White to Dark Day 3 (Part 1) – Hathersage to Moscar Moor

Published 29 September 2019

Wooden sign saying "To the church and Little John's Grave" in Hathersage
Little John’s What Now?

Created to celebrate 25 years of Country Walking Magazine, the White to Dark is a 27 mile walking trail through the Peak District. By day 3, the White Peak had been left behind. But there was a grave, lots of rocks, and an extremely large amount of wind.

“To Church and Little John’s Grave,” said the sign.

The church I was expecting. Little John’s Grave I was not. Although its presence explained, at least, why Hathersage had a pub called The Little John. I’d always assumed it was some modern name. That the pub had, for decades, been called The Crown, or the White Lion. Well, until some landlord had renamed it to sound a bit trendy. But it turned out the pub name had a local connection, and a bit of history too.

So although I hadn’t intended to a visit to the church graveyard, my plans were swiftly changed. Well, when Little John’s grave is there, you have to.

Of course there’s no concrete evidence that Little John ever existed. Nor that he was second in command of Robin Hood’s Merry Menu. Certainly not that he built a family home in the nearby village of Offerton. And even less that he ended up buried in a graveyard in St Michael and All Angels church. But when local legend says otherwise, who am I to argue?

The grave of Little John, in a churchyard in Hathersage
The grave of someone who may or may not have been a merry man.

I found his supposed grave tucked next to a wall, under an old elm tree, marked by a pretty modern looking headstone. Assuming it was representative of John’s actual size, it was definitely the grave of a big person. It’s claimed that, in 1780, someone called James Shuttleworth unearthed a thigh bone measuring 72cm from this grave. Why and how, are entirely different questions, but let’s run with it for now. Using that thigh bone measurement, someone worked out that Little John would have been nearly two and a half metres high. At that height, he would tower over people today, yet alone back in the 14th century.

Whether he was real or not, Little John is a tourist attraction. Enough people visit that someone put up that sign. And it brought in enough people to warrant the church asking for donations for the upkeep of the grave. The receptacle for this cash was an old-fashioned parking meter, painted white. I stared at the change in my wallet. Two 5p pieces and a few of pennies was all I had. Was that enough for spending a few minutes next to someone’s grave? I wasn’t sure, but put the coins in the slot anyway. The money clunked nosily into some hidden location. I hadn’t even needed to turn the parking meter’s knob. With this disappointment, I headed out of the churchyard and on my way.

A parking meter next to a gravestone
Don’t forget to pay for parking!

It was a route that I’d done before a year earlier, when I had walked a trail called the High Peak Way. True, the two routes were not quite the same, but there was a lot of crossover. Enough that I could have phoned it all in. Not done it at all. Just pretended to have. But I’d enjoyed it the last time, and was more than happy to do it again. Plus the route was different enough to pique interest. And I would be doing it in reverse. And when all is said and done, a good walk has to be walked more than once. Doesn’t it?

It was a route that I’d done before a year earlier, when I had walked a trail called the High Peak Way. True, the two routes were not quite the same, but there was a lot of crossover. Enough that I could just have phoned it all in. Not really done it at all. Just pretended to have done. But I’d enjoyed it the last time, and was more than happy to do it again. Plus the route was just different enough to pique interest. And when all is said and done, a good walk just has to be done again. Doesn’t it?

Path through a field, with the rocks of Standage Edge in the background
Heading to Stanage Edge

From Hathersage, I walked through sheep-filled fields, and stumbled through farmyards. There were the extensive displays of daffodils to admire, in the grounds of Brookfield Manor. Once a home to the rich, it’s now a conference centre. Go figure.

Then it was up past North Lees Hall, a 16th century tower house once visited by Charlotte Bronte. It’s suggested to be the inspiration of Thornfield Hall in Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre. If you’ve read the book and seen the building, you may see a connection. But as I had not read it, I was none the wiser.

What I did note was that North Lees Hall looked rather empty, and there was a skip outside. Just as there had been a year earlier when I’d walked past the same building whilst doing the High Peak Way. Indeed I was pretty sure the contents of the skip were the same. Some armchairs. An old exercise bike. A (presumably broken) espresso machine. The hall had been in use as a holiday home, operated by a heritage charity. But the operator had gone into liquidation some years earlier. Although put up for lease again, it wasn’t clear if anything had happened since. Which seemed rather a shame.

Part of the Standage Edge escapment
Big massive rocks at Stanage Edge

It wasn’t far from North Lees that the mighty Stanage Edge came into view. This major gritstone escarpment is a defining feature viewable for miles around. And it was once a major source of industry and activity.

For centuries the rocks here were quarried, and used to make millstones. Manufacturing started in medieval times, and carried on until the early 20th century. Scores of discarded ones litter the area. Some looked finished, others very roughly cut. And all of them unused. It’s believed most are the result in demand in the 19th century that meant work on them was abandoned. So remain they do to this very day, worn and weathered by decades of wind, sun and rain. And looking all the more atmospheric for it.

But they’re a feature the White to Dark decides to ignore. The millstones are all found near the base of the escarpment, whereas the White to Dark follows a path over the top. This decision also means mean that you don’t get to see the four mile long escarpment up close. However you do get some great views of the Peak District so it’s not all bad.

The Stanage Edge escarpment
The White to Dark goes along the top of Stanage Edge.

First though, I needed to get to the top. As I walked towards the Edge, I passed three women out walking with their dogs.

“It’s a bit windy on top,” one of them told me as I passed each other.

“Now that is the understatement of the year!” one of her friends replied.

“Well I look forward to being blown around,” I declared with a grin.

Well, even them saying that it being a bit windy was an understatement, proved to be an understatement. The wind blowing over Stanage Edge was doing everything it could to try and knock me to the ground. Several times it almost won. It was a serious battle to stay upright. Each step required a significant amount of effort to prevent myself from ending up sprawled on the ground. The only positive was that the wind was blowing north. If it had been blowing south, it could have blown me down the rock face, and onto the millstones down below.

Rocks and heather on the top of Stanage Edge
Rocks and heather on the top of Stanage Edge

Head down, coat hood up, I walked along the path slowly, staggering to stay upright; the wind making me looked I was doing a drunken swagger. Fellow walkers passed me going in the opposite direction. We’d open our months to utter a mutual salutation as we did, but the words got lost in the went. In the end, I gave up and tried to give a dutiful nod in lieu of the statutory verbal greeting.

I was preparing to do one such nod to a couple as they arrived at the trig point on High Neb. But the wind was clearly too much for them. Before they’d reached me, they looked at each other, and without saying a word, turned round and headed back from where they had come from.

For a moment I didn’t understand why. But arriving at the trig point, it all became clear. Here the path turned a corner, moving to walk northwards. As soon as I turned, there had been a noticeable reduction in the impact of the wind. In contrast, they’d turned a corner only to be battered by gale force gusts. I couldn’t blame them for their decision. I would have done the same.

It’s funny how one simple change in direction can change so much. Now I could start walking in a normal fashion. Yes the wind was still there, but it’s main impact was to give a bit of a chill. I even managed to find a rock with some shelter so I could eat lunch without the fear my sandwiches would blow away.

Next time: moorland, a large reservoir, bouncing bombs, and a final hill to end on.

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