There is a spider’s web of long distance paths that cover our entire country
Probably the best known of these are the National Trails like The North Downs Way which tend to be mammoth hikes of at least eighty miles. There are though many shorter and often more local long distance paths which can be easily broken down into a series of day walks.
The Dane Valley Way is one of these ‘shorter’ long distance paths (now there’s an oxymoron), based mainly in the White Peak region of the Peak District National Park. Starting in Buxton the forty-eight mile path follows the River Dane from it’s source on Axe Edge Moor to Northwich where it flows into the River Weaver.
The river is described as the fastest, cleanest and longest river flowing through Cheshire. Before reaching the county it forms the border line between Cheshire and two of it’s neighbouring counties Derbyshire and Staffordshire. At Pannier’s Pool Bridge south west of Buxton the three counties meet at a point known as Three Shire Head a well known beauty spot.
Walking the Dane Valley Way
On my walk to Three Shires Head last year inevitably; I had to walk along a stretch of the River Dane. I found this part of the river very attractive and atmospheric enticing me to walk the rest of it another day. An invitation I determined to accept some time in the future.
When a friend Alex contacted me last week wanting to do a walk in the Peaks I suggested that we could do the Dane Valley Way. We could split the walk up into four day walks over a period of time completing the trail as was convenient for us both. He agreed, so last Friday we set off on the first leg from Buxton to Danebridge a walk of twelve miles.
Starting at Buxton
The trail starts in the Pavilion Gardens in the centre of Buxton. These gardens have a ‘Victorian resort’ feel about them with well laid out flower beds, trees and a brook flowing through the middle. What I found most fascinating was the Victorian pavilion, this massive building was originally opened in 1871 when Buxton was beginning its career as a tourist venue thanks to the railway. In 1875 the Octagon was opened for concerts completing this impressive structure which is still in use today.
Although the pavilion is impressive trying to find a start to the walk was an entirely different matter, we spent some time wandering around the gardens trying to find anything that said “here begins”. After some time Alex called out “I think I have found it, you will love this”. I wandered over to where he was standing in front of a small wooden post.
When I got to where he was standing I looked at this insignificant post that had a metal top on top of it saying ‘start’ – really?
We figured that that was the best we were going to get and set off in the direction indicated on the map. To be honest the path is very poorly marked through Buxton it was not until we reached the heights above the town that we started to find way markers.
Fortunately the town is quite small so it was not long before we arrived at the Buxton Country Park, a wooded area on the slopes to the south west of the town. The Dane Valley Way follows the main path through the trees, it is quite a steep climb but an attractive start which comes out onto Grin Low hill top, that is crowned with a tower called Solomon’s Temple.
This folly was opened in 1896 built through subscriptions from the towns people and the seventh Duke of Devonshire. The folly was designed to be a viewing point and shelter from bad weather; for those, who participated during the eighteen hundreds in the popular exercise of walking up to the top of the hill to admire the view.
In the early part of the eighteenth century there was a prosperous lime burning industry on top of the Grin Low hill. Today the evidence of lime kilns and quarrying can be easily seen in the very broken landscape that surrounds Solomon’s Temple.
Axe edge Moor
From Grin Low hill it is a steady upward walk to Axe Edge Moor. Some of the ascent was along the A537 a busy road heading east out of Buxton, walking along the verge with massive lorries brushing past us was not the best experience of the walk and required some caution.
Axe Edge Moor is the source of four rivers the Dane, Dove, Wye and the Goyte. It is not easy to see exactly where these rivers burst out from the ground though, hidden somewhere in the depths of the heather. It would have taken some time to find the source of the Dane and we did not really have the time, so we contented ourselves with the trickle of water that flowed out from the pipe under the road.
We followed the path out onto the moors past some old coal mining shafts that had been sealed and fenced off. The path brought us to some old quarry workings, massive boulders and lumps of stone lay in piles as if they had been just tipped out of a wheel barrow. It was hard to imagine what exactly had been quarried here, if such massive lumps of stone had been discarded. I found the area interesting as we explored the remains of old buildings that were originally built from the stone that had been quarried – these people were very economic.
Three Shire Heads
From the quarry the path descended into a narrow valley following closely to the side of the river, which at this stage is little more than a brook. We soon reached Three Shire Head at Panniers Pool a magical spot where two waterways meet, tumbling together over rocky slabs after passing underneath typical stone built pack-horse bridges. This is a very beautiful and popular spot where it is possible to indulge in a little wild swimming in warmer weather.
Alex and myself stopped here for our lunch, it was an ideal spot for a break. The dell in the valley is far from peaceful, but the sound of falling water was quite enchanting while we watched it splashing its way over the Grit stone slabs, to slow the dark peaty pools below before continuing its way down the valley.
Walking to Gradbach
The path slowly leaves the river after Three Shire Head, climbing up the side of the valley eventually coming out onto the green slopes of farmland occupied by sparse herds of cows and sheep. Following a stone wall across these fields we slowly descended back to the river eventually reaching Gadbach Manor.
The driveway to what we thought was the manor looked very private, and there are no signs to indicate that the path went down the drive. It was a brave step and a strong belief in the map that took us down the immaculate tarmac road.
We found that the driveway in fact led to an old silk mill next to the river. The old mill building is now a hostel (not part of the YHA) which is almost posh enough to be a hotel. There was another sizeable building opposite it which is a large holiday let ( which did not look cheap!).
From here the path soon entered into some woodland that the river runs through. By now the Dane was looking more like a river as it cut a deep ravine through the rocky hills. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the walk for me, the trees were bare enough by now to be able to see the river flowing below us to our right. The path in places was narrow and winding clinging to the side of the valley and was carpeted with dark brown leaves. It was all very atmospheric, there was an ancient air a feeling that this was a timeless path that many had trod over the centuries.
Reaching the end Danebridge
In the woods near the end of the walk there was a choice of two paths, of course I chose the wrong one. We ended up climbing up a steep hill on the side of the woods getting further away from the river. Doggedly I pressed on convinced that this was the path until Alex suggested we look at the map. It did not take more than a couple of seconds to see that the path was down in the valley through the woods. Bumping and clinging our way down an even steeper slope through the woods we took a direct path back to the river side where the Dane Way path was.
Once we were out in the clearing we could easily see the bridge that was the end of our walk and in a few minutes we were standing on it overlooking the river. By now the light was beginning to fade, as we reached the car near the bridge we congratulated ourselves on timing our walk just about right, even if it was mostly by chance!
We both agreed it had been a great walk through varied and attractive countryside and we have already planned and are looking forward to the next stage.
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