Ancient Estates of the Peak

Last Saturday was a really special day when we led a walk for The Peacock Hotel in Rowsley through the two ancient estates of Chatsworth and Haddon.

In addition to enjoying stunning scenery throughout the guided walk, customers learned about the fascinating history of these two estates.

What made the walk really special was that Lord Edward Manners had very kindly granted us permission to walk through the private part of the Haddon Estate that isn’t normally open to the public.  He had also arranged for us to have a private guided tour of Haddon Hall after a delicious lunch at the Haddon Restaurant.  The staff of the Haddon Estate looked after us really well on the day!

The private part of the Haddon Estate includes the old orchard, and the medieval deer park.  This is a beautiful, very natural looking area of parkland that has largely been left undisturbed for centuries.  Through here, we saw lots of beautiful mature trees, many of which had been planted by different generations of the Manners family.  We saw fascinating lumps in the ground that were massive ant hills (a sign that the land has been left undisturbed for a long period of time), and we were able to look into the abandoned tunnel that the old London to Manchester railway line once passed through.  The estate is managed for conservation and we saw evidence of many initiatives to encourage wildlife, birds and a diverse range of plants and trees.

The photo gallery below shows some of the highlights of the day.


Walking through the private part of the Haddon Estate


View over amazing countryside from the medieval deer park in the private part of the Haddon Estate


Exploring the entrance to the Haddon Tunnel in the private part of the Haddon Estate.  The London to Manchester railway line once passed through here. 


Beautiful trees in the Haddon Estate


Haddon Hall


The gardens at Haddon Hall


Walking along the track-bed of the old railway line in the private part of the Haddon Estate.


Looking down an air shaft into the old railway tunnel in the private part of the Haddon Estate.


The footpath through Manners Wood.


The River Derwent in Chatsworth Park


Footpath through Chatsworth Park

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzels in The Dark Peak

On our walk yesterday on Derwent Edge we were lucky enough to see Ring Ouzels.  These rare birds spend the winter in the Mediterranean and North Africa, then migrate to the UK in the spring where they nest among craggy outcrops of rocks and among heather between April and July.  The gritstone crags of the Dark Peak are ideal nesting habitats.  Their numbers have rapidly declined over the last 50 years and it is believed that now only around 6,000 – 7,000 breeding pairs come to the UK.

They look similar to blackbirds but are slightly smaller and have a white ring around their necks.

Ring Ouzel


Fun with environmental learning in the Peak District

I have recently got back from the Mountain Training Association national conference which this year was in the Peak District. During the weekend there were a range of workshops to choose from and I was drawn towards the ‘Environmental Learning Made Easy’ session which was delivered by Jim Langley of Nature’s Work. This proved to be an excellent choice – which is why I want to share my experiences with you in my Countryside Blog.

The workshop was aimed at introducing Learning Cards to help children to learn through outdoor activities. The fact that all of us who completed the workshop had so much fun, indicates that they could easily be adapted for adults!

The day started with learning some surveying techniques and first of all doing a short survey of wildlife in a small grassy area to the rear of the buildings. At first glance it appeared there was absolutely nothing there except grass, however closer inspection revealed all kinds of insects, spiders, snails, and a couple of holes that could have been made by a shrew. It is amazing how absorbed you can become in the ground whilst crawling on your hands and knees through damp grass!

Our second survey was of the graveyard in the village of Castleton studying the gravestones, their age, condition, type of stone and looking for trends or categories. Again, absolutely fascinating and it actually raised more questions than it answered.

We then moved up the hillside into Cave Dale to look at some of the wonderful plants that thrive in the rocky and sometimes shady limestone soils. I was amazed at how many varieties of lichen and moss there were thriving in just in a small area, not to mention all of the ferns and other plants. Jim’s explanation of their evolution and reproduction methods was so interesting.

At lunch time Jim sprung a pleasant surprise on us by producing numerous jars and bottles out of the back of his van filled with all sorts of goodies home-made made from wild plants and fruit. My favourite was the Hawthorn Ketchup followed closely by the Rowan Jelly.

During the afternoon, we learned how to measure the height of a tree using a pencil, how to light a fire without matches and using a type of fungus called Kind Alfred’s Cakes that we had collected earlier as firelighters. Having lit the fire, we then made some charcoal sticks with Willow twiggs and Jim taught us how to insert them into a short piece of Elder to create a charcoal pencil. The popcorn that Jim cooked for us over the fire had to be the highlight of the afternoon!

Altogether a fabulous day spent learning about the countryside and nature.

Wessenden Moor

Moors for the Future – Wessenden Moor

This morning as a change from guiding walks, I went out onto Wessenden Moor with Megan and Bryan from the Moors for the Future Partnership to look at some of their forthcoming work.

The aim of their project is to restore the moorland to its former natural beauty by re-vegetating large bare areas of peat. This will provide many benefits, including stopping huge amounts of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere as the peat erodes, and improving the quality of the water that runs into Yorkshire Water’s reservoirs.

Peat erodes much more quickly when it dries out, so in addition to re-seeding the area, Megan explained to me that she will be identifying suitable points in the peat gullies to be blocked off. This will stop rain from running off the moor so quickly, retaining the water in the peat.

There was too much snow on the ground to enable any work to be done this morning, but lots to do before the start of the nesting season when work will be halted so that ground nesting birds aren’t disturbed.

Wessenden Moor

Wessenden Moor with Megan and Bryan

Wessenden Moor

Wessenden Moor

Snow on Wessenden Moor

Snow on Wessenden Moor



An industrial site in a place of beauty!

The Lafarge Cement Works at Hope

The Lafarge Cement Works at Hope, taken from the viewing platform to the rear during our guided tour of the works.

A cement factory might be an unexpected thing to write about in a countryside blog, but if you have ever been walking in the Hope Valley area of the Peak District, you will have seen the Lafarge cement works which forms a dominant feature in the landscape.

The factory is visible from the whole of ‘The Great Ridge’ – one of the most popular walks in the Dark Peak.

The initial reaction that most people have when seeing it for the first time is ‘what an eyesore in a beautiful valley’.

Admittedly it is a bit ugly, but there is a lot more to be considered before verbally condemning it.

Firstly, there has been a cement factory in that location since the early 1930s.  The Peak District National Park was not even created until 1951.  Secondly, a key component of cement is limestone, so isn’t it sensible to produce the cement near to a source of limestone?  The Hope factory has its own limestone quarry right behind it.  The stone is quarried, crushed on site, then moved by conveyer belt down to the factory.  Almost all of the end product is taken away by rail on the company’s own private railway line, so we don’t have hundreds of lorries trundling though our pretty countryside lanes.

Having recently been taken on a guided tour of the site by the recently retired quarry manager, I was impressed by the many environmental measures that are in place to minimise their impact on the Peak District environment.  One of the older quarry sites has even been converted to a nature reserve and is now managed by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.  A wealth of rare wild flowers grow there and small ponds have been created to encourage wildlife such as newts.

There is also the issue of the local economy.  The cement works provides good local jobs in an area where alternative employment options are limited.

Next time you are walking in the Hope Valley, hate it if you must, but please do also consider the benefits of it being there.

The quarry that supplies limestone to the cement works

The working quarry that supplies limestone to the cement works at Hope

Our guided tour of the Lafarge cement works at Hope

Our guided tour of the Lafarge cement works at Hope

Dew Ponds of the White Peak

Dew ponds are a familiar sight to anyone who walks regularly in the White Peak area of the Peak District.  They were originally formed to provide a water source to farm animals in areas where water was not present naturally.  It is believed that they took their name, not from the fact that they collected the dew, but from a Victorian pond maker called Mr Dew.

During the 70s and early 80s it is possible that as many as 50% of our dew ponds were lost due to infills and neglect.  Dew ponds are important habitats for wildlife.  In particular the great crested newt which is a protected species.  They are also home to a wide variety of beetles and bugs.

Over the last few years many dew ponds have been restored as part of the Peak District bio-diversity action plan to encourage wildlife and provide breeding grounds for the great crested newts.  The pond featured here is one of two near to the path through the western end of Lathkill Dale.

Dew pond in Lathkill Dale

Dew pond in Lathkill Dale

Heather Burning

They have started burning the heather on the peakland moors.  It has been customary for centuries to burn small patches of heather during the early part of the year.  This started in the days when grouse shooting was important to the local economy. 

To thrive, Red Grouse need a mixture of different heights of heather and low growing plants.  They nest in the older deep heather and feed on the new shoots of young heather.  As these birds never travel very far from their birth place, the buring of heather in small patches ensures that they always have the right mixture of plants in their own little area.  It is also beneficial to other ground nesting birds.