When the land eventually reappeared after the last ice age, the climate was probably warmer than now. As a result the earliest settlers in the Peak District developed small farmlike undertakings on the high ground, well away from the danger lurking in the heavily forested confines of the Derwent Valley.
With the changing climate becoming more like today’s, the high ground gradually became ever more acidic, driving the settlers into the by then better land closer to the valley bottom. A glance at Big Moor on the OS map shows several of the features left by our earliest forebears – in Gothic lettering, field systems and enclosures are shown above either bank of the upper Bar Brook, together with a group of rocks such as those known as the Swine Sty, making one wonder if this was where pigs were kept. Three stone circles and several cairns were erected for important purposes as yet undiscovered.
This walk follows the line of gritstone edges south-eastwards away from the gap used by the A625 Sheffield/Calver road until it reaches another weakness at Curbar Gap. Here the way is on to the moor and then climbing to White Edge with its far reaching views, especially from the white concrete pillar of Ordnance Survey’s trig point at 365 metres, the highest point of the walk. An easy promenade along the rocky moorland edge links to a descending path, down to the road which is joined conveniently close to the hospitable Grouse Inn.
Two villages give their names to sections of the gritstone edge followed by the walk. The first is Froggatt, a village standing safely above the possibility of flood. It has two bridges, old and new, the oldest an unmatched twin arched affair carrying the now minor road towards Stoke Hall, the 17th century country retreat of Sir William Cavendish. The second or ‘New Bridge’ allows the A625 to by-pass the older parts of the village.
Curbar is the larger of the two villages, but although its road up on to the moors predates the A625 by a century or two, it now only carries light traffic steeply up the steep bends to Curbar Gap. The road was once a turnpike along which coaches travelled on their way to and from Chesterfield; its bends were so steep that passengers usually had to walk. In doing so they perhaps had time to reflect on the biblical texts carved on rocks a little way below Curbar Gap. Some of these coach passengers were on their way to serve sentences in distant prisons and were sometimes housed in the odd shaped little building near the top of the village.
6¼ miles (10km) of moderately level walking along the edges followed by undulating moorland path of White Edge. 272 feet, (85m) climb.
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer Map: White Peak Area – Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock and Dovedale.
Parking at Hay Wood National Trust Car Park, pay and display (members free). Signposted off the A625 near the Grouse Inn.
Public transport. Grindleford Station is a little over a mile away near Nether Padley.
Refreshments: The Grouse Inn serves excellent food and drink.
- From Hay Wood car park, follow the rocky path down to and over the un-named brook.
- Climb up to the road, turn right and cross.
- Go through the access gate on the left and on to the path along the escarpment of Froggatt and Curbar Edges. The path meanders steadily through ancient woodland with views towards open moorland on the left and the whole upper reaches of the Derwent Valley to the right; Chatsworth House and the Emperor Fountain are recognisable in the hazy distance.
Within a couple of hundred yards beyond a gate above a side stream, a grassy path leads off to the left towards an incomplete stone circle; there is an ancient cairn just over a hundred yards away to the south of south east which could be associated with the stone circle. Rejoin the main path.
- Continue to follow the edge-top path and its ever changing views across the deep trough of the Derwent Valley.
Flat rocks offer suitable resting places, often with views of intrepid rock climbers, but keep children and dogs away from the frequently slippery escarpment edge.
- After a mile and a half, the hitherto level path begins to climb. Do not follow the eroded directly upwards path, but use the curving and older path to the left and then right. Continue along the by now moorland path.
- The path descends through a gate and into Curbar Gap car park.
- Go to the left through the car park to join the road for a few yards, following it until it bends right.
- Go through a gate on the left and on to the open expanse of Big Moor. Follow a broad grassy path.
- Take the right hand path at a fork and go down to and across Sandyford Brook.
- Climb up to the broad ridge ahead and turn left.
Big Moor stretches away into the distance, the site of many prehistoric relics, more than are marked upon the OS map. The group of low rocks to your right as you climb up to the ridge are enigmatically known as Swine Sty.
- Follow the moorland escarpment on to White Edge, going past the prominent pillar of the trig point.
Trig points (triangular pillars) were used by the Ordnance Survey to map the countryside. No longer necessary with the advent of satellites, they are now simply features in the landscape. However not all of them were immediately redundant because in the early days when OS had to rely on American military satellites, for some reason only known to the American military, a deliberate error was built in to their system. The way the OS coped was to use what they called ‘primary survey points where they accurately knew the co-ordinates and if for example, something as fixed as Ben Nevis appeared to have moved, then all they had to do was interpret the apparent error and build it into all other calculations.
- Continue along White Edge for about a mile and a half until you reach a stone wall.
- Go through a gap in the wall and turn left at a finger post.
- Follow the wall downhill by a rocky path and into ancient woodland. Bear left at a finger post to follow the path through the trees.
- Go through a bridle gate and out on to a rough field.
- Follow the path diagonally left towards the road.
- Cross the road with care and aim for the Grouse Inn to your left.
- Beyond the pub car park a stile on the right leads into a field. Follow the path, bearing left towards Hay Wood.
- Go through a stile and immediately turn left for a little way through woodland to reach the car park.