(It is recommended that an Ordnance Survey OL24 White Peak Area map be used in association with these instructions)
DISTANCE: Approximately 6 miles
This walk is best tackled when the skies are blue and the winds are calm to appreciate in full one of the prettiest beauty spots in Staffordshire. Camouflaged by rich grey/green foliage that surrounds it, Three Shires Heads is a picturesque scene which at one time was the setting for more unscrupulous dealings.
This walk follows ancient tracks and paths through former outlaw country with a return to Flash being mainly on quiet country lanes.
1. Flash is a cluster of weather-worn buildings which sits on the side of Oliver Hill at a height of over 1500 feet above sea level. There is limited parking around the village, and it is appreciated if visitors do not block entrances or use spaces designated for residents. Walk to the attractive church which was founded in 1744, although the present building was built in 1901.
The name Flash was derived from the trading in counterfeit money at nearby Three Shires Heads in the 19th century when lawbreakers or coiners evaded capture by crossing into the neighbouring county. At that time it was only possible for police to act within their own county limits. The word Flash has since become associated as being something dishonest or not of genuine quality i.e. Flash men (thieves or shady characters), Flash money (counterfeit currency) or Flashy (not as good as it looks).
2. At the junction by the church bear right passing in front of the converted chapel and follow a steep descent with panoramic views towards Gradbach and the Staffordshire Moorlands area of the Peak District National Park.
3. After about half a mile take a signposted bridleway in a dip on a right-hand bend which passes through a farmyard. Go through the gate on the left in front of the house and follow the track around the bend to an attractive waterfall and junction of paths.
4. Cross a footbridge and climb the bank to the left or west of the stream and head across towards a farmhouse at Wicken Walls. Just before the farm turn right and head uphill bringing you onto a stony track. Turn left and follow this below Turn Edge to Three Shires Heads.
5. Many of the farmhouses in this area were built in the longhouse style whereby the living accommodation was at one end and livestock quarters were at the other, but all contained below one long roof. Some of these farmhouses are now deserted and derelict as it has always been a hard life trying to farm and eke out a living in this almost untamed upland countryside where a heavy mist can linger for days and the snow lies thick and fast!
6. Follow the packhorse route and imagine as you do the jaggers of old walking this way with their string of ponies heavily laden with salt and provisions. There were no main roads, lorries or cars, everyone and everything was transported over the hills using routes such as these.
Keep a sharp lookout for unusual wildlife! The Brocklehurst family who at one time owned Swythamley Hall located a few miles over to the south-west had a private zoo for a while. At the beginning of the Second World War, five wallabies from their collection escaped and began to thrive in their new habitat on the moors, living on a diet of grasses, scrub, heather and bilberries. Although harsh winters depleted their numbers, reinforcements in the 1970’s and 80’s from Riber Castle stock helped to keep the colony going. Sadly it is thought that the wallabies died out during a particularly cold winter several years ago, however the occasional sighting is still reported – fact or fiction has not been established!
7. Head down to Three Shires Heads in front of which is Panniers Pool named after the saddle bags slung on either side of packhorse ponies. The single arched bridge which is a much photographed beauty spot forms a link between Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire at a point where four packhorse routes meet. Because of its popularity and possibly the need to enable the passage of carts and wagons, it was necessary to widen the bridge as you can see if you look underneath its arch.
8. This setting was also used for illegal prize fights and cock fighting as the perpetrators of such crimes could escape over the county border and soon disappear in this wild and rocky scenery. It is also reputed that a court was held on this spot in the 14th century by order of the Black Prince, Lord of the nearby Forest of Macclesfield, relating to tenants of the counties of Derby and Stafford who were accused of trespass into the forest.
Go through the gate on the right and follow a track which runs along the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. After about a quarter of a mile turn right following a further track to Knotbury and then walk along the lane bearing left at the bottom of the hill and then keep right at two further junctions until you eventually meet the A53.
9. About half a mile north of the junction with the main road is the source of the River Dove at a spring just below Dove Head Farm. Turn right however and go towards the Knights’ Table (Travellers Rest) behind which is the head of the River Manifold. There is less than half a mile between the two river sources.
The moorland around Axe Edge is where five rivers spring to life. The Manifold, Dove and Wye begin their journey to the North Sea whilst the Dane and Goyt empty into the Irish Sea.
10. A well-earned drink at the Kinghts’ Table (Travellers Rest) is recommended before returning to your car. Standing at 1535 feet it is the third highest inn in England and has interesting bar tables encrusted with old pennies.