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3 great winter woodland walks in the Peak District

Christmas trees at Macclesfield Forest Photo: Helen Moat
Christmas trees at Macclesfield Forest Photo: Helen Moat

A series of walks in the Peak District among the many areas of woodland.

Great British Life: Bronze statue of The Miner Photo: Helen MoatBronze statue of The Miner Photo: Helen Moat

Silverhill Wood Country Park

Just a skip and a hop from Hardwick Hall, this (mainly) conifer woodland is a few hundred feet from the Derbyshire border in Nottinghamshire.

It’s a lovely three-mile amble through a restored colliery, the plantation of pine trees sprinkled with broadleaves.

As you climb to higher ground, you’ll spot some of Derbyshire’s most iconic landmarks – and on clear days you can see all the way to Lincoln with its hilltop cathedral.

From Silverhill Wood car park, head through the squeeze stile straight through open land, taking a left turn to cut across to a meeting of broad gravel tracks.

Keep left to follow the easy path northwest. At a junction, where a path drops down to a pond, you’ll be greeted with your first views of Hardwick Hall, surrounded by trees soaring heavenward.

Keep right to continue uphill with plantations of pines eventually appearing on both sides. Pause to look back at the views of Derbyshire’s undulating countryside, rising to Crich Stand.

Meeting a T-junction, go right to follow the path southward. Soon you’ll come to the highest point in the wood at the crest of a hill created in this once active mining area.

Climb the steps to the bronze statue entitled Miner Testing for Gas, sculpted by Antony Dufort. It pays homage to Nottingham’s coal miners and 85 collieries.

Close by, a metal disc pinpoints surrounding Derbyshire landmarks: St Mary’s and All Saints Church in Chesterfield, Hardwick Hall, Bolsover Castle, Glapwell village, Pleasley Pit Colliery, Crich Stand and Alport Heights.

On the Nottingham side, you can see Sherwood Forest and Lincoln Cathedral (on clear days). There are no cafés but plenty of benches for a picnic with outstanding views.

From here, you can drop down again to the gravel path or keep on a grassy path that runs alongside pine trees. The latter offers the chance to get up close and personal with the pines.

Breathe in their fresh scent and familiarise yourself with the rounded needles arranged in clusters, the defining feature of pines, contrasting the flat needles of fir trees.

Joining the main path again, you’ll reach the meeting of gravel paths once more at the bottom of the hill. Turn left to follow the path to the ponds created by excavation of coal. Spot the remnant of rail track that transported the coal from the site.

Soon you’ll reach the ponds. Turn right to head towards the second pond. Ahead, there’s a three-way split. Take the narrower unsurfaced path that heads through trees.

This is a nature trail dotted with educational boards packed with fascinating information on the ecosystems of the forest. At the end of the trail, cross a gravel path and continue straight to the car park and your starting point.

Great British Life: Forest Chapel Photo: Helen MoatForest Chapel Photo: Helen Moat

Macclesfield Forest

Contrasting Silverhill Wood – a woodland made up solely of pine evergreens with some broadleaves – Macclesfield Forest has a much greater diversity of conifers.

Larch is prominent but under threat from Japanese larch disease (P. ramorum) and shedding its needles in late autumn - not exactly Christmas tree material!

Sitka and Norway spruce (the typical Christmas tree shaped evergreen) is strongly present alongside lodgepole, Scots and Corsican pines. As with most British forests, there are some broadleaves mixed with the conifers.

This five-mile ramble not only takes you through forest, enclosing you in its intimate hug, it takes you onto open moorland with magnificent far-reaching views on the Peak District fringes.

Before starting out, grab a Macclesfield Forest leaflet from the Visitor Centre at Trentabridge car park with a map of the red-coded, five-mile ramble. Note: it’s advisable to use the more detailed OS map alongside the leaflet.

From Trentabank CP (£4 for four hours) take the path eastward parallel to Standing Stone Road, veering right to climb through the forest up onto the tree covered Nessit Hill.

I did the red route anti-clockwise to get the climb out the way, (ignore the right turn taking the walk clockwise).

Keep left to reach the summit of the hill, also ignoring a second path on the right, leading to Shuttlingsloe.

You’ll get different views of the Peak’s iconic Matterhorn-shaped hill, albeit on a much smaller scale than the Swiss version – sometimes losing its pyramid shape altogether, depending on your perspective.

With the woodland dropping away at your feet, you can start to take in the views that stretch for miles (unless the mists are down): Teggs Nose, Shining Tor, The Cat and Fiddle, the Cheshire Plain, Jodrell Bank, Manchester, Bromborough Power Stations on Merseyside, the Shropshire Hills and Wales beyond – each section revealing different outlooks. It’s mind-boggling so much of Britain can be seen from Macclesfield Forest.

As the path descends towards the ruined building of Ferriser, you can stick to the wide gravel path or take the grassy track on the right, crossing moorland to cut out a bend.

Reaching the main path again, you’ll emerge at the top of Standing Stone Road. Head through the back of Standing Stone Car Park, go through the wooden gate and drop down to Bollin Brook, climbing through woodland to meet a wider gravel path again.

Turn right onto the path leading to a country lane. Turn right onto the road and climb the hill to St Stephen’s, surely one of the most remote churches in the Peak District.

It’s famous for its August Rushbearing Festival, an ancient tradition whereupon rushes were laid on the church floor (serving as insulation and cleanliness in times when earthen floors were common in rural churches).

Leaving the ‘Forest Chapel’ return to the junction of roads, taking the narrow Charity Lane (signed unsuitable for motors).

Look for a fingerpost on your left taking you back into Macclesfield Forest. The path crosses the forested hillside before dropping steeply to a junction of paths. This section of forest has a dark, otherworldly feel, its twisting mossy deciduous trees on one side and tall, dark conifers crammed together on the other, reaching desperately for light and devoid of greenery beneath their crowns.

Turn left onto a wider path that drops to a designated ‘Quiet Lane’ (single-track road). Drop downhill to the Leather’s Smithy, a great place to quench your thirst overlooking Ridgegate Reservoir.

The Red Route takes you on through woodland back to Trentabank Car Park, but I think it’s nice to divert along Ridgegate Reservoir.

There’s a safe pathway that runs alongside the Standing Stone Road that skirts the dam. Pause at the end of Ridgegate to take in the tranquil waters of the reservoir before heading back to the car park via another off-road pathway, its entrance at the junction of roads just beyond Ridgegate Reservoir.

If you haven’t fuelled up at Leather’s Smithy, The Snug – a mobile van – serves delicious egg, sausage and bacon butties. After a fairly strenuous walk through undulating forest, I think you deserve some energy food, don’t you?

Great British Life: Stone bridge over River Goyt Photo: Helen MoatStone bridge over River Goyt Photo: Helen Moat

Goyt Valley

Starting from Errwood Hall car park, this almost four-mile walk is one not just of Scots pines, a few remaining larches and the occasional fir, but of mature broadleaf and moorland clough. I love the diversity of landscape on this ramble.

Head up the wide track with its green barrier to where a smaller stone-embedded path crosses it. Turn left (signed Goytsclough Quarry) and continue along the broadleaf and conifer-fringed path.

Scots pines have those telltale clusters of needles, and their trunks and branches tend to twist. Eventually the path drops to the single-track lane leading to the disused Goytsclough Quarry, then Derbyshire Bridge.

On the other side, there are a couple of benches above waterfalls and the River Goyt, the water a soothing sound: a fine place for a picnic.

Continuing along the lane a short distance, you’ll see a public footpath fingerpost on your right. Follow it uphill towards a higher waterfall.

Most of the larches are in a sorry state due to P. ramorum disease. Many have been felled – a tragedy as they’re a gorgeous fiery colour late autumn. Beyond, ink-green conifers soar to the sky – their straight trunks destined to make excellent timber.

The grassy (sometimes muddy) path veers left to join the main path. Follow it left as it continues across moorland above the Derbyshire Bridge road.

Dropping down to the single-track road again, turn left again and follow a short distance. You’ll see a path on your right descending to the brook. Take it, crossing the wooden footbridge, and turn left once more (signed for Goytsclough Quarry).

The path follows above the brook back to the quarry. Descend to the pretty stone humpback bridge (a reconstruction of a packhorse bridge from a Errwood Reservoir site), cross it and climb to the road – emerging once more at Goytsclough Quarry.

Just after the ‘No Entry’ signs, veer right off road to follow the signed Riverside Walk. This is a particularly lovely section, with a sprinkling of Scots pines and conifers between mature broadleaves.

There’s a short, sharp drop to the riverside but after the going is easy with bridge, boardwalk and flat gravel path wriggling alongside the Goyt before emerging at the road again. Continue north along it, back to Errwood Hall car park.

READ MORE: Peak District walk: Ladybower reservoir and Hagg Side



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