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Well Dressed in Endon in the Spring

A short, pleasant walk exploring a Staffordshire village with an ancient and colourful tradition.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 269ft (82m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Easy meadow paths and some roads, 11 stiles

Landscape Hillside meadow, forest and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 258 Stoke-on-Trent

Start/finish SJ 928537

Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead at all times

Parking Ample parking in St Luke's Church car park

Public toilets None on route

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

1 From St Luke's Church car park turn right up a hill. At the top, go straight through a farm to a gate and a slot in a wall to the left. Follow the track round to the left and, 50yds (46m) after a barn on the right, go through a slot in the wall. Cut off the corner of the field to reach a stile, making straight for another stile. Bear right towards another double stile.

2 Continue in the same direction, keeping a hedge just to your left. Cross the stile at the far side of the field and proceed to another stile straight ahead. Keep following a dry-stone wall to your left until you reach a well-hidden slot in the top left corner of the wall. After the slot carry on up the slope, this time with the hedge to your right.

3 At the top right corner of this field, go straight across the stile and continue along the rough track to a road. Go straight over and across a pair of stiles, following a hedge on the left. Cross the next stile to reach a small slot in the far left corner of the field.

4 Turn left down the road and, at the junction with the B5051, go right then first left along a signed footpath, over a residential road and up a wide track to a gate. After the gate you come to a fork: head left to the corner of the wall and then continue along the bridleway that skirts the bottom of Tinster Wood. As soon as the path enters the wood proper head sharp left down a narrow track, following it to the bottom left-hand corner.

5 Go through a slot in the wall to your left. Continue straight across a field, keeping the wall to your right, through a pair of wall slots. Cross the small footbridge beneath a tree before cutting off the corner of a field. At a gap in the wall go left up a muddy track and left along the road. After 50yds (46m) go right following the footpath sign.

6 At the bottom of this field cross a stile to a surfaced road, following it round to the left. When you reach a proper residential road, go hard left along a rougher track to a surfaced road. Head right and, shortly after, turn left along the A53. Just before you get to the Plough on the left, head left up the road signed to St Luke's Church.

The name Endon means 'place where lambs are reared', but today the village is best known, not for its mutton, but for its water. The area around Endon, and in fact most of Derbyshire and northern Staffordshire, features an abundance of natural springs. These springs owe their existence to the local geology. The primarily limestone landscape of the Staffordshire moorlands and the rest of the Peak District is intermittently overlaid by a layer of gritstone. As the latter is a non-porous rock, when the water table rises higher than the limestone, water is forced out at the points on the surface where the two rock layers meet. This constant supply of fresh water was doubtless what prompted ancient peoples to settle in the area.

These early settlers began blessing this water supply by adorning local wells with flowers, a ritual known today as well dressing. Its origins are shrouded in mystery: many sources attribute the practice to the period of the Black Death (1348-9) when it's thought that a third of the country's population died of the virus. Some villages remained untouched and, probably quite rightly, attributed this to the clean water supply drawn from their wells. (The plague was borne by rats and their fleas, so dirty water and poor sanitation contributed to the spread of the disease.) However, it's possible that the custom goes back further, perhaps to Celtic times, and the fact that many well dressings have a 'well queen' suggests echoes of ancient fertility rites.

Today, well dressing is an annual tradition unique to the central and southern Peak, with a succession of villages dressing their wells between the end of May and early September. Endon's ceremony, which was revived in 1845, traditionally takes place on the spring bank holiday, when two wells are dressed in an elaborate ceremony.

The well dressing itself is usually as intricate as it is elaborate. It is achieved by making a picture, often of a religious theme, out of flowers and petals. The picture is created within a wooden frame filled with soft, wet clay. An outline of the drawing is made using bark, twigs and berries before the spaces are filled in with coloured petals. The picture is made from the bottom upwards so that the petals overlap and rainwater drains off. The finished image is often so ornate it really has to be seen to be believed.

Because of the nature of the materials, dressings have to be made in the two or three days just before the ceremony, and they usually only last a week or so. In addition, a well dressing queen is crowned and, on the bank holiday Monday, a fair is held in the village, complete with parade, morris dancing and a tossing the sheaf competition.

Where to eat and drink

The Plough is conveniently located on the A53 right in the middle of Endon. Standard bar snacks and pub food are available seven days a week and a carvery is offered 12-2:30pm and 5-10pm Monday to Friday, plus noon-11pm at weekends, all year round.

What to look for

Despite the reverence in which some wells are clearly held, many are seen only as marks on a map, often existing below the surface. When they do spring up, they're often indicated by little more than a tap, or in some cases, an algae-stained bath tub!

While you're there

Greenway Bank Country Park, just to the north west of Endon, features an arboretum, picnic sites and 123 acres (50ha) of secluded forest around Serpentine Pool and Knypersley Reservoir. A visitors' centre provides information and a small shop.

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