Birchover is one of Derbyshire’s true hill villages. Set well away from any major road, it owes its existence to the attractively hued gritstone still quarried nearby. While there are not quite the numbers of men and women employed in the remaining quarry than in years gone by, there are still many of the original houses that are still the homes of today’s quarry workers.
Rowtor Rocks, a 150 feet outcrop of gritstone stand next to the Druid Inn at the foot of the village. This massive pile of rocks, which has a spurious connection with Druidic ceremony, was shaped by a local parson who lived in a now demolished Tudor manor House at their foot. The Rev. Thomas Eyre, who died in 1717 was part of a prominent Derbyshire family. He built himself a study amongst the rocks, and carved seats for his friends to come and enjoy the glorious panorama of the nearby tree-lined valley and surrounding limestone hills. One of the rocks was so finely balanced that it could pivot at the slightest touch; that is until a group of local youths got the better of it over a hundred years ago.
Part of the view the Rev Eyre’s friends could enjoy took in Cratcliffe Rocks and Robin Hood’s Stride on the opposite side of the valley. Part hidden behind a venerable yew at the foot of Cratcliffe Rocks, is a shallow cave where a hermit carved a crucifix over 600 years ago. He also made a bench to rest on and hollowed a niche for a lamp. Robin Hood’s Stride stands on the other side of an ancient trackway running between the two outcrops. This pile of rocks is dominated by two towers, 22yards apart, between which the eponymous hero is supposed to have jumped. The rocks are also known as Mock Beggar Hall, so named from their appearance at dusk, when wandering itinerants would approach thinking it was the source of sustenance.
The village of Birchover sits below Stanton Moor, once the focal point of a race of people who built their enigmatic stone circles and buried their dead amidst this glorious expanse of purple heather. Overlooking a beautiful panorama of wooded hills and valley, the moor has become a popular venue for walkers, picnickers and dog walkers who come to enjoy its airy aspect and maybe puzzle over the meaning of the ancient relics dotting the moor. Strollers have the choice of several paths to follow on their moorland peregrinations. There are two ways around its perimeter and at least three interlinking across the middle of the moor. Rather than cause problems, they make it possible to wander at will, as all sooner or later reach the desired venue.
The two main features reached on the moor are the Nine Ladies Stone Circle and the Earl Grey Tower. The nine stones, one of 70 circles and cairns doting this wild moor, and giving the circle its name are supposed to be nine young women who were tricked by the devil and made to dance at midnight on the Sabbath and so were turned to stone. The fiddler who was also turned to stone, stands on its own a hundred yards or so to the south west. Not far away on the moorland edge is a stone tower. It commemorates the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832 by the government of Earl Charles Grey (1764-1845), which led to fairer representation of the people. Also during his time as prime minister, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire.
The Walk with Rambler
From the car park take the footpath directly ahead across from the entrance. Bear left then right downhill through bracken. Walk past the backs of old stone cottages.
Go down to the road opposite the Druid Inn. Bear left and then right around the foot of the inn.
Follow the narrow lane down into a shallow valley.
Rowtor Rocks can be reached by a narrow path climbing from the corner of the Druid Inn’s upper car park. Take care if it has been raining as the worn rock can become slippery.
Bear left and climb past an attractive stone house.
At the house turn sharp left and go gently uphill on a field path above woodland. Use gates and stiles where the path crosses field boundaries.
Reaching a side road at Uppertown, turn left for a few yards in order to pass a large house and then go right along a farm lane.
Look out for the restored old stocks at the foot of the house wall.
Go past Uppertown Farm where if you are lucky you might catch the glimpse of a shy ostrich peeping out from its barn.
Where the lane becomes rougher, look out for a gate on your left, go through it and follow the right hand side of a stone wall. Aim towards farm buildings.
Bear slightly right away from the farm and, still following a stone wall climb up to a road.
Go through a stile and bear right crossing the road in about 50 yards.
Go left through another stile and away from the road to join a sandy path going slightly uphill.
At a path and track junction within a few yards of leaving the road, bear right on to the track.
Follow the track and then join a path climbing from the right on to the rocky escarpment.
Follow the path around the moor’s edge anti-clockwise as far as the Earl Grey tower.
At the tower turn left to cross a stile and then bear right along a footpath into ancient woodland.
Walk on until you reach a clearing where the Nine Ladies Stone Circle stands.
There are two paths going to the left of the circle. It matters little which one is taken as both reach the same point close to the well named Cork Stone.
The Cork Stone has been worn into its strange shape over the centuries by wind and rain. Steps cut into its face and iron hand holds were made in the nineteenth century.
Bear right by the Cork Stone and go down towards the road.
Turn left along the road to reach the car park.
An easy 5 mile (8km) meadow and moorland stroll on good paths throughout. Mainly dry, but muddy sections on either side of Uppertown when wet.
Recommended Map. Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Sheet 24, The Peak District, White Peak Area.
Refreshments: two excellent pubs in Birchover, both sell food.
Public transport: Hulleys 172 Monday to Saturday runs two hourly from Matlock Rail Station (bay 2).
Car parking (free) opposite the entrance to Birchover Stone Ltd quarry. N.b. please only use the parking space to the right on entering.