Stanton Moor, Derbyshire County Walk

A steady climb on to Stanton Moor at 958ft offering fine views of the Derwent Valley and a visit to the Nine Ladies Stone Circle. The return takes us through Darley Bridge with its famous yew tree and then back towards Rowsley with the Derwent on ...

'Stanton Moor is one of my favourite Peak District spots.' After saying further that he'd take me to see 'nine ladies', I packed my comb and cologne and wore my most fetching cagoule. When I eventually saw these 'ladies', I realised that more appropriate garb would have been a druid's cloak, topped and tailed by a beard and open-toed sandals. With the sun beating down,

Mike's preferred attire was a pair of shorts. I always resist giving my hairy legs an airing with good reason: once when I was a short-trousered lad, I fell off my bike into a sea of stinging nettles. I've had a phobia about the things ever since. Sure enough, within a few hundred yards of our walk, we brushed past a triffid march of them.

I blame the Romans: they brought the seeds of the nettle plant with them to our shores. Why? Because they weren't keen on our northern climes. By flogging themselves with stinging nettles, they apparently kept warm. The Romans may have given us roads, coins and the aqueduct but I'd have gladly given those up if they'd kept themselves and their nettles at home. I shudder every time I think of the Dorset pub that stages the World Nettle Eating Championships. When cooked, the sting is neutralised but these competitors have to eat them raw. It's the stuff of nightmares.

If you get peckish on a walk, I wouldn't recommend a bite: competitors describe their nettle meal as tasting like anything from 'rancid salad with no dressing' to 'a mixture of spinach and cow-pat'. My other walking colleague, Norfolk Bob (so-called, you may remember, because his phobia is walking anywhere that can be described as 'up'), also chooses to wear long trousers to avoid stings: those of midges and horseflies. Seasoned shorttrouser wearer Mike blushingly revealed that he uses Avon Skin-So-Soft which has actually developed a cult following for its reputed ability to repel biting bugs. Mike admits it's not very 'blokey' but needs must. However,Walk 7 is calling and it first requires you to walk back to the road, turn right and cross the River Wye. When the road bears right, carry on straight up a private road with a public footpath sign indicating Stanton Lees. Continue on this road for just over a mile. As our road bears right, you'll be walking uphill through trees.

As we were venturing out in June, we encountered a riot of rhododendrons. Someone from Armenia - obviously far more romantic than the Romans - brought this plant to the UK in 1763 as an ornamental shrub. Mind you, it had a practical purpose as well, as the gentry introduced it to many estates as a ground cover plant for game. This walk will take you past Holly Wood on the left and thence Stanton Woodhouse Farm to the right. Fifty yards further on, where the farm road forks, you need to carry straight on through a metal gate. Shortly after, there's a view of the Derwent Valley towards Matlock to make one sigh. Norfolk Bob's subsequent sigh was a heavier one as Mike announced the most strenuous stretch of the day but he reminded us that we were approaching the most attractive part of the walk: Stanton Moor. 'You get a real sense of isolation here,' he declared, 'and you can feel the atmospherics, surrounded as you are by ancient standing stones, mysterious rock outcrops and the many tombs of prehistoric man.

The moor also offers remarkable views from its rim and, not far away, is the friendly village of Birchover.' What makes it so friendly, Mike? 'Two pubs,' he replied. We trudged up the hill for half a mile though we were eventually rewarded by the sight of more rhododendrons, some in giant clumps dramatically emblazoned across the hillside. This is a good spot, as Derbyshire Wildlife Trust advises, to watch out for redstarts feeding along fence lines and on the edge of woodland, 'shivering' the red tail from which they get their name. Another summer visitor is the spotted flycatcher.

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Apparently, this once common species has been in serious decline in recent years but they can still be seen in this area, particularly around old farm buildings, 'sallying forth from a high-up perch to catch insects'. Birds may be a little wary, though, of the persistent human presence hereabouts. 'Persistent' is the apposite word when one speaks of the disused Endcliffe Quarry. To the left of our footpath we saw a jerry-built tent with the words 'Tattoo Artist' advertised. At the turn of the millennium, eco-warriors erected numerous tent structures following a proposal to extract 31/2 million tons of stone near this spot - quarrying work that would involve 160 lorry movements a day and would continue until 2042. Mike said he agreed with the protestors: 'This place has suffered enough,' he pronounced, pointing to other well-worked quarries hereabouts. Bob entered the debate. 'You have to make a decision as to whether you want factories, houses and roads to be built,' he argued, 'and one should consider what can be done with the land when the quarrying is finished.' Indeed, he cited the enchanting silver birch wood we encountered on Walk 3 at Bole Hill that grew up following the end of the quarry workings there.

However, the realisation that this quarry would be only 150 yards from the Nine Ladies Stone Circle brought me firmly down on Mike's side. To reach Nine Ladies, walk uphill past Endcliffe and other disused quarries to your left. When you reach a T-junction, turn left up the hill for 500 yards, signposted Stanton in Peak. Keep your eyes peeled for a public footpath finger post on your left. This will take you up to the edge of Stanton Moor. Nine Ladies is actually a detour from our route but I urge you to see it. It's believed the stones originate from the distant mythical past (as early as 1500 BC, some believe) with the circle gaining its name when nine ladies were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.

A tenth stone set back from the circle is supposed to be the fiddler. David Cotton, a rambler who runs the website and, in the last eight years has made nearly 750 walks covering 12,500 miles, describes the Nine Ladies Stone Circle as 'an absolutely magical place, by far my favourite Neolithic site.' He's not remotely a hippie, nor anything to do with another website that proclaims Nine Ladies as the sacred site of certain 'grail guardian goddesses' and 'omni-angels'. David told me that on several past summers, he and a couple of friends would have a few drinks at the Square & Compass at Darley Bridge and then walk up and spend the night at the circle.

But he wasn't remotely drunk. No, the simple fact is that, for David, 'there is something about the Nine Ladies that I find deeply moving.' One something is its setting: most stone circles stand on bleak shivering heaths. This one is attractively encompassed by woodland of silver birch, ash and beech. It's mainly for this reason that David prefers Nine Ladies to even Stonehenge and Avebury. 'Both are tourist magnets,' David points out, 'but Nine Ladies is quieter, and the small size also makes it seem much more exclusive.' Likewise, Bob was entranced by its 'peaceful aura'.

On the day we visited, only a solitary dog walker broke the quietude of this place, though it would have been considerably busier if we'd come a few weeks later: at every Summer Solstice, upwards of 3,000 druids, pagans and onlookers congregate here. There will also be a fair few for Lugnasad ('The Feast of Bread') on 1st August, and then the Autumn Equinox on 21st September. As we retraced our steps to Mike's route, we encountered another structure: the Earl Grey Tower, built by the Second half a mile, our walk takes us through Stanton Moor Edge. On the moor itself, there are further monoliths to discover like the Heart Stone, Cork Stone and the Andle Stone (known locally as The Twopenny Loaf). The moor itself is a massive Bronze Age cemetery with over 70 burial mounds, although all are masked by the moor's thick vegetation. On our walk it gleamed green in the sun and was strewn with rhododendrons, some in patches that burst from the undergrowth like purple lava from an awakening volcano. By now these will have been subsumed by the burgeoning heather.

As Mike had promised, there is an air of mystery and magic about this tranquil, remote place. After this stretch, the village of Birchover is close by should you fancy another detour. Two pubs, remember ... After the Moor Edge walk, you will eventually find yourself descending towards a road. Turn left downhill for 60 yards Earl Grey who rose to become a Whig Prime Minister in 1830. With a glint in his eye, Bob wondered if the stocky tower was supposed to represent a giant packet of tea. Legend has it that Earl Grey received a gift of tea flavoured with bergamot oil from a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey's men.

The truth about the edifice is that it's a shooting tower commissioned by the Thornhills of Stanton Hall to commemorate Earl Grey's momentous passing of the Reform Bill in 1832. Shortly after leaving the tower, the track bears right. For before picking up a public footpath sign. Once through a wooden gate, turn half right for 80 yards and go through a stone squeezer stile. Keep to the field edge and eventually you will pick up a farm track leading to Barn Farm. Turn left along the farm track for several hundred yards before taking a left turn along Clough Lane.

This is the ancient track which linked the old quarries of Birchover with the lead mines of Darley Bridge, a village 11/2 miles down this route. A mile along, we took a short detour to our right, and chomped on our sandwiches sitting on the stones in front of the remains of Mill Close lead mine. At one time the biggest lead mine in the country, Mill Close took the ailing Derbyshire lead industry into the 20th century. The last lead mine in the county, it employed about 600 men before it was forced to close in 1939 owing to flooding. You will catch the sounds of industry here.

Don't worry: these are not haunting noises from the disused mine but the nearby H.J. Enthoven plant which used to smelt local ore but now melts down old car batteries - the majority of waste industrial lead acid batteries in the UK are recycled here. A few days previous to our walk, we would have sniffed smoke: a to form the first stone house of prayer' and its Christian worshippers 'who from that to this have been borne under its hoary limbs in women's arms to the baptismal font and then on men's shoulders to the last sleeping place in the soil that gave its birth.' Mike found himself coming over 'all poetic' a third of a mile down the road, waxing lyrical about the charms of a stunning abbey house whose driveway we passed.

The Heritage Way signs take us through farmland with Earl Grey's monument half left on the horizon and eventually Peak Rail to the right. Many tireless enthusiasts can rightly celebrate this tenth massive fire at the recycling plant destroyed about 250,000 batteries. When you reach Darley Bridge, turn left crossing the Derwent, where Mike spotted several frisky trout. Shortly after, a Derwent Valley Heritage Way disc on a wooden post indicates the way ahead. A left turn 400 yards on reveals the Darley Bridge picnic site, with the Darley Dale Cricket Club's attractive pavilion to the left. Although our walk takes us away from the river, we pass through the lovely hamlet of Churchtown where the splendid St Helen's Church houses an ancient yew with an enormous girth of 33 feet. Reputed to be 2,000 years old, a notice pays poetic homage to the settlers who lived, worked and worshipped in its historic shadow, including the Norman masons 'carving their quaint sculptures anniversary year of the first passenger trains between Matlock and Rowsley. As well as train rides - steam and diesel - there is a 'footplate experience course' where you can actually get your hands on a steam engine's controls.

There are also historic railway walks. After this we hug the river, passing a drift of water weed that just needed an Ophelia floating in it to mirror the famous Millais painting. Funnily enough, there WAS someone in the river a few yards further on: an angler thigh-high in water, casting his line. This is a pleasant riverside walk populated by tall thin trees with an abundance of waterborne wildlife. The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust tells us that the goosander is becoming a more frequent sight here with the male 'glowing peachy-white with a dark green head and long, serrated red beak which he uses to catch slippery fish'. There's every chance of spotting a pair of hole-nesting ducks, but to see the nests of the exotic mandarin - another duck increasing in numbers hereabouts - you need to look for hollows in trees, often some way from the river.

The Trust also tells us to look up for birds of prey soaring over the valley as they hunt - buzzards and sparrowhawks are a frequent sight here - and to look down for otters, making 'a remarkable comeback' after being close to extinction in this county. When we reached the confluence of the Wye and Derwent, we paused to view a few of my digital photos, leading Bob to point out that readers will not only think he's permanently out of focus but also that his backside is the only bit of him worth shooting. He has a point but my increasingly aching feet had me lagging behind for long stretches. Bob wondered if I had metatarsalgia, remarking with a wicked grin that the older you get, the more susceptible you are (the fat pad protecting the foot thins with age). Maybe I need a fresh pair of walking boots; after all, there's still 13 walks left, covering 100 miles. Let's hope there are places as memorable as Stanton Moor.

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