From King Sterndale – A Walk in Two Little-Known Dales

Approximately 4 ¾ miles.  Fairly easy with one steep climb on lane.

If you are staying in Buxton and don’t want to be bothered driving very far afield to some of the more popular hotspots, you could do a lot worse than explore two little known dales closer to hand.  The walk could also be accessed by bus just a few stops out of Buxton down the A6.  Numbers 170;193 218; 605.

Woo and Cunning are two unassuming dales on the edge of Buxton but make for a fairly gentle and delightful ramble, starting from the interesting village of King Sterndale (You might even find yourself camping or caravaning here, as there is a campsite at Sterndale Green Farm, opposite the church).

images/christ-church.jpgChrist church, King Sterndale is a wonderful and unusual building, (although you may probably find it locked) built in the mid-19th century, but with the illusion of being straight out of a medieval fairy tale, with its dormer windows set into a long stone roof .  However, push on towards the centre of the hamlet where you will find a traditional phone box and a handful of houses circling the upper half of the village green – which is almost bigger than the hamlet itself.  The green is well kept and at the far end is the old crumbling stump of the once fine “butter cross”, dating from the middle ages.  This accounts for the size of the green; it was once a bustling market place.

Beyond the cross, follow the lane out of the village on the other side of the green; it is ‘unsuitable for motors’ and soon slopes steeply downhill. A little way down there is a footpath on the right, and at first glance it seems precipitous –  it is indeed a sharp descent, taking you down to the least interesting part of the walk, over the railway line and then the busy A6 – please cross with caution! 

/images/woo-dale.jpgThe route continues over a bridge across the Wye – frequented here by grey wagtails; you might spot one bobbing from stone to stone in the fast-flowing river.  The path is straight ahead, curving round the hill to enter Woo Dale – was it perhaps a meeting place for clandestine lovers in times gone by?

You will probably find yourselves alone in the green-carpeted dale; if you visit in May, the plentiful blossom-covered branches of hawthorn blend with limestone boulders, dotted on the higher parts of the slopes. The distinctive laugh of a green woodpecker can stop you in your tracks or you may be lulled by the prettier songs of the wren and robin.  It is also a perfect habitat for wheatears – look out for the flash of a white rump flitting along the walls and rocks. In the spring, there are cowslips and early purple orchids.

/images/stile-near-pictorhall.jpgAt the dale end your path continues and curves round for a little way to face due west towards Buxton. It ends opposite Red Gap Farm and here it gets a little confusing as there are no signs. The map suggests you should cross the garden of the farm, but a stile behind it is the only one to be seen; it is a red herring, probably put there to deter people from taking the proper route. Stick to what the map says however, turning left just in front of the farm and keeping to a route over fields, curving gradually downwards. With Buxton in your sights, you can enjoy also excellent views beyond to Back Edge; it is very hard to believe the town is so close, but you are on its eastern tip near  the district of Fairfields,  passing within yards of an expanse of allotments as you curve left-wards into Cunning Dale.  All sorts of plants have escaped the confines of cultivation to grow wild in the dale; gooseberries, raspberries, borage… to name but a few.

/images/cunning-dale.jpgCunning Dale is narrower than Woo, but very quiet and deserted just the same. The mainly grassy path is flower-lined with yellow rattle, violets, early purple orchids and cowslips, all of which attract a myriad of colourful insects such as the green, shiny-backed mint leaf beetle, and red and black froghoppers.

At the other end of the dale you reach a minor road and if the season is right will find yellow and orange Welsh poppies and a beautiful red flowering quince – another escapee from cultivation. Continue down here and just before the main road there is a path on the left, heading steeply upwards through a wild, conserved woodland where The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have erected nest boxes to encourage a variety of birds to nest.

Emerging out of the wood at the top of the hill, bear right over farmland, skirting the treetops which you have just passed through and follow a sign for Pictor Hall, keeping more or less straight ahead.  You pass above Pictor Hall to pick up the farm track descending on its right hand side, not quite getting a clear view of this fascinating building.  From what is visible, the derelict part looks almost Medieval alongside a crumbling Georgian section, complete with tall bell-towers, while tagged on the end is a picturesque, possibly Victorian cottage.  The hall’s enchanting lodge is located beside the river at the bottom of the zig-zag track, which is what you now take.

On reaching the track’s end, you will find yourself back at the A6, opposite the road ‘unsuitable for motors’, which leads back to the start in King Sterndale. It’s a steep pull back up, but if you have enough puff when you reach the top, why not stroll around the churchyard for a glimpse into the past; just four names are on the war memorial – not many in the big scheme of things, but probably a sizeable percentage from this tiny village. On another wall is a row of gravestones belonging to the Pickford family – probably King Sterndale’s only claim to fame, as here lie the founder members of the Pickford’s Removals firm, the former owners of a large hall in King Sterndale

If you fancy some refreshments after your ramble, your nearest watering hole outside of Buxton is the bookshop at Brielow Bar, where tea and coffee is available daily, or if you want something a little stronger or substantial, turn off there to Chelmorton where you will find The Church Inn.  It is open lunchtimes and evenings daily, and serves food as well as fine ales.

Simon Corble