Crowdecote and High Wheeldon

3 miles with steep ascents.

Bus 442 Buxton-Ashbourne, operated by Bowers.

The upper Dove Valley has to be the most underrated and quietest part of the Peak District; one glimpse of its scenic beauty will leave you asking the simple question: “Why?” The drive or bus ride, off the A515 to the start of this walk, in the hamlet of Crowdecote, is a spectacular experience in itself, as the broad vistas of the landscape open up below and the incredibly shaped hills of Parkhouse and Chrome point their jagged peaks skyward at the head of the valley.

Around the last bend that takes you into the compact little hamlet, is the Packhorse Inn and this is where you might park, (provided you are going in for a drink or a meal, that is).  This is also the bus stop, so alight here.  If you are not patronising the Packhorse then you are best to park down the lane on your right, sharply off that last bend; this is the lane that leads to Earl Sterndale and Glutton Bridge.  There are usually some spaces opposite the “Castle Cottages”.

The walk itself sets off down this lane.  Just past Castle Cottages, take the rougher track to the left and over a small bridge spanning a major spring, which feeds the river Dove, below.  The track takes you through a farmyard and then, after a while, it becomes a footpath through a series of meadows; there are a few stiles to be negotiated, but the going is very easy; just keep to the right as far as possible and you can’t go wrong.

Above now, looms the summit of High Wheeldon, but don’t be daunted; the way up is not that steep from behind the hill.

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The last stiles brings you onto a lane at a crossroads.  Straight on is Glutton Bridge; left takes you over the Dove and up to Longnor.  Go right.  After about one hundred yards, you rejoin the lane on which you started.  (So a shorter variation of this walk would be to stick to it; it is a charming and little-used road, full of wayside flowers).

Continuing up the hill towards Earl Sterndale, you pass under the trees and rockface of Aldery Cliff, popular with climbers and much frequented by noisy Jackdaws.  Just about opposite the gate into Aldery Cliff is a wooden stile on the right, which takes you onto High Wheeldon.  The whole hill was given to the National Trust as a memorial to those men, of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, who gave their lives in the second world war; access is open, meaning that you could tackle the climb from any direction, but, if you want an easy ride, do something like this…

Follow the path straight ahead, near to the wall.  After a while, you will meet with a path coming from the higher road, to your left.  This junction has resulted in the evolution of a corresponding “route one” way up the hill to your right, in a series of earthy steps worn into the hillside; it is not the easiest path, especially if wet under foot.  Instead take a diagonal route across the slope of the hill, more in the direction you were travelling, aiming for the boundary wall that runs along something of a ridge.  When you hit this, stick to it and the climb is a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. 

You will begin to appreciate the views as you climb, but when you hit the summit and the triangulation pillar there, any breath you had left should be completely taken away by the panoramic scene below you.  The views really do stretch for many miles in all directions.   The Staffordshire Moorlands, dead ahead; the Dove Valley, winding its way to the South; to the east, a beautifully typical Derbyshire scene of green hills and woodlands; to the North, the darker hills of the High Peak.

It will be windy and you may even find a paraglider or two for company; possibly a photographer also.  An interesting excursion from the top of High Wheeldon is to venture some way down the North Western ridge, (in the direction of Earl Sterndale village) to the entrance of Fox Hole Cave.  It is tucked away in the rocks that form the ridge and often obscured by nettles, so, although it is only a minute’s walk, down-and-back, it is easily missed.  When you do locate it, you will see that it is closed off by a big iron gate; this is due to its archaeologically sensitive nature.  This was a rock shelter used by stone age hunters – a beautiful flint axe head has been found inside.

Though entrance is restricted, it is still something to crouch against the rocks that shield the opening and imagine the early hunters emerging from the cave to survey the prehistoric scene before them.  Just extend the woods around Aldery Cliff, (below you), to cover most of the landscape and you are transported back there with them.

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Back at the summit, the path down is to the South East, descending quite steeply to a stile into a large hilltop meadow.  Keep to the wall on your left now, though you are still on open access land, so can pick your way as seems best.  Over another stile and the path descends into a bit of a clough, climbing up again, before striking along the contours to join the road down into Crowdecote.  Best to keep fairly high and descend gradually; partly to enjoy the stunning views for as long as possible and partly to avoid somewhat tricky footing where the cows have churned the mud, nearer to the woodland below.  You have a good chance of seeing hares in the rougher pasture near the top and Buzzards, Kestrels, Ravens and Wheatears are all common sights up here.

The wood, mostly of ash trees, is used as a roost by a vast number of Jackdaws and Carrion Crows.  If you tackle the walk on a Spring or Summer evening, you can watch them streaming home from all directions and then, at some point around dusk, everything goes suddenly silent for a few seconds before they put on a spectacular display of mass aerobatics in a deafening cacophony, before settling down for the night.

Though the road back into the hamlet is fairly quiet, some care will need to be taken on the way down, as there are always some idiots who go too fast – and the bends on this road are sharp, to say the least.

Though it is a short walk in terms of distance, you’ll feel well exercised and in need of a pint and meal at the excellent Packhorse Inn.

Simon Corble