The Peak District has been my back garden for over 20 years. From living in Derbyshire and hotfooting it up into the White Peak at the weekends, to living in Yorkshire and heading over to the northern Dark Peak for my regular fix of the outdoors, I’ve explored many areas of the Peak on foot, on 2 wheels and up a rock face. I’ve been visiting the Peak for so long that I sometimes struggle to remember where some of the walks took me in those early days.
I was genuinely surprised when a recent walk took me to areas which I’d never visited before and more so when they were quiet and peaceful on a beautiful, sunny, warm Sunday in the school holidays. Once we left the popular Cheedale valley, we encountered just 2 families while out walking….but sshhhh, keep this hidden secret to yourselves!
Parking up in Millers Dale car park, we set off towards Wye Dale, through what I view as one of the most stunning areas of Derbyshire – the lush, vegetated Cheedale. Since the old railway tunnels were re-opened, there are two options on this section – either a walk above the river level on the old disused railway track (which is now extremely popular with cyclists, walkers and climbers alike), or to drop down onto the path beside the river. In my opinion, this latter option provides the most interesting and stunning walking where you can meander alongside the river bank. The deep vegetation, the sounds of the river and bird life, the humidity (especially on a warm day) can sometimes make you feel like you are in a tropical country far removed from northern England!
For the faint hearted (and poorly shod) walker, it is worth mentioning however that this path can often be muddy and involves a couple of short easy scrambles down sections of limestone rock. If the river levels are particularly high, it might be worth avoiding the two areas of stepping stones and heading up onto the railway track again.
The Cheedale area has become increasingly popular with climbers over recent years and the rock face is close enough to enjoy a few moments watching someone making a vertical ascent before continuing on your journey.
Arriving at the Wye Dale car park, we crossed over the busy A6 and up towards Topley Pike Quarry. It may be a different story in winter, but in the height of summer, the deep vegetation had pretty much hidden any signs of quarrying as we walked alongside the quarry. It was also at this point that we realised we were now walking in a much quieter area of the Peak District as the path was narrow and high with nettles and other vegetation. Battling our way through, we thankfully emerged onto a wider path taking us into Deepdale.
The Deepdale valley has been designated as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) due to the flora and wildlife. Despite encountering more areas of high nettles and vegetation, it really was a beautiful valley to walk through and totally peaceful with nobody else on the path.
Towards the far end of the valley, we came across a huge cave opening, Thirst House cave. The entrance is 8 metres x 5 metres, and there are 2 main chambers to it. Excavations of the cave took place in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s with some Roman (and possible Iron Age and Bronze Age) artefacts and burial remains found. It’s worth adding that none were found (or sought) on this occasion.
We also came across our first sign of other walkers at the cave, a family with young children, who offered us their head torch so that we could do a little cave exploration. Much sooner than the children expected (we elected to stay at the top of the slope into the second chamber rather than indulge in a spot of dark muddy caving on such a gorgeous day), we emerged back out into the sunshine and continued our way along the Dale.
Before long, the valley splits into two, and taking the left hand fork we found ourselves in Horseshoe Dale. This was a wide valley, farmed and with a totally different feel to the previous jungle we’d encountered. It was pleasant walking in the sun with no worries about rocky paths or head height nettles ready to sting my bare shoulders.
Arriving at a road we took a series of short paths across fields and lanes (with the obligatory head height nettles) into the picturesque village of Chelmorton, where we happened to “stumble” across the local hostelry. Well, it was a warm day and it would have been rude not to partake in a refreshing beverage (all in the interests of research for this article naturally). The Church Inn was a lovely pub and one which I would like to visit again sometime for Sunday dinner or an overnight stay in one of the rooms.
Rested and revived, we took the path up past the church and onto the moors beyond. The views from here were stunning, both looking back the way we’d been and onwards to the Cheedale area. We had several path choices at this point to take us back to the parking area at Millers Dale, eventually deciding on the Pennine Bridleway which we followed down to Blackwell.
At Blackwell, leaving the Pennine Bridleway we crossed several fields taking us towards Millers Dale. Above Cheedale, the view opened out to show an impressive vista all along the steep valley. We know Cheedale well enough now to make out some of the main features in the valley and can understand why even after spells of warm dry weather, the Dale remains humid and muddy at river level (it’s a steep sided valley, jam packed full of trees). Before long we were back in Millers Dale car park, with tired legs from the walk but energised by a grand day out.
Getting there: Pay and display car parking at Millers Dale (alternatives are Topley Pike or Wye Dale car parks). Using public transport, there is a trainline to Buxton (from Manchester) and a bus service runs from Buxton to Millers Dale – further information here
Map: OS Outdoor Leisure White Peak (OL 24)
Refreshments: “Funky Coffee Hut” at Millers Dale station; Refreshments at Wye Dale cycle hire; Church Inn pub at Chelmorton
Accommodation: Lots of B&B’s, campsites and pubs/hotels in the surrounding area – check http://www.visitpeakdistrict.com/
Time of year: The walk was done in high summer, meaning that some of the paths were difficult to pass with high nettles/brambles – although the Derbyshire Dales are beautiful at this time of year and the wild flowers on the walk were stunning. However, I would still do this walk during the winter months when the paths would be clear of vegetation.