This year’s winter warmer walk starts and finishes conveniently at the Barrel Inn at Bretton. The inn is just one of five buildings making this ridgetop settlement which stands at 1300 feet on the moors above the plague village of Eyam.
Dating back to 1597,the Barrel has an excellent reputation for good food and well-kept real ales, all served either in the cosy lounge or out of doors in the sheltered roadside alcove whenever the weather allows. A popular stopping place for anyone out to enjoy the surrounding countryside, the Barrel was awarded the AA Gold Award in 2017, a sure indication of the excellence of its catering service and bar.
The road which passes the pub once rang to the sound of packhorses climbing up from Great Hucklow. Carrying salt and other goods to the industrial centres around Chesterfield and Sheffield, they were the lifeline of commerce in this widespread region. Bretton along with the Barrel is part of the Manor of Abney, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. If any of these one-time carriers came this way today he would be pleased with the way the pub has moved with the times, but without losing the overall ambience that once welcomed carriers on their weary way. Oak beams, polished brass and copper ware compete for attraction with the flagged floor made from stone conveniently quarried less than half a mile along the road back towards Eyam. The view these carriers enjoyed was little changed from today. On a clear day it is possible to enjoy the panoramic views covering five counties.
Just around the corner from the Barrel stands the isolated building that will conjure happy memories for all those who stayed in its warm embrace over the years. Until the YHA in its modernising zeal closed the place, Bretton youth hostel was one of the chain of small hostels that ran alongside their larger brethren throughout the Peak District. The smallest and highest hostel in the Peak it was run entirely by volunteers, it was part of a unique system which has been abandoned in the face of so-called progress. The building has been bought on the understanding that it is run as when it was a YHA property. Check the web site for details of opening and availability.
Leaving the Barrel, the walk descends first into Bretton Clough and then along the main valley of Bretton Brook, one of the Peak District’s hidden gems. On reaching a ford, but not crossing, the walk turns sharp right, back on itself, to climb the outlying grazing of Eyam Moor. Beyond a three-way path junction, the walk climbs out on to Eyam Moor proper and its multitude of pre-historic remains. At the end of the moor, a rough unsurfaced road climbs Sir William Hill, and then eventually drops down to link with the high-level road from Eyam which in turn leads all the way back to the Barrel.
Turn right at the Barrel and walk down the narrow lane, past a footpath on the left leading to Bretton Youth Hostel.
Bretton Youth Hostel is built on the footprint of a sixteenth century farm house. The plague which ravaged nearby Eyam must have found its way on to this hilly site. Two small gravestones beside the boundary wall in the far left corner of the hostel garden, mark the mortal remains of the farmer and his wife who lived here in the 1600s
Continue along the lane until it turns sharp right near a couple of cottages converted from abandoned farm houses.
Do not go round the bend, but continue forwards, now on to a steeply descending narrow track between two stone walls.
At the track end, cross a stile and descend steeply into the side valley of Bretton Clough. Ignore side paths and cross the stream in order to climb the opposite slope.
Swing round the slope, following a narrow path contouring through scrub woodland crossing the hillside.
Go forwards at a four-way path junction and cross a second side stream and then descend towards the main stream now called Bretton Brook.
At the junction of five paths above a rocky ford, take the first path on your right and begin to swing first left and then after about 150yards, swing to the right.
Steadily climb the hillside by following a grassy path high above the side stream you crossed earlier.
At a stile, cross and take the furthest left of three paths steadily ascending out on to Eyam Moor and well to your left of a plantation of mainly pine trees.
Eyam Moor must have had some great significance in pre-historic times. The moor is littered with cairns, plus a stone circle close to the site of an ancient field system.
Having gone over the high point of the moor, begin to follow the line of an abandoned stone wall, keeping to a narrow path as it wanders through the heather.
Reaching a boundary wall, climb over a stile and turn right on to a stony track climbing the Sir William Hill.
There is a lot of conjecture as to who this Sir William was, but consensus of opinion seems to favour one of the descendants of Bess of Hardwick. In the years running up to the family being ennobled, first as earls and then Dukes of Devonshire, William was a popular family name with the Cavendish dynasty. There is a pub with the same name at the Grindleford end of the road going east.
Once over the brow of the hill, the track joins the Eyam to Great Hucklow road at a sharp bend. Go forwards along this road, following it all the way back to the Barrel.