Upper Dovedale - A walk on the quiet side.
The western edge of the limestone plateau is characterised by its striking natural landscape. Two major river valleys, that of the Dove and the Manifold, carve there way through the landscape north to south. The landscape is a mixture between its two extremes, the limestone plateau to the east and the western gritstone edges to the west.
This is a walk that links the popular high peak trail with the upper valley of the river Dove. Upper Dovedale is a lot more tranquil than the more spectacular and overloaded lower end, an ideal place to get away from it all. The route includes a number of medieval remains, including the impressive earthworks of Pilsbury Castle, and some striking scenery.
The walk starts from the Peak Park car park at Sparklow, grid reference 128659. Unlike most of the car parks in the Peak district, parking is free, and is made up from spaces off the old railway line. The first part of the walk follows the old railway line, which has been turned into a footpath and cycle trail, and is marked on the map by this new name, the high peak trail.
The high peak trail follows a large section of the Cromford and High Peak railway, This railway was started in 1825 and was planned as a link between the High Peak Canal in the north west to the Cromford Canal in the south east, via the limestone plateau. The route was chosen to link much of the industry in the area. This included the coal mines in the upper Goyt valley and the quarries around Buxton. The line owed its design to the skills of the canal builders, following the contours of the land, deep cuttings and high embankments, and much sharper curves than are usual in todayís designs. Inclined planes, which are the railway equivalent of canal locks, were required as the line gains 1000ft in height from Cromford. The original wagons were pulled by horses, with static steam engines pulling the wagons up the inclined planes, using a continuous wire rope. Steam locomotives were introduced in the late 1830ís, but these still required assistance from the static engines on the inclined planes. The line was finally closed to traffic in 1963.
Follow the high peak trail southwards through the car park, and pass through a gate at the end. This puts you onto the trail proper. The walking is flat, with a fairly hard surface, which makes it very easy going. On the right of the railway line, an old set of sidings is visible just before a bridge over the road from the A515 to Pilsbury. After crossing the bridge the railway passed through a cutting, which has prompted the building of what is probably the highest dry stone wall in Derbyshire. Beyond the cutting, the railway bends round to the left, through another cutting and passes Cotesfield farm, on the left. This farm is on the site of a medieval manor controlled by the Cistercian Combermere Abbey in Cheshire. The railway line runs through the lower sections of the original manor. The path makes another series of turns, following the contours, and enters the straight section running down to Parsley Hay car park.
About 400m before the beginning of the Parsley Hay car park, the track is crossed by a footpath, the signposts for the high peak trail marking this point are visible from some distance away. Leave the track on the right hand path, over a stile and into the field.
The path follows the field wall down to a gate into the yard of Darley Farm. Walk through the farm yard to the minor road on the other side, and cross into the field on the other side of the road, by the stile opposite the farm. The path drops into a dry valley, before a short steep climb onto the moor beyond. In the narrow field at the top of the short climb there is still evidence of medieval strip fields amongst the rocky outcrops.
Continue along the path on the left side of the wall, crossing the walls in your path using the stiles provided. The path gently drops down to Vincent House farm. In the hillside to the right of the farm is what seems to be a quarry. This is probably a modern extension of some older working, and looking at the debris around the site is probably going to be used as a landfill site. At the farm, follow the arrows indicating the route through the farmyard, and watch out for the dog on a chain in the farmyard. He barks quite a bit as you pass by, but the chain is short enough for you to give the dog a wide berth.
The path continues over the minor road from the farm, although the arrow for the footpath does appear to be pointing in the wrong direction. Head out across the field, keeping the top of the slope on your right side. This will take you over the spur of the hill, at which point you should be able to see the corner of the field at the top of the dry valley to the left, you should aim for this. Pass through the gate and follow the path through the next field, next to a series of electricity poles. Another gate in the far field wall gives access to the next field, and the top of the gentle slope.
As you climb the hill, there is evidence of workings in the hillside to the right. These small scrapes are the remains of medieval lead workings. At the top of the hill the path diverts around an odd natural pond. It is odd in that the four fields that surround it have their boundaries crossing the pond, so the pond is intersected by stone walls.
You have already passed through one medieval manor, centred around Cotesfield farm as the walk progresses you will pass through three more, centred at Pilsbury, Needham and Cronkstone. These manors belonged to the Cistercian Abbey at Merevale in Warwickshire, and were probably used for a mixture of arable farming and grazing for livestock. Looking in the fields as you pass through, you will notice some fields still have the strip marks of the medieval fields. Most of the small scale lead mining that went on in this area was associated with these medieval manors.
Follow the path through the gate, and then head for the corner of the wall to the left. Across the field in the distance a standing stone is visible, this is the remains of a gatepost, and it is also useful to walkers as it marks the point of the path. The wall associated with the gatepost is no longer there, but the line it followed is still visible on either side of the post. To the left is a fenced off man made pond. Do not follow the track to the left towards the corner of the field, but aim at the middle of the opposite wall, where another stone post is visible. Cross the wall, and the fence beyond to hit the road.
Cross the stile next to the barn conversion, and follow the footpath across the field to the yellow painted stile in the far wall. On the far side, follow the path, keeping the wall on your right side. Below you is the hamlet of Pilsbury and Upper Dovedale. Across the valley the prominent peak is Sheen Hill, with the lump on the top being a triangulation pillar. Travelling away from you up the hill is what looks like a road, but is the remains of an old road now disused.
As the path skirts around the hill, following the course of the river, the bulk of the earthworks of Pilsbury castle come into view. The path drops down the side of the valley to a gate in the wall above the castle. The castle is actually private land, but concession has been granted to allow public access.
All that remains of Pilsbury castle in modern times are this collection of impressive earthworks, sat on top of a limestone knoll jutting out into the Dove valley. This point was chosen for good reason as it dominates the narrow valley, affording good views in both directions. It is believed that the timber castle was built in the late 11th or early 12th century. The castle was probably used as an administrative centre for the local manor. This would have been the manor that William I granted to the De Ferriers family, for services rendered during the conquest. The castle was probably only in use for little over one hundred years, as by the thirteenth century the De Ferriers descendants, who were by then earls of Lancaster, had transferred to Hartington 2 miles down river.
In the distance, towards the head of the valley, two odd shaped hills can be made out. These are Parkhouse hill and Chrome hill. They look like the classic chocolate box mountains, only missing a dusting of snow on their peaks. They are the most obvious remains of a coral reef laid down 250 million years ago.
Follow the path around the back of the castle as it drops down to the valley floor. The path heads through the middle of the fields on the right side of the river, and is clearly visible and easy to follow. Watch out as the field is boggy in places, and is used in the summer as pasture for cows.
After crossing three quite large fields, the path passes through a farm gate and onto the farm track. The area around the gate is normally churned up by the passage of many cows, so be prepared for muddy boots. The fields to the right of the farm track show their heritage as again the medieval strip fields are visible going up the field to the hillside beyond.
Follow the farm track around Bridge End Farm and into the village of Crowdecote. Just before the road, an old boundary stone has been made into the centrepiece of a small decorative garden. Follow the road up the hill, through the centre of the village, and take the road on the left as the main street bends around to the right. Follow this road until a footpath marked green lane and Glutton Bridge appears on the left. This leads down to a farm below the road.
Follow the path through the edge of the farm and into the fields beyond. Keep the field wall on your right and follow the path through the fields. The path comes out at a farm track marked as green lane. The true green lane is to your left, marked by the footpath to Longnor. This is the remains of a former road through to Longnor.
The path follows the farm track, up the valley. Pass through the edge of the farm, with some very stiffly spring bolted gates, and down the lane beyond. After a short while a house appears on the left. This marks the point where the pleasant little valley walk stops, and you need to climb out of the valley.
Cross the fence at the stile and head across the field to the stile on the top left corner. Cross this stile, and follow the good path as it slowly climbs the ridge. At the top of the climb, follow the wall to the left, through the stile and up the last part of the climb. At this top wall, Earl Sterndale starts to come into view in the small valley below. Follow the path through the fields which takes you into the village.
Turn right on entering the village, and the first building you come to is the Quiet Woman Pub. An odd name, with an even odder pub sign. The sign represents a woman in Elizabethan dress, minus her head! The story goes that a former landlord, tired of his wifeís constant nagging, cut off her head to shut her up. The pub is well worth a look, and I must say it serves a good pint too.
Turn right past the Quiet Woman, and follow the road out of the village. Take the road to the left on the outskirts of the village, and pick up the track on the left above the last of the houses. This doubles back and takes you above the village. Follow the track until it turns up hill, and take the right hand track as it climbs straight up the hill towards a prominent hillock on the horizon. Below this hillock the path turns to the right and climbs to the top of the ridge.
A high wire fence marks the top of the climb, and the edge of Redlandís Dowlow quarry. The quarry produces aggregates for use as roadstone. As the quarry has been in view from the other side of Earl Sterndale, and this is the first sight of the devastation, then you have to say the company have made a good job of hiding it. Follow the path next to this fence as it passes around the top of the quarry. Every so often, a small bus shelter appears. These are for walkers and other observers above the quarry to shelter in when there is blasting in the quarry. The quarry blasts during the week, with sirens announcing an impending blast. They also make fine places to shelter for a while if you are caught out by a brief shower.
At the end of the quarry, the path passes along the edge of a field, with the wall on the right. At the far side, go through the gate hole and head across the field, aiming at a point about 50m down from the far let corner. A style gives access to the green lane beyond. This small stile is very difficult to see even from very close by, but is preferable to climbing over the wall.
As you enter the lane, ahead and slightly to the right lies Cronkstone Low. A series of earthworks are marked on the map surrounding 3 sides of the hilltop. Could this be a hill fort? It is actually the remains of medieval banks, used as field boundaries, and is associated with the manor of Cronkstone mentioned earlier.
Turn left in the green lane, and follow the path down the hill. The path crosses a small branch of the main railway line. This branch was used to serve the mines on Cronkstone Low, and rejoins the main line just before end of the walk at Sparklow. Keep to the green lane until the path joins the High Peak Trail again, at its starting point. Turn right onto the trail, passing some massive dressed blocks on the left. These look like platform edging, and could be the remains of a station which has been lost.
The trail bends round to the right and then passes into a long straight section running parallel to the main A515, and the course of the old roman military road on the hillside to the left.On the right, clear views are afforded of the workings on the lower slopes of Cronkstone Low, which the short branch crossed previously was built to support.
Finally the trail passes under the bridge at Sparklow, and leaves the walker back at the car park. The building on the right just after the bridge is very obviously built on the remains of the platform.
All information contained within the Peak District Walks site is © Copyright, Andrew Nimmo. If you wish to re-use any of the information, walks or images, please contact the author.