Hathersage, Peak District, Derbyshire

(walking Stanage Edge)

1st - 3rd July 2005



The Peak district is indeed one of my favourite parts of the UK, in part, due to the fact that it is, for all practical purposes, a stone's throw away from Hertfordshire, in comparison to reaching Cornwall, the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District. Hathersage is a small village on the edge of Derbyshire. The hiking club normally book a bunkhouse of some sort but on this occasion, we stayed at the North Lees campsite just below Stanage Edge. It's a beautiful setting with spectacular views, a half an hour walk into town. There is a short-cut that takes one to the back of a medieval church, else it is a case of taking the way one came in i.e. down Birley Lane passed a pretty little farmhouse, especially in summer, when the garden is in bloom, back to where it forks out of Cogger's Lane down to Jagger's Lane. Because of the scenery of the Hope and Derwent valleys, literary connections, and easy access by train, or road from Sheffield and Manchester, Hathersage is a popular tourist destination.

Although the Hope Valley appears to be a single valley, the name of the river changes several times. The head of the valley lies below Mam Tor at Castleton (also one of our favourite destinations). From here, the Peakshole Water flows to Hope, where it enters the lower reaches of the River Noe, which has flowed from Edale (the start of the Pennine Way walk). The Noe then flows to Bamford, where it enters the River Derwent which has travelled about ten miles from Bleaklow. The valley is now technically the Derwent Valley, but the term "Hope Valley" is still used as the Derwent flows through Hathersage, Grindleford and Calver. By the time the Derwent reaches Baslow, the term "Hope Valley" is no longer applicable. Hathersage lies on the north bank of the River Derwent in the Hope Valley, approximately 10 miles west of Sheffield. In fact our walk took us to within sight of the city, in the direction of Ladybower Reservoir, a large Y-shaped reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley. The water is used primarily for river control and to compensate for the water retained by the upper two dams, but water can also be fed into the drinking water system, however this is unusual as the water must be pumped to treatment works rather than using gravity flow like in the other two reservoirs, increasing costs. It is hard to believe that this beautiful part of the Peak District was once associated with one of the most dangerous and daring attacks of the Second World War. The reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley are most famous for the fact that they were used by 617 Squadron, ‘the Dambusters’, to practice their raids prior to their mission to the Ruhr Dams in Germany.

Hathersage has a medieval church with a stained glass window, which had been removed from Derwent Chapel, before it was submerged under the Ladybower Reservoir. There are local claims to links with the Robin Hood story. Stones in the churchyard mark what is known as the grave of Little John. Robin is said to have used Robin Hood’s Cave, on Stanage Edge above the village, as a hideaway. In 1845 Charlotte Bronte stayed at the Hathersage vicarage, while she was writing Jane Eyre and many of the locations mentioned in her novel match locations in Hathersage, the name Eyre being that of a large extended family of landed gentry in that part of Derbyshire. In the mid-eighteenth century, Hathersage was famous for its brass buttons. In 1566, Christopher Schutz, a German immigrant had invented a process for drawing wire and set up a works in Hathersage.

Stanage Edge, or simply Stanage (from "stone edge") is a gritstone escarpment, famous as a location for  rock climbing. The northern part of the edge forms the border between the High Peak of Derbyshire and Sheffield in Yorkshire. Its highest point is High Neb at 458 metres above sea-level. Stanage is a magnet for climbers and ramblers in addition to runners. The Stanage Struggle is a popular local fell race that starts in nearby Hathersage and rises to High Neb before returning to the village 500 ft below.






Images of North Lees campsite, views of the valley on the ascent towards Stanage Edge, with Vanda only serving to enhance the immaculate scenery.


Our return route led us through the medieval churchyard into Hathersage itself, stopping over at a tea-room, before making our way back up Birley Lane, in the glorious sunshine. In the evening we enjoyed a barbeque, Peter Karran priding himself on the new mess tent he had acquired for the hiking club. He and Jane enjoyed a bit of the old laughing water, without it getting out of hand. Sandra had arrived with her friend Julie and on the walk a chatted to both them a fair bit. In fact the next day I showed them the plague cottages at Eyam, a short ride away, where we ended up having tea. Tim wasn't keen on me pitching my tent near his, for fear of any noise induced by snoring, but soon changed his tune when the two ladies arrived to pitch theirs. En route we realised why the area is renowned as a location for rock climbers, as they were out on force. We stopped and witnessed a novice attempting a short climb, struggling in the process, only to have the instructor illustrate that it's all in the technique, by ascending the rock face in seconds. Bonnie Parker seemed to be getting into this and has subsequently pursued this activity further.





Bonnie and Carter in "the thick of things"; Stanage Edge is a popular rock climbing destination; View on the descent into Hathersage.



The medieval churchyard in Hathersage and the tombstone of Little John.





Views of Hathersage.


Eyam is a small village not far from Hathersage, the village best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the Black Death was found in the village in August 1665, rather than see the infection travel further north. The village was founded and named by Anglo-Saxons and was mined for lead by the Romans. The plague had been brought to the village in a flea-infested bundle of cloth that was delivered to tailor George Vicars from London. It arrived damp and had to be laid out to dry. This released the plague carrying fleas and within days. Within a week he was dead. After the initial deaths, the townspeople turned to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1665. These included the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services, to allow villagers to separate themselves, reducing the risk of infection. Perhaps, the best known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease.

The plague raged in the village for 16 months and killed at least 260 villagers: only 83 villagers survived out of a population of 350. When the first outsiders visited Eyam a year later, they found that fewer than a quarter of the village had survived the plague. Survival appeared random, as many plague survivors had close contact with the bacterium, but never caught the disease. For example, Elizabeth Hancock never became ill, despite burying six children and her husband in eight days (the graves are known as the Riley graves). The unofficial village grave digger also survived, despite handling many infected bodies. Eyam churchyard contains a Saxon cross dated to the 7th or 8th centuries.





The walk back along Birley Lane past the quaint little cottage near the campsite; Sandra and Julie.




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