Limestone Way Day 1 – Castleton to Flagg

Published 19 April 2012

Peveril Castle in Castleton on the Limestone Way

Most walks you’ll find a consensus on which way to walk them and it boils down to a rule of “South to North” or “West to East”. Or perhaps both at the same time.

The Limestone Way is different. Consensus says you should start at Castleton and head south. Well that’s what the Long Distance Walkers Association reckons and whoever edited the Wikipedia page agrees. And so does the Ramblers Association. So it must be right.

In a way this feels slightly wrong when you set off from Castleton and instantly enter Cave Dale. The walker starts their journey with a highly dramatic dale; its narrow valley lined with limestone walls, with caves dotted around the place. As you climb uphill suddenly you realise you’re being watched as you look up and see the ruins of Peveril Castle are towering over you on the top of the valley.

You stop for a moment, turn around and stare at the beautiful surroundings; the bright sun shining down on you creating an almost idyllic picture. And you think wow. What a start! How can it get better than this?!

Then your mind ponders for a moment, and wonders all of a sudden whether the walk has just peaked far too soon. That the most stunning scenery may well be within the first half hour. Maybe you should end your walk here instead. Maybe Castleton would make a thrilling, dramatic climax to your journey.

And then you tell yourself to shut up and start walking again. Oh and watch out for that ice. What ice? That ice you’ve just slipped on obviously!

Icicles at Cave Dale

Giant icicles clung tightly to the rocks of Cave Dale as we delicately climbed up hill; each tentative step an attempt to avoid the layers of ice on the ground. Slowly but surely we gained height as worked our way out of the dale and on to the hill top of Hurd Low and over Old Moor. Up here on the relative flat, the going got easier as we merrily tramped our way over grass, covered deep in snow.

Soon the Limestone Way returned to narrow lanes, these ones at least less icy as we headed back downhill a little more towards a lane, following the regular fingerposts which pointed us in the right direction; more icicles dangling from the ends of the signpost.

Nearby Adam’s Well and Cop Well were hidden in the snow but going was made easier when we briefly a series of roads to take us to Limestone Way Farm. Which was named first? The Way or the Farm was left for as an open question for slightly more existentialist walkers.

The Pennine Bridleway joined us as we headed down a steep, rutted track with a flurry of 4x4s coming the other way, squeezing us on to the sloped sides. For many walkers motor vehicles are a blight on their walking routes as urban drivers head to the Peaks to bounce around and make use of the 4×4 mode that doesn’t get called for much when all the driver is doing is dropping young Tabatha off at school.

As the fifth car went past I had a momentary worry that this was what most of the Limestone Way would be like but the reality is that most of the route is just bridleway and there’s no cars allowed. Within half a mile we’d turned off the track anyway and entered Hay Dale.

Bench in Hay Dale

Part of the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, Hay Dale was a delightful tree lined dale; light, airy, attractive and beautiful, even if its rare flora and fauna hidden under the snow. Limestone surrounded one side of the dale and as we completed our journey through it to Dale Head a large limestone rock greeted us. Its sides were stepped meaning plenty of ledges to sit on and, given it was lunchtime, there seemed no better place to stop and tarry a while.

Nearby Peter Dale was, in contrast, a slightly different proposition. The two dales almost run in to each other, with only a small gap in between where the local road has been squeezed in. But whilst Hay Dale was bright and airy, glistening in the sun, Peter Dale was dark, moody and morose. The weather hadn’t changed, but the dale was hidden from the sunlight. It’s said that JRR Tolkein used Derbyshire as the inspiration for much of the landscape of Middle Earth, and if Hay Dale was near the Shire then Peter’s Dale was something else. Not quite Mordor, but somewhere not far from its borders where happiness doth not reign.

Peter Dale led on to Monks Dale which looked even more dank and depressing. A sign at the end warned that the path through the dale was not easy, and not surprisingly the Limestone Way had decided to head along higher, easier ground instead, using a series of roads and tracks to reach the end instead.

The tracks took us to the same place; the tiny hamlet of Miller’s Dale. Little more than a road, a church and a few buildings, it’s where the River Wye (one of three different Wye’s in England) cuts its way through the hills. Over the years the flowing river has cut a deep gash through the land; a tight, narrow valley dominated by high hills on each side. Oh, and by a pair of viaducts too.

The first was built by the Midland Railway in 1866, and the line formed part of the Midland’s route from London to Manchester. The tiny hamlet featured a three platform station where passengers from Buxton would change for expresses to London. So busy was the Midland’s line through the area that a second viaduct was opened in 1905 resulting in four railway tracks crossing the ravine.

Miller's Dale Viaducts

No trains cross either of them now. The line was closed in 1967 as part of the rationalisation of the railways by the infamous Doctor Beeching. The station site is now a car park, its buildings are public toilets, in use to support people using the 8.5 mile Monsal Trail which follows part of the former trackbed.

Such easy walking is not something the Limestone Way would have any truck with and after a brief journey along the main road, it headed off on a steep, narrow track called Long Lane; penned in by fences and dry stone walls as it rose up hill.

Long Lane seemed an appropriate name as going up it seemed to take a very long time indeed. Almost entirely covered in ice, the ascent was torturous, and anyone passing by would have seen two walkers cling gingerly to anything they could get their hands on.

Oh for a pair of crampons, I thought as I glumly noted that the nearby fields were full of snow instead, and would make far easier walking if only we could actually get in and out of them.

The mile long traverse of the road seemed to take forever but at the top our patience was rewarded by a firm, ice-free, tarmac lane as we approached the Waterloo Hotel. Sited on the A6 road, a mile away from the village of Taddington, it looked a welcoming sight on what was slowly becoming a gloomy afternoon; the bright morning sun and clear blue skies now being filled with cloud.

A series of lanes took us the couple of miles to the village of Flagg, looking seemingly lifeless despite the plethora of houses. Our sole company was a horse and rider which trotted off down Flagg’s main street; the sound of two coconuts being tapped together, filling the air.

Following at a slightly slower pace, we came to the heart of the village – a primary school sited next to a bus stop – and followed the Limestone Way off the “main” road and down a side track towards Knotlow Farm. Just under a mile from the village, the farm sits almost on top of the Limestone Way and it also happened to be where we were staying the night, and where we were greeted with a warming cup of tea and a chocolate cream sponge cake with raspberries.

Frozen plans

Flagg had lost its pub a few years earlier meaning we had a mile or so to walk to get to the village of Moneyash and the warm, welcoming Bull’s Head Inn.

The sun was just setting as we set off, down the Limestone Way, this time unencumbered by rucksacks; our route guided by the dim glow of my head torch.

Another walled in lane, ice was once more everywhere and progress was again slow, compounded by the fact that very quickly we couldn’t see far ahead of ourselves, and I muttered to myself once again about coming out in such icy conditions without spikes attached to the soles of my boots.

Somehow we managed to do the journey without breaking a leg on the ice and settled in to the bustling village pub with fires that roared so much that people seemed liable to faint at any moment.

Declining the option of stumbling precariously down the Limestone Way in the pitch black, we returned to Flagg down a plethora of dark country lanes; the occasional pair of headlights passing us by whilst the galaxy’s vast array of stars twinkled down on us.

As we approached the farm, a caravan had parked up and seemed to have a roaring camp fire on the go.

“Rather them than me,” I muttered, before heading back to our nice warm room and a good night’s sleep.

Next time, day two leads the walker through more icy lanes to Matlock.

Have your say