Blackden Brook and Edge – A Short but Very Challenging Walk

5 Miles with some very steep climbs over rough terrain. 300 metres of ascent.

/images/blackden-brook.jpgThis is a real voyage of discovery, best attempted only in summer, as the path takes you deep into the clough formed by Blackden Brook, crossing it many times, over large boulders and past some beautiful waterfalls.  The middle section of the walk is a welcome contrast along the spectacular, yet little walked, Blackden Edge on the North side of the Kinder Plateau.  Check with the National Trust High Peak Estate during the grouse shooting season, or with the Ranger Service, in case parts of the moorland are off limits.

From which ever direction you approach, the drive along the Snake Road and Woodlands Valley is always a pleasure.  The start of the walk is from a small National Trust lay-by-cum-car-park just above the picturesque Blackden Barn near Wood Cottage, at 130896 on the Dark Peak 1:25,000 OS map, (which you should take with you as an essential, along with a compass).

A footpath takes you steeply down to the river Ashop and a nature reserve along its banks.  Definitely worth a brief stop, either now or on your return, there is the promise of lots to see here, including pied flycatchers in summer, common sandpipers and other waders, while sand martins sometimes nest in the eroded banks of this turbulent water course.  Over the bridge and the climb begins, at first taking you away from Blackden Brook, to follow a stone wall up the hillside.  This is the easy bit.  Already you are into open access country and, for the rest of the walk, you have the freedom to wander where you will, discovering all sorts of delights, so treat this description as a rough guide only.

After that short spell on open grassland, the path now descends towards the brook and things start to get really interesting.  For the next mile, (it will seem more like two) your aim is to closely follow Blackden Brook to its source in the peaty moorland above.  The path is highly variable, frequently crossing the stream, or giving you the option to do so; sometimes climbing a little higher to avoid very boggy ground, while in places you may decide it is easier to walk on the rocks of the stream bed.  Take your time.  It is bursting with interest at every turn; there are three quite impressive waterfalls and countless minor ones with rowan, birch, holly and alder trees growing over them as if planted by a Japanese master gardener.  Heather, both ling and bell species, grows in colourful patches, with harebells and foxgloves in the more sheltered spots.

If geology is your thing, you will no doubt be fascinated by the mix of gritstone, sandstone and shale on offer; at one point, a huge square rock has fallen from the cliff near a waterfall and the shock of the fall has split apart its layers so that they can be opened like the pages of a very weighty tome. Each “page” is glimpse back through another ten thousand years or so.

The highest of the falls, cascading down the rock face in a long plume, heralds the final section of the ascent; keep to the right-hand stream, to avoid being led up a more difficult tributary.  It is in this upper section that you may find yourself scaling large boulders, while the water can be heard gurgling beneath your feet in a variety of musical tones, as it finds a route under these fallen obstructions.  And then, quite suddenly, you arrive onto the black peat of the Kinder Plateau.  While you might be hot from the climb, there is a massive change in air temperature as you reach the ridge and layers will need to be added, as you stop for a rest and to admire the really spectacular view, towards the moors of Bleaklow on the far side of the Woodlands Valley.

/images/blackden-way-home.jpgOnce again, you are free to plot your exact course, but in essence you are turning
to the East along the line of Blackden Edge.  To see a bit more of this impressive upland landscape, avoid sticking to the lower path for all of the way, but strike out on a parallel course to take in some of the many rock formations, such as the strangely- named Madwoman’s Stones.  Others are shaped like animal skulls or sculptures by Henry Moore and they look just perfect in this setting of soft black peat and purple heather.  You will inevitably disturb a red grouse or two, perhaps some ravens and, if you are lucky, a short-eared owl. You have quite a good chance of spotting a mountain hare up here; slightly smaller than its lowland cousin and pure white in winter, like something from a fairy tale.

Whatever route you plot, aim to arrive at Crookstone Knoll, (at 145883) for the view East over the Derwent Valley reservoirs and then begin a gradual descent of the slope to the North, retracing your steps for a short distance.  You will see a line of grouse butts below and a very faint vehicular track through the rough grasses; this is your easy passage downwards, for most of the way, so take it gleefully.  The view directly ahead is now the beautiful Alport Valley, velvety-green and topped by the cliffs known as “Alport Castles”; a must for another day’s walking

The track will split in places, but keep to the left-hand fork, even though this clearly means climbing back up the slope at one point, (you are aiming for an easier way to cross the intervening cloughs).  At that most difficult-looking clough, the track gives up and you are left with little more than sheep tracks to follow through the bracken, but trust in them and, as you rise up once more into the grasslands, you will see Blackden Barn awaiting your return in the valley below.  Before long, you have found the original path, alongside the stone wall and it is plain-sailing.

During the summer months, on any part of the descent, you may be lucky enough to see ring ouzels.  These very rare upland thrushes breed in rocky places near to water, but often spread out onto neighbouring grasslands once the young have fledged, before flying back to Africa in the autumn.  They look more or less like male blackbirds, but have a distinctive white crescent on their breasts.  The call is strangely metallic, like someone tapping or twanging a barbed-wire fence.

For nearby places to eat / drink / stay, you are spoilt for choice.  The nearest, two miles up the road to North, is The Snake Inn, while in the other direction, you have The Yorkshire Bridge Inn and The Ladybower Inn, while in Bamford itself, there is The Angler’s Rest.

Derwent Valley Rangers’ Office: 01433 659986.

Simon Corble