3miles (4,8km): easy/moderate walking. Two short climbs on easy gradients
RECOMMENDED MAP: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale, Outdoor Leisure map Sheet 2, The White Peak.
BUS SERVICES: Hulleys’ 172 runs at 38 minutes past the hour from Matlock, Monday to Saturday.
CAR PARKING: on the village main street – please make sure you do not interfere with private access.
The tiny upland village of Elton sits more or less on the junction of the White Peak limestone and a southern outlier of the outlying stretch of gritstone tacked on to the bottom of the Dark Peak. The village has a long history, as far back as the Iron Age when the first settlers built simple farmsteads on the surrounding moors. For possibly ceremonial reasons not yet discerned, they built stone circles on remote places like Harthill Moor and Stanton Moor; there is also a chambered cairn possibly once the burial place of a Neolithic chieftain which seems to have links with nearby Arbor Low, Derbyshire’s Stonehenge.
A gold cross found within a Saxon burial near Elton gives rise to the theory that Christianity came to the area as far back as AD700. Travellers along the ancient moorland tracks would stop and pray with the hermit who lived in simple conditions in a small cave beneath Cratcliffe Tor, alongside which the prehistoric Portway can still be traced. Slightly off route for this walk, nevertheless it is worthwhile making a diversion from the main path when passing below Robin Hood’s Stride rocks. A simple 14th century crucifix is carved on the wall above a narrow stone bench, the only passable comfort the hermit could expect.
In keeping with the rest of the White Peakland dwellers, many of the locals found meagre employment delving for lead beneath the surrounding fields. While most of the profitable mines worked veins around nearby Winster, Elton’s operated on a far smaller scale. There is a local story of miners digging, contrary to mining law, beneath the local graveyard and almost undermining the church. Apart from hollows in surrounding fields, only the names of these old mines remain; names like the Portway Mine indicate its position next to the ancient way from the river Trent to a sacred site on Mam Tor.
The walk starts from the west end of Elton, close by the church. Using ancient tracks and field paths across the gritstone moors, it then moves in a northerly direction to woodland at the back of Harthill Moor Farm, before swinging roughly south east, past Robin Hood’s Stride to the site of the Portway Mine. Here a right turn links to an uphill climb across the village sports field, back into Elton.
During the earlier stages of the walk do not be surprised if you come across a flock of llamas; they and a group of Southern Beech lining a private drive are the property of the owner of nearby Rock Farm who has brought a little bit of Patagonia to the Peak District. There are also rare black fallow deer occasionally to be seen on Elton Moor across the dry valley to the north of Elton church.
Elton’s church has an unusual history. When it was rebuilt during Victorian times, the original Saxon font was thrown out and dumped in the churchyard along with builder’s rubble. Soon afterwards it found its way to nearby Youlgreave where it remains to this day with Elton eventually having to make-do with a copy.
THE WALK :
1. The walk starts by the church at the west end of Elton village. Turn right along the track on the far side of the church and follow it for about 100 yards (91m). Go through a gate and into a field.
2. Follow the path for about a quarter of a mile downhill, in order to cross the dry shallow valley. Go through a stone stile and on to a side road.
3. Cross the narrow road. Go through another stile and follow a field path uphill, for another quarter of a mile, crossing a farm access drive along the way.
4. Keep to the left of a prominent knoll and then skirt Tomlinson Wood by following its stone boundary wall to the left and then a line of telegraph poles.
The large village across the wide valley on your left as you skirt Tomlinson Wood is Youlgreave, famous for its annual Well Dressing ceremony.
5. Look out for but do not go up to Harthill Moor Farm on your right. Cross a rough cart track in order to pass a ditch marked by a waymark signpost, and then go through the nearby gate.
6. Bear left climbing up the field and then climb over a stile in order to enter mixed woodland.
7. Follow the woodland track as it bears right within the wood, until it meets a minor road.
8. Turn right, uphill along the road for about 350 yards. Look out for a fingerpost beside a field gate on your left.
9. Go left here and aiming ahead for the prominent rocks of Robin Hood’s Stride, aim towards a gap on their left.
If the eponymous outlaw actually jumped the rather long distance between the twin towers, his feat has never been equalled. Locally the rocks are also known as Mock Beggar Hall, because in poor light the outcrop can look like a large house. It was that which attracted wandering beggars looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.
In the field to your left over the stone boundary wall, four enigmatic standing stones are all that remains of what was once a circle of nine.
10. Follow the rocky path to your left of Robin Hood’s Stride, downhill to the wooded lower reaches of Cratcliffe Rocks. Continue until the path joins the driveway to an attractive cottage. Use the drive as far as the main road.
As you start to descend, a short path to the left leads through mature pines, to the foot of Cratcliffe Rocks where the hermit’s cave can be found. The 1549 records held at Haddon Hall speak of payment to ‘Ye harmytt’ for the supply of ten rabbits. Not only does this part of the walk follow part of the Portway, but also it is used for a section of the Limestone Way, the long distance route through the White Peak of Derbyshire.
11. On reaching the main road, do not join it, but immediately turn right on to a narrower side lane. Follow this, uphill for a little over a quarter of a mile until it reaches a fairly large house on your left. Look for a signposted stile more or less opposite the house.
12. Turn right at the signpost and climb over a stile. Climb diagonally left, uphill across the sparsely wooded slope.
13. Just after passing a sports field, go left and through a gate to follow a track leading back to the village main street at the side of Elton church.