Walking the Limestone Way in the Peak District
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 February 2020
Whether you are looking for a short afternoon ramble or a longer adventure involving overnight stays, there’s a Derbyshire footpath that’s right up your street. Peter Naldrett steps out onto our less well-known, long-distance footpath
With Mam Tor looming in the background and Winnat's Pass providing a jaw-dropping backdrop, Castleton is one of the best-loved villages in the Derbyshire Peak District.
Not only significant for its fine collection of walks, pubs and souvenir shops, Castleton is right on top of the geological border that defines the two distinctive areas of the Peak District.
To the north, Kinder Scout and Black Hill await those who set off on the famous Pennine Way and wind their way over gritstone hills towards the Yorkshire Dales and, for those who stick with it, Scotland.
Set off walking to the south from Castleton and you'll step upon a much gentler landscape, one that has been famed for farming down the generations and has a much greener, brighter appearance than its more solemn, bleaker companion.
Because under the ground in Castleton, beneath the flickering fires in the homely pubs and the rows of gifts in the souvenir shops, something epic happens - the Dark Peak transforms into the White Peak.
The dark, coarse gritstone gives way to the light, smooth limestone, and in a quiet corner of the village a path begins a journey through some of the region's highlights.
The Limestone Way may not have the celebrity and glamour of its older sister, the Pennine Way, but what it lacks in fame and length it makes up for in beauty and geological wonder.
Right from the outset, as it gains height through Cave Dale and passes beneath English Heritage's Peveril Castle, you can appreciate being on a wonderful journey through some of Derbyshire's natural and human history.
The Limestone Way runs for 46 miles - that's 74km - from Castleton in Derbyshire, south across the Staffordshire border into Rocester.
Set up by the West Derbyshire District Council to encourage local walkers and tourists alike, the route initially wound up in Matlock, but the fun was extended and now plenty of people make a holiday of the route.
The places the Limestone Way calls in at read like a Who's Who of the southern Peak District - Castleton, Monyash, Tideswell, Miller's Dale, Youlgrave, Brassington, Tissington, Bonsall, Thorpe.
Each place has its own charming character and, thankfully for those who are eager to attempt the entire route, plenty of places to rest your head after a day testing your walking boots.
I stepped out onto the Limestone Way at the point where it begins, climbing up Cave Dale until you reach the top of the hills and have a commanding view of the Hope Valley and the rolling fields to the south.
To find out what the long-distance footpath meant to people who had put on their walking gear and taken to the Derbyshire hills, I chatted to a few folk who had settled down to enjoy a sandwich perched on a limestone rock doubling up as a makeshift seat.
Fred Robertson was happy to tell me what this great Derbyshire route meant to him and his partner. He said: 'We've spent the last few days walking in the White Peak and we've found ourselves coming across the Limestone Way quite a few times.
'I love the farming tracks that it takes you on, with the high drystone walls on either side and the rolling fields beyond. And we had a great time down at Dovedale, where the limestone rocks contain plenty of fossils. You could actually get down close and see the remains of sea creatures on the stepping stones over the river.'
Others were less up to speed with the idea of the Limestone Way being a long-distance footpath but were happy to sing its praises.
'I didn't realise how long it was and would not really set off from start to finish,' Amber Taylor told me while taking a break from her weekend stroll.
'But I do really enjoy it when the Limestone Way forms part of our walk. It goes through some beautiful places, like Lathkill Dale, and because it's an official route the signs are always really good. You're not likely to get lost on the Limestone Way, and you can't say that for every footpath in the country!'
The majority of people stepping onto the Limestone Way will only be travelling a short way along it, but the potential is there to tackle the whole 46 miles in one trip.
Various sites online suggest an itinerary of three or four days, breaking up the trip with overnight stops at Monyash, Bonsall and Thorpe.
Splitting it into a four-day trip means walking up to 13 miles on consecutive days, while the demand on your feet increases for a three day holiday, with 18 miles needed on one of the days.
Sadly, there is no modern walking guide for the Limestone Way that includes up-to-date information about accommodation along the route, but there are some good walking websites online - such as ramblingman.org.uk - that give the Derbyshire route plenty of attention.
Perhaps the biggest question is which way round to do it - north to south, or south to north?
The popular way to tackle the Limestone Way is to set off from Castleton, probably due to the range of places to stay overnight, the bus links there and the stunning scenery from the outset. But if the truth be known, the southern reaches of the Limestone Way are less inspiring than the north, particularly the low-level last few miles after crossing the border into Staffordshire.
While it might be a less vigorous and easier run in to the end of the trail, my plans to take on the whole of the Limestone Way next involve setting off from the south and striding north.
There's something about that final amble down Cave Dale that is going to keep me going, followed by a nice pint next to a log fire and a night of rural slumber in a pub.