The Derwent Valley Skyline

Summary:

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.

Route Information

Ascent: 718m

Length: 23 miles

Start: A57 – Ladybower Viaduct

Area: Peak District – Dark Peak

GPX File: Download

Summits:
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

Route Description:

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.

Looking back at Crook Hill
Looking back at Crook Hill
Entering Bridge-end Pasture
Entering Bridge-end Pasture

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.

The Great Ridge from Bridge-end Pasture
The Great Ridge from Bridge-end Pasture
Hagg Side
Hagg Side

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.

Alport Castles and The Tower
Alport Castles and The Tower
Looking back along Alport Dale
Looking back along Alport Dale
The top end of Alport Dale
The top end of Alport Dale

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.

Crossing the brook
Crossing the brook
Westend Moor trig point
Westend Moor trig point

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.

An example of Gully Blocking
An example of Gully Blocking
One of numerous groughs
One of numerous groughs

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.

Almost at Bleaklow
Almost at Bleaklow
I think I'm there... where's my periscope?
I think I’m there… where’s my periscope?

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.

At Bleaklow Stones
At Bleaklow Stones
The Anvil Stone
The Anvil Stone

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.

Crossing the open moors
Crossing the open moors
Heading towards Dean Head Stones
Heading towards Dean Head Stones

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.

Gully blocking in the Dark Peak
More examples of the ongoing work by the Moors for the Future Partnership

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.

Looking towards Outer Edge and Crow Stones Edge
Looking towards Outer Edge and Crow Stones Edge
Old boundary stone
Old boundary stone
Outer Edge trig point
Outer Edge trig point

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!).

The brief and muddy ascent to Margery Hill
The brief and muddy ascent to Margery Hill
Margery Hill trig point
Margery Hill trig point
Groughs
For peats sake – more groughs!

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.

The Back Tor trig point
The Back Tor trig point
Dovestone Tor
Dovestone Tor
The view from Whinstone Lee Tor
The view from Whinstone Lee Tor

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:

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Interactive Map
Elevation Profile for the Derwent Valley Skyline walk
Elevation Profile

Useful Links

GPX file for the walk
Photo album on Flickr
Moors for the Future website

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4 Comments
  1. Clare Williams says

    I’ve actually done the first part of this walk. I probably wouldn’t have remembered by names of locations, but realised from your photos it was strangely familiar. Our walk wasn’t as eventful as yours but fairly so. It was absolutely lashing down and the kids were on whinge mode so we didn’t get much beyond the pastures.
    Well done on not dying a bog related death anyway. ?

    1. Mark says

      Thanks! Shame you didn’t carry on. If it was lashing it down, you’d have had fun up there on them moors. The bog would have been deep enough to lose a small child! Unfortunately my new boots haven’t arrived yet so I’ll be wearing these same blister boots for the Yorkshire 3 peaks this weekend.

      1. Clare Williams says

        That’s a shame about the boots. I’m well stocked for tape and compeed though so if you need any give me a shout.

  2. Su {Ethan&Evelyn} says

    This place is so beautiful! I’ve been to the Yorkshire Moor once, but I wasn’t hiking though. I love to go back and hike it one day. 🙂 #Outdoorbloggers

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