First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The trains of the Cromford & High Peak Railway – first drawn by horses, then by steam locomotives – ran through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Derbyshire Peak District. Where horses once plodded with coal and limestone, and tank engines puffed with sparse numbers of passengers, cyclists and walkers now follow the narrow curves of the line, rechristened the High Peak Trail.
On a superb morning, crisp and cold, we joined the trail at Hurdlow. Either side the limestone landscape rolled away, intensely green under the low sun, an upland broken into sharp peaks and shadowy valleys.
At the vast open chasm of Dowlow Quarry we left the High Peak Trail for stone-walled lanes with wonderful high prospects south into a countryside so fractured it resembled a choppy sea. A knobbly path led us in the shadow of High Wheeldon, a conical knoll presented to the National Trust as a war memorial to men of Staffordshire and Derbyshire killed in World War Two.
Down in the lane to Crowdecote they were herding cattle between field and farm. Those in the lane bellowed and trumpeted, and those in the adjacent fields returned the compliment. ‘Bit lively,’ grinned the farmer waiting to turn them into the farmyard.
Crowdecote clung like a limpet to its steep, sunny hillside. Beyond the hamlet there was ice in the hoof pocks of the bridleway, and frost blanketing the fields on the shadowed side of the dale. Limestone outcrops scabbed the high slopes. Pale grey field walls striped the pastures, footed in their own black shadows, resembling giant claw scratches in the ground.
The path led past the crumpled hillocks where Pilsbury Castle once stood – a pair of baileys and a motte, built by the Normans shortly after the Conquest to levy tax on the traders that used the ancient packhorse route through the dale.
We followed the old way through uplands of sheep fields, past standing stones whose edges had been rubbed shiny by sheep easing their manifold itches. A dip and climb past Vincent House farm, another past the farmyard at Darley, and we were bowling along the High Peak Trail towards Hurdlow with sublime hill scenery unrolling on either hand.
Start: Hurdlow car park, Sparklow, Derbs SK17 9QJ (OS ref SK 128659).
Getting there: Bus 442 (Ashbourne) to Bull-i’-th’-Thorn (½ mile by footpath)
Road – Hurdlow car park is off A515 between Pomeroy and Parsley Hay.
Walk (9½ miles, cyclepath and well marked field paths, OS Explorer OL24): North-west along High Peak Trail for 1½ miles to end (111673); left on Cycleway 68. In ½ mile, right on lane (109665) to cross road at Wheeldon Trees (102662). Through gate (fingerpost) down to NT High Wheeldon notice; right downhill (yellow arrow/YA) to road. Left to Crowdecote. Just past Packhorse Inn, left along lane (101652, ‘South Peak Loop’ bridleway). Follow SPW (blue arrows) through fields. In 1 mile pass Pilsbury Castle mounds (115639); left through gate; fork left up footpath; follow YAs over hill, crossing one road (121634), then another at Vincent House farm (137632). Through farmyard (YAs); up right-hand of two parallel tracks. Follow ‘Parsley Hay’ and YAs to cross road at Darley Farm (142637). YAs through farmyard, up field edge to High Peak Trail (143639); left for 2 miles to Hurdlow car park.
Lunch: Royal Oak, Hurdlow SK17 9QJ (01298-83288, peakpub.co.uk) – busy, friendly pub near car park.
Accommodation: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Longnor SK17 0NS (01298-83218; robinsonsbrewery.com)