This walk explores one of the lesser known parts of the White Peak. Properties in Elton where the walk starts, would be easily recognised by any returning inhabitant, even after the passage of long forgotten centuries.
At one time there were two villages, Gratton as well as Elton, but following an outbreak of the Black Death plague, Gratton was abandoned, eventually reappearing as a scattering of small cattle and sheep farms clustered around a dairy specialising in the production of a unique crumbly white Derbyshire cheese. Many of the farms in and around Elton were rented by part-timers who divided their above ground activities with small-scale lead mining. Their activities can still be traced from the numerous spoil heaps and capped-off access shafts dotted around nearby fields.
As the price of wool declined in recent years, dairy farming became the major activity, with Oddo House Farm on the west side of Elton running the largest herd. It is many years since local milk was sent down the hilly lane to Gratton, there to be made into cheese; the abandoned dairy now serves as a well restored domestic dwelling and holiday let.
Starting near Elton’s quirky pub, the Duke of York, the walk follows a field path which skirts an abandoned Saltway between Ashbourne and Bakewell. It was diverted eastwards when Elton Common was enclosed. Ancient footpaths lead to the mother church in Youlgreave, but the oldest track by far is the Portway about half way between Elton and Winster.
Prehistoric in origin, it can still be traced locally where it crosses the valley of Ivy Brook below Birchover; aiming for the crags of Robin Hood’s Stride, it passes a hermit’s cave marked by a simple crucifix carved into the rocky shelter, the path continuing below on its long way between the River Trent and Mam Tor.
After crossing the enclosed fields of Elton Common to reach Gratton Dale, this pretty dale is part of the cluster of dales and limestone moor forming a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The dale is a natural habitat for semi-alpine plants and wild orchids. Muddy in places the path follows a route beneath a ruined lime kiln towards Gratton, another link with one of the local industries.
At the dale end, the path joins a narrow lane running past the Old Cheese Factory. Here a right turn beyond the lime kiln links with a short climb which returns to Elton, passing the village church with a copy of its unusually designed font.
1.From the church, follow Moor Lane opposite, for about 200 yards beyond the Duke of York pub.
If the church is open, call in to see the font. This is a copy of the original one left outside when a new church tower was being built following damage caused by lead miners working too close to the foundations. The original font is now in Youlgreave church, and Elton’s copy is a faithful rendition of the Saxon original.
2.A little way beyond a de-restricted speed sign near the turning for Back Lane, leave Moor Lane by turning right into a farm track.
It is not uncommon for field access tracks to be named locally, but this one is a rarity because it has a metal street nameplate just as if it were a busy town street even though there are no houses along its length, just being a way to the fields on Elton Common. The name of the track in this case is Hungerhill Lane (sometimes also known as Ongrill)
3.Follow the track for a few yards as far as a stile next to a finger post. Turn left here and follow a field path across a series of fields for about a mile.
The ivy covered ruin to the left of the path near its start is all that is left of Dawson House where the local lead agent lived in the 18th Century; lead agents bought ore from local miners, but were not always too popular as they could not be guaranteed to give the best prices.
Using gates and stiles to keep to the line of the path, continue until you reach an overgrown track. Cross this by way of stiles and continue forwards across yet more fields, keeping to a straight course until the main road is reached.
4.The path has reached the Winster/Newhaven road at its junction with the A5012 Cromford/Newhaven road. Go through a stone stile, turn right and follow the grassy verge for about 150 yards.
5. When Mouldridge Grange Farm comes into view to your right and below, look for a narrow stone stile in the wall again on your right. Go through it and follow the boundary wall, straight at first, then curving left behind the farm.
The word Grange in the title for Mouldridge Grange Farm indicates that it was once a monastic farm or grange. In this case it was owned by Augustinian monks of Dunstable until the sixteenth century dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
6.Bear left and then right and go downhill into Gratton Dale. Turn right to follow the dale as far as its junction with the Elton to Youlgreave road.
Gratton Dale is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), well known for its limestone loving flowering plants and field orchids. Where the dale-bottom path joins a farm track coming from the right by a gate, look to your left. The wide horizontal hole in the hillside is not a mine, but the lower part of an abandoned, but well preserved lime kiln. Locally quarried limestone would be burnt here to create lime for spreading on fields in the area.
The hamlet of Gratton is a pleasant cluster of farms and restored cottages. It is well worth exploring. To your left the second building along is the old cheese factory. The factory is now a popular holiday let, but it was once the source of an excellent crumbly white cheese and rich butter. Derelict for many years it had a moment of glory some years ago when it featured as a wayside inn during filming of the TV version of the Mallan Streak.
Llamas grazing in fields around Gratton were introduced by a local man after his trip to Patagonia; he also planted a Patagonian Southern Beech (Nothofagus) alongside the drive to his cottage.
7. Turn round and from the end of Gratton Dale climb the winding narrow lane back up into Elton where, if you have timed it right, the Duke of York will be open and maybe have food on offer.
3.5 MILES (5.6KM)
moderate field paths and limestone dale, followed by a short climb up a quiet narrow side road. Muddy sections in Gratton Dale during wet weather.
Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Sheet OL24, White Peak Area.
Public Transport: Hulleys 172 service from Matlock. Hourly from 10:38 Monday to Saturday.
Roadside in village. Please keep private access clear.
Duke of York opposite Elton Church (drinks with occasional food), or the Miners’ Standard on the Cromford to Bakewell road above Winster for regular meals, (post pandemic).