On this walk you will be following the footsteps of ancient lead miners who delved beneath the rolling limestone hills of their neighbourhood. Two villages separated by the once common grazing grounds of Carsington Pasture are passed through along the way. Both were home villages for many of the miners and as often follows, each has a pub dedicated to this craft.
Carsington is the first village visited along the way, almost at the start of the walk. Its tiny church dates from the 14th century and many of its memorials commemorate by-gone Gells, the local landowning family who lived nearby at Hopton Hall. Across the green hillside you will come to Brassington, the next port of call. Like its neighbour it too has a Miners’ Arms that dates from at least the 17th century, the nerve centre for local mining activity. In a nearby pub still within the village, The Gate has one room which still boasts the original oak panelling where an ancient Bar Mote Court sat in judgement over mining disputes.
Old though the twin villages might be, they are mere striplings when compared with the surrounding countryside. High above Brassington a prominent line of dolomite limestone crags sheltered prehistoric animals such as sabre-toothed tigers, woolly rhinoceros and hyenas. Early people who hunted on these uplands found shelter in the caves cut deeply into the crags. In one of them at the foot of Harboro’ Rocks, the novelist Daniel Defoe author of Robinson Crusoe, found a family living in one of them when he passed by during his tour of Britain in the early 18th century. The cave where they lived is easy to find by its smoke stained roof, a sure indication that many other families also used it as a simple dwelling well into the 19th century.
The High Peak Trail is followed along the highest section of the walk. Using the track bed of the high level railway that once linked Cromford Canal to the High Peak Forest at Whaley Bridge, trains ran along this most scenic of routes until 1967. Using static engines, trains were hauled up and down a series of inclines by a precarious system that occasionally saw break-away wagons careering out of control until stopped by specially prepared catch-pits.
The final leg of the walk is over the glorious expanse of Carsington Pasture where spoil heaps left by the early miners are now colonised by lime loving and lead tolerating wild flowers such as spotted orchids, or the blue or yellow flowered mountain pansy and the tiny white stars of leadwort. Lately a controversial project has seen the erection of a series of massive wind turbines, but fortunately they do not interfere too much with the view of Carsington Reservoir as it sits in the green hollow far below.
- 5½ miles (8.5km) of moderate walking along field paths and the surfaced bed of the High Peak Trail with a 427 feet (130m) climb, up and down.
- Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer Map: White Peak Area, Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock and Dovedale.
- Parking (pay and display) at Sheep Wash car park. Signposted off the B5035 Wirksworth to Ashbourne road.
- Public transport: Yourbus 110 & 111 Matlock to Ashbourne hourly service calls at Cromford, Wirksworth and Carsington village
- Refreshments in Brassington and Carsington villages.
- From Sheep Wash car park follow the footpath and cycle track north-eastwards through mixed woodland and meadow above Carsington Water and as far as a gate giving access on to the main road.
- A couple of signposted side paths lead to a specially made bird hide where visiting and local birds can be viewed in comfort.
- Cross the road with care and go through a gate on its far side. Walk up the tree-shaded lane, past Wash Farm and as far as the road in front of the Miners’ Arms car park.
From research carried out before Carsington Reservoir was flooded, archaeologists discovered traces of a Romano-British settlement. Conjecture suggests it might have been the long-lost centre of lead mining in Roman times, Lutudaron. Pigs of lead (ingots) stamped with the name have been found from time to time and appear to have come from somewhere in the Wirksworth/Carsington area, but exactly where remains a mystery.
- Turn left to pass the pub car park and walk on, beyond a small playground and its larger than life-sized wood carved badgers. Go up to the main road and cross where it bears left.
- Walk ahead on a narrow lane past a line of cottages. Go through a gate beyond the last house and on to a grassy track.
- Where the track veers left at a second gate, climb up to a narrow stile on the right and go through it to follow a grassy path climbing steadily around the shoulder of Carsington Pasture.
- At the top of the climb, aim to the right of a copse and go through the remains of an old wall stile on your left.
- Cross the head of a green lane by using stiles on either side. Walk into a slight depression and aim for a stile on its far side.
- Following occasional waymarks and signposts make your way around some old spoil heaps and limestone outcrops.
In summer the now naturalised spoil heaps are covered with tiny almost alpine flowers thriving on the alkaline soil, but always keep well away from any un-capped mine shafts. There are thousands of abandoned lead mines scattered across the White Peak uplands; most but not all are capped, usually by concrete railway sleepers.
- Begin to go downhill towards Brassington, now clearly in view ahead. Go down the field as far as a stone stile in its boundary wall. Go through the stile and then bear left towards the outskirts of the village.
- Entering the village cross over the first road and turn right up Miners Hill, then right again up Jasper Lane. Turn left into Hillside Lane (all have street signs) for about 200yds (183m) and with the church below and on your left.
- Look out for a stile leading to a footpath on your right away from the lane. Follow the faint path steadily uphill through limestone outcrops.
Many of the houses in Brassington village seem to date from the 17th century, although its church is even older, with many of its features built as far back as the 13th century or even earlier for there are several Saxon carvings that are worth seeking.
- Using a line of electricity poles as a guide, follow them by keeping to their right through four fields, climbing all the while past rock outcrops. At the fourth bear half right above the rocks and go through a gate.
- Joining the road, turn left and aim for the group of buildings of Longcliffe Dale Farm.
- Go past the end of the farm drive and take a signposted footpath on the right to pass an electricity sub-station and the boundary of Peak Quarry Farm.
- On reaching the track-bed of the High Peak Trail, turn right and follow it for about one and a half miles.
Approaching the limestone processing plant, look to your left towards the mini-dolomite skyline. These are Harboro’ Rocks, a popular climbing area. At their foot a number of small caves can be seen, one of which was lived in by a lead miner and his family when Daniel Defoe passed this way around 1700. You can reach the rocks and the cave by following the path ascending left beyond the factory boundary.
- Continue to follow the trail until it reaches the road. Leave it here by climbing a stile on your right and then after a dozen yards or so, climb stiles on either side of the road.
- Follow the boundary wall on your left, past the wind turbines and begin to go downhill across Carsington Pasture.
On the way down look out for the strange rocks known evocatively as the King’s Seat over the wall to your left. It is hard to decide whether or not the ‘seat’ is natural or man-made.
- Keeping woodland covering the lower slopes to your left, begin to zigzag down the now steep slope leading towards the first houses in Carsington village.
- Go down steps beside the first house and out along a narrow passage. On reaching the road, turn left as far as the Miners’ pub. Go to the right here in order to retrace your route back to the car park.