Back Forest, bilberries, Cedar, Danebridge, drystone walls, enchanter's nightshade, eyebright, ferns, fir cones, foxglove, Gradbach, grasses, Hanging Stone, hart's-tongue fern, heath bedstraw, heather, JW Lees beer, landslip, Lud's Church, marsh thistle, moss, mouse-ear hawkweed, pink purslane, River Dane, sheep, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, spear thistle, stiles, The Roaches, The Ship Inn, tormentil, walking, Welsh poppy, Wincle, Wincle Brewery, wood sorrel
After a gentle day in Buxton (see Days 1 and 2) and another good night’s sleep we felt ready for a little exercise. We decided to go on a circular walk in Back Forest alongside the River Dane to Danebridge and then back. We had done this walk before, a few years ago, and had gone in a clockwise direction. This time we went anti-clockwise and it is amazing how different everything looks coming at it from the opposite direction.
We drove a few miles from where we were staying to the Peak National Park car park in Gradbach. The day was bright and breezy with not too much strong sunshine – ideal walking weather. The car park was full – about ten cars – which disappointed us, but once we had got past Gradbach Mill and into the forest we hardly saw a soul. There is a short walk down the hill to the mill from the car park. Last year the Mill had still been in use as a Youth Hostel but this year it had been taken over by Newcastle under Lyme University and a lot of renovation work was being carried out. It is in the process of being made into a Field Study Centre and there were groups of students setting off on walks and school children on field trips having noisy picnics all over the place. We followed a path away from the mill and down to the river going over and through a couple of stiles on the way. One of the stiles was a squeeze stile and from a distance this looks an easier option than having to clamber over a wall or gate using wooden or stone cross bars. Up close one can see that the gap is very narrow, in fact no more than 25cm/9.8″ wide to stop livestock escaping from fields either side of the wall. There are stone pillars on each side of the gap to protect the structure of the wall. The dry-stone walls are at least 4.5′ tall and as I am 5’4″ tall and not exactly skinny they are very difficult for me to manage. I have to put my arms in the air, breathe in and force myself through inch by inch with R standing watching and smirking. Anyone larger than me would not be able to get through at all. R is nearly a foot taller than me at 6’3″ and takes longer strides so, though we walk the same distance, I do about two paces to his one. I also wander about taking photos and lag behind and have to trot to catch up with him.
We crossed the river by a narrow bridge and started to climb up into the forest leaving the river some way below.
We walked through the woods for about three-quarters of a mile eventually descending back down towards the river again.
Dane is a Celtic river-name meaning ‘trickling stream’.
Walking further on we saw that there had been a landslip which may have been caused by all the rain last winter.
We then left the wood and started walking along a grassy path through a valley.
In wet weather or at night, when the petals close up, the tormentil flower has the ability to pollinate itself.
This bright little flower was thought to be good for poor eyesight and an extract from eyebright and the herb golden seal is still used as an eye lotion. The 17th century botanist William Cole recorded in his book ‘Adam in Eden’ that eyebright was the herb used by the linnet (a little finch) to clear its eyesight. My source book for this information says ‘Since short-sighted linnets are not easy to identify, few could argue with Cole’s reasoning’. It is a semi-parasitic plant, only growing where its roots can attach themselves to other plants like clover and plantain.
We then followed the path alongside a drystone wall.
We passed by a farmhouse with some sheep.
Just a little further on over the fields the views were very good.
We then re-entered woodland.
By this time we were approaching Danebridge and it was lunchtime. We climbed over a stile and joined the lane that led to the village.
I immediately noticed a little pink flower at the side of the road. The photo doesn’t show how pink it was.
This is a plant introduced from North America and is widely naturalised.
We walked down to the river thinking we would eat our sandwiches next to it but we couldn’t see anywhere suitable to sit.
Mathias De l’Obel, a 16th century Flemish botanist, in trying to identify a magical plant that Discorides (an early Greek physician) had named after the mythical sorceress Circe, eventually chose this plant. Enchanter’s Nightshade’s botanical name is Circaea lutetiana – lutetia is the Roman name for Paris, which is where De l’Obel and other botanists worked.The Anglo-Saxons had used this plant as a protection against spells cast by elves. Their name for it was aelfthone. This is the only Willowherb that doesn’t disperse its fruit with the help of the wind. Instead, it has hooks on its fruit that catch onto fur or feathers like burs. It is pollinated mainly by small flies. I find it fascinating that plants can adapt to their surroundings like this.
We stood on the bridge at Danebridge.
From the bridge we could see the buildings of a local micro-brewery.
Wincle is a village just up the hill from Danebridge and a woman walking her dog informed us that there was a pub up the hill just beyond the brewery. The word ‘pub’ worked as a clarion call to arms and R was up that hill before I or anyone else could say Jack Robinson. As we powered up the hill I just had time to admire this door set into a wall.
We found the pub as we neared the top of the hill.
It seemed so strange for a pub, many miles from the sea or even a navigable river, to be called ‘The Ship’. There was a little information displayed in the pub and I have also looked on-line to find out more about this. There is a ‘History of Wincle’ site which has been very helpful. Sir Philip Brocklehurst of Swythamley Hall (a couple of miles away) sailed with the explorer Shackleton on one of his expeditions to the Antarctic from 1907-9. The pub sign depicts the Nimrod in Antarctic ice ( not the more famous Endeavour of the 1914 expedition). Shackleton was also Sir Philip’s best man when he married Gwladys Murray in 1913.
Some say The Ship is named after another vessel, ‘The Swythamley’, which was owned by a friend of the squire and sank off the Cape of Good Hope in 1862. As the pub is also said to date back to the 17th century it is possible that the name is linked with ‘shippen’, a local word for a sheep shelter. Or the name could be linked with a much earlier boat. In fact, so far no-one seems to know for sure why it has this name!
There are stories about royalist rebels visiting the pub in the 17th century and the gun belonging to one of them was displayed on the wall until fairly recently as well as a framed article from a Manchester newspaper of the day. Both these items went missing at some point. The flintlock now on display was acquired fairly recently and, if I remember correctly, it was discovered that it was made at the same time and by the same gunsmith as the original gun.
We sat outside the pub and sampled their beer. We asked if they sold the locally brewed beer but was told they didn’t so we had some JW Lees beer instead, which was very good.
I only had a few sips of my beer and had to give the rest, reluctantly, to R. I am not supposed to drink alcohol as it reacts badly with the medication I am on and anyway, I try not to drink much of anything on walks because of the lack of convenient ‘conveniences’. I have a horror of being ‘caught short’ as the saying goes, and being discovered by walkers, with a dog…
After a pleasant rest we continued on our way. We went back down the hill to the bridge and found the path we needed which climbed up through more woodland very steeply at times. I remember that for most of the walk we were listening to wonderful birdsong. At the top of the path we came out of the wood onto fields again. Here we rested again and ate our sandwiches.
This is one of the many stiles we climbed over that day. We followed a track by a wall belonging to Hangingstone Farm and then saw the Hanging Stone itself.
We didn’t have the energy to climb up to the rock to read the inscriptions there. One plaque is dedicated to Courtney Brocklehurst, the brother of the aforementioned Philip, who was killed in the 2nd World War, and the other is to a pet hunting dog of an earlier Brocklehurst. This dog was very well loved and when he died was buried under the Hanging Stone. The dog’s name was Burke, because he was such a good hunting dog. In 1828, Burke and Hare were accused of killing sixteen people and then selling the corpses to Dr Robert Knox who dissected them during his popular anatomy lectures.
We were now walking over more open moorland.
The more open terrain here meant we could now see the edge of the Roaches, a gritstone escarpment which has spectacular rock formations. The name comes from the French ‘les Roches’.
We then started descending slowly towards Back Forest again.
We diverted a little way off the path back to Gradbach to see Lud’s Church again. This is a natural rift which is about 200 yards in length and varies in width from 12 feet to 50 feet wide and is about 59 feet deep. We didn’t go far along it as we were both getting very tired. We will go again some time, walk its length and photograph it.
During the 15th century, according to local legend, Lollards (followers of John Wycliffe, an early church reformer) used to worship here in secret during the time of their persecution.
Many researchers have identified this place as the Green Chapel in the 14th Century alliterative poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. The author describes this district well. Gawain rides off searching for the Green Chapel ….
‘Then he gave the spur to Gringolet and galloped down the path,
Thrust through a thicket there by a bank,
And rode down the rough slope right into the ravine.
Then he searched about, but it seemed savage and wild,
And no sign did he see of any sort of building;
But on both sides banks, beetling and steep,
And great crooked crags, cruelly jagged;
The bristling barbs of rock seemed to brush the sky.’
Translation by Brian Stone.
Another legend is that a hunter was killed here and that he still roams about the cleft covered from head to toe in moss and leaves. He is known locally as the Green Man one of many ‘green men’ to be found in Britain.
We joined our path again and soon reached the bridge over the River Dane and then Gradbach mill.