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Mam Tor

If you have to choose just one hill in the Peak District to climb and perhaps have a limited amount of time, then Mam Tor would be the obvious choice.  You will not find yourself alone, however, as its accessibility, proximity to the tourist honey pot that is Castleton and wow-factor of the views to be enjoyed all the way to the summit, make it a highly popular destination.  So popular is it, in fact, that The National Trust, in whose estate Mam Tor sits, have had to make steps and a veritable highway of old paving stones all along its ridge, in order to combat very serious erosion from countless pairs of boots.  But these improvements make for a very easy visitor experience and it is common to find family groups of all ages making for the hilltop.

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Mam Tor sits at the head of the beautiful Hope Valley and one of the views is down to Castleton village in the near distance, with the ruins of Norman Peveril Castle just above it, beyond to Hope itself and the slightly less picturesque quarry and cement works at Bradwell, with its tall white chimney.  Even this can be said to provide a punctuation mark in a fantastically green vista.  The other major view, which starts to open out to the North as you begin to climb, is of Edale, with the village of Edale nestling below the dark moors of the Kinder plateau.  On a sunny day with the shadows of clouds flitting across the heather-clad slopes, there can be no finer sight in Derbyshire.

The name “Mam Tor” literally means “mother hill”, from the celtic language spoken in these parts during the Iron Age.  It was clearly a place venerated as much for its maternal shape as for the miracle of a fresh water spring quite near to the summit.  This gave our forbears the unique combination of an easily defended high place that also had the potential to be populated on a semi-permanent basis.  As a consequence, the prehistory of Mam Tor is long and complex; there are bronze age burial mounds on the summit (a triangulation pillar has been built on one of them!) as well as the clearly distinguishable remains of roundhouses, (about 80 in total). 

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Climbing upwards, you will pass through the ramparts of the fortification that used to encircle the hill – again this has been shown to date back well into the bronze age, but with iron age modifications.  I say “used to encircle the hill”, as the old lady of Mam Tor had other ideas; the unstable geology of the which the hill is composed has caused a series of catastrophic landslips, eating a vast chunk out of the hill top and fortification.  It is well worth taking a circular walk along the ridge to Hollins Cross and then back in the shadow of Mam Tor to view this eastern face; you will find yourself walking on what looks like the contorted remains of a former “A” road; surprisingly, this is exactly what it is.  At sometime in the early 1970’s the highways department gave up on trying to repair the road, as the land shifted again and again, resulting in its permanent closure.  It is quite a spectacle now, more like something from scene in a disaster movie than a pleasant Peak District footpath.

Around the fringe of Mam Tor there is a plethora of underground wonders to visit; caverns, caves and mines that once produced lead and this area’s speciality, the beautiful Blue John mineral.  You can take in one of these as part of a circular walk around the hill, or make a special trip to somewhere such as The Blue John Mine and view Mam Tor from below if you don’t fancy the fairly strenuous climb, (bear in mind that it can also be impossibly windy on the summit, as you will deduce from the sometimes dozens of paragliders who launch themselves from the top).   If you are a keen walker, then the number of possible routes up, along the ridge and to peaks beyond leave you almost spoilt for choice.  Mountain bikers will be pleased to discover some dedicated trails, also.

In short, Mam Tor and the fascinating countryside all around has something for everyone who enjoys the great outdoors.

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Simon Corble