An Historic Walk from Tom Bates – The Limestone Way

Tom Bates Historic Peak Walks

Enjoy the fabulous Peak District and learn about its history along the way with Tom Bates Historic Peak Walks!

The Limestone Way

The Limestone Way is Derbyshire’s longest distance trail covering the whole length of the county from Rocester in the south just over the border in Staffordshire, to Castleton in the north west of Derbyshire, a total of about 50 miles.

The underlying rocks around Rocester are of red triassic sandstone but the scenery changes near Mayfield to the rugged grey/white limestone from which the route takes it’s name.This is, or was, the heart of England’s lead-mining country and the Way passes through a rich ore field which has been mined since Roman times, as evidence shows at Roystone Grange near Ballidon. Indeed ancient feet have trodden most sections along the Way, some sections using old miners tracks, some even older and dating back to Roman and Saxon times. But the earliest of all date back to the Bronze Age and link the henge monuments, hill top forts and burial grounds like Arbor Low with others such as Castle Ring and Nine Stones Close on Harthill Moor and the Nine Ladies Stone Circle and Bronze Age Cemetery on Stanton Moor.

Later the Romans built roads across the area; `The Street’ ran from Derby to Buxton, `Batham Gate’ ran from Buxton to Navio, a fort near Brough, and `Hereward Street’ ran from Rocester, the starting point of the Limestone Way, through Ellastone and Mayfield before fording the Derwent at Cromford and continuing past Ashover to the Roman fort at Chesterfield

Later came the old Saxon `Portweg’ or Portway, which means a road to a market town. These were essential trading routes used mainly to take lead and wool out of the area and to bring other essential goods, like salt and textiles in on the return journey. These routes, which were sometimes paved and sometimes `hollow ways’ along green lanes were used from the Middle Ages by teams of packhorses, each led by a `Jagger’ and in some places were in almost continual use up to the end of the 19th century. The Way makes full use of these ancient and well trodden tracks.

Today the lead mines are all gone but the area is riddled with old workings, capped-off mine shafts and thousands of small grassy hillocks abundant with rare species of wild flowers, mostly spoil-heap legacies left over from the lead-mining `glory days’ of the 18th century.

Roman pigs of lead bearing the official stamp with the abbreviation `Lut’ have been found extensively across southern Derbyshire and it is believed that `Lutudarum’, the Roman centre of lead mining was situated somewhere in this area.

The Limestone Way starts at West View near the old Tutbury Mill, originally a corn mill until Arkwright converted it to process cotton. Also in the nearby `Abbey Field’ just to the west of our starting point are the ruins of St.Mary’s Augustinian Priory which was founded in 1441. The order was disbanded in 1538, and later a Manor House, Rocester Hall was built on the site but was demolished by 1650.

The Way proceeds towards Barrowhill farm, so named owing to a small hill fort with evidence of pre-Roman settlement, and then downhill to the River Dove and to Doveleys, formerly a school, and on to Ellastone Bridge. Ellastone is a small village with some fine buildings and is known to lovers of literature as the `Hayslope’ in George Eliots classic novel `Adam Bede’. George Eliot’s father Robert Evans lived here and his father is buried in Ellastone churchyard. Beyond the church in the upper part of the village can be found `Adam Bede’s Cottage’.

The Way proceeds west of Mayfield to Blore where Buckingham’s Field signifies an event at the end of the Civil War when the Duke of Buckingham sheltered in a nearby cottage after falling from his horse here and breaking his arm whilst fleeing from a band of Roundheads in 1651. Shortly beyond Blore the Way crosses the River Dove and the county boundary into Derbyshire at Coldwall Bridge. The Way rises towards Thorpe Green with it’s attractive Norman church of St. Leonard’s, built around 1100, and from here proceeds by a series of pleasant paths and a short stretch of road to Tissington

The Tissington approach is via an impressive gateway which leads along an avenue of recently planted lime trees to the attractive Jacobean Mansion of the Fitzherbert’s, Tissington Hall

The Way passes through Tissington churchyard and welcome refreshments are available at the award winning Old Coach House Tea-Rooms across the road from St.Mary’s Church. From the churchyard the Way crosses pleasant farmland and a bridge takes it across the Tissington Trail and over the scenic limestone escarpment to Parwich

Both Tissington and Parwich villages are featured elsewhere in this book.

The Way then goes north eastward to Ballidon, formerly an exceptionally pretty village with ancient origins and a splendid little Norman church, which sadly now stands alone in a field. The village was deserted long before Tilcon Quarries completely ruined it and transformed the area to the north of the village into an unsightly dustbowl with massive exploitation and scarring of the landscape.

The house platforms of the deserted village can be seen in fields around the church. The Way passes close to the church and over the hill where it meets a grassy track, probably the original direct way between Ballidon and Brassington. It then crosses the Ashbourne to Bakewell road and climbs along a lane which leads through lead-mine spoilheaps north of Brassington, another of our featured villages, whose rooftops can be seen to the south east. Also in the same direction there are fine views of Carsington Reservoir about four miles away over the hills.

The Way crosses the High Peak Trail and after about a kilometre it joins a section of the old Portway which leads to the five-ways road junction at Grangemill. It crosses the top of the Via Gellia which comes up the valley from Cromford and follows a steep footpath near the Holly Bush, which climbs to skirt an old quarry on it’s way to the hamlet of Ible.

This is another place of note for literary buffs for it was here that D.H.Lawrence set his short story `The Wintry Peacock’, written during his stay at nearby Mountain Cottage in Middleton during 1918.

Beyond Ible, (which Lawrence called `Tible’ in his story) a number of old lead miner’s paths lead up through a series of squeeze-stiles towards the old mines around Bonsall (featured), Slaley and Uppertown, and the Way descends across fields to the latter where it passes Hollies farm which is well worth a visit for it’s well stocked Farm Shop and horticultural fare available from it’s famed plant nurseries.

From Uppertown the path via Hollins Lane is marked by squeeze stiles and leads over Bonsall Moor past the tiny hamlet of Brightgate towards Winster, once the lead mining capital of the area and a former market town.

There are magnificent views north from Luntor Rocks, reputedly the scene of a murder two centuries ago and the Way leads past a unique and fascinating lead and wood seat built long ago by the local miners.

This area is criss-crossed by dozens of old mining paths, but the Limestone Way is clearly marked and runs between parallel dry-stone walls down the hillside to the old Mosey Mere beside the Bakewell to Ashbourne road just above Winster West Bank. Here close to the Miner’s Standard pub is the finest example of a lead ore house in the land; a commemoration plaque on the wall explains it’s former use.

The Mere was the water supply to Islington village which once stood near these crossroads, but this small mining village has long since completely disappeared.

The Way continues along Islington Lane, still following the old Portway as it undulates past Grey Tor and crosses the Elton road at the top of the hill.At these ancient crossroads there once stood a stone cross known appropriately to travellers along the Portway as `Elton Cross’. This pointed the way down Dudwood Lane opposite, a steep metalled lane which leads to a stile and farm gate beside the main road at the bottom.

The Way climbs up the Portway winding past Cratcliffe Rocks with its famous Hermit’s Cave hidden behind two old yew trees at the base and the twin pinnacles of Robin Hood’s Stride rising to the left. From here the Way crosses two fields with the four remaining standing stones of the Neolithic Nine Stones Close on the right, and meets the Elton to Alport road opposite Harthill Moor Farm.

The Way follows the road to the right for 400 metres and then turns left through a small wood behind Castle Ring, an Iron Age Hill Fort before descending a series of fields and stiles and crossing Bleakley Dike before meeting Mawstone (or Moss-Stone) Lane almost at it’s junction with Bradford Dale.

The Way turns left and follows the River Bradford up the picturesque dale before ascending an old track beside a weir which leads up to the Middleton – Youlgrave road. The Way turns right and follows the road past Lomberdale Hall, former home of well known antiquarian Thomas Bateman and at a sharp bend in the road, the Way goes left and due west for 300 metres before bending to the right across five fields and crosses the road at the junction of Long Rake and Moor Lane.

From this point a few hundred metres west of Youlgrave, a wide track leads westward to Calling Low Dale and then to One Ash Grange, settled by the monks of Roche Abbey in 1147. Beside the path is a small vaulted cave believed to have been used by the monks as a cold store, and from here it is a short distance up into the village of Monyash

From Monyash the Way turns left into Blackwell Lane by Dalehouse Farm and crosses Flagg Moor by a series of miner’s paths, coming into the village along Mycock Lane. The Way turns left along Flagg Main Street and continues beyond Town Head Farm and along Green Lane and then the rougher track of Sough Lane to pass the chambered tomb at Five Wells, with the old track from Chelmorton coming in from the left.

Here the Way skirts the edge of Taddington Moor and crosses the A6 close by the isolated Waterloo Inn, then follows the metalled Priestcliffe road before turning left down Long Lane and skirting Taddington village before crossing the River Wye at the western end of Miller’s Dale near Monksdale Farm.

The Way runs northward parallel with Monk’s Dale along a narrow lane to it’s junction with the Tideswell road and then turns left by Monksdale House, following the road until a signpost points the Way up to the right to Peter Dale and through the parish of Wheston.

Through Hay Dale the Way follows an old mining rail-track and through an avenue of deciduous trees to a stone-walled track with an old sheepwash half hidden behind the northern wall. It is interesting to note the mill stone bearing the legend `Limestone Way Farm’ beside the modern farmhouse along the Way. The Way then crosses the A623 close by Mount Pleasant farm and almost simultaneously bisects the old Roman Road of Batham Gate, which can be clearly seen running south west to Smalldale.

There are many abandoned old mine shafts close by the Way north of this point and from the hill beyond Cock farm there are wonderful views northward to Mam Tor and Win Hill, with the Kinder Scout plateau in the distance beyond.

The Way is now nearing it’s end in Castleton’s busy Market Square at the northern edge of the White Peak, but not before the tranquil beauty of Cave Dale has been experienced, and the dramatic views of the picturesque ruins of Peveril Castle.