THE MAGIC & MYSTERY OF STANTON MOOR in the HEART of the PEAK DISTRICT
Visitors say that they come to the Peak District for the beautiful and spectacular scenery, for the sense of remoteness in a relative wilderness of peace and quiet - and nowhere is this more evident than at Stanton Moor which rises above the Derwent Valley near Birchover between Matlock and Bakewell in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales.
The Peak District National Park contains 50,929 hectares of moorland, 74,788 hectares classified as 'Environmentally Sensitive' and 109 listed `conservation areas', upon which stand 2,899 protected `listed buildings' -and the magical and mysterious Stanton Moor fits into each category!
Each late summer and autumn the moor is covered in acres of glorious royal purple heather, much of it masking over seventy Bronze-Age burial mounds, making this `environmentally sensitive' area one of the largest Bronze-Age cemeteries in Europe, and one of the most mysterious, and scenically spectacular in the UK!
It may be scenically spectacular, but if the Peak District were to be given a human face, then the diverse landscape could well be described as presenting a ruggedly handsome countenance to the visitor, freckled with beauty `spots' - and Stanton Moor, with its legends and mysteries, its stone-circles and mysterious carvings, and its fabulous views east over the Derwent Valley is certainly one of them!
In actual fact the diverse nature of the Peak District landscape is more aptly defined by it's topography than by any other commonality of identity, which is probably why it is the most visited National Park in the UK, attracting over 50 million visits per year. It is surrounded by cities and large urban areas with 7 million people living within an hour's drive - but has only 38,000 inhabitants, and viewed at night from outer space it is a pool of darkness surrounded by a ring of intense light - which might also be a perfect description of Stanton Moor!
Surrounded by Darley Dale, Rowsley, Stanton-in-Peak, Birchover, a host of tiny hamlets, and virtually overlooking Haddon Hall, the moor sits atop a mile square spur of gritstone almost at the junction of the Derwent and Wye valleys, and its tree-lined heights rise to some 200 feet, giving a wonderful panorama of spectacular views, especially over Stanton Lees.
The moor has long been thought of as a sacred place for the ancient Celtic priests, the Druids, and many of the `menhirs' or monoliths are believed to have sacred significance and to be associated with Druid worship. These rocks all have names like, the `Heart Stone', `Cat Stone', `Cork Stone', `Andle Stone', (known locally as `Twopenny Loaf') - and the magical `Gorse Stone', known to the Druids as the Maen Gorsedd, the elevated place from where the Druids would address the people.
In the middle of a wooded area to the east of the Nine Ladies Stone Circle stands the Earl Grey Tower, a square built stone structure about thirty five feet high which was built to commemmorate the Reform Bill in 1832.The Nine Ladies Stone Circle stands in a clearing amongst the trees at the northern end of the moor, and has done so for over four thousand years - and is visited almost daily throughout the year.
The King Stone stands fifty metres away from the circle of stones to the south-west, and paths converge on the sacred site from all directions, especially at the solstices and other seasonal celebrations when hundreds of Druids and other pagans gather to mark the changing seasons.
There are eight feast days or fire festivals celebrated at Stanton Moor, beginning with Imbolc, which celebrates Candlemass on February 1st. Next comes the Vernal Equinox on March 21st, followed by Beltane on 1st of May. But the largest gathering is on June 21st when crowds of up to two or three thousand come from all over the UK to the Nine Ladies to celebrate Midsummer Day. Lugnasad follows on August 1st, also a Fire Feast at Lammastide, and then the Autum Equinox on September 21st. Samain follows All Hallows Eve, on November 1st and the final festival of the year is the Solar Feast of Midwinter's Day on December 21st.
Stanton Moor is owned by Stanton Estates and managed by English Nature, and free access is allowed throughout the year.The Moor is accessible on foot only and visitors should be aware that sheep are grazed, and that dogs must be kept on a lead at all times. Limited parking is available on the minor lanes surrounding the moor, and in both Stanton-in-Peak and Birchover. The best approach is via Matlock or Bakewell and a turn off the main A6 at Rowsley, along the B5095 to Birchover or Stanton-in-Peak.
A visit to Stanton Moor is a must for all lovers of mystery and magic, archaeology and history, or just for the peace and quiet and the spectacular scenery which characterises this special part of the Peak District.