Long Walks in September 2019

  4 Sep 2019 Long Mynd Leader: Stephen, Length of walk: 9 miles, Driving Distance: 55 miles, Number walking: 11

The Long Mynd is a heath and moorland plateau that forms part of the Shropshire Hills. It is about 7 miles long by 3 miles wide, and includes steep valleys designed to test the hearts of old people.

On route to the start can be seen signs to “Battlefield Church”, which was built as a chapel where prayers could be said for the souls of those killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury (21 July 1403). King Henry IV had promised property to the Percy family of aristocratic thugs from Northumberland in exchange for oppressing the Welsh or the Scots, but then changed his mind. Peeved by this insult, Henry Percy, using the alias Harry Hotspur, surged down to meet his uncle Thomas Percy – Earl of Worcester – to challenge the king. He collected some soldiers with longbows from Cheshire on the way

The king was at the time on his way north to ask Hotspur to join him in hammering the Scots in a return match, but, realising that relations had cooled, set out to do battle near Shrewsbury, where the place name Battlefield had been booked.

The battle started with some civilised negotiations but then descended into insults between the contending sides. In the absence of social media, this involved shouting at long range. After a while a barrage of arrows was unleashed instead and things became nasty. Hotspur died after the ord* of an arrow entered his face. In the confusion some Northumberland knights thought the king was dead and shouted “Henry Percy king”. Henry IV shouted back “Henry Percy is dead” and waited for an opposing view to emerge. The dead Hotspur said nothing and so the battle ended.

Many did not know who had won, but the King’s forces sustained greater losses than the rebels. Hotspur’s nephew buried his body at Whitchurch, but rumours soon spread that he was not really dead. The King decided to put an end to this fake news and dug up the corpse, salted it and set it up in Shrewsbury impaled on a spear. As the connecting tissue deteriorated, the body was quartered and put on display in Chester, London, Bristol and Newcastle upon Tyne. His head was impaled on the north gate of York. You didn’t mess with Henry IV. Nevertheless the King generously released the remains to Hotspur’s widow in November in time for the Christmas celebrations.

After the battle, the Cheshire rebels were “prosecuted” for taking some 7,000 horses and, given what happened to Hotspur, that wouldn’t have been pleasant.

The careful observer would also have noted signposts to Cardington but this is not the location of the giant airship sheds – they are in the Bedfordshire Cardington.

The three cars full of walkers parked in the National Trust site in Carding Mill Valley. A carding mill prepared wool for spinning by brushing the fibres to line them up evenly. The mill building has been converted to apartments.

Stephen set off to climb up to Long Mynd by walking down to the valley and climbing up further north. He promised that the worst would be over when the group reached the summit. Part way to the top he allowed a coffee stop on the path, where gaps in the heather allowed walkers to sit down and look at the size of the hills to come.

Having reached what appeared to be the summit, the group repeatedly took the gentle climb to the ridge only to find that there was another beyond it. The strong wind kept rearranging the clouds but generally ensured that the walkers were under a cloud but could see patches of sunshine in the surrounding countryside. Darker clouds rolled in later but the rain that fell was only slight.

Stephen selected for lunch the site of the only disc barrow in Shropshire. This Bronze Age burial place is called Shooting Box, because the Victorian shooting community built a hut on it. The space left after this was removed in 1992 gave some shelter from the wind.

The group detoured to the high point of Long Mynd at Pole Bank (1,693 feet), where a plaque helpfully points out where you should look to see various places. The distant places were obscured by water that had failed to form cloud but nonetheless effectively closed down the views.

Before leaving the plateau, Stephen scheduled another stop opposite the nearby hill of Caer Caradoc Heavy rain appeared to pass on the other side of Caer Caradoc but missed the walkers.

After the stop, the path was downhill mostly on a rocky path. There was some excitement when the group found a reservoir surrounded by a fence indicating civilisation and the return to Carding Mill Valley. Just after the reservoir one path led down and another went up. Even though the cars were parked in the bottom of the valley, the correct path went up. With the valley in view, the group strolled down with light hearts and the thought of drinks in the NT teashop. They also sell cake.

*ORD the point of a weapon (obsolete) [3 letter Scrabble word]

18 Sep 2019 Castleton Leader: Ralph, Length of walk: 9 miles, Driving Distance: 37 miles, Number walking: 16

Click on this link to see the route on a map

The weather was forecast to be sunny but clouds shielded the sun most of the time keeping the temperature down to an acceptable level.

Winnats Pass is the entry to the Hope valley and there was some discussion about how it formed. One suggestions is that part of the hillside collapsed into the cavern system that remains as Peak Cavern, Treak Cliff Cavern, Blue John Cavern and Speedwell Cavern. The competing theory sees it as a submarine ravine between coral reefs. There is no fanciful third option involving giants.

Ralph, who knows a few good stories, failed to mention that the pass is haunted by the ghosts of star-crossed lovers who died in 1758. They were eloping to Peak Forest Chapel when they were killed by drunken miners and the evidence hidden in a mine shaft. Their bodies were discovered 10 years later and, as in any good fairy story, the perpetrators came to a variety of bad ends.

Three of the drivers parked in roadside places for free but Mike decided to make life easier for his passengers and used the car park. He’s all heart. On the way to the car park to use the toilets that Mike had paid for, the walkers passed the sign advertising “The Devil’s Arse”. This is the original name of the attraction known as Peak Cavern but it was changed in 1880 to avoid embarrassment when Queen Victoria came for a concert.

This name is a fundamental feature of the area as shown by early references to the location of Peveril Castle. This was first recorded as standing at “Pechesers” which translates as “Peak’s Arse”. When the local bigwigs became wealthy from lead mining, their wives would have pressed for a change to the town name and Castleton sounds a reasonable if dull alternative.

The walk went through Cave Dale and continuing the schoolboy humour, the most prominent feature of Peveril castle from Cave Dale is the garderobe. This is the toilet that distributes material over the edge of the cliff and is still in place because the people who stole the facing stone from the other three sides of the keep weren’t brave enough to scavenge on the cliff side.

An American family coming down the “trail” were the first of many foreign visitors encountered.

At Windy Knoll Stephen went looking for elaterite a form of bitumen that resembles sheep droppings but tastes better. He had no success but avoided falling into a fissure where the bones of scores of bison, reindeer, bear and wolf were found in the 19th century. Presumably they failed to follow the risk assessment for migrating through Winnats Pass.

After Windy Knoll, the only way to go is up to the top of Mam Tor. Mam Tor means either a) breast shaped hill or b) (possibly tongue in cheek) mother hill to all the mini hills that have slipped down from it. Stephen explained that Mam Tor keeps collapsing because it comprises shale under sandstone – an unstable combination.

In the absence of bridges the group assembled on top of Mam Tor after clearing a crowd of schoolchildren out of the way. To celebrate its history as a Bronze Age hill fort, National Trust has dotted the side of the path with plaques showing historical features. One of them looks like an ard*. Ralph allowed lunch (late) after climbing down to a sheltered spot in the hill fort ditch.

After lunch Ralph took the party along the Great Ridge and reprimanded the walker who said “What’s that?”.  The Great Ridge separates Edale Valley from Hope Valley and extends from Mam Tor to Lose Hill. What Ralph doesn’t know is that the ridge is featured in the 2018 racing video game Forza Horizon 4. There were no vehicles on it during our visit.

A large group of international students from Manchester University Business School were having a tour of this famous English landscape but their minder took them down before Back Tor; it’s rather steep but the old folks had to do it. Sadly they were not gathered round when Ralph told the dramatic story of the coffin that ran down the hill to the apothecary shop in Castleton.

OS map fans may wonder why part of Lose Hill is labelled “Ward’s Piece”. Those who accept the fanciful battle legend (see below) may assume it refers to battle damage sustained by a warrior named Ward. The truth is, as usual, much duller than that. A local access activist G. H. B. Ward was given an area of Lose Hill by the Ramblers Association and he subsequently presented it to the National Trust. He must have friends in the Ordnance Survey.

Ralph delighted the walkers with a fanciful tale about the origin of the names “Lose Hill” and “Win Hill”. He even sexed it up by including marital infidelity.  The story hinges on the outcome of an imagined 7th-century battle between the forces of Edwin of Northumbria and Cynegils of Wessex. Edwin’s forces occupied Win Hill, while Cynegils’ men camped on Lose Hill. As the battle progressed, Cynegils’ forces advanced up Win Hill, and Edwin’s retreated behind a temporary wall they had built near the summit. They pushed the boulders of the wall downhill, crushing the Wessex soldiers and gaining victory in the battle. However, there is no historical basis for the tale, and no evidence of any battle ever being fought here.

After Lose Hill the walk was all downhill to Castleton, with a stop for whatever snacks were left. This was the occasion for a cautionary tale about making sure hearing aids keep working. One owner of faulty aids asked about the Gregorian bananas he had heard being discussed earlier, assuming that some chanting was involved. He learned that the bananas in question were from Ecuador, which was much less interesting.

At the bottom of the hill lies the Hollowford activity centre, which has a substantial zip wire. This was in use during the recce but on the walk itself it was inaccessible to any passing daredevils.

*ARD a primitive plough [3 letter Scrabble word]

25 Sep 2019 Ambergate to Crich Leader: Bill & Ruth, Length of walk: 12 miles, Driving Distance: 50 miles, Number walking: 14

Click on this link to see the route on a map

The forecast showed some rain for the day and it rained for most of the journey there but the rain stopped before the walk began. The outward journey was enlivened by the “Romanian incident”. A car with Romanian plates was parked by the roadside and a swarthy chap standing by it flagged down passing drivers. One of the four cars stopped to investigate and heard a very sorry tale in broken English:

  • We have run out of petrol
  • We have no money
  • My parents are in hospital

These facts were compared to the scam assessment criteria and came up positive. The driver quickly moved on to Ambergate station. Next to that station lies Whatstandwell station into which one of the drivers turned after temporarily losing his mind. He invented a ridiculous cover story involving Ian Allan, beloved of train and aeroplane fans. A better story would have involved either Ellen Macarthur – born in Whatstandwell, or Walter Stonewell – a 14th century resident who gave his name to be mangled into the name of the village.

The walk crossed the River Derwent on a road blocked by heavy construction equipment while two men struggled to put something into, or take it out of a hole in the river bank. The path then went up through Shining Cliff Woods. This was the site chosen to start a cult in the 1930s. They chose the snappy title of Grith Fyrd and started a self-sufficient land-based community. Grith means “sanctuary” and Fyrd means “militia” and it may be significant these words are an anagram of “dry fright” (or maybe not).

They set out to combat the 3 evils of the day:

  1. Monstrous labour
  2. The state of passivity and absorption
  3. The loss of the incentive of self-expression and creativeness

Bill read these out during the walk but suspected that the walkers were suffering from evil #2 so asked for them to be repeated in the report. None of the walkers appeared to be suffering from evil #1

Grith Fyrd leisure activities included morris dancing, wood-carving and folk-singing. Not surprisingly the cult came to a halt in the late 1930s.

A small pond in the woods provided the site for the coffee stop and then the climb through the woods continued. The terrain changed to grassland with a variety of stiles designed to bar walkers with thick legs or low hips.

The picture shows the premises of a furniture builder with its two vehicles having the appropriate word WUD* in their registration plates.

The sun was accompanied by threatening black clouds but no rain came and the walkers took lunch in a field with views over to Crich and the country south of the village.

The walk continued downwards reaching the River Derwent again at Whatstandwell. A short stretch of the Cromford Canal preceded more climbing through woods to Wakebridge. Although marked on the map, Wakebridge has few buildings. In fact it mostly consists of a tall hill and the hole in it which miners have been digging out for centuries. The hole is the now mothballed Cliff Quarry and the hill is the site of Crich Stand. The quarry houses the National Tramway Museum and two of its exhibits delighted the walkers by appearing where the footpath crossed the tram tracks. To avoid an overdose of nostalgia, the walkers were hustled up the hill to Crich Stand.

The first “stand” (tower to Cheshire folk) was built on the site in 1760, probably to celebrate the accession of George III. This wooden construction collapsed and was replaced by a one made of stone but that also collapsed. The present tower was built in 1923, using some of the old stone blocks, as a memorial to soldiers of the local regiment – the Sherwood Foresters – who died in WW1. Its benches provided a rest stop for the walkers before they passed through Crich.

The village provided two attractive features:

  • The only flush toilet on the route (providing relief)
  • A collection of fruit trees by the roadside (providing ripe damsons)

The path continued along the top of cliffs near the site of George Stephenson’s tramway, through woods to the Cromford Canal and then to Ambergate. It was at this point that the burning question of Flash Gordon’s love interest came up. Various regular quizzers were tested by this question but none provided the answer. It is of course Dale Arden but the person who suggested Dale Evans deserves a minor credit.

*WUD Scottish for wood [3 letter Scrabble word]