On the look-out for Black Harry
In the eighteenth century the road from Stoney Middleton rather than follow the route of the present A623 to Peak Forest, climbed out of the narrow dale to cross the high limestone moors. It was here that a notorious highwayman called Black Harry waylaid innocent travellers, robbing them of their worldly goods. Fortunately Black Harry is long gone, but the walk passes the spot where he was supposed to have plied his illicit trade.
The present day route of the walk starts from Eyam, the village that courageously put itself into voluntary quarantine when the dreaded plague arrived in a box of cloth in September 1665. Before the dread disease had run its course, 259 people had died from 76 families, many of whom had to bury their loved ones in the surrounding fields. This was due to the vicar the Rev William Mompesson’s brave decision to close the church for the time being in order to prevent the disease from spreading further. As part of the self-imposed isolation, goods from outside the village were left at agreed spots on the parish boundary; you will pass one of these places on the way down to Stoney Middleton. It is a prominent boulder with holes carved into its top that were filled with vinegar to disinfectant money left there.
Modern traffic rather spoils the roadside aspect of Stoney Middleton, but away from the A623 the village retains much of its age-old delight. Cottages line the way to the village church, a unique octagonal structure and lantern tower built around 1759 on the site of an earlier more conventional one dating from 1415. Around the corner from it stands a failed attempt to create another Buxton. This is the recently restored bath house where the waters flow at a constant 21°C (70°F). It is reputed to be Roman, but although votive offerings have been found nearby dating from that era, there is no proof that it is anything older than medieval. The village chip shop is the only Grade 2 listed chippy in the Peak District; octagonal in shape, it was once a toll booth. Cliffs overhanging houses lining the main road are popular with local climbers, but in 1762 it was the scene of an attempted suicide. Hannah Baddley, jilted by her lover tried to end it all by jumping off one of these cliffs. Luckily her voluminous petticoats acted like a parachute and she landed safely in a bush with little more hurt than her dignity!
The walk starts from the car park opposite the small but well appointed museum and then winds its way past a house where the plaque began and on past the church to reach the old market square. A field path leads out past the Lydgate Graves where some of the plague victims lie buried and then down into Stoney Middleton. Carefully crossing the busy road, the way is out along the old road and then over and into Coombs Dale which is followed up to Black Harry Gate. A right turn here crossed the limestone pastures before dropping down to the main road again by way of an interesting limestone quarry. Directly opposite is the narrow tree-shaded road back into Eyam.
5½ miles (8.9km) of field path and side lane walking. Steep descents into Stoney Middleton and Coombs Dale which can be slippery when wet.
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map, Sheet 24, The Peak District, White Peak Area.
Parking at the car park off the Bretton Road at the west end of Eyam opposite the village museum.
Public transport: Hulleys 275 service runs from Bakewell Monday – Friday only. TM Travel 65 service runs every day from Buxton via Tideswell.
Refreshments: Pubs and cafes in Eyam and the Moon Inn passed on the way out of Stoney Middleton – all the pubs serve food.
- From the car park opposite Eyam museum turn left and walk down to the main street. Turn left again and follow it through the village.
The walk passes Eyam Hall a National Trust property and then on past the cottages where the plague began in 1665. The church next door has relics of this dreadful time alongside a fine Saxon Cross.
- Bear left through the village square and then right along a side lane marked Lydgate.
Look over the low wall on your right when entering Lydgate. This is where several graves are the mute reminder of how people had to cope with the plague.
- At the end of the lane follow the path signposted to Stoney Middleton. Go steeply downhill.
Look for the prominent boulder with holes drilled in its top where vinegar disinfected coins were left in payment for goods left behind.
- On reaching the village follow the narrow side lane as far as the main road opposite the Moon Inn.
It is worth spending a few minutes exploring the village. The church and bath house are to the left on entering and the unique chip shop is to the right above the village stream.
- Cross the main road and turn right, uphill along High Street.
- Walk on past the village school on your right and turn left along Eaton Fold, a partly surfaced side lane.
- Towards the end of the lane look out for a three-way finger post. Follow the arm pointing right to walk alongside a stone boundary wall, out on to open fields.
- At the top of the first field, cross the boundary wall and bear left beginning to go downhill across four fields, crossing their walls by stiles or gates.
- Beyond the fourth field the path descends steeply on rocky ground that can be slippery especially when wet. Go down into Coombs Dale.
- Turn right along the dale bottom and follow the track up to cross tracks at the dale head.
A large opening on the left about a quarter of a mile along the dale is the entrance to Sallet Hole Mine. Lead was mined here at one time, but more recently it was exploited for fluorspar.
- Turn right at the crossing where Black Harry once waited for travellers.
- Follow the narrow track uphill as far as a surfaced by-road
- The low mound beside the road crossing was once a lead store and limekiln – a plaque brings it to life. Over to your left is Cavendish Mill where fluorspar is refined, destined for uses ranging from toothpaste to non-stick pans.
- Go downhill along the narrow path between two sections of Darlton Quarry.
The quarry’s exposed strata mark a history covering millions of years, layer upon layer of lime bearing creatures living in a tropical sea long ago.
- Cross the busy main road and follow the narrow tree-lined road opposite back into Eyam.