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Earl Sterndale & The Upper Dove Valley pt.1

Earl Sterndale & The Upper Dove Valley pt.1

Nucleated settlements are fairly scarce in the White Peak and the upper Derwent Valley, partly because the relief is challenging, not to mention the constant outcropping of limestone. Partly also it is because Saxon settlement came late to this part of Derbyshire, probably not starting in earnest until after around 640, and post-Roman British settlement – as is evident in much of upland Wales to this day – was always discrete, that is to say scattered, with only churches as focal points.

This is why the parish of Hartington used to stretch almost to Buxton, being divided into three parts going north from the parish church: Town Quarter, Middle Quarter and Upper quarter, each scattered by diminutive townships, some of which have virtually disappeared over time. The original parish probably represents a pre-Norman and indeed, pre-Anglo-Saxon land unit, utilising the Dove as its western boundary.

We had decided to take our tour – necessarily motorised; you would require at least a day and a decent level of fitness to cover our route on foot – of Middle Quarter, centered upon Earl Sterndale, but starting at Hartington so we could enjoy a spectacular view of the Dove’s lush valley as we moved north. Thus, we left Hartington Market Place along Dig Street which leads out of the built-up part of the village to Wallpit Lane, which meanders, very much a single track and gated road, alongside the Dove all the way to Pilsbury. 

The views are indescribably memorable: the valley is gently enclosed by the riding limestone ridges either side and each minor turn brings further prospects to the north and west. As we progressed, we saw 17th century grade II* listed Broadmeadow Hall, opposite on the Staffordshire side: a striking sight. The last time we saw it, about 1980, it was a picturesque roofless shell, but has since been put back into use, which is gratifying. Once the property of the Poles of Pool Hall, Hartington, it passed to the Sleighs of Pilsbury Grange in 1573. They sold in 1709 to the Haynes of Ashbourne from whom it came to the Batemans of Hartington Hall before becoming a separate freehold on the death of Sir Hugh Bateman 1st Bt., in 1824.

Broadmeadow Hall

We would recommend taking this route by car out of season, as passing would be a problem in places, and in season it might well prove a nightmare. The two and a quarter miles we took at a fast walking place: no-one came up behind and no vehicle approached: perfect. 

“Most of the area has been part of the Duke of Devonshire’s estate since the 17th century, and much, I suspect, still is. Farms are beautifully kept and the larger farmhouses, like mid-18th century Pilsbury Grange, are very much estate foreman-built pattern book farms: three storeys, three bays wide and still using mullioned windows.”

At Pilsbury – Pilsberie in 1086, (‘the fortified place of Pil’, cf. Pilsley) – there are a pair of substantial farms and the road suddenly climbs steeply to the moor above in a series of sharp ascending turns. At the start of the first turn a track continues the route along the Dove’s bank, which those on foot can enjoy, for although Pilsbury Castle, about 600 yards along, is an impressive motte, probably set within a pre-Roman earthwork and well worth a visit, there is nowhere safely to leave a car. The Castle was built by Henry de Ferrers as the focus of his Dove valley holdings not long after the conquest., but was of timber, and never replaced in stone.

We drove up onto the moor, therefore, enjoying awesome views southwards and passed Pilsbury Lodge, which has a caravan facility; the presence of farms with ‘lodge’ in the title suggests relics of an ancient hunting preserve, and those with ‘grange’ represent former monastic owned farms. 

Crowdecote Bridge

Indeed, continuing east along our way, we eventually met the more easily motorable (but much less scenic) Hartington-Earl Sterndale Road and, turning left, quickly reached a crossroad marking the centre of one such place, Needham Grange at High Needham, embowered by windswept trees, the settlement itself having long since shrunk to three farms. First recorded in 1244, like nearby Heathcote it gave its name to a distinguished Derbyshire family, today represented by the 6th Earl of Kilmorey, an Irish peerage thus an honour which did not prevent him from representing Chippenham in Parliament and serving as a minister under John Major.

Here we turned west again, the road winding sinuously and spectacularly back down toward the Dove, crossed by a stone bridge at Crowdecote – ‘the dwelling place of Cruda’ – which is another very small township within Hartington Middle Quarter, with a cluster of stuccoed cottages where the road divides above the bridge itself. We noted a rarity, looking rather forlorn beside a K6 telephone box: an early 19th century iron water spout, much like those provided in more profusion, by the Harpurs at Ticknall. The sight of this made us thirsty, so we adjourned to the Pack Horse inn opposite, and enjoyed excellent blond ale and a snack. It is delightfully unspoilt, aided by being a listed building in a conservation area, having been formed from a pair of cottages of 1727 with later alterations, but still with cosy rooms and friendly staff. 

Having felt duly refreshed, we took the turning north, back alongside the Dove, out of the hamlet heading for Earl Sterndale.


  1. Most of my family members used to work in Litton and Cressbrook mills ,of course they have all past away now.My mums family maiden name was Turner she and her family lived in Litton and Cressbrook for many years


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