Winnats Pass

Visitors to Castleton can’t fail to notice stunning scenery around the gorgeous little village, with dramatic limestone steep sided slopes forming the spectacular Winnats Pass.

The only route out of the western end of the Hope valley, the Pass is formed from Carboniferous Limestone, a fossilised coral reef laid down in a shallow sea, some 280 to 300,000,000 years ago. It was a gateway into the fortified village of Castleton in mediaeval times and the name Winnats means ‘wind gates,’ a very fitting name when the wind seems to come from all directions on a stormy day.

Lying to the West of the village of Castleton in the National Trust’s High Peak estate, the road winds through a huge cleft, surrounded by towering limestone pinnacles.

Home to an infamous murder, the limestone valley with steep cliffs on all sides climbs out of the Hope Valley onto the limestone plateau area above, created by the long collapsed limestone cave system. Water ate away at the limestone rock, gradually dissolving the limestone and streams found their way underground, by gradually enlarging the natural cracks in the rock, leaving numerous underground stream systems in the area. It also created a large cave system beneath the edge of the cliff, which overlooks Castleton. The sides of the Pass contain a number of potholes and Speedwell Cavern is one of the areas many show caves, its entrance being at the foot of Winnats Pass.

The road was surfaced during the Second World War and was an alternative way of reaching Mam Tor, Castleton’s infamous Shimmering Mountain, until the main A625 road was closed in 1979 due to subsidence, which means the Pass is heavily used by road traffic. The road regularly features in The Tour Of The Peak Cycle Race each autumn. The South facing side has thin dry soil, which has lots of wildflowers in the spring time, Fairyflax and Birdsfoot trefoil amongst others. The North face inside doesn’t seem much sunshine so the soil is very damp and cool, but the tall herb families and woodland plants such as Jacob’s ladder, dogs Mercury and red Campion thrive in these conditions. The steep sided slopes have a very rich and varied vegetation and lookout for blue flowers in June and July on the crags above the road. The area is on the northern boundary of the White Peak massif, before it drops down and disappears below the shale and Millstone Grits of Mam Tor.

The Legend of Winnat’s Pass

If you drive through Winnat’s Pass, just outside Castleton in the night-time, it’s not hard to believe that it’s haunted by two ghosts with a tragic love story. The murder and robbery of Allan and Clara occurred in the 1700’s. They were on their way riding to Peak Forest to be married at the famous Runaway Church, and arrived at Castleton in the dark. They stopped at a local inn, where a group of lead miners noticed they were carrying a large bag of money and when they resumed their journey, they were robbed and murdered, their bodies hidden and not discovered for many years. The two runaway lovers died together, but divine justice punished their five murderers in the end. One broke his neck in the Winnats, a second was crushed under falling stones, and another committed suicide, one died mad and the fifth made a deathbed confession. It’s possible to see Clara’s red leather saddle in the shop in The Speedwell cavern at the entrance to the Pass.