..escarpments in the Peak National Park
Escarpments in the Peak District are usually known as ‘edges’ – sheer walls of rock often with heather and rough moorland spreading behind.
Perhaps the most famous of these are the eastern gritstone edges of Stanage, Burbage, Froggatt, Curbar, Baslow, Birchen and Gardom’s. They represent a 12-mile-long, almost continuous sheer wall of rock and a constant backdrop to the wooded valley of the River Derwent beneath.
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A walk along the crest of these edges affords an airy promenade, with wonderful views across the Derwent Valley and north towards Eyam Moor, Win Hill and the distant blue line of Kinder Scout and Bleaklow.
And the edges – there are similar, more broken escarpments like The Roaches which also face west but are on on the Staffordshire side of the National Park – are a Mecca for rock climbers, who delight in the rough, abrasive quality of the rock and the short, steep, technical challenges the gritstone throws out.
It was here that some of the earliest pioneers of the sport of rock climbing – people like JW Puttrell and EA Baker – first pitted their skill and strength against the rock in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At first they ascended the obvious weak points such as the gullies, only later moving out onto the rock faces where today’s ‘rock jocks’ defy gravity on seemingly holdless expanses of rock.
There are over 650 rock climbing routes on Stanage Edge alone, and many internationally-famous climbers such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans learned to cut their climbing teeth on routes with descriptive names which match their severity.
Included among these are Desperation and the Left and Right Unconquerables on Stanage Edge; the Peapod and Insanity on Curbar Edge, and Brown’s Eliminate on Froggatt Edge. On Birchen Edge, above Bamford, the climbs have nautically-flavoured names like The Crow’s Nest, Kiss me Hardy and Emma’s Dilemma, in keeping with the historic Nelson Monument on the moor above.
The Peakland edges were also once the site of a thriving industry, as the coarse and abrasive gritstone was in great demand from the 17th century as grind and millstones for flour mills and the emerging cutlery industry in nearby Sheffield. They were cut from the living rock in quarries and rolled off the moor in pairs, using wooden axles fixed between them.
Abandoned millstones can be still seen stacked in neat piles at Lawrencefield, below Stanage and at other places, as the industry collapsed when imported carborundum stones came in. But the millstone remains the boundary markers and proud symbol of the Peak District National Park.
Roly Smith - September 2010
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Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015