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The Limestone of Caldonlow

The geology of this region provides a backdrop to a spectacular walk.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 480ft (146m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Gravel tracks, grassy trails and roads, 5 stiles

Landscape Farmland, quarry and hilltop

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 259 Derby; OL24 White Peak (Walk 19)

Start/finish SK 086493 on Explorer 259

Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead near livestock

Parking Ample parking at start point

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the road corner head east along the gravel track, walking away from Cauldon. Go through a gate and continue up a small valley. Pass a barn on your right, go through a slot or swing gate and then take the right fork along a wide dirt track. At another gate in front of you head right through a gate and then follow the field round to the left. After about 30 paces go through a gap in the dry-stone wall and carry on straight up the hill.

2 At the top right-hand corner of the field go through a gate and head straight across the next field to a gap in the dry-stone wall ahead. After the gap head for the bottom left-hand corner of the next field and cross a stile on to the A52. Bear left for 100yds (91m) and then turn right along the narrow metalled road up to Weaver Farm. As the road veers to the left there are two footpath signs on the right: at the first of these go back on yourself, up the hill towards a gate in the dry-stone wall.

3 After crossing the stile here keep following the dry-stone wall to your right and at the next gate continue in the same direction, with the wall to your left. At the end of this wall bear slightly right to join another wall on the right and follow it to the gate.

4 Before crossing the dry-stone wall ahead of you, go left for 100yds (91m) and then right over a stile, before making straight for the trig point. From the trig point retrace your steps to the stile, but instead of crossing it, head left across the field, making for the dry-stone wall at the bottom. Follow this wall all the way to Wardlow.

5 Continue as far as the A52 and go straight across, following a public footpath sign. Continue over the thistly plateau of this field to a stile. Once across the stile head straight through the next field, making for its left-hand corner.

6 Go right along the base of a field. Continue to the bottom of a hill and bear slightly left, heading up and then downhill through a series of fields with trees to your left. At the far end of the fields, turn left for 100yds (91m) and then right along a trail through a narrow valley. At the bottom of the valley rejoin the main track to return to the start point.

The story of Caldonlow begins around 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. Thanks to the whims of continental drift the North Staffordshire moorlands and the Peak District of Derbyshire were much further south than they are today and the region was covered by a shallow tropical sea. Over millions of years, a layer of shells and coral slowly built up on the seabed, both formed from the calcium carbonate secretions of a variety of marine animals.

As there was little current to disturb these deposits, this layer was slowly compacted by additional layers of sediment, again over millions of years, to create limestone. If you remember your school chemistry, you'll know that chalk, marble and limestone are all calcium carbonate, each made under different conditions. Limestone is in fact almost pure calcium carbonate and as a result is very light in colour (hence the name White Peak, as opposed to the gritstone areas of the Dark Peak further north).

In places like the White Peak subsequent weathering, erosion and, more recently, the ice age, scoured away the softer topsoil leaving the limestone outcrops at or near the surface, which could then be readily quarried. And this is precisely what happened at Caldonlow Quarry, which at the height of the Industrial Revolution was yielding some 6,000 tons a week. The limestone was transported on a tramway to the terminus of the Caldon Canal at Froghall, 3 miles (4.8km) to the west, and from there it was taken by barge to Stoke, Macclesfield and other canal-fed towns across the Midlands.

Then, as now, limestone had a great many uses. High quality stone was used directly for building, while aggregate (crushed stone) was used for making roads. When calcium carbonate is heated it leaves a deposit of calcium oxide or quicklime. Quicklime is even more useful than limestone. As a fertiliser it improves crop yields by reducing the acidity of soil, and it also reacts with the main impurities in iron ore to make iron and calcium silicate (or slag), which floats on top of the molten iron and is removed for use in road building.

At Froghall, the limestone was fired in massive kilns to produce quicklime to be shipped direct to customers. Today, the wharf and the lime kilns are long-abandoned and the quarry at Caldonlow is much quieter than it was 150 years ago. It's now a designated geological Site of Special Scientific Interest and is dominated by the massive cement works at the start of the walk. It won't come as a surprise to learn that cement is a mixture of clay and quicklime.

What to look for

The highlight of the route has to be the trig point on the summit of the walk, with its expansive views out over the rolling plains of South Staffordshire. The ancient mound here indicates that this may have been used as a beacon for sending warning messages by bonfire in medieval times.

While you're there

If you've still got any energy left after your exertions over the Weaver Hills then taking a short bike ride along the tranquil Manifold Way is highly recommended. Mountain bikes and tandems can be hired from Peak Cycle Hire in Waterhouses at very reasonable rates for three hours, daily from April to September and during additional weekends. For more information visit the website at www.peakdistrict.org. And if you're going to make a weekend of it, Dove Dale to the east of Waterhouses, musn't be missed. It's a very deep, steep, heavily wooded valley that offers some of the best walking in the county, thanks in part to the weird and wonderful limestone rock formations that can be seen here.

Where to eat and drink

The Cross Inn at Cauldon Lowe is a 17th-century free house and restaurant, with oak beams, log fires, and a welcoming atmosphere. It serves a variety of real ales and fine home-cooked food lunchtime and evenings, seven days a week, year round.

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