Peak District walk - Eastern Moors and Shillito Wood
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 March 2019
Be prepared to ford a stream and splash through mud on this glorious moorland ramble.
1. Set off through trees at the back of the Shillito Wood car park on a path taking you to an ancient medieval cross. It is believed that Shillito Cross was erected by monks from Beauchief Abbey in the 13th century. Crosses were set up as waymarkers, preaching crosses or sometimes to establish the boundaries of lands owned by different abbeys.
Before the advent of turnpike roads these moors were criss-crossed with paths used by packhorses and wagons that would have been guided by a variety of markers. These include early crosses and aiming stones, which were literally a point to aim for along the way, as well as natural landmarks. Many of these old ways have now been lost, grass and heather covering their tracks, and it is only the surviving guide stones and stoops left standing that give an indication of where these primitive routes once ran.
Bear right after the cross to emerge by an old beech tree at the side of Fox Lane, close to the junction with Rumbling Street.
2. Follow the road towards Baslow. Over the wall on your left is Leash Fen, a somewhat bleak and foreboding area of wet moorland covered with bogs, rough grass tussocks and reed. It has been established that high land hereabouts was once the site of prehistoric settlements. The round houses may have long since disappeared but their existence is remembered by the following ancient rhyme:
When Leech field was a market town Chesterfield was gorse and broom
Now Chesterfield’s a market town
Leech field a marsh is grown
3. Walk beside the road as far as two gates on the right. Go through the smaller access gate and then through a further small gate a few yards beyond. Walk clockwise part of the way around the edge of the former Ramsley Reservoir. Constructed in 1880 the reservoir became surplus to requirements and was subsequently decommissioned in 2003. It is now a conservation and wildlife area.
When walking on these Eastern Moors it is a good idea to watch out for adders. Vipera berus is the country’s only venomous snake and is protected by law. Adders are secretive, placid and non-aggressive. They are well-camouflaged and spend a great deal of their time hidden away. In fact from November to February (weather dependent), they hibernate. If, however, you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one, please respect it by keeping your distance and do not try to pick it up (www.visit-eastern-moors.org.uk).
4. At the far end of the reservoir go straight ahead on a wide track. Panoramic views will begin to appear with the top of White Edge directly ahead, beyond a vast expanse known as Big Moor. Archaeological excavations have discovered here the field systems of an extensive settlement and farming community dating back to the Bronze Age. It is referred to as Swine Sty.
5. Cross over the main A621 road with extreme care, then go through a gate opposite and continue to follow a wide track. On a left-hand bend you may wish to make a short detour of a few yards to the right where there is an ancient small circle of upright stones.
6. You will come to a most unusual long piece of modern quarried stone with a somewhat quirky inscription on one end. Along the side is a stylistic drawing of someone lying down. This is one of several Companion Stones commissioned as part of an arts project undertaken in 2009 to celebrate a selection of our Derbyshire guide stoops being 300 years old (www.companionstones.org.uk).
Let your eyes be guided by the carved finger pointing across the valley to where there are actually two almost inaccessible stoops. The one on high ground is an aiming post, but close to where a feeder stream meets Bar Brook at Deadshaw Sick is a guide stoop that shows scars from gunfire – it was used for firing practice by the local home guard during the Second World War. Thankfully acknowledged for its importance, the stone is now listed and protected. Some of the lettering has been lost due to centuries of erosion and damage but TO SHEFEILD can just be made out along with the dates 1737 and 1775.
Continue along this delightful path which provides easy access over otherwise wild and inhospitable moors. In spring look for wild flowers emerging and migratory birds returning from their winter holidays. See fresh green shoots of new growth appearing to give colour to an otherwise insipid landscape of dry bracken and reed grass. Watch insects buzzing about in the breeze, refuelling on nectar whenever they get the chance.
7. Barbrook Cottage and associated buildings of the former Barbrook Reservoir are now used as the headquarters of the Eastern Moors Partnership. The reservoir was constructed in 1908 to provide water for Holmesfield and Dronfield. The skeletal wall of the dam can still be seen behind, but when the reservoir was drained the wild moor took over where once thousands of gallons of water were stored, reducing the reservoir to a giant puddle now part of an extensive wildlife reserve.
Turn right to walk down the drive leading away from the bungalow. Just before reaching the main road, notice another guide stoop on the right. Badly eroded it was originally carved to display SHEFIELD WAY and BAKEWELL WAY incorporating two pointing hands. Reputedly this is the only guide stoop in Derbyshire to use way rather than road in its description.
8. Carefully cross the main road and go over a challenging fence stile opposite. Proceed down Greaves Piece on a track with the arboreal mound of Smeekley Wood rising before you.
9. On reaching Car Road, which is a rough stone track, turn left and follow this downhill to a bridlepath on your right which has recently been adopted as part of the ‘Friends of the Peak District Boundary Walk’ which is a 200-mile walking route around the entire boundary of the National Park.
At one point you will have to wade through a shallow brook with the use of a few appropriately-placed stones. From here the path gradually ascends back to high ground with Hewett’s Bank on your left.
10. Returning to a gate by the junction of roads mentioned in paragraph 1, notice yet another companion stone lying on the ground not far from a guide stoop which stands in the shelter of some young trees. Green with slime and eroded by time this little stoop was erected as a guide for travellers to Bakewell via Baslow, Chesterfield via Cutthorpe and Dronfield via Holmesfield and is actually dated 1710. Turn left and follow Fox Lane to return to the car park.
Distance: 5 miles
Parking: Shillito Wood Car Park (free) – nearest post code S18 7WG. Grid Ref: 295749
Terrain: 10 gates + 2 awkward stiles. Some roadside walking without pavement. Shallow brook to ford with few stepping stones. Areas prone to mud. Please keep away from adders should you be lucky enough to come across any. Livestock grazes the moors. Close proximity to deep water.
Map: O.S. Explorer OL24 (White Peak)
Walk highlight: Medieval cross in Shillito Wood
Description: Step back in time with this walk over wild moors which passes ancient waymarkers made redundant by the creation of maps. See a series of former reservoirs gouged into the peat that have been taken back by nature to provide a habitat for all manner of birds, wildlife, flowers and foliage.