The dramatic feature of Eldon Hole comes early on this walk. It is slightly off route, but well worth the short diversion to see the largest visible pothole in Derbyshire, (the deepest by a long way is Titan on the other side of Eldon Hill, but it lies completely underground) Eldon Hole’s main surface feature is massive chasm in the earth’s surface, 111 feet long, 20 feet wide and 245 feet deep. A low dry-stone limestone wall surrounds it and even though there is a gate allowing cavers access to its depths, all non speleologists should keep to the outside, contenting themselves to admire nature’s handiwork and imagine the subterranean terrors far below. The hole has been known since at least 1586, but when Thomas Hobbes described it as one of the Wonders of the Peak in 1636, tourists who were in the habit of dropping stones into its depths thought the rumbling sounds the rocks made came from Hell. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to plumb its depths and Hobbes erroneously claimed it was ‘two hundred ells deep’ (about 550 feet), but Charles Cotton of Dovedale angling fame went one better stating that it was over 884 yards deep! The first recorded account of a descent into Eldon Hole was given in a guide book dating from 1659. In it the writer who was using information 60 years old, reported that on the orders of Henry Cavendish of Chatsworth House, George Bradley from Peak Forest was lowered 240 feet without reaching the bottom and it required an extension of a further 320 feet of rope before he managed to reach the bottom. No doubt in an attempt to please his titled employer, Bradley reported that alongside the bones of deer and sheep he had also seen human remains. Although there was no explanation of this grisly find, folk-lore often claimed that the bodies of missing presumed murdered travellers were dropped down the convenient hole. In later times adventuresome miners bent on making an easy shilling or two, would lower one of their number into the hole simply to entertain gullible tourists. In more modern times cave explorers have managed to clear most of the rocks dropped by inquisitive tourists. From the bottom of the pothole they found that Eldon Hole is linked to a complex system of underground passages. These find their way into Peak Cavern in Castleton, confirming the author of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s thought that the Peak District was hollow. This walk starts in the pretty village of Peak Forest and climbs rapidly up on to the limestone moor to the side of Eldon Hill. Turning east at its highest point, the path crosses the site of an ancient mining field before dropping down Oxlow Rake to reach Peak Forest conveniently close to the Devonshire Arms.
5¼ miles (8.4 km) of moderate walking on mainly grassy paths. There is one steady climb of 460 feet (140 metres), followed by a level walk across a grassy moor to descend alongside a beechwood guarding an abandoned lead rake. Recommended Maps: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 1:25,000 scale; White Peak OL24 covers the section between Peak Forest crossroads and Old Dam, then the Dark Peak for the main part of the walk. Refreshments are available at the Devonshire Arms (meals and open daily). Park on Church Lane to the right of the traffic lights, but take care not to block driveways or field entrances.
• From Church Lane walk up to the mini village green at Old Dam and using the Dark Peak map turn left by the modern bungalows to follow the Perry Dale road. Perry Dale is supposed to refer to pear trees that once grew here. The whole district was once the headquarters of the royal hunting ground of the Peak – the word forest in Peak Forest refers to this fact and has nothing to do with trees. In medieval times Peak Forest was a far more important settlement, a fact which is denoted by place names; Chamber Farm was where the bailiff lived and the hounds kennelled at Dogmanslack. Rabbits were bred for their fur as much as flesh in Conies Dale. • Turn right into Eldon Lane and follow it uphill past three farms as far as a gate beyond the third. • Go through the gate and turn left on to an intermittent path alongside the dry stone wall. • Look ahead for the chasm of Eldon Hole surrounded by a low wall and a few stunted trees. DO NOT ON ANY ACCOUNT GO THROUGH THE METAL KISSING GATE, BUT BE CONTENT TO VIEW THE HOLE FROM THE SAFETY OF FIRM GROUND. KEEP DOGS AND CHILDREN UNDER CAREFUL SCRUTINY AT ALL TIMES. • After viewing the hole return to the gate and turn left, uphill along a faint path roughly following a stone wall on your right. Humps and hollows on either side are the surface remains of ancient lead mining activity. Imaginative names abound such as Clear-the-Way, Starvehouse and Hollandtwine speak evocatively of T’Owd man’s imagination. Portway Mine suggests that it was on or near the prehistoric track from the Trent Valley to the sacred site of Mam Tor. • Reaching the top of the climb, go through a field gate and turn right to follow a moorland cart track. Hard to your left on reaching the end of the climb, the dark limestone crag on the near skyline is just one part of the abandoned Eldon Quarry. • Go through a second gate, continuing to follow the wide track until it is joined by another coming from the left from Rowter Farm. Look out for another gate this time on your right and marked with a signpost indicating the Limestone Way. Turn right here. The signpost opposite points the way to Castleton and looming over the horizon is the rounded bulk of Mam Tor, the Shivering Mountain. Hidden from view across the intervening fields is the locked entrance to Titan, the deepest cave system in Britain. • Bear right and follow the wall that is on your right down and across Old Moor. • Where the land rises look out for a gate to your right and go through it and then over a slight rise to begin to go downhill towards a line of mature beech trees. The trees screen the remains of Oxlow Rake where mining lead close to the surface left poisoned the ground. The trees fulfilled a dual task, to keep cattle out and to act as a windbreak to the nearby farm. At this point it will be necessary to switch to the White Peak map. • Where the path from Oxlow joins the farm access lane, look out for a stile in the wall immediately beyond the farm garden. Climb over a stile and follow the wall as far as a stile in the next boundary. Cross this and go diagonally left as far as the gate into a third field. Follow the wall on your right and on reaching another gate go through it and turn right along Old Dam Lane. Look out for a tiny walled field over the wall to your right of the lane. This was a ‘pinfold’, the place where straying stock were kept until claimed by their owner. The name Old Dam is a bit of a misnomer, if only due to the fact that no surface running water can be found hereabouts. • Go to the left round the corner at Old Dam and left again by the renovated farm house. Look out for a stile to its right and then following a series of stiles across little fields, go past the remains of the village pond to reach the main road, the A623. • Turn right along the main road for a few yards in order to reach the Devonshire Arms. The traffic lights ahead mark the turning into Church Lane.