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Avoiding the Black Stuff

There is more to walking the dark peatlands of Bleaklow than mile upon mile of seemingly endless bog.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,500ft (460m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Unsurfaced tracks and moorland paths, a few stiles

Landscape High peat moor

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 1 Dark Peak

Start/finish SK 043947

Dog friendliness Access agreement land, dogs should be kept on leads

Parking Glossop High Street car park

Public toilets At car park

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1 From Glossop's High Street turn left along Manor Park Road into Old Glossop. Turn right along Shepley Street, passing the factory to the bus turning circle. Here a farm track continues east taking you into a pleasant rural glen with the partially wooded dome of Shire Hill on the right and the pine and oak-clad slopes of Edge Plantation on the left.

2 Leave the track at a ladder stile. The path, confined at first by a fence and drystone wall, climbs north east on a pastured spur overlooking the curiously named but pleasant craggy valley of Shittern Clough. In the upper reaches and beyond a second ladder stile, the now well-defined path continues the climb through bilberries, then over the heather of upper Lightside.

3 A narrow stony path switches to the spur's southern brow high above Yellowslacks Brook. A dilapidated wire fence comes in from the right and the path goes along the right side of it before joining the cliff edges of Yellowslacks and Dog Rock. The crags close in to form the rugged channel of Dowstone Clough. The path, now intermittent, stays close to the stream and away from the peat hags.

4 As the clough shallows and the stream divides among a bed of rushes (grid ref 089954), aim for Higher Shelf Stones by crossing the main stream and following its southbound tributary - just follow the bootprints along its sandy bed, which, snakes through a complex of peat hags in a southbound direction. Near the summit of Higher Shelf Stones the channel shallows and widens then, suddenly, the trig point rises from a grassy plinth ahead.

5 From Higher Shelf Stones, trace the brow of Shelf Moor towards Lower Shelf Stones then on to James's Thorn, but circumvent the naked peat that proliferates on the left. A prominent grassy channel descends just north of west and forms a reliable and reasonably dry course down over Shelf Moor to a boulder strewn edge above Ferny Hole.

6 There's no path from here to the Doctor's Gate track but it's an easy enough course and you'll see the track quite early on the descent. Just angle down to the grassy shelf west of the James's Thorn rocks, passing a small pool before descending steep grassy flanks parallel to Little Clough.

7 Doctor's Gate meanders through the moorland clough of Shelf Brook before passing though the fields of Mossy Lea Farm. It joins the outward route at the foot of Lightside and brings you back to Old Glossop.

Bleaklow's not so much a hill, more a vast expanse of bare black peat, where even the toughest moor grasses can't take root. Wainwright once wrote that nobody loved the place, and those who got on it were glad to get off. But there's another side to Bleaklow. There are corners where bilberries grow thick round fascinating rock sculptures; where heather, bracken and grass weave a colourful quilt draped beneath wide skies. Places like Grinah Stones, Yellowslacks and Shepherd's Meeting Stones are all remote, but they're dramatic places, far superior to anything seen on the popular routes. Bleaklow's true top lies in the midst of the mires, but only a few feet lower is Higher Shelf Stones, a bold summit with a distinctive mountain shape - and some good crags. Climb Higher Shelf Stones from Old Glossop, and you'll see the best of Bleaklow.

Time has been kind to Old Glossop. Planners and industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries built their shops and factories further west, leaving the old quarter untouched. Here 17th-century cottages of darkened gritstone line cobbled streets, overlooked by the spired All Saints Church. Shepley Street takes you into the hills, and it's not long before you're climbing the heathery spur of Lightside and looking across the rocky ravine of Yellowslacks. A fine path develops on the cliff-edge before entering the confines of Dowstone Clough, which clambers towards Higher Shelf Stones. Eventually the clough shallows and the stream becomes a trickle in the peat, leaving you to find your own way. Sandy channels, known as groughs, lead you southwards.

Suddenly, the peat ends and the trig point appears. From the summit rocks you look down on the deep twisting clough of Shelf Brook and out across the plains of Manchester to the shadowy hills of North Wales.

It's time to leave the high moors. There's no path, just a grassy spur descending into Shelf Brook's clough, where you join the Doctor's Gate track. This gets its name from Doctor John Talbot, the Vicar of Glossop between 1450 and 1494, who often used the road to visit his father in Sheffield. His trips were worthy of note because he was in fact the illegitimate son of, the very powerful, Earl of Shrewsbury. The old highway goes back much further than the Doctor's times, however, for it was used by Roman troops marching between their forts at Navio (Brough, near Hope) and Melandra (Glossop). We follow their footsteps as the paved track twists through the clough, by the rounded Shire Hill and back to Old Glossop.

While you're here

Glossop is a fascinating and bustling town to visit. It's known locally as Howard's Town in tribute to its 19th-century benefactors. Bernard Edward Howard, the 12th Duke of Norfolk, was one of the founders of the first cotton mills in the area. By 1831 there were thirty in the town. At this time the grand town hall, the Square and the Roman Catholic church were built. You can find out more about the town and it's history at the Heritage Centre in Henry Street.

What to look for

East of the summit of Higher Shelf Stones you should be able to find the remains of a US Air Force Superfortress bomber, which crashed here in 1948 killing its 13 crew. Several walkers have reported seeing ghosts near the site. From here you can detour round the edge of the clough to the rock outcrops on James's Thorn, where there's another aeroplane wreck. A small monument with a pile of wreckage marks the place where, on the 18 May 1945, an Avro Lancaster bomber from the Canadian 103 Squadron crashed, killing its crew of seven.

Where to eat and drink

There's nowhere to get sustenance on the route. Your best bet for reasonable food is actually in Glossop town, where the the Beehive public house on Hague Street serves a good range of home cooked food, with many blackboard specials.

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