Saturday, 12 February 2011


We'd never tried to get to Stanton Moor before mainly because it's a long way for PC to travel and with her in-built sense of mis-direction it would be unlikely that she'd ever arrive. Also, we've always known that we'd not be able to do a long walk here because of time constraints, so given that I'd be doing the driving and PC still wasn't ready for any very long hikes we decided to take today as the perfect opportunity.

The first stumbling block is PC's unnerving ability to confuse left with right, an interesting quirk when she's the navigator for the day and decides on a route through the centre of Sheffield. Despite mounting stress and blood pressure levels we survive the city and continue along a route that I'm familiar with; Baslow, Chatsworth, Beeley, Rowsley then turn right. From here PC has to navigate again - panic ensues. It's a good job I'd checked the map before we set out and had tried to memorise the route. After losing the road completely then turning the map upside down we crossed over the swollen and fast flowing River Lathkill and turned up to the village of Stanton in Peak. Phew. Now I know why she always leaves the map reading to me.

We pass the long, high wall of Stanton Hall and enter the village's steep, narrow, winding road. A local bus coming downhill towards us makes us breathe in and whilst PC is enjoying the view of the quaint cottages I'm negotiating the parked cars hoping we're going in the right direction as she's abandoned all pretence of navigating.

Luckily the road opens out onto Birchover Road and we're heading for Stanton Moor. I knew the footpath we need and as luck would have it we managed to park right next to it where there is only room for one car. There is a lack of parking space up here although some of the verges have clearly been used so much that there is room for a few cars to park, particularly in the week.

It's drizzling with rain - our fair weather fairy has clearly deserted us - so we drag on our waterproofs and set off up onto the moor. The moor is fenced now so we go through the gate and along the well used path towards the prominent Cork Stone, a large natural gritstone monolith standing proudly against the elements. There are foot and handholds worn into the side and iron rungs for climbers. There must be a good view from the top, but not today with the murky, misty drizzle.

Stanton Moor is gritstone on top of limestone and an area of national archaeological importance. Not only is the well known Nine Ladies stone circle here, but there are at least 70 other cairns, circles and burial mounds, most now hidden beneath swathes of heather.

It is also an area with much evidence of past and more recent quarrying. Relatively recently a long-standing battle was won to prevent the re-opening of some quarries and a peaceful protesters' camp of 9 years (I think) eventually moved away.

There's a disused quarry next to the Cork Stone and we pass it as we head roughly north. There is a trig point over to our right, but we know that we won't get a particularly good view from there so we don't even attempt to push through the heather to get to it even though the rain has almost stopped

Next to the path is a twisted, stooped tree sculpted by the prevailing wind. It looks ancient, as though it has witnessed life up here for centuries and its knowledge has weighted down its branches, but it probably isn't actually very old.

At the next disused quarry we pause to look at a young silver birch with raindrops clinging to its leafless branches like purple twigs festooned with diamonds. It's quite magical.

Ahead are silver birch woods, quite sparse but very elegant in their winter state. They set us remembering another birch wood - one that doesn't exist. One we both saw and can both still picture with absolute clarity. A very eerie incident. We realise that we have to write about it, so with a bit of luck it will be one of our next blogs. Watch this space.

We wander through the trees towards the stone circle. So far we've only seen three people, all walkers, but at weekends it is probably heaving, so we really appreciate the tranquility.

Then we reach the King Stone, the outpost of the stone circle, and walk down to the Nine Ladies. The last time I was here there was a fence around the monument and people camping (probably the protesters although I didn't know that at the time) but now the fence has gone and it is a haven of peace. I wander around the stones as PC is drawn to the old oak, or Wishing Tree. There are all kinds of things hung from it; an old glove, ribbon, decorations.

We find somewhere to sit - not next to the charred remains of a fire - and fetch out the secret flask to make a toast. We enjoy sitting and contemplating the stones as we eat lunch undisturbed. The nine ladies are actually ten, one stone is 'fallen', and you can just make out a small mound or embankment too. There are lots of legends and myths about the site, but whatever the truth is, it was once a very important place and should still be respected.

Our peace is shattered when an enormous dog bounds up to greet us completely ignoring its owner. We don't really mind, but on its departure PC is left quite muddied. Tranquility descends again and out comes this week's buns. We plan to take a photo, but our eagerness to eat them takes over and the photo is forgotten.

Strawberry Tarts; sweet pastry, creme anglaise, fresh cream and strawberries. They smell of summer and taste divine. Wonderful.

It's time to move off, and we decide to investigate the tower of the east of the moor. It
rises up quite prominently although hidden at first by the trees, and PC remarks that it's like Rapunzel's tower. It is actually to commemorate the Parliamentary Reform Bill of 1832 - nowhere near as romantic as the fairy tale. And it looks in need of some maintenance

We're on the path back now, and we can see down the Darley Dale valley towards Matlock and Riber Castle in the distance. Lots of the fields in the valley are flooded, and we also have a bird's eye view of the ugly sprawling works between Darley Bridge and Warrencarr.

We detour a little to find that we're on a 'Drive' where the local gentry use to have themselves and their guests driven in their coaches to enjoy their estates. Thank goodness times have changed.

We climb uphill past an enormous clump of rhododendron bushes - an ideal spot for childhood hide and seek and the perfect spot for an ambush, but they are a very invasive non-native. A group of men pass us going in the opposite direction, PC thinks we've seen them before on one of our other walks, but I can't remember. I must have been reading the map at the time!

Soon we're back at the Cork Stone and it's only a gentle stroll back down to the car. All we have to do now is find our way back to PC's house but that, as they say, is another tale.