First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cool windy Staffordshire afternoon, and the Duncombe Arms in Ellastone was packed with sharp-dressed wedding guests. Out in the fields beyond St Peter’s Church, ewes and lambs stared at us as though they had never before seen human beings, before turning tail and flouncing off.
Clover, black medick, vetch and varied grasses made a pasture rich enough to tickle the most jaded ovine palate. The land dipped and rolled, trending away north-west to where the Weaver Hills rose in three green hummocks against a blue sky piled high with massive whipped-cream clouds.
Wootton Hall with its tall domed portico stood in parkland carefully groomed and preserved. Black lambs and sleek horses grazed under the lime trees. In 1766 Enlightenment philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau came to stay here as a refugee, having been hounded out of monarchical France for his dangerously progressive views. Rousseau’s ideas about personal freedom, partly crystallised in this quiet corner of Staffordshire, were to prove one of the main motivations for the French Revolution some 25 years later.
Coffee and a sticky treat apiece at Dalton’s Dairy Shop on the edge of Wootton gave us a burst of energy to climb the slopes of the Weaver Hills beyond. Up at the trig pillar a tremendous prospect unfolded round the compass, north to the limestone heights and clefts of the White Peak, south over the great Midland plain with its pastures, ploughlands and woods stretching away to a level horizon.
We followed a path east along the ridge, down towards the rough bracken-brown swell of Blake Low. Tiny calves stood staring beside their mothers, and a big brown hare ran pelting away in a panic. A lone barn under the hill, stone-built in Rousseau’s era, stood as neat and solid as a chapel.
At Stanton we got into Field Lane, a quiet narrow country road that brought us south by slow degrees to Ellastone. In a cottage garden at the bottom of a steep hollow lay the remnants of Ousley Cross, medieval waymark on an obscure pilgrim route to the shrine of St Bertram at Ilam.
The evening air was full of birdsong and lamb cries as we crossed the pastures towards St Peter’s Church, its rose-coloured stone walls lit by the sun declining in the western sky behind the Weaver Hills.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; moderate field paths, country lanes.
Start: Ellastone Parish Hall car park, Ellastone, Ashbourne DE6 2HB (OS ref SK116434)
Getting there: Bus SW1 (Uttoxeter-Derby)
Road: Ellastone is on B5032 (signed from A523, Ashbourne-Waterhouses, at Mayfield)
Walk (OS Explorer 259): Left up Church Lane. Right by Blenheim Cottage; follow path (stiles, yellow arrows/YAs) across fields for ¾ mile. At Wootton Hall Farm, kissing gate (115446); left to lane, right to Wootton. Follow ‘Green Hill’; at junction, ahead (105451, ‘Leek’). In 150m, right (104452) past Dalton Farm along Gidacre Lane, then footpath (stiles, YAs). In ⅔ mile pass ‘Public Footpath’ post (098458, ‘Wardlow’) to gate/stile (097461). Half right up to stile at top of wall (096464). Left to ladder stile, then to trig pillar (095464). North through gate; right over stile (096465, YA), right (east) on field path (stiles, YAs) for ½ mile to road (104463). Right; 50m after right bend, left (106462, ‘Weaver Walk’). Down three fields to cross stream (112463). Right along stream; in 350m, same direction (stiles) for ¾ mile to Field Lane at Stanton chapel (125459). Right; in 1½ miles, just past Northwood Farm, right (121438, stile, ‘Weaver Walk’) across fields to Ellastone Church.
Lunch/Accommodation: Duncombe Arms, Ellastone DE6 2GZ (01335-324275, duncombearms.co.uk)