The abnormally mild weather this last winter was hardly conducive to walking over miles of open muddy countryside. Fortunately we are now moving into warmer spring to early summer and although this is one of the ‘dry’ walks we did during the worst of the winter weather, it is suitable for all conditions, fine or foul. In clear weather it has some of the best and wide ranging views of the whole of the southern Peak District and with them comes an added interest.
Starting by going south on the mid section of the High Peak Trail, a trail that uses the track-bed of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, this line was the first to be built across the Peak and by using it we can move back in time to when Bronze Age settlers built an earth circle surrounding a stone burial chamber high on Minninglow. This tree-lined eminence is visible for miles over the southern Peak District and conversely offers the reverse views, a feature which no doubt its builders intended.
Leaving the trail, the walk loses height by dropping down over a series of ancient pastures to Roystone Grange. This farm is tucked away in a hidden dry valley and was first farmed by settlers towards the end of the Roman occupation and then later monks from Repton who used it to husband one of their huge flocks of sheep. The word ‘grange’ incidentally in the title reminds us of this fact.
From the farm the way is along a series of partly metalled farm access lanes where traffic is fortunately sparse, to an ancient bridleway leading back to the High Peak Trail.
6½ miles (10.5km) of easy walking along trails and quiet farm lanes interspersed by field paths which can be muddy in wet weather. Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer Map; White Peak Area – Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock and Dove Dale. Free parking is at the trailside Minninglow High Peak Trail car park and picnic site off the Pikehall (A5012) to Parwich road. No suitable public transport nearer than Newhaven on the A515 Buxton/Ashbourne road. Refreshments: none on the walk, but pubs at Biggin and Grangemill as well as the Jug and Glass on the A515 beyond Newhaven.
• Follow the trail away from the car park in the direction of the adjacent side road. Cross this and continue to walk along the trail’s track bed for about three quarters of a mile.
The High Peak Trail follows an abandoned railway track from its start at High Peak Junction beside the Cromford Canal to its junction with the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay – this later line ran from Uttoxeter to Buxton by way of Ashbourne. The Cromford and High Peak Railway, to give it its full title, predated the Tissington line and was in fact a canal that ran on wheels. Built by Josiah Jessop around 1830, it was designed to connect Cromford Canal to the High Peak at Whaley Bridge. Jessop was a canal engineer first and foremost and his intention was to drive a canal across the limestone uplands. Unfortunately surface water does not exist in any quantity hereabouts and so he had to build a railway. Initially the wagons were horse-drawn but later on small yet powerful locomotives did most of the work. Rather than tunnel through hills, he installed fixed steam-driven engines that acted like locks would on a canal. In keeping with the canal ethos, stations were known as ‘wharfs’.
• Where the trail swings right a few yards beyond a small trail-side quarry marked by an abandoned crane, look out for a concessionary footpath sign at the head of a grassy patch on your left. This leads by way of a stile and a faint path all the way up to the circular clump of trees on the skyline surrounding Minninglow.
Minninglow is a prehistoric hilltop mound surrounded by an earth bank centred by a chambered cairn used for collective burials. Pottery in the shape of drinking vessels for use by the dead has been found; examples can be seen in Buxton Museum.
• Return to the signpost and turn left to rejoin the trail. Continue along it until it is crossed by a rough track.
• Turn left away from the trail and along the track, gently uphill and follow it past two fields on both of its sides.
• Look out for a stone stile about a hundred yards along the third field to your right. Climb the stile and walk down to a bridge over the trail.
• Go under the bridge and walk down to a gap in the wall ahead. Go through this and then climb a stile to your left after about 150 yards.
• Continue downhill from the stile to enter a small field with the farmhouse of Roystone Grange ahead.
The partly destroyed wall you cross prior to reaching the farm lane is around 2000 years old and was probably built by the first farmers to live in this quiet spot.
• Reaching the farm lane, turn left and walk as far as what looks like a chapel, but was in fact, built to house a pumping engine providing compressed air for nearby mines.
By carefully looking at the ground around the building, the outlines of a Romano-British farm can be seen.
• Turn about and follow the farm lane past Roystone Grange Farm, past a couple of cottages and until the lane joins a second track. Turn left here and follow it for about a mile, steadily uphill and over Parwich Lane.
• Beyond the road continue uphill for about half a mile until the track forks.
• Take the right fork and walk on past a clump of trees over to your left, for another half mile until it joins a walled unsurfaced track bearing to your right.
• Turn right along the track for over three quarters of a mile until it crosses the High Peak Trail.
• Turn right along the trail for just over a mile to reach Minninglow Car Park
The extremely sharp bend (for a railway) about half a mile from where you rejoined the trail, is called Gotham Bend and is unique amongst railway features in the British Isles. It was so tight that it restricted the dimensions of rolling stock using the Cromford and High Peak Railway; short wheel based locomotives and wagons were essential in order to pass round this tight curve. Incidentally, Gotham has nothing to do with Batman and the name is pronounced Goat-ham, the local name for nearby farms and cottages.