chapter was the path NE across the broad back of Houndkirk Moor, a stoney track through the bracken and heather. Before long we lost views of the Edge, and then came to views of Sheffield, coming in to town through tedious and less-than-attractive suburbia. [2015: The latest version of Explorer map OL1 shows a 'green' route into town that we didn't know about.] We wound our way northwards to visit the Hall where I had played my first Mozart Concerto; a limited bit of Memory Lane, as it was closed (Sunday). So, finally to the station, and home.

Dane Valley (day 2) Conclusion: Although my geological appreciation is very young, on Day 2, I found myself thinking "We've had an elemental day"; there was something about sensing the astounding length of time the land has taken to evolve. There was also a wonderful variety in what we'd seen, from beautiful river valleys, to grand open 'tops', frequently with statuesque, silhouetted copses on the ridges, to elegant Dales, to strikingly shaped hills, and dramatic quarries. The landscape also drew thoughts about the Derbyshire economy, seeing sheep and dairy farms everywhere, of course the quarries, and signs of lead mining in the past. It's a powerfully earthy place.

© Diana Ambache 2012