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Round Combs Reservoir and Across Dickie's Meadow

A quiet corner of north west Derbyshire, hidden between the Goyt and Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Can be muddy, quite a few stiles

Landscape Lakes, meadows, and high moors

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 033797

Dog friendliness Farmland - dogs should be kept on leads

Parking Combs reservoir car park

Public toilets None on route

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1 Follow the path from the dam along the reservoir's western shore, ignoring the first footbridge over Meveril Brook.

2 As the reservoir narrows the path traverses small fields, then comes to another footbridge over the brook. This time cross it and head south across another field. Beyond a foot tunnel under the Buxton line railway, the path reaches a narrow hedge-lined country lane. Turn left along the lane into Combs village.

3 Past the Beehive Inn in the village centre, take the lane straight ahead, then the left fork, signposted to Dove Holes. This climbs out of the village towards Combs Edge.

4 Take the second footpath on the left, which begins at a muddy clearing just beyond Millway Cottage. Go through the stile and climb on a partially slabbed path through a narrow grassy enclosure. After 200yds (183m) the path emerges on a pastured spur overlooking the huge comb of Pygreave Brook. Climb the pathless spur and go through gateways in the next two boundary walls before following a wall on the right. Ignore a gate in this wall - that's a path to Bankhall Farm, but stay with the narrow path raking across rough grassy hillslopes with the railway line and the reservoir below left.

5 The path comes down to a rutted vehicle track running alongside the railway. This joins a narrow lane just short of the Lodge (grid ref 053794). Turn left to go under the railway and north to Down Lea Farm.

6 Turn left through a kissing gate 200yds (183m) beyond the farmhouse. The signposted path follows an overgrown hedge towards Marsh Hall Farm. The fields are very boggy on the final approaches. On reaching the farm complex turn right over a stile and follow a track heading north west.

7 After 200yds (183m) turn left on a field path that heads west to a stile at the edge of the Chapel-en-le-Frith golf course. Waymarking arrows show the way across the fairway. The stile marking the exit from the golf course is 300yds (274m) short of the clubhouse. You then cross a small field to the B5470.

8 Turn left along the road (there's a pavement on the far side), and follow it past the Hanging Gate pub at Cockyard. After passing the entrance to the sailing club, turn left across the reservoir's dam and back to the car park.

Combs lies in a quite corner of north west Derbyshire, off the road between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley Bridge and beneath the sombre crag-fringed slopes of Combs Moss. I wouldn't have known about the place if my wife Nicola hadn't been invited to sail in the Byte Open held at the local reservoir. I thought I'd have a brief wander while she prepared for the first race, but my wanderings lasted well into the afternoon. I'd discovered a fine little corner of Derbyshire, tucked well away from the crowds of Castleton, or the hordes of Hathersage.

The route starts by the west side of the dam on a narrow path between the lake and Meveril Brook. Red campion, and thickets of dog rose line the path, which rounds the reservoir to its southern tip. Here I saw a pair of great crested grebes swimming among the rushes. Beyond the reservoir the path tucks under the railway, which brings to mind a mysterious story concerning Ned Dixon, who lived in nearby Tunstead Farm. Ned, or Dickie as he was known, was brutally murdered by his cousin. Locals say his spirit lived on in his skull, which was left outside to guard against intruders. Strange things were said to happen when anybody tried to remove the skull. It is also claimed that the present road from Combs to Chapel was constructed because the railway bridge would not stand over Dane Hey Road. After the first bridge was completed it collapsed, burying the workmen's tools. This was blamed on the skull: Dickie had been against the railway going across Tunstead land.

A lane with hedges of honeysuckle and hawthorn winds into the village of Combs, where a handful of stone-built cottages are centred on the welcoming Beehive Inn. Combs' most famous son is Herbert Froode. He made his name in automotive engineering as one of the inventors of the brake lining. Starting out in the early 1890s he developed woven cotton brakes for horse drawn wagons, but his ideas didn't really take off until 1897 when the first motor buses emerged. Froode applied his knowledge of brakes to this much greater challenge and by the end of the century had won a contract to supply brake linings for the new London omnibuses. Ferodo, his company, is an anagram of his surname.

Through the village the route takes to the hillsides. Now Combs Reservoir, which is spread beneath your feet, looks every bit a natural lake. Beyond it are the plains of Manchester and the hazy blue West Pennine horizon. In the other direction the gritstone cliffs of Combs Edge, which look rather like those of Kinder Scout, overshadow the sullen combe of Pyegreave Brook. This very pleasing walk ends as it starts, by the shores of the reservoir. If you look along the line of the dam towards the right of two farms, you'll see where Dickie lived. He's probably watching you, too.

While you're there

Take a good look around Chapel-en-le-Frith, a fine market town with a cobbled market square and the 14th-century Church of St Thomas à Becket. In 1648 1,500 Scottish soldiers were taken prisoner and locked in the church after the Battle of Ribbleton Moor. Forty-eight of them died in what was to be known as the Black Hole of Derbyshire.

What to look for

On a bright winter's day in 1995 a group of birdwatchers saw something they hadn't been expecting. While wandering by the hedge along the west shores of the reservoir they came across some huge clawed footprints 3½ins (89mm) wide, which were sunk deep into the mud. These didn't belong to any dog. After studying the photographs they had taken it became obvious that a huge cat had been on the prowl - probably the infamous Peak Panther that has had many sightings on the nearby hills above Chinley and Hayfield.

Where to eat and drink

The Beehive at Combs is a splendid little pub serving fine bar meals. Alternatively, there's the more formal Hanging Gate Inn at Cockyard just before you get back to the reservoir dam.

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