Sunday: February 8, 1925.
Monsal Dale: The road (in Miller’s Dale) ended at Litton Mill, the beginning of wonderful Cressbrook Dale. From a notice board we learned that pedestrians only could continue at a toll of six pence. Now if there is anything that maddens me, it is the commercialisation of natural beauty. There is far too much of it. As soon as anything such as a glen, waterfall, or natural curiosity becomes known, a padlock is put near it, and a man forthwith haunts the spot with a roll of tickets. It is not the price, that is negligible, but the principle of it. If that particular ‘sight’ had been made accessible, I would not grumble, but when, like Cornbrook Dale, it has just been looked up, it is a bit too bad. We decided not to pay, and joined a narrow road leading of the dales instead. Once could almost lean on the wind when we left the shelter of the valley. A splendid view of Miller’s Dale and Cressbrook Dale were ample repayment for the barrier. Soon we joined a road that immediately dropped us at the end of Raven’s Dale, another pretty little scar. Then the village of Cressbrook and a small section of Cressbrook Dale to Monsal Dale.
We left the road again, embarking on a squelchy field, and crossing the Wye by a stout footbridge, we passed under the railway and so entered the Dale. Simultaneously heavy rains came down, but we continued without capes. The path was wet and muddy but quite good, and ran on the fringe of the wooded right escarpment, often making little detours to the flooded river, which broke into many fierce little falls or noisy rapids, the steep slopes on both sides being well wooded and overlooked by fantastically shaped masses of rain-washed limestone. One could picture familiar shapes in these pinnacles and slabs. Here a resemblance to some church steeple or spire, there the profile of some animal, and high above were the walls and towers of some legendary town of Arthurian days. The rain was quite forgotten during that all too short tramp through this little earthly paradise. At length, a ‘teas’ hut hove into sight; a strange familiarity seemed to hang over, then we struck a main road which we recognised as the Buxton-Bakewell road, at the foot of Taddington Dale.
The ‘Ravine of the Wye’ is comprised of six dales, namely, Ashwood Dale, Wye Dale, Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale, Cressbrook Dale and Monsal Dale, through which runs the Derbyshire Wye on its way to the Derwent at Rowsley, two miles beyond Bakewell, and into it run many other dales from each side, all of them interesting, and some of them very beautiful. On the left are Cunning Dale, Woo Dale, Great Rocks Dale, Monk’s Dale, Tideswell Dale, Littonfrith Dale and Raven’s Dale, the right being fed from Cow Dale, Kingsterndale, Deep Dale, Buck Dale, Horseshoe Dale and Taddington Dale, another Deep Dale and Kirkdale, excluding many nameless little chasms such as Lovers Leap. Then there are the dales joining the Hope Valley, such as Otter Dale, Bradwell Dale (already mentioned), tiny Pin Dale, a fine example of limestone formation, Cave Dale, in which is situated Peak Cavern, and the Winnats Pass, the best of them all.
The following is an extract for June 7, 1925.
Here, (from Castleton) we had two routes to choose from, for this is a cul-de-sac (the Hope Valley) the outlet being either by a long climb round the hairpins of Mam Tor or the steep ascent of the Winnats. We chose the Winnats in preference, for if it does not yield the same view of the valley or give a glimpse of the scaly sides of the ‘shivering mountain’, it is grander and more awe-inspiring – and a jolly sight steeper and rougher too. We generally, intentionally or otherwise, pick the harder and rougher way. The Winnats is the old coach road; being once an adventure for the traveller, for on days when a gale is blowing, the formation of the pass turns the wind down the gorge with amazing velocity, and has been known to cause death by suffocation. Then again, it was a popular haunt of highwaymen, the story being told of a bridal pair being murdered here on their way to their honeymoon. And when one stands at the summit and looks upon that tortuous descent and upon those great walls of limestone on each side, one can quite believe what terror it caused in the ‘bad old days’.
Again on October 4, 1926.
We left the main road and made for the Winnats, past the entrance to Speedwell Cavern, but we did not see the pass until we were in it, so thick was the mist becoming. As we climbed higher up the gorge, the pass became awesome. Seeing only the base, and the rising, tottering crags, we could easily imagine ourselves somewhere in the dark clefts of the Caucasus or the fearsome chasms of the Himalayas, an imagination that grew upon us as we scrambled hotly through the mist.
Middleton Dale, opening to the Derwent about midway between the Hope Valley and Monsal Head, is another excellent gorge, though halfway down it is marred by quarries. At the foot of the dale lies the village of Stoney Middleton, and on the left hand side of the road the houses are built right beneath the cliffs which overhang the roofs. One bulging mass of rock is called ‘Lover’s Leap’ to which an interesting but suspiciously common legend is attributed – with variations. The limestone in Middleton Dale is known to be a solid thickness of 5,000 feet, except for the possible caverns, which have not been discovered. Just where the quarries spoil the effect of the dale, one of the sweetest little dales in Derbyshire opens out. It is Eyam Dale, and through it runs the road to Eyam, a beautiful little village with a terrible history; the Plague village it is called – of which more anon. Though only half a mile long, Eyam Dale is possessed of the richest beauty. The left hand side (on the way into Eyam) is deeply wooded, with the limestone bastions either gleaming grey through the trees or covered with ivy and creeper, whilst on the right the cliffs rise in fantastic masses with, just near Eyam, some picturesque cottage stuck here and there beneath the bulges on ledges above the road. In Spring the ground is carpeted with flowers and far into the Autumn the gardens display a rich variety of colour. Autumn Glory in Eyam Dale in November is a scene never forgotten.
Derbyshire rivers and Derbyshire Dales are in the foremost class for beauty, one river and dale ranks above them all, however that sweet ‘Valley of Rasselas’, Dovedale, and its river. What did Cotton say ! :-
“Oh, my beloved nymph ! fair Dove
Princess of rivers……… “
And Cotton was right – it is a princess of rivers. Yet I have only once been to Dovedale; my excuse must be the big mileage in hard, often uninteresting country that is necessary, the very early start which must be made to give one time to see the Dale, and our experience of the dismal ups and downs against a headwind of the Buxton-Ashbourne road, and a ‘big’ dinner, an exorbitant charge, and the after effects of the dinner on that “‘ard ‘igh road” from Milldale to Leek. But for a’that, as Burns has it, Dovedale is worth it. Here is the entry in my diary.
Sunday, May 3, 1925.
Returning to Thorpe, we turned left by the ‘Dog and Partridge’, dipping suddenly downhill past the entrance to the ‘Peveril of the Peak’ hotel, and across the river Dove to Thorpe Cloud, a village below a bold hill which bears the same name and guards the entrance to Dovedale. Up again, and a rough, steep pitch brought us back to the river and the entrance the Dale. A little farther on the road ended suddenly where a crowd of motors were drawn up and the hillside was thickly peopled. The track into the gorge lay across the river, and at first we feared we should have to retrace our steps for half a mile, but Tom discovered some stepping stones, so hoisting the bikes on our shoulders we crossed quite easily – to the obvious surprise of the crowd. There, the real glories of this ‘Valley of Rasselas’ started, and there lay the most wonderful three and a half miles in the world (it is said).
From Thorpe Cloud to Dove Holes the scenery is as though carried out by a giant artist from a fairy design. Everything is on so magnificent a scale, yet so exquisitely beautiful in all its detail. Trees, bushes, undergrowth, elfin dells and goblin rocks are everywhere; the path along which we tugged our bikes was at first along fairly open ground though rocky and uneven, but across the river the hills were a mass of foliage of every conceivable shade of green, for now Spring is at her best. On the Derbyshire side the limestone had weathered into rugged cliffs and fantastic pinnacles, and a little further on we crossed Sharplow Dale. Near here we started to spend money like water, paying one penny to visit the Reynard Caves, ‘Hill’ and ‘Kitchen’. Scrambling up a rocky slope to the high, bare cliffs and, above, the natural arch in a great rib of rock that marks the opening to the two caves. These caves are not deep, but inside them prehistoric and other remains have been discovered, and the name was given because they were the retreat of Reynard the fox. From the top of this rocky curtain we obtained a fine view of the dale.
On returning to our machines we were persuaded into buying some picture postcards, and were shown one – a real photo, on which the shadow of Reynard darkened the cave entrance. This phenomenon occurs only at very rare intervals and is caused by the sun’s rays falling across the cave mouth from a certain position. Owing to the (supposed) rarity of the picture, the old lady in charge of the stall wouldn’t sell, although I fancy that had we cared to pay the price, it would have been ours; probably more would be forthcoming for some other gullible tourist. Tissington Spires, an array of needle-like pinnacles could be seen from below the caves, and across the water, half-hidden by trees, we could see the limestone spires of Dovedale church. This, of course, is not a church, but just a name given, such as abound in Dovedale, to the masses of limestone, and which have a fanciful resemblance to the buildings so named.
A little farther, we came to the Straits, where the river narrows between the tree-clad banks, and where we could only just scramble along the path. On the far side of the Straits we passed a little wood to where the cliff comes down to the water, and where the ‘Lion’s Head’, a rock which has weathered to a remarkably close resemblance to the head of a lion, juts out. Here we were at Pickering Tors, a great round bastion of limestone with five distinct points, the Lions rock being on the right, and a huge Tor with a cave at its base being on the left. There also we saw Ilam rock standing up like a needle out of a deep pool in the Dove. There was no doubt that the scenery was hypnotizing us. We could have scrambled and climbed along this wondrous dale for hours, but the time was getting late (3.30pm) and there was more dale work yet and then over 60 miles of hard country to cover, so resolutely turning our faces ahead, we tramped, scrambled, and carried the bikes onwards. Passing the big hill with its serrated and weather-worn outlines called ‘The Nabs’, we came to those two natural arched recesses in the rocky hillsides called the ‘Dove Holes’. The larger arch has a span of over 50 feet, and rises to a height of 30 feet, but the other is not so majestic. From here the dale became barren, and a very rough passage for half a mile took us to Milldale, a quiet little hamlet at the end of the dale so named, and where the Alstonfield road led us away from the limestone and Spring beauty of Dovedale onto the high green-brown moors.
Of the other dales in the district I know nothing, except that they are worth a visit, and a weekend is demanded to traverse Lathkill Dale, Beresford Dale, Milldale and the Manifold Valley. Many more dales, too, I am almost ignorant of , as Darley Dale and the whole Matlock district, including Matlock Dale and Matlock Bath. The valley of the Derwent to Rowsley I am acquainted with, the Hope Valley, and the North Derbyshire and Cheshire border ‘cloughs’, as Ladyclough, William Clough, Woodland Dale, Ashop Dale, Barmoor Clough, of the Kinder Scout, Wildboarclough (really a Cheshire valley) and beautiful Goyt Dale which is as much Cheshire, I know very well.
From the Derbyshire I have seen I gather that I have many rich treats and pleasant surprises in store when I start out to explore still more of that beautiful county. And this story of the Derbyshire Dales does not end there, for folk-lore and legends, the wonderful story of the limestone and water, the netherworld of Derbyshire, its moors and its paths yet remain to form another theme somewhere in these pages.
November 27, 1926