High Peak Way Stage 4: Hathersage to Grindleford

Published 3 June 2018

Fingerpost pointing to Grindleford Station

To the station!

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.

The fact that I had bailed on the High Peak Way three miles from the end, irked me, A lot. It meant a round trip to the Peak District that would probably take longer than the walk itself.

There were good reasons I’d abandoned it at Hathersage. Lack of light, naff weather, all that. But it didn’t make me feel any better.

On paper at least, it wasn’t particularly obvious why the creator of the High Peak Way had bothered going to Grindleford at all. Most of the walk was in the Derbyshire borough of High Peak. Presumably that’s where the trail name came from. But, like Hathersage, Grindleford’s is in the neighbouring borough of Derbyshire Dales. Now the High Peak Way’s name may have other origins. Like the number of hills it goes over. But the route didn’t appear to do very much more than potter around on a hill side, before going through some woods.

The only justification I could think of was that whoever had designed the walk was in need of a cup of tea. For the walk ends at Grindleford Station where the old station buildings now house a popular cafe. Although anyone doing the High Peak Way as originally intended – all in one day – will most likely get to the station long after the cafe has closed for the day.

It all seemed rather pointless. And because of that, there was a bit of me that wondered if I’d ever get round to walking those three miles. But one day I found myself not that far from Hathersage, and with some time to kill. Just enough time to walk that last stretch. So in the end, that was that. Unnecessary it may all be, but a walk is a walk when all is said and done.


A road through Hathersage

Hathersage

It was a warm day for April. Very warm. The sound of excited children was coming from the nearby outdoor swimming pool. I had a hint of envy. How nice it would be to be in there myself, cooling off in the water whilst the sun blazed down. Oh so refreshing on this hot day. On the other hand, quite a queue was forming outside the pool’s entrance. Even if I had had my swimming stuff with me, I would no doubt have spent more time waiting, than splashing.

I walked up to the main road, then along the narrow lane that the High Peak Way takes out of this idyllic Peak District town.

Was there any reason to come this way though? I couldn’t see much on the map. And any hope that the track would explain why the High Peak Way came this way, was swiftly quashed. It was a narrow track. Car wide, steep, rutted in parts, with a few houses on one side. And that was it.

The path was gaining height, and that meant I should have got a good view. But houses and fences blocked it all. And when the buildings ended, there were too many trees in the way.

Milstone Edge in the distance

Milstone Edge - if you squint, you can just see it.

Eventually the path popped out of the woodland and there was something to look at. A road and a rocky outcrop in the distance. The latter was Milstone Edge, a local landmark, whose rocks do look rather impressive. From what I could see from the distance anyway. Was this why I had been sent this way? To see the Edge? Maybe, but the High Peak Way doesn’t get close enough. Instead it wanders towards the busy A6187 road, crosses it and then goes down a car wide track through the National Trust owned Greenwood Farm. Nice enough, with lots of gorse bushes and occasional farm buildings. But the only real excitement came when the path started following a line of telegraph poles. And that doesn’t say much.

It felt like the High Peak Way was going through the motions. That all this was purely for the sake of getting to Grindleford. Given the rest of the trail had taken me to some of the best bits of the Dark Peak, this felt like a bit of a dull ending. The trail had been designed to end at a railway station, but there was a handy one at Hathersage. Why not stop there instead?

I carried on, hoping for some enlightenment that never came. Just gorse bushes, fields and a ranger station. It must just have been the cafe that I was now approaching. There was nothing else obvious.

The path through Greenwood Farm

The path through Greenwood Farm

Now to be fair, the Grindleford Station cafe is an institution. It’s well known for its huge portions, pint mugs of tea, and for its signs. Hand-written notes dotted around the place, with just a hint of passive-aggressiveness. People come from miles around to see such missives as:

“If you want to guard the fire join the fire brigade.”

“Badly behaved children are requested to take their parents elsewhere.”

“If you want your meal as a sandwich, please tell us. We are not mind readers!”

I still don’t particularly understand that last one.

The signs started to be installed by Philip Eastwood who owned and ran the cafe for over 30 years. He died in 2008, but the cafe’s now run by his son, also called Philip, and he’s kept the signs.

Most of the signs are gently yellowing with age. Some people see them as unfriendly. Others would never want the place to be without them. As long as Philip’s son is in charge, it’s unlikely they’ll go anywhere.

Grindleford Station Cafe

The institution that is Grindleford Station Cafe

With time to kill before my train, I went inside and ordered a cup of tea – just a mug rather than the full pint – and a slice of chocolate cake. On taking it from the counter, I spotted it had far fewer chocolate chips on the top than most of the others on the counter. For a moment I pondered asking for a different piece instead. One with a better topping. But there was probably a sign warning people off such behaviour, so I held my tongue.

Mug in hand, I went to the cafe’s outdoor seating area. As I sat in the sun, I thought about the High Peak Way. Also known as the trail that didn’t really exist. Yet it deserved to. Diversion to Grindleford aside, it offered a journey through some of the best bits of the Dark Peak. Cobden Edge, Kinderlow, Mam Tor, Win Hill, Stanage Edge. This was cracking walking and no mistake.

For some reason, the Peak District doesn’t have many official walking trails. The High Peak Way would have been a good candidate for such an honour. Instead it has slid into insignificance, forgotten and unloved.

But before it had been deleted from the internet, it had found me. I was glad it had. It had enabled me to revisit some classics, and discover some new ones.

And hopefully me writing about it will mean others find it too. For as long as someone’s talking about it, how can a trail ever really die?

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