Limestone Way 4
Monyash – Castleton 16 miles
It had been a wet night. Terra Nova didn’t make the solar 2.2 for very long and the reason was a bit of a design flaw that would manifest itself in steady rain. The tent remained dry (apart from some condensation), but periodically during the night I had to knock off the pool of water that would gather in the dip on top of the tent.
As usual I woke early and lay in the sleeping bag listening to the steady rain pattering away on the tent enjoying being dry and warm, but not enjoying the thought getting up and donning my still rather soggy gear. Eventually the pattering stopped and I used the break in showers to get the tent down and start the walk to Castleton around 7 am.
With the rain holding off, it was a short walk out of town to a green lane and it wasn’t long before I was walking through another, quite extensive campsite at Knotlow Farm, complete with Yurts. Even with the poor weather the site was quite busy and there were one or two people up and about, most of them dog walkers.
I took a rest in a convenient bus shelter in Flagg before embarking on a long road walk as the rain started once more. This was a trudge now in the sort of steady drizzle that insinuates its way into every nook and cranny, gradually soaking me to the skin. The route was climbing steadily as well – on another day the views back over Flagg would have been an enjoyable distraction.
At the top of the hill the trail left the road and took to a track, the rain now horizontal. This wasn’t enjoyable as the track became terribly stony, hammering my already sore feet. The map showed a pub up ahead where the A6 was to be crossed, and the thought that there might be an outside possibility of it being open was the only thing keeping me going. It wasn’t.
I was toiling badly, and with little or no shelter to be had I took a seat on the leeward side of the pub, which afforded at least a little protection from the rain. It was downhill all the way now to Miller’s Dale on a sheltered track and as I reached the village in the Dale I was seriously contemplating just phoning a cab. After passing under the old railway viaduct that now carries the Monsal Trail, I couldn’t even summon up the energy to walk the extra 100m or so to investigate whether or not the pub was open.
Resting a while on a convenient wall I contemplated what was coming up next. The way down into the Dale had been relatively steep – looking at the map it was the same on the way out. Initially the climb was steep up to a farm, then it was back to the stony track, climbing slowly all the time. Here it looked like the cattle had digestive problems, judging by the generous number of pats along the path, creating large brown islands in the steady stream of water.
This was high above Monk’s Dale and despite the driving rain and low cloud the surrounding countryside was magnificent, even if I wasn’t really enjoying the experience. A stone step stile in the wall offered an opportunity for a seat and a rest and it was with some surprise that a couple of older gentlemen came meandering down the path wearing no more than light jackets and shorts. “Oh we always take a walk down to the pub this way”, was what they said when they stopped for a chat. I’m guessing they were on the way down to Miller’s Dale, meaning that the pub had actually been open. Bugger. The rain was still pelting down and they didn’t seem unduly bothered by it.
Waving a goodbye, I stumbled on at a snails pace along the track emerging onto a road, which blessedly was heading downhill. The road descended steeply into Monk’s Dale, crossing the bottom of the dale, a rather serene spot where the steep slopes that enclose it opened out into a little oasis. There was a very welcome bench here that beckoned, and I stopped to rest a while, guzzling a full pack of emergency jelly babies.
The way then passed into the initially narrow Peter Dale. While the limestone here was spectacular, the going under foot was not. Cattle had been grazed in the Dale, and where the limestone cliffs stood close together leaving just a narrow gap, the ground had been churned into a stony morass. On another day this would have been delightful, but the mud, rain and the stone underfoot left me turning the air blue.
On top of all that the batteries on the GPS that I had just replaced decided that they had no charge in them, meaning another lengthy stop to replace them with new ones.
Still, the path improved as I made my way up the dale, the sides becoming less steep and the ground open. It was actually fairly pleasant, for a while at least!
Moving on to Hay Dale I got the sense that I was on the last leg, even if at this stage it was all up hill. This was a bit easier under foot, no cattle here but sheep, which thankfully tend to have less of an impact on the condition of the ground. The rain had come back with a series of regular squally showers and it was head down as I rejoined a section of the Pennine Bridleway before emerging on a quiet road and a quick breather. The path had gained some height here and there were dramatic views to be had back over the ground I had covered early in the day. Next was a weary scamper over a busy A road and one final steep climb which eventually opened out onto the hills above Castleton.
There was the distinctive bulk of Mam Tor in the distance heralding the end of the walk. The paths were well trod, and the going was easy, for a while at least. To cap it all off, as if by magic, the cloud which had been dropping copious amounts of water on me at various points of the day parted to reveal blue sky and sun. Suddenly I was too warm in the waterproofs as I began the descent into Castleton in glorious sunshine.
What a great finish it was too, through the spectacular Cave Dale. Moments before I had been alone on the path, but as if by magic walkers appeared from all directions, as seems to be the way when approaching honey pot sites.
It was slow going, however, a mix of fatigue, sore feet, loose rock and the limestone (which had all the characteristics of sheet ice) all playing their part on the way down. It was with some relief then, that I reached the entrance to the Dale and the signpost marking the end of the Limestone Way.
Day Rating 8/10
Despite the rotten weather on the final day this was a good days walk. Interesting Limestone features mixed in with some dramatic scenery. Would it have scored better in better weather? Undoubtedly! There was also the small matter of a reduction in pinch stiles for the day, which certainly helped things move along. The finish was worth waiting for, and the sun coming out made for a nice bonus at the end of the day. Needless to say, I made for the nearest pub where I lingered for a while before walking the last leg to the YHA.
Trail Rating 33/40 (82%)
A hugely enjoyable, and different trail with real marked changes in the landscape between Staffordshire and Derbyshire really adding to the sense of the journey. Hedgerows giving way to walls, giving way to limestone Grassland and rolling hills changing to rugged limestone crags. Interesting historical sections like the old turnpike just outside Thorpe. The way marking in Staffordshire may well have been non-existent, meaning if you tackle the Limestone Way a map with the route on it is vital. In some places it is so seldom walked there was very little evidence of a path on the ground!
There was a huge improvement once across the border into Derbyshire. That’s not to say that the way marking was perfect, just that they cropped up on a fairly regular basis!
The scenery was great, the hospitality and pubs great and this is a little gem of a path – with one down side. Pinch stiles. They are everywhere on this route and essentially turn it in to a 50 or so mile obstacle course, especially with a large pack on. It’s a minor gripe though, and one that is quickly forgiven (if not forgotten).
Having accidentally booked the train a day later than planned, I also had an extra day to explore Castleton, taking some time to visit the ruins of Peveril Castle, with its stunning views high above the town, and Peak Cavern, taking a tour down this fascinating cave. All in all a very pleasant way to round off a walk!