High Peak Way Stage 1 (Part 1): Chinley to the Hayfield Road

Published 22 April 2018

Houses and a pub in Chinley

A quick glimpse of Chinley

For thirty miles between Chinley and Grindleford, the High Peak Way took in some of the finest scenery in the Dark Peak. It was created as a ‘challenge walk’ for those who find pleasure in walking insane distances in one day, but it also makes a fine multi-day walk for those wanting to explore the Peak District National Park. It also no longer seems to exist. The one and only reference to it online was in the Long Distance Walkers Association Website, and now it’s been removed. But it was listed when I decided to start walking it, so that’s good enough for me.

Chinley’s one of those villages a part of you wishes you lived in. Cosy looking cottages, in an idyllic rural location. And it’s tantalisingly close to the city thanks to its train links.

It also gives every impression of being in no rush to get up on a Sunday morning. At ten o’clock, the only people on the streets were a couple of cyclists that had got off the same train as me.

The train had been heaving. Chinley sits on the Hope Valley line, running between Sheffield and Manchester via the Peak District. Walking boosts were the most obvious fashion accessories, but there were bikes aplenty. One cyclist had even rigged up a video camera to record the view from the window. Something to watch when he got home after a long day in the saddle.

At weekends, trains on the line run twice as often as they do during the week. If you miss your train at Chinley during a weekday, you’ll have a two hour wait for the next one. Rock up on a Sunday and you’ll only have to hang around for sixty minutes.

But off the train, everything was quiet. Peaceful. Tranquil even. The perfect start to this rather mysterious walking route.

Trees in Chinley Park

A tree lined avenue leads you on through the adorable Chinley Park

And it starts in style. The first stop is Chinley Park, a local nature reserve and a rare example of a natural hay meadow. Twenty two species of flora and fauna grow here. Although it could be said that a cold Sunday in January is not the best point to admire them.

Chinley Park though is a mere amuse-bouche for what follows: the mighty Cracken Edge. The path weaved its way uphill towards this mighty set of crags.

It was a rather stiff climb up to the edge, along a narrow lane that was hemmed by tall stone walls. It looked to all intents and purposes like someone had carved a narrow channel out of the hillside with an excavator scoop, and bricked up the sides. For all I knew, that’s exactly what happened.

The lane was what you’d call “car-wide”, although one car was all there was space for. Should a vehicle have come up behind me whilst I was walking, it would have been stuck there for quite some time. The phrase “passing place” held now sway here. As for what would have happened had a vehicle approached from the opposite direction… Well, I never got to find out.

The rockface of the old quarry on Cracken Edge

The rockface of the old quarry on Cracken Edge

A path runs along the top of Cracken Edge, but the High Peak Way wisely eschewed it in favour of one running in front of the rockface. Part of Cracken Edge had once been a quarry, and it was here that the rockface was at its most dramatic. Huge, slabs of rock, no doubt very enticing to climbers, dominated the view.

Huge chunks of the hillside had been removed over time. All that industry, all that activity that once went here. All that effort. The noise of excavation. The smell of sweat and hard work. And now the place is pretty quiet. The only noise you’ll hear on Cracken Edge these days are of walkers chatting, or excitable dogs barking.

Those that can tear their eyes away from the rocks will also get a reward. To my right were the hills of the Peak District. Well, some of them anyway. And some which I’d be visiting later in the day. To my delight, they were covered in snow. Far more of it than the light dusting that covered Cracken Edge. This was proper deep looking stuff. I couldn’t wait to get over there and start running excitedly in it.

A snowy path from Cracken Edge to Peep O'Day Farm

There's snow in them there hills.

A chance to play in the snow was one of the reasons I’d been keen to head to the Peak District in the first place, truth be told. There’s nothing quite like it. Snow changes the landscape. Everything looks different. Better. More enticing. Definitely more delightful. And it’s hard to beat that crunch, crunch as you walk on a thick layer of the stuff. Although before I got to do that, I had some walking to do. I had to go towards Peep O’Day Farm.

What kind of name is that, you may wonder. Presumably a lot of people do as the owners of Peep O’Day Farm had put a sign up to explain the origins of the name. Perhaps they’d fielded one too many queries from inquisitive walkers about it. Still, I was grateful. And it was an interesting story. But it’s not one I can share with you due to neither taking any notes, nor taking a photograph of the sign itself. Sorry. It was interesting though, and if you’re ever near the farm – it’s just off the Hayfield Road – do pull over and check it out. It might even be worth making a detour for. A tiny one anyway.

There was a wall opposite the farm and it looked like a good rest stop; a well timed one as the clock was approaching noon. But it was chock-a-block with walkers. I hadn’t expected there to be quite so many walkers hanging around the farm, truth be told. Especially as I had seen few people all morning. Several were sat on the wall supping tea, whilst a few more were standing by the roadside, as if waiting for something. Who knew that that sign about Peep O’Day’s history was such a big tourist attraction? Definitely worth that detour then.

The path down Coldwell Clough, near Hayfield

There's no snow at Coldwell Clough. But the views are cracking.

With no resting spot, I crossing the busy Hayfield Road and walked past a quarry. A passive-aggressive sign on the gates pointed out that the quarry was still operational, and had been for decades. It wasn’t clear why the sign needed to exist, until I looked at my map. There it was, in black and white: “Quarry (dis)”. A rare error chalked up by the Ordnance Survey there. No doubt the owners were fed up with people wandering in, and doing whatever it is that people do in abandoned quarries.

Maybe it offered a good picnic spot, amongst the piles of gritstone. Or would have been attractive to climbers. I wasn’t going to go trespassing to find out. Instead I settled down near Coldwell Clough on a patch of ever so damp grass in order to eat a sandwich. Ahead of me was Kinder, perhaps the most famous of all the Peak District’s hills, draped in that heavy white blanket of snow. The afternoon was looking like it would be fun.

Next time, the conclusion. Kinder, Edale Cross, Jacob’s Ladder and a helicopter winching a huge weight into the air.

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