Children will love this walk, for where else can they visit three counties within a matter of seconds? The highlight of the walk is the bridge known as Three Shire Heads, where Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire all meet at a point in the middle of an ancient pack horse bridge over the River Dane. To reach it means following moorland tracks radiating from Flash, the highest village in England, although some claim it to be the highest in Britain, backing it with a road sign erected by no less an adjudicator than the Peak District National Park Authority.
Winter starts early in Flash and lingers long after spring has arrived in more sheltered places. The wind is keen but refreshing and the views far ranging. Counterfeiters once carried out their nefarious trade in remote farmhouses around Flash and its name has since become linked to any suspicious or ‘flashy’ object. During the first half of the 19th century the population of the parish was around 700; but it had reduced to around half of that by the end of the 1800s, and even less today. Most of those living there at that time were either agricultural labourers, roughly the same number of coal miners, stone masons, a dressmaker, blacksmiths and cordwainers (shoemaker who used fresh leather), an errand boy, wheelwright, gamekeeper, grocer, pedlar and even a tailor as well as a brewer and a number of house servants. Following them were 275 young people and 50 scholars. Not everyone could find regular employment and at one time almost a quarter of the population were drawing relief from the parish. Most of the village’s working inhabitants commute to Leek and Buxton, or further these days. Nowadays Flash still has its own little brewery and a small general store attached to the café at Flash Bar on the Buxton road.
Links with old-time Flash are apparent in a number of small, though still viable and now part-time farms, dotted about the moors. During the 1800s and earlier, the farms were frequently run as a second means of employment by colliers who delved in the shallow though now overgrown pits that lie in wait of careless walkers in this day and age. Long before the advent of radio and televised broadcasting, news of the outside world was conveyed word of mouth by passing travellers such as pack horse drovers making their way along the winding moorland tracks surrounding Flash. The Ordnance Survey map shows ‘Pannier’s’ Pool beside Three Shires Bridge, a welcome resting place for both drivers and ponies. All was not always completely calm at this spot if stories of illegal bare knuckle prize fighting are correct.
St Paul’s, the parish church also covers the nearby hamlet of Quarnford. The present building, a Grade II listed dates from 1901, but was probably built on medieval foundations. As with many other remote moorland villages, Wesleyan Methodism was well established in the 18th century and the chapel was built as early as 1784.
As a short addendum, this might help to explain how the inhabitants of the Peak District uplands around Flash cope with winter:
I was speaking to the head master of Earl Sterndale Junior School one day and I asked him how they coped with heavy snow. ‘It is easy’, he explained,’ we have an early warning system in place.’ Apparently this early warning is given by their school-run taxi driver who lives at Flash. When things start to look bad he collects the Flash children, but before doing so he rings Earl Sterndale School, telling them to get the children ready for collection. Simple!
1. Walk out of Flash village, downhill along the minor road to the right of the New Inn for about ½ mile (800m).
2. At a bend at the bottom of the hill, turn right along a concrete driveway. Do not enter the farmyard.
3. Turn left just before the farm and cross the adjacent wooden footbridge in order to follow the direction of a signpost to Three Shire Heads. Climb slightly and follow the path across a couple of fields as far as a farm building in order to reach a lane, 180yds (160m).
4. Turn left and follow the lane which is macadamed at first, but later becomes a sandy track leading down into the Dane Valley, one mile (1.6km). Almost level, it leads directly to Three Shires Bridge.
Pause for a few moments, then turn round to admire the view towards the dramatic outlines of Ramshaw Rocks, slightly to your left. The uppermost boulders of the Roaches can also be seen beyond the heather-clad moors over to your right.
5. Go through the gate to the right of Three Shires Bridge and following the river Dane, climb the stony track for about 200yds (180m).
Three Shire Heads and the bridge. The bridge which marks the junction of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire once carried trains of packhorses and travellers on their journeys between Cheshire, the Potteries and South Yorkshire. Pannier’s Pool beneath the bridge probably got its name from being where horses were rested and watered. Bare knuckle prize fights once took place on the bridge.
6. Turn right over a single-arched bridge. Follow the walled track for about half a mile (0.8km) up to the side road and follow this for about 180yds (160m).
7. Turn right to cross over a stone clapper bridge, then follow the direction indicated by a white waymark arrow on a black disc. It points uphill to the heather moor. The path is indistinct in places, but follows a wire fence on top of an old bilberry covered wall. Change sides as indicated by stiles. 1/2 mile (800m). Look back at the view. Shutlingsloe, Cheshire’s Matterhorn, peeps coyly over the moorland skyline. Tiny farmsteads dot the valley sides. The land is poor and many farms are no longer able to support full-time agriculture. Most are now run part-time, or even as second homes.
8. Go to the right across the moor’s rocky crest and follow a faint path for ½ mile (800m).
9. All the while admiring the view of the Dane Valley, turn right to join a rough moorland track running downhill into Flash, conveniently opposite the New Inn. ½mile (800m).
4 miles (6.4km) of moderate walking on back roads, footpaths and ancient pony trails.
Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale, OL24; White Peak Area.
D&G service 16 between Buxton and Hanley (Potteries), four hourly from 0915 to 1616 (11.15 Sunday) outward – 15.57 return). Buses stop at Flash Bar opposite the side road into the village.
New Inn. Knight’s Table. Flash Bar Stores and café just outside village on the Buxton road. The café also has webcam for local weather conditions.
Roadside with care not to block access.