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Ancient Circles, Barrows and Stones

A walk around Arbor Low, the 'Stonehenge of the North' and an ancient trade centre.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 492ft (150m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Mostly well-defined paths, some road walking

Landscape Limestone dales and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 194645

Dog friendliness Keep on lead near livestock

Parking Pay car park at start

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Exit the car park, turn left and follow the road to the Y-junction. Cross the road, go through the gap in the wall, through a kissing gate and follow the well-defined path across the field to a stand of trees.

2 Cross the wall by a stile, go through a gate and continue following the path. Cross a fence by another stile and continue to the wall at the edge of the wood. Go through a kissing gate into Low Moor Wood.

3 Follow the path through the wood, cross the wall via a stile and follow the well-defined path across parkland. Take the diverted path round Calling Low Farm via two kissing gates, go through a wood and two more kissing gates to get back on to open meadow.

4 Follow this path diagonally downhill and go through another kissing gate. Continue on the path still downhill, through another gate into Lathkill Dale National Nature Reserve. Head downhill on a limestone path and steps. Cross a stile at the bottom then head uphill on the path to your left.

5 Look out for the cave in the rocks on the left as you reach the top. Continue uphill, through a gate and on to the farm. Enter the farm steading via some stone steps and continue on the road until you see a signpost pointing left.

6 Turn on to this farm road and follow it until it joins the main road. Turn right and continue for ½ mile (800m) then turn left on to the farm road following the signs for the henge.

7 Go through the farm steading following the signs, cross a stile, turn left along a path then cross another stile to reach the henge. Retrace your steps to the main road, turn right and walk about 2½ miles (4km) back to the car park.

Known as the 'Stonehenge of the North' Arbor Low is probably one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Britain. Like other mysterious stone circles no one really knows why it was built or what function it served. Various theories suggest that it may have been a giant astronomical calculator, a religious centre, a meeting place or perhaps the earliest known supermarket.

Research has shown that by the late neolithic period, around about 2500 bc, complex trading networks had built up throughout Britain. Evolving from simple methods of exchange their development mirrors the building of the henges. Throughout the Peak District axes have been discovered. These highly polished weapons were made from hard stone and originated from places as far away as North Wales, the Lake District and Northern Ireland. Arbor Low, built near well-established trading routes might have been the trading centre for the distribution of goods like these.

The name, a corruption of the Anglo Saxon, Eorthburg Hlaw, means simply earthwork mound. It consists of a circular earthwork bank with two entrances, an internal ditch and a raised inner platform with a circle of limestone blocks. The stones may have stood upright when Arbor Low was built but nowadays they lie flat. The passage of time may have caused them to fall over or, as has been speculated, they were deliberately knocked over by people who knew their true purpose and significance and were afraid of them.

At the centre of the circle are the fallen stones of what is known as the cove. This, the most sacred part of the site, was made of seven stone slabs and may have been rectangular when they were erect. No one knows what rites and ceremonies were conducted here. Only initiates would have been allowed to enter, their actions concealed from everyone else by the strategic placing of two of the larger stone slabs. Perhaps human sacrifice took place on this spot. During excavations the skeleton of a man was discovered in the cove, lying on its back and surrounded by blocks of stone when the usual form of burial from that period had the knees drawn up.

Across the field from Arbor Low lies a long barrow with a round one built on top of it. The name Gib Hill indicates that it was once used for a gibbet, probably in the Middle Ages. Recent research indicates that it may have been a site of execution further back in time. In the Dark Ages people feared places like Arbor Low. New, emerging rulers, anxious to establish their power found that one way to do it was to organise executions at these sites of deep-rooted superstition.

While you're there

Visit Bakewell the 'Gateway to the Peak' and one of the most charming towns in Derbyshire. There's a fascinating 8th-century Saxon cross in the churchyard with carvings illustrating the Crucifixion and Annunciation. There are also several late Saxon and Norman stones worth a look. They are probably from a much earlier church and were brought to Bakewell by medieval masons.

What to look for

Look for a low bank and ditch which stretches away from the larger of the two entrances on Arbor Low and curves towards, then behind Gib Hill. Known as The Avenue it may have been a ceremonial link between the two sites, but more likely it is a boundary, perhaps from the Roman period.

Where to eat and drink

The Original Bakewell Pudding Shop is situated in the square of the market town of Bakewell. This is where the famous pudding was first made and although the shop has changed hands several times since then it still produces puddings to the same secret recipe. The restaurant also serves some of the best food available in the Peak District.

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