Stanton Moor 6.5 mile walk
...taking in the stone circles
Stanton Moor has always been a place apart, a little island of Dark Peak gritstone moorland almost completely surrounded by the limestone White Peak...
Stanton Moor has always been a place apart, a little island of Dark Peak gritstone moorland almost completely surrounded by the limestone White Peak. This “lost world” isolation must have made it important to prehistoric man, because during the Bronze Age it became a focus of ritual and burial activities, and over 70 tumuli have been identified amongst the rank heather.
The arcaded 17th century Old Market Hall in Winster was the first property to be acquired by the National Trust in the Peak District (in 1906), and is open at summer weekends. It gives a clue to the former importance of Winster, whose wealth was founded on the abundant lead mining remains to be found in and around the village.
Other evidence of Winster’s past importance are the imposing Georgian Winster Hall, and the Miner’s Standard public house on the village outskirts, which refers to the standard measure used to weigh lead ore. Winster is also famous for its Pancake Day races held on Shrove Tuesday every year.
From the Old Market Hall, follow the lane northwards signposted Birchover and at a gate go left through a stile downhill into the valley of the Millclose Brook. This is crossed and the route then rises through stiles and gates through a landscape littered with lead mining remains to the walled Clough Lane.
Cross Clough Lane by facing stiles and make for Barn Farm, on the outskirts of Birchover, which is away to your left. Turn right before reaching the farm at a signpost, on a path which leads around the head of the wooded clough of Sabine Hay Wood, down to your right.
Turn left on reaching a minor road, then follow a track right which leads onto the bracken covered slopes of Stanton Moor.
Historian H.J.Massingham described Stanton Moor as “as thick with tumuli as a plumduff with raisins,” and at least 70 of these burial mounds have been identified, along with ring cairns and stone circles, including the most famous Nine Ladies Stone
Circle and its associated outlying King Stone (see below).
Most of the evidence for Stanton Moor’s prehistoric past was uncovered by the father and son team of J.C. and J.P.Heathcote of Birchover, where they kept a museum of their carefully-recorded finds in the old village Post Office for many years. All the finds are now in the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, and they include flint arrow heads, knives and scapers, scraps of melted bronze and beads, including one of red “faience” porcelain, which may have come from Egypt.
Nearly all of Stanton Moor’s honoured dead were cremated and interred in pots, as was the custom during the Bronze Age between 1,800 and 1,400 BC.
Take care as you pass on the perimeter track above the deep gritstone quarries which scar the eastern side of Stanton Moor. There are fine views down into the Derwent Valley to Stanton Lees and Darley Dale through the trees. Several interesting gritstone tors are passed, including the Cat Stone, which has convenient footholds worn into it for climbers. All paths lead to the Earl Grey Tower on the edge of the moor.
Earl Grey Tower
This isolated landmark is very prominent to travellers entering the Peak District from the south on the A6. It commemorates Earl Charles Grey, the Whig Prime Minister
who introduced the Parliamentary Reform Bill in 1832, getting rid of the notorious “rotten boroughs.” The monument was erected by the Thornhill family of Stanton
Hall, who still own Stanton Moor. With no apparent entrance (it was blocked long ago), the tower was always known by my children as “Rapunzel’s Tower.”
Turn left at the tower and follow the path through the bracken and birch trees to visit the Nine Ladies Stone Circle and King Stone.
Nine Ladies Stone Circle
The Nine Ladies Stone Circle, in a clearing in the sparse birchwoods of the moor, is an insignificant ring of low stones dating from the Bronze Age. It was formerly enclosed by a drystone wall, since removed. It is still a focus for “New Age” visitors, especially around the solstices. The King Stone is an outlying standing stone a few yards to the west.
Turn left at the Nine Ladies and walk on a broad track across the open heather moorland, passing many heather-covered tumuli and ring cairns en route. You eventually emerge by an old quarry on the right, still littered with half-finished millstones, and marked by the curious Cork Stone. This is an apparently natural tor, resting on a much-eorded base and equipped with footholds and handrings for the intrepid climber.
Past the Cork Stone, you descend to reach the Stanton-Birchover road. Turn left here and descend past the still-active Birchover Quarry on the left and descend steeply into Birchover via a path which leads off to the right opposite the quarry.
Birchover - the appropriate name means “birch-covered bank” - is a typical one-street village which has grown up in the shadow of Stanton Moor. The Druid Inn, where the path emerges, has a good reputation for its award-winning bar food, and takes its name from the weird oucrops of rock immediately behind the pub. These are known as Rowtor Rocks, and the vivid imagination of the early antiquarians associated their strange formations with the work of druids.
Chief among these was the local parson, the Rev. Thomas Eyre, who died in 1717. It was he who carved the amazing collection of caves, rooms, seats and steps which now adorn the rocks, and which offer a fascinating playground, especially for children. He also built the tiny chapel below the rocks, where there are some extraordinary wood carvings, wall paintings, and modern stained glass by the internationally famous artist Brian Clarke, who once lived at the nearby Rectory.
More recently, prehistoric “cup and ring” carvings have been identified on Rowtor Rocks, which is thought to get its name from a former rocking stone at the eastern end of the rocky ridge.
Take the lane which runs down past Rowtor Rocks and the chapel. At a gate, take the path which ascends to Rocking Stone Farm, on the left. The view ahead is dominated by Cratcliffe Tor and Robin Hood’s Stride, more gritstone outcrops in this fascinating little enclave.
Descend to a stile and across a stream to the B5056 Winster road, which is crossed and the path taken up to Dudwood Lane by a cottage. Turn left on what is one of the oldest roads in the Peak District, known as the “Portway” - which may date as far back as the Iron Age. It was known as the “Old Portway” in Saxon times.
This rises to cross the B5057 and continues as Islington Lane, which is still on the line of the Portway and descends past the craggy outcrop of Grey Tor to the A5012 Pikehall road. Turn left at this crossroads and noting the Miner’s Standard pub (see above) to your left, bear right down the lane to walk back down into Winster.
Start/finish: Winster, served by occasional buses from Bakewell
Distance: 10 km/6½ miles
Approximate time: Allow 3-4 hours
Highest point: Stanton Moor 323m/1,060ft
Map: OS Explorer Sheet 24, The White Peak
Refreshments: Pubs at Winster and Birchover
Advice: Field and lane walking, with a little moorland stroll
Wildlife interest: Heather (Stanton Moor), meadow pipit, lapwing, curlew, fox, badger, brown hare
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