One of the disadvantages of our frequently mild winters is the fact that finding a walk avoiding mud can be much of a trial. This walk tries its best to accommodate mud-free boots and uses the comparatively dry old railway trails that cross the heights of the White Peak. Having said that, it is inevitable that there will be a degree of footpath walking across the fields linking both trails, but the difficulty is short lived and in any case, the wide ranging views easily cancel out any difficulties involved in crossing muddy fields. From the car park at Parsley Hay picnic site and cycle hire depot, the walk starts by following the first of its dry, level sections, along the Tissington Trail and then returning by the High Peak Trail. The Tissington is followed as far as the upland village of Biggin. Here a left turn soon joins a more or less straight path, across the southern slopes of Aleck Low and in order to join the High Peak Trail, which is within sight of the neat buildings of Upperhouse Farm. Turning left once more, the way is along the trail, past Friden Brickworks, all the way back to Parsley Hay. The twin trails once echoed to the sound of steam trains; the Tissington, the younger of the two railways, was part of a now long abandoned scenic line connecting Uttoxeter and Buxton by way of Rocester and Ashbourne. Seen off by the Beeching Axe but never a profitable line, nowadays if you wanted to travel between Uttoxeter and Buxton by train, it would mean a tedious journey changing at Crewe and Manchester, but mainly without the sort of views offered by the old railway. The High Peak is much older and began life as a link between two canals, the Cromford and Peak Forest at Whaley Bridge. Designed and built by canal engineers, but without any water, a rarity on the limestone uplands, it is technically a ‘dry’ canal. Like a canal, trains were originally horse-drawn and stations called wharfs. The line followed the hillside contours as much as possible and as a result, has some of the tightest bends ever found on a railway. For example, the almost right-angled bend at Gotham is probably the tightest on any railway in Britain and rolling stock was limited to short-wheeled-based trucks and carriages. Whenever the builders came face to face with a steep slope, being unable to create locks as they would on a canal, they installed steam engines that wound the rolling stock up and down inclines. There were three on the High Peak; at Sheep Pasture below Black Rocks near Cromford, at Middleton Top and into the Goyt Valley; there was also a fourth near Hopton, but this was abandoned when more powerful locomotives came along. Middleton Top is the best preserved and the engine though no longer hauling trains, is steamed on advertised weekends.
8½ miles (13.7km) of easy walking. The slight ascent beyond Biggin is rewarded by one of the most extensive views in the White Peak. Mostly level walking on the trails connected by field paths where some mud may be encountered. Parking is available at Parsley Hay (pay and display) where the walk starts, and which is off the A515 Buxton to Ashbourne road. Recommended map: Ordnance Survey Leisure Series 24: the Peak District, White Peak Area, 1:25,000 scale Refreshments. Tea, coffee and snacks at Parsley Hay at weekends. Pubs nearby, but off route, at Biggin, Hartington, Monyash and Sparklow.
• Turn left away from the car park at Parsley Hay and follow the trail until it divides. Bear right there on to the Tissington Trail for a couple of miles (the trail joining from the left is the High Peak, along which you will return).
• Cross the bridge over the Hartington road and almost immediately enter the picnic site and car park of Hartington Station Hartington Station no longer handles milk trains or passenger services, but the signal box still stands, a mute reminder of bygone days. While there are picnic tables, you might feel it a little early for a coffee stop, but the decision is yours.
• Walk on for another two miles, under a bridge near Heathcote and as far as the Biggin road, (the village is to your right). Biggin once had a cattle market, but remains a pleasant ‘off the beaten track’ sort of place with a friendly pub and an attractive church. It straggles along a couple of minor roads high above Dovedale and is content to see time go by. During the last war hundreds of German prisoners of war were impounded here. To keep them employed and presumably out of mischief they were used to help on local farms or clear snow in winter. Many seem to have made the most of their involuntary stay in Biggin and several have returned over the years to show the district to their families. There is a story about one of their number who became so anglicised that he spent all his meagre wages on dressing as what he considered to be a typical Englishman and even rode a bicycle around the nearby lanes.
• Leave the trail at Biggin by turning left, down the sloping path and join the road.
• Turn left along the road (right if intending to explore Biggin and then return to this point). Follow this road for 200 yards up to and then cross the A515 Buxton/Ashbourne road.
• Directly opposite the road junction, climb a stile on the left of Cardle View cottage. Follow the path, next to the house and climbing slightly; begin to cross eight fields, crossing stiles in their boundaries in order to keep to the route for about a mile. Pause frequently as you cross the highest point in this section. To your right about three miles away is a tree enclosed hilltop. This is Mining Low, a prehistoric chambered cairn and surrounding ditch. Directly ahead of where you are standing, the view covers most of the White Peak and the deep trough of the Derwent Valley. On a clear day those with good vision should be able to pick out the Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth.
• With the outbuildings of Upperhouse Farm in front, join the High Peak Trail and turn left, following it for about a quarter of a mile to the Newhaven Crossing point on the A5012 road from Cromford.
• Continue for another mile to Friden picnic site and then over the bridge next to Friden Brick Works. Friden Brick Works is an unexpected industrial intrusion into the rural landscape. Using special silica sand only found nearby it makes special fire resistant refractory bricks used in high temperature furnaces. Artistic plaques on the factory wall beside the trail explain the interesting story of what goes on there.
• The next three miles are through lush pasture and the farms on either hand are mainly dairy, but there are a number of sheep grazing on the sweet grass.
• Passing through a deep tree lined cutting, the trail goes under the main road and joins the Tissington Trail where a right turn quickly reaches Parsley Hay car park.