Sunday, December 14 – Eyam and Hathersage

We were up at six this morning.  Bright moonlight and a clear, starry sky seemed to foretell a good day.  It was 8am when we got a start, and daylight, the cold nip in the air speeding us up a little.  We were glad to get over the setts to Stockport, where a grand red sunrise, in a mist, which made the chimneys seem ethereal, was enjoyed.  At Hazel Grove, we started the stiff climb through High Lane to Disley, and then a level, excellent road, pretty in places, took us through Furness Vale (where there was a good view of New Mills in the valley and the hills beyond), and for six miles to Whaley Bridge.  We had now warmed up to our work, and a strong wind bowled us along.

The sky, black and forbidding over the Peak, was blue and sunny to the west and south, and, as anticipated, the clouds were swept away before lunch time.  The steady, three and a half mile climb to Chapel-en-le-Frith, seemed contemptuously easy, but not so Barmoor Clough, beyond this ancient town.  Two of the three uphill miles to Sparrowpit had to be walked, but now that we had got away from industrialism, we did not care had we to walk a dozen miles.  From this moorland village, we joined the Tideswell road, which bore us downhill at a hectic speed to Peak Forest, a stone-built township which is little more than a hamlet, and is situated in a wild, moorland valley.  The road on the far side is a great deal higher at one end than the other, and a walk to the High Peak Temperance Hotel was necessary.

From here it was a view of rolling, barren moors, and a maze of stone walls, with a jagged hole on Eldon Hill opposite, showing that thrice explored gap, Eldon Hole.  This is 186 ft deep, and from the bottom runs several fissures and caverns similar to the other caves.  Many a wild and uncanny story has been told about it, and from its position, and seeming unfathomable depth, one can understand the terror and fear it must have imbued in those superstitious days.  Now came a long run downhill over Tideswell Moor, until,Tideswell Church, the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’ came into view on our right.  Crossing Lane Head, another rush downhill brought us to Wardlow, with the isolated Limestone pillar, ‘Peter’s Stone’, in Littonfrith Dale, to the right of us.  Climbing uphill, we stood facing Eyam Edge, then swinging right, we started dropping between the limestone cliffs of Middleton Dale.  As we went lower, the bastion-like masses of gleaming white rock towered above us, fantastically, like the ramparts and towers of some massive fortress.  At a little signpost, in the centre of the Dale, we swung left, were quickly brought to a standstill by the gradient, and commenced to walk up Eyam Dale.

On one hand were the bare white cliffs, rising fifty feet or more, and on the other, the ground, rising, was well wooded, and the rough limestone broken and split into a maze of boulders and tottering pillars, with ivy entirely covering the rock and the wall by the roadside.  Houses, perched near the edge of the craggy mass, appeared beautifully set, and partly hidden with foliage, then we entered Eyam.  We made a bee-line for lunch, which we knew could be had in a little cottage near the village square.  We had stewed fruit, hot from the oven with custard in plenty, tons of bread and butter, a plate of tea-cakes, and three fancy’s each, and the charge was one shilling – can you beat it!  Then we were told to help ourselves to apples and bananas.  My front wheel had been clicking, yesterday’s rain having got inside the cones, so we cleaned it out.  Leaving the bikes, we had a walk to the church, which was closed, but an inspection of the churchyard revealed a runic cross of Saxon origin, the carving being in an excellent state of preservation.

Here are buried many of the victims of the Plague (1666), of which the little village had a terrible visitation.  Of 350 inhabitants, 259 perished, including 58 children.  This is further referred to on my entry for June 8.  Regaining our machines, we started along the Grindleford road, which winds round the side of the hill.  Stoney Middleton lay below us, with the valley stretching away beyond Calver and Baslow, to Chatsworth Park.  The day was not very clear, but it might have been worse.  Outcrops of limestone gave the fields about here a flinty look, and makes them unsuitable for crops.  The limestone at Stoney Middleton is estimated to be 5000 feet thick!  The ground, during the formation of this, must have been many miles under water, for the slightest ripple or upheaval would have entirely ruined the whole lot.  How many thousands of years must have passed before it reached its present state?  Turning a bend in the road, the whole beautiful valley opened out before us.  The opposite hills, Froggart Edge and Curbar Edge, ridged by broken precipices of millstone grit, were ablaze with purple and red heather, and the river Derwent wandered along the foot of wooded slopes, amongst which picturesque dwellings were placed.

A long descent took us across Grindleford Bridge to Nether Padley, from where a tramp uphill commenced.  The sun became obscured, and in a moment, rain, without which no day awheel has been complete this year, made its entry vigorously .  The terrific downpour drove us beneath our capes, but soon it gave over, and they were pulled off – but not packed away!  The road, well wooded at first, climbed out of the valley, and as we drew higher, the vegetation gradually disappeared.  In one place , a tree stump gave an excellent resemblance to a deer.  Heather came into its own, a mass of colouring, amongst which great boulders were interspersed, some of giant proportions.

Rain came flooding down once again with renewed force, and when we mounted, we turned into the face of a sweeping wind, which made the going inside capes at this height (1,000 ft) no easy matter.  Rounding a bend, a sudden view burst upon our gaze.  This is ‘Surprise View Corner’, and we were ready for it, but to anyone without any knowledge of it, it would be a surprise.  Before us, lay Hope valley, watered by first the Derwent, then higher up, the Noe.  It is a broad green vale, pleasant to look upon, and is bounded to the west by Offerton and Shatton Moors, and to the east by the hills of Bamford Edge, Win Hill, Lose Hill and enclosed effectively by Mam Tor at Castleton.  We spent some time here, then rushed downhill, in the teeth of the wind to Hathersage, where we made for the churchyard.  Herein lies Little John, the henchman of Robin Hood, and the grave is marked by a head and footstone between two ancient yews, ten feet apart.  Whether this is a fact or not, an immense thighbone has been found here, 32 inches long.  At Hathersage, we packed our capes away, and proceeded against the wind up the Hope valley.  It was a dour struggle, and more rain fell, but we did not use capes, and it soon passed off.  Near Hope, a stud entered Tom’s front tyre, and so sure of a puncture were we, that we got the tube out.  No puncture could be found, and the tube was put back.  It never troubled us.

At length, in the gathering dusk, we reached Castleton.  On our left, at the summit of a huge gash in the hill, stood Peak Castle, ‘Peveril’s Place in the Peak’, the ruined outer wall enclosing a massive square keep, or tower.  Before us, the valley was suddenly and effectively blocked, the only possible way out seemed by the two lines of rugged white precipice, Winnats Pass.  But our road wound to the right, climbing a little.  The wind made riding impossible, so we proceeded uphill on foot.  As we got higher, the Hope valley opened out on our right, with Castleton below, and the spire of Hope church just showing in the gloom.  The road gave a sudden twist, and finding the wind behind us, we mounted, and for a brief moment darted forward, but an upward lurch of the road, which turned into the wind again, brought us off.  At any speed over 8 miles per hour, this curve would be a death trap, and to partly alleviate it, there is a very steep camber set on it.  Near the way to Blue John Mine, we stopped for a moment to take stock of our surroundings.  The wind, which had assumed the proportions of a gale, howled and shrieked about us, and sent the black clouds scudding across the sky.  The effect of these, in the darkening hills was fearsome, awe inspiring, the bulks of Win and Lose hills, and the ‘Edges’, appearing fantastic, and forbidding, whilst the valley was all but obliterated.  Nature seemed in her wildest mood tonight, a startling contrast to this morning’s sunny, cloudless sky.

Reaching the summit of Mam Tor, with Tray Cliff, a dark, scaly precipice on our right, we came to the lone signpost, and turned on to the bleak byroad for Sparrowpit, three miles distant.  Rushop Edge was bathed in a white mist, a rain shroud, which smothered the twinkling lights on the Chapel-en-le-Frith road.  We had a hard struggle against the wind, and though the gradient favoured us, we never could release the pressure on our pedals.  At length the village of Sparrowpit was reached, and Mrs Vernon welcomed us in to tea at 4.45.  A wash and tea in the cosy little room, followed by a chat with two walkers, put us in a fit condition to master the 34 stormy miles to be covered.  The night was pitch black, but the wind had eased off, and we made a good pace down Barmoor Clough to Chapel-en-le-Frith.  Then by Combs reservoir to Whaley Bridge and Furness Vale, with the lights of New Mills twinkling below.  Downhill via Disley and High Lane to Hazel Grove, and the rough setts took us to Stockport, from where Cheadle was reached.  Moonlight was now appearing, but when I left Tom at Kingsway End, my cape came into use.  Rain fell spasmodically for the rest of my journey home, which was reached at 10pm.  This has been a wonderful day.

85 miles