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Explore England's Dark Peak with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of Dark Peak Walks
3 Mar 2017
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.3cm
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Dark Peak Walks

40 walks exploring the Peak District gritstone and moorland landscapes

by Paul Besley
Book published by Cicerone Press

Guidebook to 40 walks in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park. 35 circular routes for most abilities, from 8km to 19km, around Edale, Marsden, Fairholmes, Baslow and Castleton, including Kinder Scout and Mam Tor, and 5 longer (25km to 45km) routes highlighting the best of the Gritstone Edges, High Moorland and Deep Valleys.

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Located in the Peak District and distinguished from the neighbouring White Peak by the layer of gritstone which covers its limestone bed, the Dark Peak features a wild landscape of sweeping moorland and big skies. Easily accessible from Sheffield, it boasts a wealth of natural, geological, historical and cultural interest – and some great walking. 

This guidebook describes 40 walks in the Dark Peak. Ranging from short strolls to full-day adventures, they showcase the region's unique character. Dramatic waterfalls, striking gritstone edges, heath and woodland are just some of the delights encountered, with many of the routes venturing off-path to explore hidden cloughs and valleys. Detailed route description is provided for 35 walks, accompanied by 1:50,000 OS mapping and interesting facts about local points of interest, then a further five longer walks (of 25-45km) are summarised in the final section, including a classic circuit of the Kinder Scout skyline.

Taking in the high moors of Derwent, Bleaklow, Kinder and Howden, the walks reveal not only the area's wild beauty but also some of its fascinating stories. 10,000 years of history lie waiting to be uncovered – from Neolithic burial mounds and Bronze Age cairns to remnants of the region's more recent industrial past. This guide is a perfect companion to discovering the secrets of the Dark Peak and experiencing its magnificent landscape in all its glory.

  • Activities
  • Seasons
    The high moorlands in winter and summer; the gritstone edges in spring and summer; the valleys in autumn; the cloughs in spring
  • Centres
    Hathersage, Grindleford, Langsett, Marsden, Dove Stones, Edale, Upper Derwent Valley, Castleton, Greenfield, Chatsworth, Sheffield, Hayfield, Crowden, Hope, Dunford Bridge
  • Difficulty
    Walking in the Dark Peak requires good navigational skills, especially in winter, and a good level of hillcraft. Having the correct equipment and clothing and knowing how to use it is paramount when venturing out onto the high moors.
  • Must See
    Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District; Bleaklow, the second highest; Howden and Derwent Edges; Black Hill and the Wessenden Moors; the gritstone edges of Derwent, Bamford, Stanage, Burbage, Froggatt, Curbar, Birchen, Gardoms and the Roaches; the Eastern Moors; the Goyt Valley, Shutlingsloe and Wildboarclough
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Plants and wildlife
The future
Local services and transport
The walks
Responsible walking
Maps and navigation
Using this guide
Eastern Dark Peak
Walk 1 Chatsworth to Birchen Edge
Walk 2 Longshaw Estate and the gritstone edges
Walk 3 Fox House to Big Moor
Walk 4 Fox House to Stanedge Pole
Walk 5 Grindleford to Higger Tor
Central Dark Peak
Walk 6 Hathersage to Stanage Edge
Walk 7 Wyming Brook to Stanage Edge
Walk 8 Bamford Moor
Walk 9 Win Hill to Hope Cross
Walk 10 Kings Tree to Shepherds Meeting Stones
Walk 11 Westend and Bleaklow Stones
Walk 12 Derwent Edge
Walk 13 Alport Castles and the Woodlands Valley
Walk 14 Margery Hill to Back Tor
Walk 15 Low Bradfield and Dale Dyke
Walk 16 Langsett to Howden Edge
Walk 17 Langsett to Pike Lowe
Walk 18 Torside to Bleaklow Head
Walk 19 Wildboar Clough to Lawrence Edge
Walk 20 Old Glossop to Bleaklow Head
Walk 21 Kinder Scout Northern Edge
Walk 22 Kinder Scout Western Edge
Walk 23 Kinder Scout
Walk 24 Kinder Scout Southern Edge
Walk 25 The Great Ridge
Northern Dark Peak
Walk 26 Dunford Bridge to Ramsden Clough
Walk 27 Crowden Horseshoe
Walk 28 Crowden to Chew Valley
Walk 29 Marsden to Black Hill
Walk 30 Alphin Pike to Birchen Clough
Walk 31 Binn Green to Great Dove Stone Rock
Walk 32 Cotton Famine Road
Western Dark Peak
Walk 33 Goyt Valley to Shining Tor
Walk 34 Derbyshire Bridge to Shutlingsloe
Walk 35 The Roaches
Long day walks
Walk 36 Marsden to Edale
Walk 37 Langsett to Edale
Walk 38 Gritstone edges
Walk 39 Edale Horseshoe
Walk 40 Kinder Scout skyline
Appendix A Route summary table
Appendix B Useful information
Appendix C Aircraft crash site locations


On a beautiful winter’s day with a sky that was powder blue and dotted with brilliant white clouds, I dropped down from Barrow Stones to Ridgewalk Moor. As the path levelled out the wind suddenly became stronger, not enough to blow me over, but enough for me to think it was time to be getting off the high moor and down into the valley. The afternoon was drawing to a close and my walk that day had been one of the most enjoyable that winter. I hadn’t seen a soul, it being a weekday, and my walk had taken me off the footpath and across a succession of moors, rising up to Bleaklow Stones via a series of spot heights that formed a natural ascent. As I turned to head towards Round Hill I had the most amazing sense of the ocean. I stopped and breathed in the air, taking huge draughts into my lungs. I could smell and taste sea salt on the wind, fresh, tangy and exhilarating. It is a moment I relive, and it is just one of many memories that I have of the Dark Peak.

Full winter kit on Kinder Scout (Walk 24)

The area has a habit of producing days that are to be remembered; it is one of the reasons it is loved by so many people. It is a place of great beauty and variety, with a landscape that changes with the seasons. Its primary trait is one of restrained menace. The land broods, waiting for an excuse to show its dark side, often suddenly from nowhere and in a most brutal way. There is a reason why seven Mountain Rescue teams surround the Dark Peak, which alone is enough of a warning to any walker to treat the area with respect.

The Dark Peak is fringed with gritstone edges that look out across wide valleys to high peat moorland. It is famous for two things. The first is gritstone, coarse sandstone laid down between 360 million and 300 million years ago when the area was a vast river delta. The gritstone forms long high edges, a Mecca for climbers, and outcrops that give walkers superb viewpoints across wide valleys to the high moors beyond. The second feature the Dark Peak is famous for is encountered by all who venture onto the high moors: peat. In summer, it takes the form of a dark chocolate brownie that has a gentle bounce which makes a gait slightly comical. In wet weather it is an entirely different matter. Chocolate fondant is perhaps an appropriate description. Peat, when saturated, still maintains its solid appearance, which makes crossing the moors a challenge, especially if you enter a grough, a steep-sided incision from which egress is less than noble. At best you can end up covered in the black ooze up to your knees; at worst it can be up to your thighs.

Peat is one of the Dark Peak’s characteristics

The walks are not just about this incredible landscape. They are also about the human element that lies deep within the Dark Peak. From the Neolithic remains of fire platforms to Bronze Age cairns and burial mounds, we walk in footsteps long ago imprinted into the soft peat. It is an area that has witnessed murder, with the martyrs at Padley Chapel (Walk 5), mystery at Cutthroat Bridge (Walk 8), and human despair in Hannah Mitchell, who lived a life under such cruelty at Alport Hamlet, yet went on to become a Manchester magistrate and writer (Walk 13). The first national park to be granted this status was the Peak National Park, in April 1951, with those who fought for the Right to Roam frequently at the forefront of the national parks campaign.

Industry has made its mark, first with the peat cutting and then more visibly along the gritstone edges and the quarries producing the famous millstones and the stone for the great dams. War also has played its part, with at least three areas taking part in military training, the most famous being the Dambusters of the Upper Derwent Valley. In the last century the area has been the resting place of many aircraft, the remains of which can still be seen.

The Dark Peak presents a different experience with each season. Autumn invites you to savour the blazing colours of the ancient woodlands around Longshaw, and the smell of the landscape readying for the winter slumber. Then take a winter’s walk on Higger Tor, the wind driving snow horizontally across the moor, the cold biting the cheeks: perhaps you will be lucky enough to experience the thrill of sighting a mountain hare in its white winter cloak. In spring the path up to Grindle Barn from Ladybower has a beautiful meadow full of cornflowers and buttercups. And finally summer beckons, promising long days exploring the groughs of the Kinder Scout plateau, lunch at Crowden Head, reclining on soft sweet-smelling grass, and bathing in the Fairie Pools at Slippery Stones after a hard day’s walking. There are ample opportunities for challenge and character-building, testing navigational skill and self-reliance, and endless moments of pleasure discovering this rich and varied landscape.

I hope you enjoy the walks in this book and that it leads to further exploration of the Dark Peak and some wonderful memories.

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