Walk the Four Parishes – 10 miles, with two stiff climbs.

images/the-strip-fields-of-chelmorton-from-chelmorton-low.jpgFour Parishes make up the United Benefice of Monyash, Chelmorton, Flagg and Taddington and this walk of just over 10 miles not only takes in all of these villages, but crosses a broad swathe of the White Peak’s limestone plateau.

Of course, you could make any of the villages your starting point, but for the purpose of this description, the walk begins and ends in Monyash – just behind the car-park on Chapel Street – which years ago was Jack Mere, a different type of “watering hole” than The Bull’s Head or Old Smithy Tea Rooms, which may tempt you on your return.

You will see the stone step-stile in the right hand corner, leading you down a short, grassy channel, then over a tiny lane and through another short channel, (past the end of a terrace of cottages) to take you into the open fields. From here it is flat, easy going in a roughly diagonal direction over a couple of fields, a green lane, then four more fields to reach Cross Lane, a track which forms part of the Limestone Way.  Heading North West, you will then follow the Limestone Way for a mile or so, firstly on Cross Lane, then on a pretty tree-lined path which leads into fields above Knotlow.  Already you will start to appreciate the peace and tranquillity and enjoy the openness of the landscape – but imagine how different it must have been at the turn of the last century, when the grassy humps that dot these fields now were grey, stony spoil heaps thrown up from the lead-mines that were the mainstay of the area’s economy.

Leaving the fields and farm-track of Knotlow behind, you will hit Mycock Lane which leads into Flagg. You don’t quite reach the village though; at the right-angled corner of Mycock Lane, a footpath sign points into the fields, which keeps you going in a straight line, parallel but below Main Road – enabling you to view this linear village as you walk.  Although there are many stiles, it is a fairly obvious route until you pass a small clump of trees – which rather unusually includes a wych elm.  At this point, the direction changes, inclining slightly left, diagonally up towards High Stool Farm.  You will reach a very minor road – Pasture Lane – at a corner by the farm and here you need to cross it to follow a path just below the farm, leading out to fields again, in a more Westerly direction. It is easy to lose the path, especially towards the end of this section, as the contours of the field hide the stile, but careful viewing of the map should keep you on course.  In the spring-time larks a-bound and there is nothing better than to pause for a moment, with their song in your ears, to turn and view the unfolding panorama; this is the highest point so far and you will be able to see most of the route you have travelled, surrounded by gently rolling countryside as far as the eye can see. Where is the mass conurbation, the overcrowded cities, the disappearing countryside?  Not much evidence of it here!

/images/thefourparishes1.jpgTurning back to the walk, you should now have reached a track known as Highstool Lane.  Turn right here to reach the B road, then turn left along it for a very short distance until you come to the next road on your right – the hill down into Chelmorton.  Viewing the village from above, you can see evidence of the Medieval strip-field system; the drystone walls here have preserved those ancient boundaries, with stripes of wall and pasture sweeping in rows to meet the long street of houses which make up this quiet backwater.  When you meet this street, at the bottom of the hill, turn right.  On your right is the church of St John The Baptist – it is usually open, so if you have time feel free to browse inside; the spire may look solid, but is in urgent need of repair; any donations are gratefully received. Another attraction, almost opposite, is The Church Inn. Although welcome at any point on a walk, you may want to wait a short while before sampling its liquid wares, as you are about to embark on the climb up Chelmorton Low, best tackled without the soporific effect of hoppy brews…

So, without further loitering, look for the gate at the end of the lane, just beyond The Church Inn.  The open access point onto Chelmorton Low is set back slightly, but is clearly marked.  There is an obvious path which curves round the bottom of the hill, but no marked route upwards, so make your own way to the top whichever way you prefer. At around 450 metres, this is a good old clamber, but well worth it, as the views from the summit are superb and truly panoramic. The Bronze Age people certainly had good taste in burial grounds!  One of their tumuli is sited right on the top of the hill.

/images/illy-willy-water.jpgYou have to return the way you came, as there are no other access points in the direction we are heading, but this does give you the opportunity to view the spring, known locally as “Illy Willy Water”, which bubbles out of the ground at the base of the hill, and is situated on the track you are about to follow, rather cruelly taking you back uphill. This small spring once watered the whole village – and its water is still fresh and clear today.

Whether you have refreshed yourself at the pub or stream, continue up the track past the spring until you reach Pillwell Lane.  Somewhere along the track upwards, the path splits indiscernibly into two, but they are so close together it matters not which you are on.  However, when you do reach Pillwell Lane, you need to take the footpath which begins opposite the right-hand one, i.e. not the one which takes you by Fivewells Farm.  The navigation is easy along here; follow a straight, Easterly line all the way until you see the spire of Taddington Church appearing down in the hollow. The route descends now and the long line of field paths end at Slipperlow Lane.  Depending on how much time or energy you have will determine whether you want to continue down into Taddington Village; it is certainly worth a wander, as there is yet another fine church to explore, and yet another pub – The Queen’s Arms.  The village shop is situated in the pub’s pool room, so if you are in need of a few basic supplies, this is a good place to visit.

However, you may wish to push on without any detours and in this case, turn right up Slipperlow Lane and follow it to the junction with Moor Lane.  Turn left here and follow this to the junction of the other road coming up from Taddington – The Jarnett.  Here, don’t miss a chance to explore Taddington High Mere, situated just over this ancient junction. At nearly 400 metres above sea level, it is very high and a magical spot to visit, planted with bullrushes, marsh marigolds and other native plants that attract a host of other fascinating creatures, such as dragonflies and frogs.  While it is no longer used as a watering hole, it is easy to imagine flocks of sheep being driven here, or teams of packhorses and their drivers taking a welcome break.  It really does have the feel of being a Peak District oasis.

Time to move on again; the footpath home is on the corner of the junction, (opposite the mere) and cuts diagonally across the next six fields, to reach a track leading down past Rockfield House, terminating at Flagg Lane – Flagg village will now be clearly in your sights.  Slightly to the right and on the opposite side of the road is the next stile to more lovely, level fields of easy walking.  As you approach the village, Flagg Hall Farm is on your left and you emerge in the centre, opposite the Methodist Chapel, which also doubles as one of the classrooms for the local nursery school.  If you are flagging (forgive the pun), a minor diversion to the right will take you to the Village Tea Rooms on Main Road, but our walk continues left, down the road leading out towards Monyash.  Just at the end of the houses, between Hobson and Townend Farms, there is a track to the right, taking you past a Foy Society camping barn.  Take this and at the end, although your instinct is to keep straight on, go to the right of the wall, between the two stone gate posts and then keep to the left, just inside the house grounds.  Enter the field ahead and then aim for a stile in the middle of the far wall.  This route is not well walked and if attempting it in summer, you need to look hard to find the stiles hidden behind the long grass and camouflaged within the walls. The next field is probably the trickiest, as the path deviates slightly to the left of a funny kink in the wall, but is obvious when you find it, and from here on it is fairly straightforward, heading towards Knotlow and a clump of disused mines that you passed early on in the ramble.  When you reach the end of this path, you are back on familiar ground at the five lane junction which you crossed earlier.  Now it is simply a matter of re-tracing your steps past the barn down Cross Lane and over the fields for the last ¼ mile to Monyash – and its well deserved watering holes!

Judy Meetham / Simon Corble