This brilliant circular walk has it all – a riverside stroll through Wye Dale, Bronze Age tumuli and ancient trackways, panoramic views over Monsal Dale, a Neolithic burial chamber, a cracking village pub. And it starts and ends with one of the best preserved historic landscapes in the country.
The walk’s around 6 miles long and easy going for the most part. In damp weather you might need a stick or poles for the initial 50 yard descent leading to Wye Dale, and there’s a steepish 100 yard-or-so ascent from Chee Dale – but with plenty of stopping points to admire the glorious views. The trickiest part of the walk is shaking off three awesomely friendly Jack Russells, who will abandon their Chelmorton farm and follow you home if you don’t watch them.
The walk starts in Chelmorton village (map ref SK114702). Park alongside the medieval church of St John the Baptist, and opposite the Church Inn – a great place for refreshment, depending on the timing of your walk. Before starting out on the main walk, take a detour to visit the burial mounds on Chelmorton Low.
Pass the pub and at the end of the lane turn left by a 5 barred gate, passing through a stile and a wooden handgate into a meadow. Turn left along the path, with Chelmorton’s rooftops to the left. To your right is Chelmorton Low. At 434m (1440ft) above sea level it’s the highest point in the area, with spectacular views towards Buxton to the right and, to the left, of Chelmorton’s characteristic field patterns.
This is access land and there is no footpath. But on reaching a metal barn on the left a series of indentations and animal tracks lead up the side of the hill through crumbling stone walls towards the summit. There are fairly well preserved Bronze Age barrows at the top with signs of excavation at their centre. Important tribal leaders (or parts of them) were buried here around 4,000 years ago. The barrows are one of more than 100 sites excavated in the 19th century by Derbyshire’s most enthusiastic amateur archaeologist, Thomas Bateman.
Now retrace your steps to the path and head back to the Grade 2 listed medieval church. Its location (rather than its theology) makes it one of the highest in the country. Look out for its quirky locust weathervane, the early (possibly Saxon) grave slabs in its porch, and the wildness of its churchyard, which is being managed as part of a project to attract and preserve wildlife.
The next stage of the walk takes you to Wye Dale via an ancient trackway. Exit the churchyard and head down the main street into the village centre. On reaching a left turn into a lane with national speed limit sign, cross to the opposite side and follow the footpath sign past Lenton cottage. On your right there’s a row of beech trees screening a Victorian house. On your left are farm buildings, the distant hills and, in between, the extraordinary ‘fossilised’ medieval strips for which the village is famous. These beautifully preserved fields were enclosed back in medieval times, by agreement rather than by force, within drystone walls. They make a striking contrast with the larger regular fields in the distance, which were laid out by the Enclosure Commissioners in the early 19th century.
Continue down the lane, heading for the crowing cockerel that patrols the hencoops and farm buildings ahead. Keep on the path to the left of the farm yard and go through the metal gate. Do not, at all costs, pat the Jack Russells if they trot out to greet you, or you’ll never be rid of them.
As you head down the trackway look right for grand views of Chelmorton Low, and speculate on why ‘England’ has been laid out in stones along its upper flank. Pass through another metal gate, ignore the green lane to the right and carry on along the track. In high summer there are drifts of scabious, knapweed, harebells and blue cranesbill along here – all characteristic of this limestone grassland – as well as willow herb, ox-eye daisies and purple-blue vetch. In these high meadows there are also plenty of larks but surprisingly few butterflies, though you may spot Small Tortoiseshells and the occasional Red Admiral along the ancient trackways. Go through another ga te and continue walking between the stone walls until a cattle grid ushers you out on to the roadway.
On the opposite side of the road there are two fingerposts. Ignore the left-hand one, cross directly over towards the telegraph pole and head up the track. Walk past a gate and enter a stone-walled green lane, pretty overgrown when we were last there. Chelmorton Low is now behind you. In the distance, on the left, Buxton has come into view. The area around Buxton has important limestone deposits and quarries gash the surrounding hillsides. Ahead you’ll see the imposing amphitheatre carved out by workings at Topley Pike.
As the path widens, head for the gate in the right-hand corner and cross the stile 10 yards to the left of it. Head towards the gate in the right hand corner of the field. Once over it, cross two more stiles to reach a gap in the wall to the right of Burrs Farm. Go through it and pass the farmhouse.
With the wall on your left cross the meadow and make for the stile in the wall opposite. Cross it, and with the wall still on your left go through the gap at the field end, continue over the wooden stile in the next meadow and descend the track. To your left the meadows curve away uphill. Ahead the rocky sides of Wye Dale are now in view and, up on the right, Topleyhead Farm. Note the small rocky outcrops to the right of the farm track – a sign of what’s to come. Leave the track and pass through a squeeze stile in the far right corner of the meadow. With the wall on your right, follow the track down to the spinney, and cross the wooden stile.
This is the access path to Wye Dale. The narrow rocky track descends in zigzags between sheer limestone walls to the valley bottom and the first 50 yards or so can be challenging in damp weather without poles or a stick. As you limbo under, or walk round, the fallen tree across the path look right and you’ll see the opening of Churn Hole in the rock face. The path quickly levels out and widens at the valley bottom as the steep limestone outcrops give way to scree (loose stone) covered slopes. After a couple of hundred yards you’ll pass a wooden handgate into Deep Dale, a magnificent limestone dale and internationally important nature reserve. However tempting, go straight on. It’s now easy walking along the fenced edge of a spinney. Below on your left, water drains at speed from the quarry workings concealed above. It’s a reminder of the continuing importance of the limestone geology that created this landscape over millennia. In a few yards you’ll pass the entrance, getting a rare glimpse of a working quarry at close quarters and the eerie rock sculptures it has created.
A few more yards and it’s down through a wooden handgate and over the road (the A6, so take care) into Wye Dale. Turn right through the little carpark, keeping the clear, fast running River Wye on your left and Topley Pike Wood on your right. Now enjoy a gentle riverside stroll for half a mile or so, past dozens of ducks, a surprising number of dippers (well established here) and grey wagtails, and under three of the mighty viaducts that support the Monsal Trail. Emerging from the shadow of the third you’ll glimpse some cottages through the trees on the left and, on the path ahead, a wooden hut by a small car park. As well as cycle hire, the hut does a welcome sideline in cakes and coffee.
On passing (or leaving) the hut, you’ll see a picturesque bridge on the left that gives access to the railway cottages that mark the start of Chee Dale.
But your route goes right, past a fingerpost towards the Pennine Bridleway. In a few yards go through a wooden handgate, turn left, cross the Monsal trail and emerge on to the Bridleway as it bears left. (Or, for a view along the Trail and its vertiginous cliff sides, turn left before the handgate and cross over the railway bridge.) Chee Dale is a splendid winding gorge, with limestone cliffs up to 300ft high. One of them, Chee Tor, still bears the traces of fortified prehistoric settlement. The dale is also internationally important for its flora and fauna, and in summer the density and range of the plant cover here is dizzying.
Within a few yards you’ll see a small wooden ‘erosion control’ sign on your right. On your left, almost opposite, cross the stile (admiring the neat little dog stile beside it) and ascend the path up the hillside. It’s steepish but with plenty of resting points among the summer drifts of scabious, harebells and cranesbill, knapweed, wild marjoram and thyme. Your reward is spectacular views over the cottages passed earlier, and the Monsal Trail and Millers Dale below.
The next stage of the walk takes you to Five Wells chambered tomb via Blackwell village. As it emerges from Chee Dale, the path levels out and enters meadow land along a concessionary footpath. At a wooden handgate cross over the stile behind it. Then head for another stile 20 yards to the right of the field corner before crossing another, marked with yellow paint, 30 yards from the next field corner. Carry on up the hillside following the farm track. The ridges and terraces in the fields between Blackwell and the River Wye are reminders of the Romano-British settlement here, around 400 AD
On reaching a stile by a metal gate, the track becomes a walled lane that’s crammed with flowers in high summer. Continue, over stiles and through gates, till it reaches Blackwell lane. Turn left into Blackwell village passing a campsite on the left and Beech farm with its little shop on the right. The village is a single street lined with farms that, unusually, are mostly still active.
After a couple of hundred yards emerge from the village at the junction with the B6049. Cross the road in the direction of Priestcliffe and Taddington. Just before the road bears left by two buildings, follow the fingerpost on the right over an impressively complicated wooden stile and bear left towards the copse in the distance. Passing through gaps in the tumbledown stone walls make your way across the bumpy meadow. Follow the track as it heads towards the right hand wall of the meadow, making for the wooden stile in the field corner.
Once over it, cross the road and follow the fingerpost through the spinney, keeping the stone wall on your left. Emerge over a stile and head up the field edge, keeping the stone wall on the left, past a big stone trough and a section of broken wall. At the top, cross the stile by a fingerpost. You’re now on the Limestone Way.
Turn right along the path, with its sunken profile and stony surface, admiring the heady expanse of woods, meadows and hills all around. The way bears right past a hillock. Turn right here to cross a stile then bear left through a metal gate towards Five Wells Farm. Continue straight on through the farm yard (ignoring the path off to the right) and follow the track as it bears right, around the farm buildings.
Continue down this high path with its splendid views to the left and ahead. At the junction with another ancient track, the Pennine Bridleway (Pilwell Lane), turn right and make for the concessionary path to the chambered tomb. Just before your way is barred by one metal gate, turn right through another. Follow the path, passing a gap in the wall and keeping the wall to your right. After a few yards you’ll glimpse a small wooden handgate in the wall and passing through you’ll see, among the long grass, Five Wells chambered cairn.
Even if you’ve no idea what it is, this feels like a very special place, high and remote on its escarpment. It’s a megalithic tomb built more than 4000 years ago, and at 430m (1400ft), it’s said to be the highest in England. The chamber is made up of three huge limestone slabs with two portal stones at its entrance and two ‘dog’ stones nearby. The stones that once covered the chamber were removed by wall builders two centuries ago. Twelve skeletons were found here when (like the tumuli on Chelmorton Low) the tomb was excavated by the prolific Mr Bateman in the mid-19th century.
Now retrace your steps to the fingerpost at the junction with the lane from Five Wells Farm. Head through the narrow handgate on the right and follow the path to Chelmorton. In late summer we spotted yellow mountain pansies along here and skylarks sat singing on stone walls only inches away from us.
After a few hundred yards Chelmorton Low appears below and then the village itself, as the path descends between the narrow walled fields.
Before you regain the churchyard and the pub you’ll pass Bank Pit Spring. Known locally as the ‘Illy-Willy Water’ this was the source of Chelmorton’s drinking water until it was replaced in the late 19th century. Its pure stream defined the shape of the village – a series of farms along a single street with cottages behind them, in the medieval style – and several troughs remain in place along the village’s neat main street. Take the opportunity to visit them before you head home -- or, if you’ve resisted the attractions of the Church Inn so far, this may be the time to reap your reward.
This walk was brought to you by Peter Sargeant an Anny Jones