“It is always hard to see the purpose in wilderness wanderings until after they are over.”
A walk in the Derbyshire dales is like an allegorical progression with Bunyan’s Pilgrim. There are the opposing White and Dark Peaks, the vale of Hope, and a Shivering Mountain. All of which can be reached in less than three hours by train from London.
Taking a route there and back, from Edale to Castleton over the Great Ridge, sounded like a good way to dust off the walking boots. There was no rush and my daughter and I could lunch in Castleton and return at leisure.The route was both linear and circular!
Now the one thing I’ve noticed about the Dales is how seductively smooth and green most of the hills are, easing the walker in gently, before throwing more and more geological debris in the path, the higher one ascends. It’s as though the gods would deter all but the most determined by erosion of shale and millstone that lie underfoot.
The National Trust have limestone-paved the parts they can, in order to reduce ramblers’ wear-and-tear but for every peak there is a trough – for water to wend its way into, cutting channels, carrying stones – and mountain bike riders do the rest.
“This hill though high I covent ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way of life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear. ”
On top of the Great Ridge, Hollins Cross brings respite for the lungs and thighs. Aside from being a knot of multiple pathways, there was indeed once a cross here. No doubt a prayerful resting place for the coffin bearers taking the deceased from Edale to consecrated ground in Castleton.1 Time to stop and appreciate the views across High Peak to Mam Tor and the limestone gorge of Winnat’s pass
And what goes up must come down – following the long descent into Castleton, whence it is the turn of the knee joints to complain….
…until footpath gives way to roadway, where scramble becomes ramble, past limestone walls, wildflowers, and all the rural sights that are so easy on the eye
Figuratively speaking, Castleton is a high spot for tourists visiting the nearby caves where the UK’s only Blue John mineral is mined,2 as well as the ruins of Peveril castle – which is not to be mistaken for the nearby cement works. Such sights are not for us returnees however, as having lunched, we tread the way back up the downs and down the ups until at Hollins Cross we take the alternative bridle-path route (marked in yellow on the above Google map). It’s longer but somewhat easier on the legs and gives plenty of time to savour views of the vale of Edale.
1. Before Edale acquired a church, coffins were carried to Castleton for burial by way of the bridlepath past Hollis Cross. The route we took is shorter and steeper but having returned via the bridleway, I can verify what a challenge it would have been for pall bearers on the so-called ‘Coffin Path’ (surely easier to fling the deceased over a mule and box them up the other end).
2. Blue John Stone is a rare, semi precious fluorspar mineral found only at Castleton, Derbyshire. The name is said to derive from the French ‘Bleu Jaune’ meaning Blue Yellow. Discovered in the 1800s when miners were exploring the cave systems for lead.
Quotes are from John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”
Dedicated to Catherine with many thanks for this pre-birthday peregrination. I’m starting to feel how aged are the joints – but at least can join Jo and others for her regular Monday walk