The High Peak area of Derbyshire is a dramatic landscape of Pike hills and deep valleys, criss-crossed by old pathways and tucked away villages.
For this walk I parked in the lay-by just up from Horwich End near Whaley Bridge at the base of the A5004 (Long Hill) road from Buxton. A long section of this former turnpike road is attributed to the professional road building skills of John Metcalf (1717-1810). This civil engineer extraordinaire was also known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough or Blind Jack Metcalf. He was an incredibly talented Yorkshireman who although blind from the age of six, was responsible for plotting the route of some 180 miles of roads in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
From the lay-by a restricted byway descended into a woodland paradise. Just before reaching the river Nellie and I passed through a gate on the left to begin a fabulous walk upstream through Shallcross Wood and then riverside meadows of lush grass following the River Goyt.
We were to come across a couple of green Footpaths Society signs on this walk including No 237 which indicated ways to Whaley Bridge, Fernilee and Buxton.
After about a mile we crossed over the river by means of a footbridge to enter Hillbridge Nature Reserve, stated as being an important remnant of upland oak woodland, home to wood warbler and pied flycatchers. The reserve is also an important site for lichens and bryophytes (mosses), with several rare species occurring on the older trees.
We now had a choice. Although Nellie wanted to continue by the river, I plumped for the middle path which led us steeply uphill to Madscar Farm. Painted yellow dots and arrows guided us through the trees, over a field and through the farmyard to a roadway where we turned right.
We were now following a short section of the Midshires Way, a long distance footpath and bridleway that runs for 230 miles from Stockport in Greater Manchester, through the Midlands to the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire.
We took advantage of an appropriately placed seat just before Overton Hall Farm to rest awhile, enjoy a rucksack snack and some spectacular far reaching views. There are numerous remote farmsteads dotted hereabout, whilst away to the north-east I could make out a line-up of summits like a majestic mini mountain range in the foothills of Kinder.
Our uphill course continued past huge new barns and cowsheds on our right to Taxal Moor Road. Now we could walk with ease whilst gazing in admiration over a wonderland of views.
Farmland here appears to be rich and fertile as many fields were already stripped by a first crop of silage. Alternatively, on our left it was an uphill rise of rough pasture to Taxal Moor.
After a tight bend and cattle grid the road headed steeply downhill to a junction where we turned right and walked to the tiny village of Taxal, dominated by an ancient church. It appears to be a large house of worship for such a small village but evidently this is the parish church for Whaley Bridge, and its graveyard is the final resting place for many who lived there as well as in surrounding hamlets.
St James, formerly known as St Leonard’s, has a 16th century tower with earlier fabric that is Saxon in origin, whilst the main body of the church was rebuilt in the 19th century. Within is said to be a tablet memorial to Michael Heathcote who died in 1768 that evidently reads ‘Gentleman of the Pantry and Yeoman of the Mouth to his late Majesty King George III’.
The tower contains teeny tiny glazed windows and some interesting early carved stone heads. Either side of the clock face are what appears to be Fred Dibnah with flat cap and his mate!
A steep path beside the graveyard brought us down to the river and ford on a very old route. A winky wonky footbridge led us safely over the water and then it was just a sharp climb back up to end what had been a glorious short walk of about 3 miles.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: I’m a spoilt little pooch and don’t I know it! Mum and I went to Chatsworth Horse Trials, a new experience for both of us. I made oodles of new furry friends of all shapes and sizes, but mostly Labradors for some reason. It was so lovely to be allowed into all the little shops, especially when some of them gave me food treats. For a while I had to be good whilst Mum watched the horses strutting their stuff, but my reward was to ‘sit test’ a new dog bed and then Mum bought me a new Maasai beaded collar and a My Urban Trail harness that is just so cool. I’m going to be the trendiest dog in the village at this rate!! Nellie xx