A wander on the High Peak Trail - by Laura Rowan
This time last year I was writing about the enjoying being outdoors in nature during lockdown#1. What a difference a year makes. This year spring seems late, and noticeably cooler. I positively adore autumn and quite like winter, but even I have to complain about the dreary wind-driven rain we have been subjected to this last month. Yes there have been some bonus dramatic skies against vibrant yellow rapeseed fields, and the stunning purple hues of bluebell woods. However, some respite from the miserable drizzle would be most welcome. No fledgling robins or blackbirds in my garden yet, whereas usually by now I would have seen at least a couple of clutches. As I write the forecast for the half term is looking brighter, but we’ll see, this is the UK after all!
I do head out for walks whatever the weather, so last weekend my tween and I threw waterproofs and sandwiches in our backpacks and headed out for some much-needed fresh air. There are no shortages of picturesque hills and country walks in this and our neighbouring fair counties, but there are also walking and cycling trails that have cafes along them which are that little bit more welcoming when it rains. Or if it’s scorchingly hot for that matter. This time we opted for the High Peak Trail, which runs 17 miles from Cromford in the Derbyshire Dales to Dowlow (nr Buxton) in the High Peak. The trail follows the old High Peak Railway which opened in 1831 mainly for carrying goods between the Cromford and High Peak Canals. It was turned into a trail for walkers and cyclists in 1971, and there are remnants of its industrial past dotted along the route. We like the Cromford section for walking, and the higher peak section for cycling.
We based ourselves at Black Rocks, between Cromford and Wirksworth, where there was plenty of parking and was fairly quiet. From here you can walk towards High Peak Junction down on the canal, or towards Middleton Top and beyond in the other direction. Heading towards Middleton Top you come across the National Stone Centre so we popped in for a look around. The National Stone Centre is a volunteer run educational charity, set in forty acres of disused quarry site. Largely outdoors-based, there is a self-guided tour around the site
where visitors can spot fossils and learn how 330 million years ago the Peak District had a tropical climate and lagoon. I appreciated the tour more than my tween, because secretly I want to be a geologist (when I don’t secretly want to be an archaeologist) but also because to her, nothing compares to gaming! She did however enjoy clambering over the stone wall examples and the boulders that are dotted around. Inside the visitors’ Discovery Centre is a small exhibition with a couple of interactive exhibits. The tween’s favourite was the Tremor Zone - featuring a geophone that detects ground vibrations and converts them to electrical signals on a screen. Similar to detecting an earthquake, but here for measuring how hard kids can stamp their feet! Also in the visitors’ centre is a little shop with a great collection of minerals and friendly helpful staff.
The Blue Lagoon cafe at the centre is open for drinks and light meals and has good outdoor seating on a terrace which overlooks a childrens’ playground. We sat outside inbetween rain showers for coffee and ice cream, and had a close encounter with a bold robin that was clearly expecting cake-crumbs. The centre offers childrens’ activities (some group and bookable) such as gem-panning but we didn’t see them that day - possibly due to us visiting so soon after restrictions eased. My tween’s verdict: “it’s nice” (espeially the icecream).
Back on the trail, and returning towards Black Rocks, the route is tree-lined which offers some shelter and shade and plenty of chances to spot some wildlife. Black Rocks is a weathered gritstone outcrop overlooking Cromford, the Derwent Valley Mills and beyond. The foot of the rocks can be reached by a short steep walk and you might see rock-climbers and hear their calls of “climb when ready!” and “climbing!” as they check safety gear and search for a handhold. I haven’t climbed in more years than I can remember but seeing others climb always brings out my smile. To get up to the rocks is a short scramble which can be muddy, but it is worth the effort for the superb views at the top. A note of caution: there are high vertical drops, some a little hidden so kids and dogs need close supervision. You don’t have to get close to the edge to take in the spectacular views though. I am comfortable taking my tween up there as she has done school activities there as well as visited on family days out.
Adjacent to the views at the top is a footpath through the woodlands on the edge of Cromford Moor. As you walk into the woods, they have a fairytale-feel. Luminous velveteen moss covers a boulder field laying at the foot of a tree-laden slope. Lush green ferns unfurl in the pockets between the rocks. Come autumn they will be a vibrant copper colour. We spent some time on a woodland wander, listening to raindrops on the tree canopy before descending back to the trail via the rocks and a treat from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Badger Barista take-away. The tweens verdict: “A lovely place for seeing things up high, and very foresty”
Cromford and the Black Rocks area is near to the boundary of the gritstone Dales and the limestone of the High Peak, and if you continue on the trail towards Middleton Top and beyond there is a noticeable change in the landscape. The weathered grit of the Dales gives way to the grey/ white limestone of the White Peak. We have enjoyed cycling through the White Peak section of the trail, but that is for another day.
Variable. The main sections of the trail are level, with some inclines approaching Middleton Top. The slope up to Black Rocks is uneven with exposed tree routes. The trail around the National Stone Centre is also uneven. The Blue Lagoon cafe is next to disabled parking spaces, with level access inside and the outside terrace and facilities. Disabled access toilet with changing space, and baby-change facilities and high-chairs.
Toilets at High Peak Junction, Black Rocks and Middleton Top and at the National Stone Centre. Several picnic areas dotted along the trail. Refreshment kiosks with light snacks at High Peak Junction and Black Rocks, cafe’s at National Stone Centre and Middleton Top. Cost of a latte along the trail: around £2.40. The childrens’ menu at Blue Lagoon Cafe is £5.00 and there is a full menu with vegetarian options. I had an oatmilk latte at Black Rocks.
Pay and display at High Peak Junction, Black Rocks and Middleton Top starting at at £1.60 for 2 hours up to £4.80 all day. Parking for customers at the National Stone Centre is £1 for half a day, pay using the Honesty rock.
Nearby: The mill village of Cromford where there is a canal walk and historic mills to explore. Scarthin books in Cromford is the best second-hand bookshop in the area and has a wonderful little children’s room. The market town of Wirksworth is a pleasant place for a wander with cafes and independent shops.
By Laura Rowan