A Walk from Earl Sterndale – Hills of the Upper Dove Valley.

Bus 442 Buxton-Ashbourne, operated by Bowers.

Six miles: Very steep ascent and descent – not to be attempted in ice or snow.

The hills of Parkhouse and Chrome pointing up out of the upper Dove Valley are an amazing and little known wonder of the Peak District.  This walk lets you clamber all over them and enjoy some perfect views of the Dove from on high.

The journey starts on the village green of Earl Sterndale; so snug a little village you would never suspect how much noise and dust was being created in the massive quarries just the other side of the hill.  The centre of Buxton is a ten minute drive away, but this is perfect Peak District tranquillity.

The eccentric Quiet Woman pub is the base for the walk.  The sign could be on the set of a horror film, as the headless figure of a woman carrying a plate of victuals swings creakily in the wind.  The unfortunate landlady depicted was, (according to her husband) a notorious nag.  He took the matter into his own hands and decapitated her; but she had the last laugh, returning as a ghost to frighten away his customers.  From inside and out it’s easy to believe that little has changed with the pub in the intervening years.

Down the right-hand side of the pub the footpath passes through a small menagerie of creatures, (all friendly) before climbing up Hitter Hill, close to a wall on the left-hand side.  Already, the views are wonderful, with the pointed hill of Parkhouse on your right and the Dove Valley appearing ahead of you.  Jinking over two stiles in quick succession, the path turns left, sharply away from Parkhouse and after a while starts to descend quite steeply.  It is not all that distinct or obvious, but use some common sense and you can make out where the path ought to run, having been worn by the feet of countless centuries. 

Across another field and you are brought out onto a green lane at Underhill Farm.  Turn right onto this, past the low farmhouse and follow the track all the way to the road at Glutton Bridge.  (The name really does mean what it says, but there are conflicting accounts as to its exact origin – involving either blood-thirsty vikings, or a greedy medieval lord).  Turn right up the road and you are possibly a bit daunted now by the size and sheerness of the first hill, Parkhouse.  A footpath off the road leads you directly towards it and once there, it is “open access” land, meaning that you can tackle it any way you want.  There is however an obvious way up the ridge marked by many previous boots.  Take it easy; this is a tough climb and there is much to see both near and far; wild flowers typical of this kind of close-cropped pasture and swathes of beautiful musk thistles, near the summit, in July.

The top of Parkhouse is a very distinct plug of limestone rock; room for a few people at a time and you may even have to queue on popular walking days.  The view is something else, though; the wide expanse of the Dove Valley behind; Staffordshire Moors to the South; High Edge, over Buxton, to the North West and the Derbyshire Dales to the East.  Directly ahead is the next objective; Chrome Hill.  The strange illusion that it is much taller than hill you are on is no illusion.  It is only from the level near Earl Sterndale that the two hills look more or less the same height.

The descent of Parkhouse is easily the most difficult part of the walk and extreme caution should be taken, as the path contrives to get more and more treacherous in the lower reaches.  The ordeal is soon over, and after a brief glance to the right to see Dowall Hall set on its little plain of green, the way up Chrome hill is as obvious as the last climb and, though higher, not as tough.  The view from the summit is even more impressive.

“Chrome” derives from an old English word meaning “jagged”.  It is a good name for this whole group of hills.  Millions of years ago they were a reef of coral in a tropical sea.  It is odd to think this; brightly coloured fish swimming past where now you tramp through purple thistles.  As the path travels along the ridge and down there is a fantastic limestone arch; easy to think of this encrusted with urchins and starfish.

At the end of the open access area a rough track begins; this takes you around Tor Rock and then a path climbs up to the right, just before Stoop Farm.  Arriving onto a very minor road, turn to the right and follow this all the way down Dowel Dale.  A little-used route and very peaceful apart from the occasional drift of sound from the High Edge Raceway just over the hill, where speedway and stock car racing are all the rage on certain weekends. 

This road takes you towards the rear of Dowall Hall, glimpsed earlier from front; but just before you get there, you might want to explore Dowel Cave set into a cliff on your right.  There is a little metal gate in the fence and it seems as if access is tolerated if not officially permitted.  It is a very atmospheric place, (take a torch for full effect) and when you learn about the former stone-age inhabitants, the transportation is complete.

Continue on past Dowall Hall, on the unfenced road, to pass back between the two hills.

Arriving back at Glutton Bridge, turn left back onto the “b” road, retracing steps a short way up to a footpath to the right this time, which takes you over a ridge of Hitter Hill, easily down into Earl Sterndale and a well earned pint at the Quiet Woman (an excellent range of real ales on offer there).