Limestone Way Day 3 – Matlock to Thorpe

Published 6 November 2012


Down in Matlock the town was slowly springing to life. Cars drove down the roads, shoppers prepared to make their Saturday morning purchases and the River Derwent flowed on its way to goodness knows where. Off in the distance the tell-tale hoot of a steam train prepared to take its first load of passengers for the day along the Peak Rail.

I stood and looked out at the view, partly enjoying the scenery and partly catching my breath from the stiff climb that had enabled me to get to this commanding position.

Originally this would have been a view every Limestone Way walker would have seen. When the route was originally launched, it was at Matlock that it ended. Those finishing their trek would have looked down on Matlock before heading down in to town for a pint or a train. But the extension of the route to Rocester had seen this section abandoned – used only as a link route for those wanting to make the two mile walk from Bonsall to Matlock.

I was one of those people making that two mile walk. And that meant I got that fine view. A short way on I got a fine view of the limestone crag that is High Tor that towers over the area. But that was mainly because I’d taken the wrong path and got lost.

Looking north

It had been nearly six months since I’d last walked the Limestone Way. Two days spent doing the northern half on paths lined with slippery February compacted snow and ice, walking with my partner Catherine. Now I was back, this time alone, to finish southern section of the route. And in contrast there was no snow or ice. Just the sun of a late September day.

After a slight detour along the Derwent Valley Heritage Way, I made my way through fields and farms to the village of Bonsall and the main Limestone Way path and a familiar looking signpost with arms pointing in three directions, each with a Limestone Way waymark on them; a sight to baffle the casual observer and no mistake.

One arm pointed the way I’d come from Matlock. Another north towards Castleton. And the third, the one I’d take now, south to Rocester.

The Rocester section of the Limestone Way had been opened in the 1990s, allowing the path to link to the Staffordshire Way. For many people there’d be little reason to do this, but for those walking between Lands End and John O’Groats, it might well have been a useful connection. Jump on the Staffordshire Way, then the Limestone Way then a short connection to the Pennine Way and wow, you’ve got your trip through most of the north of England covered. My own ambitions were less lofty. Just a weekend’s walk through some lovely countryside would do me.

Stone slab

There’d be some history too. The path entered in to the Peak District National Park and led me through an area marked on the map as “Bonsall Mines”. The village had had a long history of lead mining and the scars on the landscape were noticeable. The path bounced through several pock-marked fields of ditches, bumps, holes and scars. Large stones rested on the ground at the edge of one field; metal handles sticking out of the smooth surface. This was, without a doubt, once an area that was a hive of activity – lead mining in the area has been traced back to the Roman era, and the mines were still thriving in the 1850s. Now it was deadly quiet; the only remnants being occasional concrete slabs covering the mine shafts.

At a nearby field boundary a farmer had made a sign using the lid of a large plastic tub. The words and arrows pointing to Ible had clearly faded in the years since the large blue lid had been nailed on to the wooden post, but it was at least clear. The hamlet of Ible itself seemed to be little more than several farms, with all the buildings clustering together. Stables and barns lining the road, clustered together as if for warmth.

The trail followed the road most of the way down to a cross-roads and the tiny village of Grangemill which seemed to consist of little more than a few houses, a faded looking pub and a wooden furniture workshop. “Celebrating 30 Years Design and Quality” said a sign on the Nigel Griffiths Oak Furniture building. How, I wondered, just how did such places ever survive? And what was it about the Peak District that they seemed to thrive so much? Grangemill wasn’t much, after all. There was no village shop, no school, not even a church, and even the payphone looked knackered. Yet here was a purveyor of oak furniture.

The amazing pylon bush

Actually that wasn’t particularly fair on Grangemill. It also had something else in the form of a large, giant quarry as well. Limestone being dug out of the ground on a commercial basis, with the quarry sitting just outside the National Park’s boundary. The Way headed out of the park too, skirting along the edge of the quarry before heading through a plethora of cow filled fields, and rising gently against the nearby area.

A field full of stones provided a suitable picnic area as the wind picked up slightly, and I headed on as the Limestone Way continued its tour of tiny villages and hamlets. Longcliffe, Brassington, Ballidon, the Limestone Way did its best to avoid going through them all. Just a quick poke around the outskirts and it was its way. Each seemed to be deserted – only the occasional roar of a car or motorbike reminding that other people may be around. Ballidon’s former church sat forlornly on the village outskirts. Signs warned it was a dangerous building whilst a blue tarpaulin covered the roof, flapping occasionally in the wind.

Here, the path seemed to disappear although in reality it skipped around the building, with the ongoing path hidden from view by the church. Once the village had spread all the way up to this field and beyond and the church sat at the village heart. But then in the 19th century, the village contracted and the last service was held at All Saints in 2003. After several years of decay, it was vested with the Friends of Friendless Churches in 2011

The former All Saints Church, Ballidon

It wasn’t until the village of Parwich that civilisation seemed to return. Parwich was a big place, home to around 500 people I later found out. The village pub, doubling as the village shop, seemed to be doing a roaring trade of newspapers to cyclists and I sat on a bench near the village bowling green to rest in the sun which had put its hat on and come out to play.

A group of four teenage lads, all with large rucksacks, struggled their way through the village trying to find their correct path, and I watched as they repeatedly followed one path out of the village with enthusiasm, only to re-appear dejected a couple of minutes later. My own exit from the village wasn’t much easier. After much wandering around in circles I finally stumbled on the correct route by following an unmarked path with a tiny stream running next to it, which led me back up a hill with a fine view of the housing estate I’d got lost in whilst trying to leave.

Exciting goings on at Tissington

You could tell Tissington was a village of tourist attractions. After all, I hadn’t passed through any other villages which had a mansion close to the village green, or a craft fair with free admission. And then there was the ever popular candle workshop. Where do the locals buy their milk, I pondered as I passed a sign inviting me to buy my meat in the village butchers. A butcher shop! Blimey. Many villages struggle to hold on to their pubs and village shops, yet here was a butcher plying his trade. Clearly this was a village that needed little more than meat and light.

The place was full of visitors, admiring the village green or munching on cake at the local cafĂ©. As I walked out the place a veritable army of about 40 parents and children passed me heading down towards the hall. They’d even left the footpath gates open at the village access road as they marched on, much to the annoyance of a local who leapt out of her car to shut them, complaining loudly about those “bloomin’ townies” to a friend. The sheep who were being kept in by the newly closed gate didn’t seem particularly fussed about their restricted freedom, but with sheep, who knew?

Sheep on Thorpe Pasture

It was getting on, but my journey for the day was almost complete. All I had to do was get to Thorpe on the Limestone Way, passing by the occasional firing range of Thorpe Pasture (“When the red flag is flying, firing is in progress!”) and in to the village itself. Everywhere seemed amazingly peaceful, the only noise being the council worker with a strimmer cutting some undergrowth. My B&B was a mile or so away in the nearby village of Fenny Bentley, so I bade the Limestone Way farewell and headed off across muddy fields to find my bed for the night.

The following day would take me to the end at Rocester, but for now a pint and some good food were all I needed.

Next time, the Limestone Way ends in mud and flatness at the north of Staffordshire.

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