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Alport's Castles in the Clouds

From historic Fairholmes in the Derwent Valley up to the towering rocky pinnacles of Alport Castles.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 5hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 2,000ft (610m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Well-defined paths and tracks in forests and on moorland

Landscape Afforested hillsides and peaty moorland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 1 Dark Peak

Start/finish SK 173893

Dog friendliness Much of the walk is across farmland and access agreement land. Dogs should be kept on leads

Parking Fairholmes pay car park

Public toilets At car park

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1 Leave the car park for the road, then follow the permissive forestry track, signposted to Lockerbrook. It climbs through Hagg Side Wood, crossing the bridge over a water leat before steepening on the higher slopes. Near the top the waymarked path swings right, then left to leave the forest.

2 An obvious footpath, guided by a stone wall, traverses the fields of Lockerbrook Heights. Turn left at a public footpath signpost and follow a track southwards past Lockerbrook Farm.

3 On reaching the ridgetop by Woodcock Coppice, turn right along a permissive path climbing to the open moor at Bellhag Tor.

4 Continue over Rowlee Pasture and along a ridgetop path climbing to Alport Castles.

5 Descend on the good path at the southern end of the Castles. Initially the path follows an old wall. On the lower slopes it traces the perimeter of Castles Wood.

6 Cross the footbridge over the River Alport, where the path turns right to traverse rough riverside meadows. At Alport Castle Farm, follow the track swinging round to nearby Alport Farm before heading southwards down the valley.

7 Where the track veers right for Hayridge Farm, leave it for a signposted footpath descending to the south east towards the edge of a small riverside wood. The path stays above the riverbanks to exit on the busy A57 Snake road. Across the road follow a stony track to the River Ashop, then cross the footbridge to the right of a ford. Rejoin the track, which skirts the hill slopes beneath Upper Ashop Farm before climbing steadily across the rough grassy slopes of Blackley Hey. Ignore the left fork descending to Rowlee Bridge, but continue with the track you're on as far as the path intersection to the east of Crookstone Barn.

8 Turn left here on the rutted track along the top edge of the pinewoods before entering them. Leave the track just beyond a right-hand bend and follow a narrow path to Haggwater Bridge.

9 Beyond the bridge, the path climbs up again to the A57 Snake road. Cross the road and join the track opposite. It climbs out of the Woodlands Valley to the east of Hagg Farm and zig-zags across the upper slopes at the edge of Woodcock Coppice before skirting the Hagg Side conifer plantations. Here, retrace the outward route down through Lockerbrook Coppice back to the car park.

The walk begins in the Derwent Valley, beneath the great stone ramparts of the Derwent Dam. Fairholmes car park has a history all of its own. At the south end the crumbling foundations of Fairholmes Farm are a reminder that this was once agricultural land. During the construction of the reservoirs the upper car park was a masons' yard reverberating to the sounds of workmen cutting, shaping and dressing stone for the dams. The stone came from the Longshaw quarry and was transported here by a specially constructed railway, which linked with the LMS sidings in Bamford.

You don't stay long in the valley - the route has higher things in mind, and climbs through the woodlands of Lockerbrook Coppice. After emerging from the trees, the route follows the top edge of the vast Hagg Side spruce plantation before climbing to Bellhag Tor. Here you get the first view of the landslips that have occurred in the region. However, by climbing north west along the peaty ridge of Rowlee Pasture, England's largest landslip will be revealed beneath your feet. They call it Alport Castles and, as you stand on the edge of the cliff looking across to the Tower, you can see why. A huge gritstone tor towers above a chaotic jumble of tumbled boulders and the grassy mounds that have been separated from the main ridge. The reason for the instability lies in the shales that are squeezed between the tiers of gritstone here. In wetter times, after the last Ice Age, the river eroded these soft bands, resulting in a half-mile (800m) long landslide that dropped 100ft (30m) below the main cliff.

Looking across the Castle your eye is led to the great straw-coloured expanses of Bleaklow, but we'll save that for another day. Your route takes you on a little path beneath the gritstone walls and down to Alport Castle Farm in the valley below. On the first Sunday of every July they hold the Woodlands Lovefeast service in the barn. These non-conformist religious ceremonies started during the reign of King Charles II. Presbyterianism in such times was against the law, and the services had to be held in remote places, far from the eyes of the King's loyal subjects.

Past the farm you follow the valley to its meeting with the Ashop. Here an old Roman road that linked forts at Melandra at Glossop and Navio near Bradwell takes you across the lower grass slopes of Kinder Scout, where a jaggers' track is waiting to take you down to a secluded little packhorse bridge at Haggwater before transporting you over the hill to Fairholmes.

While you're there

If you are feeling energetic why not hire a mountain bike from the hire centre in the Fairholmes car park. This is an excellent area for cycling and one of the most popular routes is the circuit of the now flooded Derwent Valley. At the head of the valley, at Slippery Stones, is the old packhorse bridge which was once in the centre of Derwent village. It was dismantled and carefully re-built here when the reservoirs were built.

What to look for

The leat you can see in the woods at Lockerbrook Coppice is part of a complex system of drains and aqueducts which were built to carry excess water from the Ashop and Alport rivers into the neighbouring Derwent reservoirs. This was a skillfully designed network of flowing water and involved the drilling of a tunnel through the side of the mountain from the Woodlands Valley.

Where to eat and drink

You can get hot pies, drinks and snacks at the Fairholmes car park kiosk in spring and summer. The nearest public house where you'll find a drink or a bar meal is the popular Snake Inn a few miles up the Woodlands Valley. This is at the foot of the notorious A57 Snake Road over the Pennines to Glossop.

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