Ashford-in-the-Water 6 mile walk
...where better for a stroll?
This is a classic White Peak walk, starting from the charming village of Ashford-in-the-Water and visiting Magpie Mine, undoubtedly the finest reminder of the once-great lead industry of the Peak...
This is a classic White Peak walk, starting from the charming village of Ashford-in-the-Water (the “water” being the River Wye) and visiting Magpie Mine, undoubtedly the finest reminder of the once-great lead industry of the Peak. There are few more evocative places in the Peak District than the isolated and ghostly remains of the Magpie lead mine, high on the limestone plateau near Sheldon.
The 17th century Sheepwash Bridge over the River Wye at Ashford is a well-known landmark and probably occupies the site of the original ford in this valley of ash trees.
Sometimes it is still used for demonstrations of how sheep were washed before the chemical dips of today. The church of Holy Trinity has a squat, probably 13th century tower, and passing inside under the Norman tympanium over the door, are several examples of the once-prized Ashford “black marble” – a type of polished grey limestone – which was mined locally and became very popular in Victorian times.
From the village centre, cross the river by the Sheepwash Bridge – noting the drystone pound where the sheep are collected prior to their immersion in the Wye. Carefully cross the busy A6 and turn right to the minor Kirk Dale road (left) and at the first bend, take the path which leads off right alongside the river eventually reaching the old bobbin mills beneath Great Shacklow Wood.
Ashford Bobbin Mills
The partly-restored bobbins mills at Ashford (no access) were powered by the twin rusting iron water wheels still visible. They made bobbins from the local ash woods for the cotton mills at places like Litton and Cressbrook.
The path now follows the old mill-race by the river to reached the entrance (left) to the impressive crater-like depression of Magpie Sough.
A sough (pronounced “suff”) is the Derbyshire word for an adit or tunnel built to drain a lead mine – as water in the mines was a constant problem for the lead miners of the 18th and 19th centuries. The mile-long Magpie Sough, built to drain the famous lead mine we will be visiting later on this walk, took eight years to build and cost between £18,000 and £35,000 – a considerable sum of money for 1881 when the first water flowed through it, and a reflection of the importance placed on the task.
Magpie Sough became blocked when a shaft collapsed into it in the 1960s, and a tremendous volume of water built up behind the blockage. The result was a tremendous explosion of water in April, 1966 which swept away several hundred tons of shale and scree and partially blocked the River Wye. The sough was cleared and re-opened by members of the Peak District Mines Historical Society in 1974.
The path now leaves the river and climbs steadily up through the mixed trees of Great Shacklow Wood before descending in open country again to reach the junction with Deep Dale coming down from the left by a prominent limestone crag. At this point, signs of an ancient settlement and prehistoric rock shelter have been investigated.
The next mile is an easy and gradual climb up the dry valley of Deep Dale,one of two which run into the Wye. Where the dale opens out, you enter a walled bridleway and turn left, and then left again by a stile to climb steeply up to the skyline.
Bear left and follow a substantial wall, passing through several gates, eventually reaching a minor road just short of Sheldon. Turn left to enter the village.
Sheldon is a typical White Peak plateau village, with its limestone cottages standing back from its long village green and the simple little parish church of St. Michael and All Angels. Sheldon was first and foremost a mining community and Magpie Mine the main source of employment for many years.
We follow in the footsteps of those lead miners by taking the squeezer stile on the left by the last house, heading through a series of stiles towards the buildings of Magpie Mine on the horizon.
Magpie Mine provides the most complete and interesting remains of a lead mine in the Peak. The mine was worked off and on from 1682 for about 300 years and has over 20 shafts in addition to the impressive remaining buildings which are in the care of the Peak District Mines Historical Society, which uses them as a field study centre. Chief among these are the Cornish Engine House of c1869, with its distinctive round Cornish chimney (Derbyshire miners were supposed not to have been able to construct round chimneys); the Agent’s House of the 1840s, and the square “Derbyshire” chimney alongside of the same period. The black-painted corrugated iron shed near the main shaft dates from the last unsuccessful efforts to win ore from the mine in the 1950s. All these buildings are now a protected ancient monument.
There were many disputes over the rights to the various lead veins which pass under Magpie Mine in the early 19th century, and these culminated in the “violence on the mine” of 1833, when three miners were suffocated by sulphorous fires deliberately set underground by opposing miners. Interesting, no-one was successfully prosecuted for this act of violence, the conclusion being it was a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Magpie is now a quiet and evocative spot, where you can find in early summer some of the best displays of lead-tolerant wildflowers such as “leadwort,” as the white flowered clumps of spring sandwort are known locally, and the yellow, purple and mixed “faces” of mountain pansy on the lead spoil heaps. Summer visiting wheatears nest in the drystone walls around the mine buildings, and occasionally scold the visitor if he comes too close.
Walk back to Sheldon by one of the many field paths used by the lead miners and turn right down the village street to Lower Farm on the left. Take the stile on the left just past the farm which descends towards Little Shacklow Wood.
Bear right at a fork to take the higher path which contours above the wood on a fine promenade which drops gently down into the Wye valley again, with lovely views towards Ashford ahead. The path finally zig-zags down to the riverbank near the entrance to Kirk Dale. Rejoin the outward path back into Ashford, across the A6.
Distance: 10 km/6 miles
Approximate time: Allow 3-4 hours
Highest point: Near Magpie Mine c. 320m/1,050ft
Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 24, The White Peak
Refreshments: Pubs in Ashford and Sheldon, cafes in Ashford
Terrain: A steep, wooded climb out of the Wye Valley, then easy field paths
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015