Three quiet dales – A Walk from Brierlow Bar to Chelmorton

Five miles, mostly easy-going.

This walk through three classic Derbyshire dales is beautiful at any time of year and not a difficult hike; but catch it at just the right moment in the spring and you’ll be enchanted.

The walk starts at the country’s “largest discount bookshop” on the A515 at Brierlow Bar.  Big signs for the shop make it difficult to miss.  Naturally, you will want to patronise the place, if you are going to be using their car park; you would be crazy not to, as the range of books on offer is truly amazing for a supposed “bargain basement” establishment.  There are dozens of titles on local subjects also; the only danger is that your walk may never actually get started, as the browsing in this place is relaxed and deeply addictive.

Tearing yourself away from these attractions, walk out of the car park, cross the road and then cross the main road to your right, (A515) just beyond the junction.  Be warned: This is a busy intersection with traffic from both directions often approaching at higher speeds than it should, on a bend and downhill, so take great care.

The “gateway” to the walk, tiny Brierlow Dale, starts just a few yards along in the Buxton direction,  and very soon you are leaving all traffic noise behind as you descend into its lush green pasture.

Five hundred yards further and Brierlow joins Back Dale, which is where things start to turn even more attractive.  Depending on the clime of the season, May should show you a quite fantastic display of wild flowers on these lightly wooded slopes, with swathes of yellow cowslips complementing early purple orchids; sweet cicely, with its aniseed smell, in places, along with red campion, while violets, speedwell and lady’s smock all contrive to make this sheltered place an absolute delight.  Musical accompaniment is provided by chaffinches, wheatears and, as the trees become a little more substantial, near the junction with Deep Dale, redstarts add their voices to the mix.

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To begin with, this is a short trek down-dale, so navigation could not be more simple, though parts of Deep Dale are rocky underfoot.  Continue down Deep Dale, (the left-hand fork) passing Raven’s Tor outcrop, high up on your left and then, on the next major kink in the dale, join the Midshires Way; this involves a short but steep climb up the dale-side to your right.

Suddenly, you are in a different country.  From here, the Midshires Way cuts across a close patchwork of fields towards the village of Chelmorton; dry-stone walls of white-grey limestone as far as the eye can see.  Half a dozen of these walls need to negotiated, by stile and gate, before the path joins an ancient green lane called Caxter Way.  This leads in a straight line, at one point crossing the not-busy A5270, into the village and a very welcome stop at The Church Inn.  As the name suggests, the pub is next to Chelmorton Church, impossible to miss with its distinctive steeple, but be aware that the Inn is not always open all day; best to time your arrival for lunchtime, when good food is also on offer.

The pub and church are at the older end of the village, near to a spring of fresh water issuing out of Chelmorton Low, the impressive hill looming above.  The Village name derives from “Chelmer dun” – or the hill belonging to an Anglo-Saxon man named Chelmer.  “Low” is another Old English word for “hill”, so it is really “Chelmer’s Hill – Hill!”  More ancient still, there are burial mounds, (tumuli) up on the summit and a gorgeous view to be had if you fancy and hour’s diversion onto the open access land, just up the lane past the church.

Otherwise, the returning route is down the main village street and then a right turn, not far past the telephone box, onto a footpath that hugs some of those ubiquitous dry-stone walls.  If you have the OS map with you, you’ll see that there are in fact many options of paths through this dense web of walls and green fields,  the narrow dimensions of which date back all the way to the middle ages and the system of allocating land in strips.

Take a left turn onto a footpath crossing your way and eventually this will bring you back onto the A5270.  As mentioned above, this is not as scary as it sounds; keep to the verge, turning to your left, as the road descends round some sharp bends to the hollow of Horseshoe Dale, about 500 yards away.  Turn right, onto the footpath descending into this very inviting dale and half a mile will bring you back to the three dales’ junction you may recognise from earlier, where you will of course turn left again to return to the starting point at Brierlow Bar.

If anything, Horseshoe Dale is capable of putting on an even more impressive display of flowers and is as idyllic as anything in the Peak District, while remaining strangely devoid of people; so you will be glad to have accomplished the walk this way round, leaving the real treasure for the end.

Simon Corble