Peter Sargeant & Anny Jones
This circular walk starts in the nationally important Deep Dale nature reserve and heads via the picturesque upland village of Sheldon to the Magpie Mine – a Scheduled Ancient Monument and stark relic of the area’s lead mining industry – before returning to Deep Dale via Sheldon’s high limestone meadows.
This walk is packed with interest and it’s easy going for almost all of the five mile route. The steepish final descent through Deep Dale can be tricky after rain, however, and sticks or poles are recommended. Allow around three and a half hours for the walk, though you might want to leave extra time for a refreshment stop in Sheldon.
The walk starts at White Lodge car park; it’s just off the A6, around four miles west of Bakewell – map ref SK 170706 – and marked with a blue parking sign. (Parking is charged at £2.50 for 4 hours or £3.50 for a full day; there are also loos here and a picnic site.) Pick up the path alongside the pay point. After a few yards, ignore the waymarker on the right for Taddington and head on towards the wooded slopes of Deep Dale ahead.
As the footpath proceeds along a wooded valley the limestone bedrock soon becomes visible. On reaching a stone wall on the left the path begins to narrow. Cross a stile over this wall and head left up the hill into Deep Dale, a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its richly varied plant life. In spring you can see cowslips and early purple orchids here; in summer, mountain pansies or drifts of blue scabious.
On the right is Dimin Dale or Demon’s Dell, a collapsed cave system associated locally with the malevolent giant, Hulac Warren. Some 350m years ago this part of the dales was covered by a tropical sea rich with shellfish, corals and sea lilies. Over time these became fossilized, creating the carboniferous limestone that’s typical of the area, and that meltwater from the Ice Age would carve into the landscape you see today.
Continue up the valley along the rock-strewn path. The track bears right to two waymarkers. Take the right hand path to Deep Dale. The way broadens out a little now, and on the right Fin Cop comes into view. The undisturbed uplands of the Peak District contain some important traces of early human settlements and Fin Cop is one of the most exciting. It’s the site of an Iron Age hill fort, and recent excavations there have unearthed the first known segregated mass burials from the period.
The track descends a little here and the valley broadens; then the path begins to climb. After about half a mile, pass through a small wooden gate in the new dry stone wall to your right, so that it’s now on your left. Look out for another waymarker on the left, with a stile over the wall. Before crossing the stile, notice on the right a line of small mounds and hollows that mark the remains of early lead mining using bell pits. Here individual miners dug out bell-shaped chambers on the hillsides and, when the underground seam was exhausted, sealed them with wood and earth to prevent sheep falling in. Bell pits fell into disuse in the 19th century, and today the rotting of the wood means that they are best avoided.
Now cross the stile, go past a small pile of stones and climb the fairly steep track ahead. Pass the walled corner of a small field on the right, and cross the stile in the wall before you. In summer you’ll see a colourful notice instructing you to walk in single file through the meadowland.
A few yards further on the Magpie Mine comes into view, a brooding presence on the horizon.
But you reach it via Sheldon. Go through one gate, then another, noting the unusually high dry stone wall obscuring the view to your left. After two more gates, pass a corner of a field on the left and continue diagonally left to cross a stile. Cross the corner of the next field and go through the squeeze stile into another, passing a dewpond. To your right you’ll see Johnson Lane Farm. Then cross this field and go over one final stile to the left of a gate, to enter Johnson Lane.
Turn left and make for the bus shelter ahead. The lane bears right here and enters Sheldon.
At 1000ft above sea level, this is one of the highest villages in the White Peak – and on summer’s annual ‘Sheldon Day’ it’s also one of the jolliest. Sheldon is the nearest settlement to the Magpie Mine and most of its farmhouses and cottages date back to the high-point of local lead mining in the 18th century. Pass the village green on the right, noting the fine standing stone there with its pitted surface but no sign of an inscription. Extensive research revealed it to be… an old gate post placed there to mark the millennium.
A few yards further down the main street, opposite the Hartington Memorial Hall, there is a footpath sign beside a stile.
Go through the stile and pass between stone walls to emerge over another stile into a little meadow.
Head over the next stile, noting the dewpond on your right. Cross the stile almost immediately after it into another small field. Head diagonally across this, and go over a wooden stile beside the gate. The Mine and the track leading to it are now clearly visible ahead.
Follow the waymarked path and visible track through small fields and stiles to the Mine enclosure. Its entrance is marked by a map and details of access.
The Magpie Mine is around 300 years old and considered the best example in Britain of a lead mine from that period, with its imposing mine buildings and winding gear. But it has had a troubled and tragic history. In the 1820s and 1830s its miners clashed repeatedly with those of two nearby mines over access to a lead seam. When one broke through into another’s workings a fire would sometimes be lit underground to smoke the others out and, in 1833, a fire started by Magpie miners led to the death of three men from a neighbouring mine. After a year in prison the Magpie men were acquitted, but the widows of the dead men are said to have cursed the Mine.
Throughout rest of the century it was beset by fires and floods and, more recently, falling lead prices until its final closure in 1958. Since then it has been leased to Peak District Mines and one of their team is generally at the Mine’s Field Centre during summer weekends to give information to visitors. On the dark, damp day when we last visited, something of its tragic past still seemed to haunt the place.
The return route gives you the opportunity to explore Sheldon. Head diagonally to the far right corner of the mine enclosure, past the small round stone building, which was formerly the dynamite shed, past hollows in the ground and to the right of a galvanised water trough. Cross the low (but surprisingly awkward) stile and go through the wooden gate. Head diagonally over the next field, passing a prominent corner of the mine enclosure on your left and a fingerpost in the middle of the field. Cross a broken-down wall at the footpath marker. Follow its indication diagonally across the meadow, noting the small wooden barn over the wall to your left. Go over a stile beside a 7-barred gate. Continue past a new wooden pinfold on the right to enter a green lane.
There are fine views here of the surrounding field patterns, of Sheldon village to the left and Fin Cop and the hills beyond. Continue down this lush green lane, between hawthorn bushes and limestone walls, as it descends to the road. Ignore the 5-barred gate beside a small wooden shed. Turning left at the road, walk downhill into Sheldon.
The route into the village is bordered on the left by trees; to the right there are views over the valley towards Little Shacklow Wood and Ashford in the Water. Descend the hill, passing a stile and Lower Farm on the right, from which the road ascends into the pretty village centre. If you’re in need of refreshment at this point, the Cock and Pullet on the main street has interesting ales and is well worth a visit.
Ignore an attractive gate on the left beside a fingerpost. Passing the small village green, look out for the signpost to Sheldon Parish Church on the right – it’s beside a bench and a notice board but almost hidden by bushes.
Turn right where indicated along the unmetalled lane and stop off at the little Grade II listed church of St Michael and All Angels. If it’s open, take the opportunity to visit its serene and unexpectedly beautiful interior. Built in 1865, it has an unusual ‘single cell’ design with no aisles and a striking open-timbered roof that radiates over its round east end.
Emerging from the churchyard, continue past a small recreation ground on the right. Ignore the stile on the left. After a few yards the track becomes a green lane bordered by limestone walls and hawthorn bushes. Just after a green prefabricated farm building you’ll reach a 5-barred gate by a stile. Alongside them there’s a fingerpost indicating a walled path.
Here you have two options. The walled path is the start of the ’extreme’ route, for the more energetic and flexibly-kneed. This route leads you via a series of fingerposts through upland meadows before descending the side of Great Shacklow Wood via 100-or-so steep and, in damp weather, thrilling steps. You then follow the signs for White Lodge and re-join the route where indicated below.
If you’ve less faith in your knees, ignore the lane on the right, cross the stile beside the gate and continue along the green lane. In high summer it’s lined with drifts of scabious and blue cranesbill. After a few yards you’ll reach a gate barring your access. (There are disused mine shafts ahead.) Immediately before it, on the left, is a fingerpost to White Lodge. Cross the stile there. It’s one of several along this route daubed with red paint by the landowner; we couldn’t decide whether it’s helpful or just unsightly.
You’ll see another stile a few yards ahead, with a red-painted board behind it. Cross over to it, keeping the wall on your left. Ahead, you’ll see yet another red-blobbed stile, in the wall by a sycamore tree and about 20 yards from the field corner. Head towards it, noting the Manor House buildings in the distance on your left and the wooded slopes of the Wye Valley on your right.
Cross the stile, also by a sycamore. Keeping straight on, go over three more stiles, each by trees, to reach a green lane. In summer you’ll see the taller (and rarer) cousin of the harebell, campanula latifolia, along here and the meadows are hectic with larks and swifts.
Head up the green lane, crossing a broken down wall by two trees, until your way is blocked by a limestone wall. Ignoring the unmarked path on the left, turn right and squeeze through the stile hidden beside the metal gate. Head up the meadow, keeping the wall on your left. Continue through the gap in the wall ahead to reach another red-blobbed stile a few yards before a gateway. Cross the stile, and head down the meadow towards the waymarker.
Here the path bears right towards a wooden handgate, through which you enter the wooded side of Deep Dale nature reserve.
The descent through Deep Dale is far less challenging than all those steps in the white-knuckle version of the walk, but it is fairly steep in places and can be slippery after rain so you may want sticks (or poles) here. The path runs alongside a stone wall. After about 100 yards it passes a gap in the wall where the ‘extreme’ route re-joins the main walk.
Continue down this fairly rough track, watching out for stones and exposed tree roots. After 100 yards or so the gradient levels and the ground becomes more even underfoot. From this point the tree cover opens out, with fine views of Fin Cop on the opposite side of the valley. The path becomes more shaley as you follow the signs for White Lodge and retrace your steps to the car park.
If you stopped for refreshment in Sheldon you may now be wishing you’d booked a full day’s parking. But if you didn’t stop, a right turn from the carpark will take you in a couple of miles to the pretty village pubs of Ashford-in-the-Water or, in a couple more, the busier cafes and smart shops of Bakewell.