The Derwent Valley Skyline
A tough walk around the Upper Derwent Valley skyline in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District. Starting on the A57, this route covers Alport Castles, Westend Moor, and Bleaklow before returning via Howden Edge and Derwent Edge.
Length: 23 miles
Start: A57 – Ladybower Viaduct
Area: Peak District – Dark Peak
GPX File: Download
Bridge-end Pasture – (Height: 392m, Drop: 37m)
Alport Moor (or Westend Moor) – (Height: 535m, Drop: 24m)
Hoar Stones (Howden Edge) – (Height: 514m, Drop: 7m)
Outer Edge – (Height: 541m, Drop: 23m)
Margery Hill – (Height: 546m, Drop: 19m)
Back Tor – (Height: 538m, Drop: 67m)
Other POI: Crookhill Farm, Crook Hill, Bridge-end Pasture, Hagg Side, Open Hagg, Lockerbrook Heights, Bellhag Tor, Rowlee Pasture, Alport Castles, Birchin Hat, Westend Moor, Alport Moor, The Ridge, Bleaklow Stones, Featherbed Moss, Howden Edge, Harden Moor, Howden Moors, Outer Edge, Margery Hill, Wilfrey Edge, Cartledge Brook, Round Hill, Cartledge Stones Ridge, Back Tor, Cakes of Bread, Dovestone Tor, Salt Cellar, White Tor, Wheel Stones, Whinstone Lee Tor
I originally found this route on the website of the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) and thought it would make an excellent warm up, not just for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge that I had scheduled a couple of weeks afterwards, but also for the complete Derwent Watershed walk I had pencilled in for June. The route includes a large section of the Derwent Watershed walk so it would serve as a taste of things to come.
I started the walk from the A57 at Ladybower Viaduct, and immediately made my way up towards Crook Hill. I didn’t actually get up the hill itself, but skirted around it and followed the main footpath up to Bridge-end Pasture. I’d been worried about this bit as its normally full of cows (or bulls). I have a fear of walking past cows and sometimes go to great lengths to avoid them. As you can imagine, it’s a rather inconvenient fear to have when your favourite pastime is countryside walking! I need not have worried despite the bright red warning sign stuck to the gate. The field on this particular morning was being used by sheep and their little lambs – probably because it was lambing season and they needed the extra space.
I continued past Bridge-end Pasture and along Open Hagg, along the top edge of the Hagg Side plantations. It was a gorgeous day. The sky was blue, the sun was blazing, and I was surrounded by great views. What more could a person want. I was however, already questioning my decision to only bring two bottles of water on what was going to be a 23 mile walk – especially if the weather was going to stay like this for any length of time. On I went until I reached a junction of five footpaths. The one I needed was the only one that headed upwards, above Bellhag Tor and towards Lockerbrook Heights and Rowlee Pasture.
Once on Rowlee Pasturee, a path made of laid stone slabs lead on towards Alport Castles. In terms of views, this section was probably my favourite. Initially, looking left, you get a fantastic view looking towards the A57 and, more impressively, the northern side of Kinder Scout. As the path progresses, the view becomes that of Alport Dale and the upcoming Alport Castles and is equally, if not more, spectacular than the previous view of Kinder Scout. In short time, Alport Castles was reached. If I didn’t have such a long way to go yet, I may have taken the time to climb down and ascend The Tower. I had to skip it when I last visited due to the slippy rock and strong winds.
I continued along Birchin Hat towards Westend Moor. It was such a bright and clear day that I could see the Westend Moor trig point way ahead of me. All I had to do was make a bee-line towards it. Navigation sorted! Weirdly though I still managed to go completely wrong. I dropped down to cross a brook, then climbed back up onto Westend Moor. The trig point was not there anymore. How could that be? I continued walking for a hundred yards before noticing that the trig point was way on my left. Somehow I had completely changed direction when climbing back up from the brook. I put myself back on course and shortly arrived at the trig point where I took the obligatory photo.
The sun was still blazing and I was already starting to conserve my drink – and so much ground to cover yet! Up until the Westend Moor trig point, the walking had been very easy and I was making excellent progress. This was soon to change as, between the trig point and Bleaklow, the path vanished and the groughs started making appearances with increasing frequency. Though the sun was out, the previous few days had seen quite a bit of rain and so the grough bottoms were in an very boggy condition, with many still containing pooled water. My progress slowed as I found my way through the groughs, always heading for the high point north of me. This high point is actually listed as a summit point in the British Hills Database, and they call it Alport Moor which I’m not certain is correct. I’m under the impression that this is still part of Westend Moor, and Alport Moor is on the opposite side of Alport Dale.
It was also around this spot that I spotted a common lizard – the first lizard I’d spotted in the UK ever! I unfortunately couldn’t get a photograph as the lizard was in flight at the time due to my presence. So was every other animal that I spotted that day. I plodded on, slowly but surely, towards the slope known as The Ridge that would take me up to the Bleaklow plateau. By the time I got there, the sun had vanished and it had clouded over. I was thankful for that. I’ve never been good with a lot of sun. It weakens me and brings on a feeling of lethargy. And it shouldn’t be hot and sunny up on Bleaklow anyway, it just wouldn’t be right. It doesn’t suit it.
After re-fuelling on a rock that was conveniently shaped like a bench, I ventured east to the rock formations known as Bleaklow Stones. These are a collection of peculiar looking gritstone formations, weathered through the ages into surreal shapes – the most interesting being named the Anvil Stone. Or so I’ve been told. As with Westend Moor, the ground here was also a bog in more places than it wasn’t, and the terrain was a maze of deep peat groughs. It’s no wonder that people can easily become lost up here.
I started navigating my way towards Howden Edge, using my GPS and Viewranger to follow a track that existed on the Ordnance Survey map, but not in reality. Eventually I gave up and instead decided to rely on a combination of the stakes in the ground that appeared to be roughly in line with the invisible track I was following, and the rocks in the distance which I believe were named Dean Head Stones, and were my destination.
I continued beyond the rocks, across Featherbed Moss and onto the Howden Edge path that separates Harden Moor and the Howden Moors. It was around this point that all my good work navigating the peat bogs became undone by a misplaced foot. My leg sunk past the knee, I lost my balance and instinctively thrust my arm out to stop myself – which naturally disappeared beneath the peat too. For a fraction of a second, I thought my whole body was going to vanish beneath the peat, never to be seen again. But no, I regained my balance and composure, and continued with a very muddy arm and leg.
Up on Howden Edge, recent work had clearly been underway, damming the eroded channel likely caused by heavy footfall. I’d never seen these types of dam before – they were like large sausages made from straw and held together with rope. Being permeable, they are likely designed to slow the water flow and trap sediment. They are also likely designed to rot over time, but not before the soil has built up on the gully floor to be re-vegetated. See the Moors For The Future Partnership website for further reading on this aspect of moorland management. I have to admit that I didn’t know this at the time, and I’m also embarrassed to say that I’m frequently ignorant of the work that goes into maintaining the Peak District. I’ve just walked, completely oblivious to it all. It’s never too late to learn though and so I posed the question to the community in the Dark Peak UK Facebook group, who were kind enough to point me in the right direction.
Onwards I went towards Outer Edge, with the walking getting easier and easier. Either that or I was simply getting used to it, along with the fact there wasn’t much point avoiding the bog anymore as half my body was already covered in it. I eventually arrived at the Outer Edge trig point via a brief ascent up the hill past some very old boundary stones. A quick photo later and I was on the move again, becoming conscious of the amount of time it had taken me to get from Westend Moor to here. I can’t say exactly how long it was, but it was certainly longer than I had anticipated. My legs were really starting to feel it and I’d have given anything for an extra 1000 calories to eat, and an extra litre of water to drink.
The next stop was another trig point, this time on Margery Hill. I briefly stopped here to admire the splendid views, and to check Viewranger on my device to see where I was supposed to be turning off the path. I followed the path on Wilfrey Edge south a little while longer, monitoring my phone, then turned onto the open moors when I arrived at the right spot. Now I may not have chosen the best way here because I soon entered grough city! They were very deep – both in the depth of the groughs and the depth of the bog that lay in the bottom. My phone informed me that I was adhering to the route… but I guess that doesn’t mean very much when it was me that drew up the route beforehand. After a lot of walking back and forth, climbing in and out of bog, and quite a lot of sighing, I eventually arrived at the top end of Cartledge Brook. I followed this for a short distance before veering away towards Round Hill. My legs felt extremely fatigued, and my occasional attempts to break into a jog when I had the chance were rather pathetic. I had a blister on my toe and on the back of my heel, and my ankle bone was feeling bruised and painful where the tongue of the boot had been pushing against it (I have some new boots currently on order!).
Eventually I arrived at a well defined and solid path – the Dukes Road path from Bradfield. Normally I don’t like walking on paths like this, however on this occasion I couldn’t have been happier to see it. My feet couldn’t take much more and I needed to speed up my progress. This was it, no more groughs! I made my way up Cartledge Stones Ridge to Back Tor and Derwent Edge, which I followed as far as Whinstone Lee Tor, snapping all the usual landmarks on the way such as Dovestone Tor and the Wheel Stones.
I descended at Whitstone Lee Tor and followed the track around the bottom of Lead Hill back to the A57. What a walk that was! I’d been running on empty for a long while and felt like I could quite easily eat my way through a 7 course meal. My poor feet were destroyed, and my knees had seen better days too! But was it worth it? Hell, yes! I had a fantastic day and those type of days don’t come without a little bit of punishment. It’s all par for the course. I thought about my full Derwent Watershed plans for June. Could I do this again, with the addition of Stanage Edge, Win Hill, The Great Ridge, and Kinder Scout? Probably not, but I look forward to trying!
Walk completed on 28th April, 2017
Map and Elevation Data: