DRAGON’S BACK WALK
In a rare quiet corner of the Peak District some determined walking is rewarded by memorable views from a line of engaging, modest hills where the White and Dark Peaks meet. There’s a gloriously unadulterated pub, too, as Neil Coates discovers
A quirk of geology has produced a strand of sharp limestone hills which erupt like a string of vertiginous miniature mountains from the haymeadows and soft pastures of the higher Dove Valley near Buxton. They’re often cited as the only true peaks in the Peak District; a somewhat spurious appellation but their striking appearance does set them apart from most other White Peak tops. This testing, exhilarating walk includes seven short, very steep climbs to/off the summits. Earl Sterndale’s pub, The Quiet Woman, is a wonderful hark-back to village pubs of yesteryear, a perfect end-gambit.
1) START – From Earl Sterndale’s green join the road for Hartington. Head past the village-edge duckpond towards the conical hill of High Wheeldon. In a further 400m fork left up the track ‘Unsuitable for Motors’; at the higher lane bear right. In another 450m, just before a fork, look right for the waymarked path into pasture. Dip past the pylon and up the steep flank of High Wheeldon to the trig pillar. Sublime views draw the eye to the shapely limestone knolls – essentially fossilised tropical reefs – soon to be climbed.
2) Head south (hard-left as you approached) to the nearby bounding wall and put this on your left. Plunge down the hillside (disregard stile in offset corner) and turn right alongside the lower fenceline above ash trees to a stile in the bottom corner of the sheer pasture. Descend the road to the nearby cottage and fork right. Walk this lane through Underhill farmyard, continuing on the part-walled way through several gates to the main road at Glutton Bridge garage.
3) Look left for the phone box and turn right on the lane behind this. Cross the cattle grid; then head for the fin-like Parkhouse Hill to your right. Walk upfield to the walled corner, continuing up beside the wall. From the top corner, select your own route up the ferociously steep ridge to reach the rippling crest and peak.
4) Now head west towards sturdy Chrome Hill. The way off Parkhouse Hill is extremely steep. Start just left of the ridge-top before crossing to the right, dropping to a minor road. Turn right to the nearby cattle-grid. Immediately before it use the stile onto a concessionary path for Chrome Hill and High Edge. The well-marked (white discs) path rises over hummocks of limestone to reach a handgate beneath a tree, then climbs steadily to the summit ridge, a line of pinnacles said to resemble the “plates” along the spine of a stegosaurus dinosaur; hence the nickname Dragon’s Back. Views across to the brooding gritstone edges and high moors of North Staffordshire and down the Dove Valley are arresting.
5) Advance along the declining ridge; beyond a low natural arch drift right, steeply down to find a wall-side way and bend left with it to use a corner handgate. White discs show the way to another handgate; then turn uphill, shortly heading left along the top of several pastures to reach a cattle-grid and farm road. Turn right to the minor road.
6) Turn right, presently entering Dowel Dale’s craggy dry-valley. Descend this until a point 50m before a pronounced right-bend. Look for the waymarked handgate, left, and climb slightly right to a handgate through the skyline wall. Continue ahead past a waymarked field-post to find a rough field road. The path seeps downhill immediately left of this. Cross it beneath cables, then head left to a tarred lane. Turn right to Earl Sterndale.