This had all the elements of a classic January walk; Gorgeous scenery, great pubs, lots of mud, flooded riverbanks, and a final mile in total darkness (due to getting a bit too comfortable in the great pubs).
Our starting point was the village of Litton, set amidst the rolling hills of the White Peak in the Derbyshire Peak District. Our journey involved a train to Buxton, followed by a quick jump on the 65 bus to Litton.
There is plenty of the parking in the village if you prefer to travel under your own steam.
So, the basic details of the route are as follows:
Litton - Litton Mill - Cressbrook Mill -
Wye Valley - Monsal Trail - Monsal Head -
Little Longstone - Wardlow - Litton
Combination of tarmac roads, gravel tracks, muddy footpaths and cross-field paths
Approximately 12 stiles, Mensal Trail section has good wheelchair access
Refreshments on Route:
4 pubs on route, 3 of which serve food
The Monsal Head Hotel has a perfect location overlooking Monsal Dale. Book here.
Big Col's Difficulty Rating:
There are a couple of steep climbs which can be hard going in muddy conditions. Big Col rates this route as a 2.5/5 for difficulty. The approximate effect on Big Col is as shown below. (This face is for comparison purposes only).
We set off from the Red Lion in Litton, which would also be our end point several hours later.
Crossing the road opposite the pub, we headed up the curiously named Bottomhill Road, which starts to climb out of the small village. The skies were filled with heavy, ominous clouds, but there was no rain so far, despite being forecast. Luckily, we had chosen a route with plenty of sheltering spots, both natural and man-made.
tLitton is a small village, just to the east of Tideswell, the "Cathedral of the Peaks". It's classified as a National Nature Reserve, overlooking Tansley Dale and Ravensdale.
Originally a lead-miners village, the village is mostly comprised of small cottages, including one house which dates back as far as 1639.
The village green, outside the Red Lion pub, includes an ancient cross and a pair of stocks. As well as the pub, (more about that later), Litton also has a community shop, which is run as a charitable trust by members of the village and provides an essential hub for the community.
After climbing up the hill, past the cemetery, we took the first road on the right, signposted for Litton Slack.
This road took us down towards the River Wye and into the grounds of Litton Mill.
The old mill buildings have been completely renovated and there are not many clues as to the cruel history of the site.
The mill, originating in 1782, had become notorious during the industrial revolution for its poor employment practices. The mill was powered by the water of the River Wye but the valley was particularly isolated and the owners had difficulties in attracting a workforce. The area around Litton was sparsely populated by farming families who were generally scornful of the new cotton industry. So, in the absence of local labour, children were seen as a source of cheap work. It became one of the most notorious workplaces in England, where child slaves were starved and tortured.
It wasn't until 1828 that the horrific treatment of child apprentices became common knowledge, which led to public outcry. As a result, new Factory and Education acts were passed to protect children from the worst abuses, although children continued to be employed in the mills for many years afterwards.
Following the road through the grounds of the mill, it leads to the tree-lined banks of the River Wye. There are still parts of old machinery along the river bank which remind walkers of the areas industrial past but, now, the industry of the lead-miners and mill owners has gone and nature has taken over.
The river is protected by limestone cliffs, with precarious yew trees clinging to the gaps in the limestone.
The path leads along the side of the river into an area with the fantastic name of Water-cum-Jolly.
This is the original site of the Cressbrook Mill, where there is a pond which once fed its waterwheel. There used to be a distillery on this site for peppermint, lavender and other aromatic herbs which were grown or found locally.
The wide expanse of the river is held back by a weir and mill stream. It's a tranquil place nowadays, as the river gently flows through a deep ravine. As we walked past, a couple of climbers were attempting to master the limestone crags on the opposite side of the river. The surrounding woods were harvested for their crop of lilies of the valley which would have been transported to Manchester to be sold at market.
This is a great spot for birdspotting and the sound of the shriek and chatter of the birds echo around the sides of the ravine. Mallard, coot, moorhen, dab chick, little grebe and swans can all be seen along or by the river.
On the day we visited, we couldn't continue on the path by the river, as it was flooded. There is an alternative path signposted which climbs the steep embankment and leads to the back of Cressbrook Hall.
The path takes walkers around the outside of the walled gardens and round to the front of the impressively renovated Cressbrook Mill.
We followed the road for a little while, before turning right on a bridge across the river and heading up a steep path on the opposite bank.
This path rose steeply and took us under a beautiful bridge and up on to the famous Monsal Trail.
The Monsal Trail follows the old Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway.
We climbed up on to the trail and immediately set foot on to the Headstone Viaduct. It's one of the more impressive structures on the line, although when it was built it was accused of destroying the beauty of the dale. John Ruskin, poet and conservationist, wrote "The valley is gone - and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton."
Those words are now displayed on the viaduct which leads to the Headstone tunnel.
Immediately before the entrance to the tunnel, there is a steep path on the left which leads up to the top of Monsal Head, where there is a pub and a cafe, as well as a fantastic view point looking back down the Wye Valley.
After some welcome recuperation and a pint of Pennine Gold at the Stables Bar, we carried on along the road, signposted for Little Longstone.
It was a shamefully short hop until we hit the second pub, but it is such a good pub that it would have been rude not to stop. I'll be posting features on these pubs in future updates so look out for updates.
Suffice to say that the Packhorse in Little Longstone is one of the best pubs I have ever had the pleasure to visit.
We took the opportunity to have lunch there. It was buffalo and stilton burgers all round, washed down by a pint of Lord Marple from Thornbridge brewery.
Considerably weighed down but contented with the excellent fare, we set off along the footpath which is immediately next to the pub and which leads up, and up, and up, across the dales towards Wardlow.
The sheep observed us with some caution, given that we were accompanied by Willow, the best behaved dog in Derbyshire. The views were lovely behind us as we climbed higher and higher.
By now, we were losing the light in the short January day, and we had a good forty five minute walk to get through Wardlow and to the Three Stags Pub, which is situated on the A623 Chesterfield Road.
We arrived at the pub in the dark, battling against the pouring rain.
The pub was packed and the beer was fine. There were probably more dogs in the pub than humans, but that's fine by us. And it was fine with Willow.
From here it was a mile walk along the road back to Litton, where the Red Lion provided us with an opportunity to dry off and look back on a fine day's adventure, over a nice pint of Asbo.
This is a walk that can be easily fitted in to a winter's day, provided that some restraint is applied when tearing yourself away from the comfy seats and open fires in the various pubs. But you've probably got more self control than us.
Mark Sweeney is a hiker, mountain-biker, picture-taker and keen coffee drinker, living on the doorstep of the Peak District's finest walks