Peak Forest 4 mile walk
...and the biggest open pot hole in the Peak District!
This easy, 2 hour walk on the northern edge of the White Peak starts from the village of Peak Forest, whose name perpetuates the former medieval Royal Forest of the Peak, where kings and princes hunted...
Eldon Hole, the biggest open pot hole in the Peak, was one of the original “Wonders of the Peak” and once thought to be bottomless. This easy, half-day walk on the northern edge of the White Peak starts from the village of Peak Forest,whose name perpetuates the former medieval Royal Forest of the Peak, where kings and prices hunted.
The village of Peak Forest is bisected by the busy A623 Baslow-Chapel road, but its name gives away its history. It was once part of the Royal Forest of the Peak, and Chamber Farm, west of the village, is thought to have been the site of a Swainmote Court where offenders who broke the strict forest laws were dealt with by the Steward of the Forest and over 20 foresters.
Peak Forest’s other claim to fame is its parish church, unusually dedicated to King Charles the Martyr and founded in 1657. By a quirk of ecclesiastical law, from 1665 until the passing of the Marriage Act in 1753, the minister here had the power to issue marriage licences, and many runaway marriages were performed, making Peak Forest the Peak’s Gretna Green. One of these was to be the unfortunate Allan and Clara, who were murdered in The Winnats Pass at Castleton in 1758. Although not strictly legal, the custom survivied despite the change in the law until around 1804.
The Royal Forest of the Peak
The Royal Forest of the Peak was a 40 square mile/100 sq km area between the Rivers Wye and Etherow which was originally administered from Peveril Castle as a hunting ground. In many ways, it was an early example of the perservation of the area, where wild animals such as wolves, wild boar, wild cat and deer were protected so they could be hunted by visiting kings and princes. Edward I is recorded as staying at Tideswell, another hunting centre, for three days in 1275, and Henry I and II were also regular visitors.
From the crossroads in the village centre, turn opposite the church (north) into Church Lane and park near the village shop or methodist church. Walk along this quiet back road to the hamlet of Old Dam. At the 'T' junction on a bend, continue left and then right at Eldon Lane End Farm into Eldon Lane. The rising lane quickly becomes a track which passes Sweet Knoll and Eldon Farms before climbing to reach a metal gate/stile. Veer right here, continuing to ascend gradually following the line of a wall on your right.
(Over to your left and well worth the short diversion, just past an old lead rake marked by a line of trees, a path runs above the rake towards the (fenced) open pothole of Eldon Hole, now accessible thanks to the CROW Act.)
As one of the original Wonders of the Peak, Eldon Hole was a place of fear and dread to local people. There are tales of people being lowered into it and coming back out as gibbering idiots, and a goose which was sent down the fearsome abyss is said to have emerged three days later at Peak Cavern in Castleton, with its feathers singed having been to Hell and back. Charles Cotton, an author of the “Wonders,” claimed he had let out 800 fathoms (1,463m/4,800 ft) of line into it without finding the bottom, but when it was eventually descended in 1780, it was found to be only 76m/245ft deep, with other chambers leading off.
Back on the route - continue along the grassy path to a gate/stile still with the wall on your right. Further along, ignore the next stile in the wall on your right but continue climbing over the rocky eastern shoulder of Eldon Hill to reach another gate/stile, onto a fenced bridleway before reaching a rough lane.
Eldon Hill (470m/1,543ft) is one of the highest limestone hills in the Peak District, and commands extensive views towards the Mam Tor ridge and south across the White Peak plateau. Its name means “elves hill” but the destructive elves were the quarrymen who blasted away the whole of the western side of the hill in their quest for aggregate limestone. This ugly quarry was been dubbed “the worst eyesore in the Peak” and the National Park Authority fought a 20-year battle to close it down, eventually succeeding in 1995.
Go right along the lane and continue eastwards through a landscape pitted and scarred by generations of lead miners. The descriptively-named Slitherstone Mine is on the hillside to your left.
50 metres beyond a metalled lane leading left towards Rowter Farm, you turn right onto the Limestone Way (signed), following a broken-down wall south to a gate. Continue right (off the Limestone Way route) through the gate down a fenced and walled lane with Oxlow Rake on your right. The rounded hill to the right is Ox Low (430m/1,412ft) with the shallow, dry depression of Conies Dale beyond that. The limestone outcrops of Conies Dale are typical of the open, uninhabited waste which was the Royal Forest of the Peak.
Continuing along and down the clear track through some ancient woodland copses, you eventually reach a driveway/farm track - take the stile in the wall opposite (steep drop), then the next stile ahead and another in the middle of the wall in the next field. Another stile and a gate later, turn left to reach Old Dam Lane again. The wooded hill opposite is Snelslow.
Despite its name, the area around Peak Forest is not noted for its trees, but those which are there add a vital softening touch to what could be a bleak landscape. Snelslow Plantation is a good example of sensitive woodland management by the National Park Authority. It thinned this exposed, hilltop wood and re-planted it in a scheme which won a Centre of Excellence award from the Forestry Authority.
Turn left here to walk back along the lane to the car at Peak Forest.
Start/finish: Peak Forest
Distance: About 6 km/4 miles
Approximate time: Allow two hours
Highest point: Back of Eldon Hill, near Slitherstone Mine, 448m/1,470ft
Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 24, The White Peak and Sheet 1, The Dark Peak. Refreshments: Shop and pub in Peak Forest
Terrain: Field walking and through pastures showing the remains of lead mining
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Walked, photographed, revised and updated by Mike & Bridget Cummins 12.4.2010
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015