Peak District walk - Three Shires Head from Gradbach
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Helen Moat waxes lyrical over glorious tumbling falls where three counties - Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire - meet
When I first visited Three Shires Head many years ago, I had it more or less to myself. Now, people travel from far and wide to visit one of Britain’s most picturesque spots.
Undoubtedly, it’s now beloved of photographers, Instagrammers, wild swimmers and ramblers - don’t let this put you off, however.
Avoid weekends and holiday periods, if you can, and visit the falls early in the morning. There’s nothing as atmospheric as heading up the valley as the sun climbs above the horizon and the moorlands take on texture and colour.
Bring swimming attire and enjoy a sunrise breakfast after an invigorating cold mountain dip.
Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire all converge in this isolated Peak District valley, where two arched bridges span the meeting of waters.
Here, a duo of waterfalls plunges over rocks to gather in pools. This figure-of-eight ramble returns to Three Shires Head after climbing up onto the moorland’s higher reaches and loops round the hamlet of Knar before returning to Gradbach.
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It’s a walk of thrilling diversity, taking in riverside pathways, upland pastures, an abandoned quarry, expansive moorland and clusters of farms.
In the nesting season the plaintive cries of curlew are a constant soundtrack above the upland streams, while the surrounding moorlands are splashed with purple heather towards summer’s end.
1. From the back of the Wildlife Trust car park in the mill hamlet of Gradbach, head along the path sandwiched between the stream and a dry-stone wall.
Again, arriving early is advantageous as the car park fills up quickly. Entrepreneurial locals offer additional parking – at a price.
2. Go through the wall gap onto the lane, immediately turning left again to cross a wooden footbridge. It cuts across the floodplain to the road leading to Flash.
Turn right, then left into Dane View House drive. A signboard at the top of the farm drive points you through a field gate.
Continue over fields, then follow the metal sign northwest for the three counties tripoint.
3. Drop down the wide grassy path, then gravel farm track. Turn left past farm outbuildings before veering right to climb the stony path above the River Dane to Three Shires Head.
Submerge yourself in the freezing water – painful to begin with but wonderfully invigorating and reenergising afterwards.
Dry and warm, enjoy a hot drink from the flask and an al fresco breakfast in this iconic spot before the crowds arrive.
Watch the day gather light and drink in the watery scene with its lovely arched packhorse bridge spanning the water over an important trading route: the Peak District’s very own silk road.
4. Go through the gate right of the bridge and follow the brook upwards through the moorlands of Derbyshire. Continue to a fingerpost where slabs cross the track.
Turn left, backtracking initially to follow a broad grassy path up onto the moorlands.
Reaching a metal gate, turn left again to follow the Dane Valley Way as far as Reeve Edge and Danebower quarries, an atmospheric place of peaty water, spoil heaps and ruined dry-stone huts.
5. Cross the brook’s stepping stones into Cheshire and climb the hill past a round hut and quarry pond.
Look out for a narrow left-hand path that leaves the broad track to drop to the stream which winds its way back to Three Shires Head.
At the tripoint, climb the stony track keeping the River Dane on your left, and look out for a footpath cutting down through fields to the hamlet of Knar.
Follow the quiet gated lane west and south, savouring the wide-reaching views to Ramshaw Rocks and the Roaches.
A left-hand path, immediately after the second road gate, descends through gorse to the Flash Road. Turn left to cross the bridge, then retrace your steps to the car park.
Start Point: SJ 99852
Parking: Gladbach Car Park (arrive early to ensure a spot).
Map: OS Explorer Map – The Peak District White Peak National Park
Terrain: Moderate. Some uneven ground and gradual climbs
Distance: 6.6 miles
Refreshments: None on route; bring a picnic