This was an amazing walk, glad I threw away the guide books and just made our own using the Os Explorer maps. We started out in Wells, climbed up Tor Hill, continued on to King’s Castle (we think we noticed the right ditches amidst the trees to mark the hill forts that once stood there, but it is hard to tell). We passed some strange bunkers and great blocks of concrete that would have made sense next to the channel but made no sense here. Up to Maesbury Hill Fort — Iron Age ditches marking a settlement and wonderful views out across the Mendips and to Glastonbury Tor. Then over to Little London (not much like London — there is a fascinating description of where this name comes from here — one of many scattered across the UK which they argue were set up by Welsh cattle drivers. There was clearly a brewery here once, dye-works, workers’ cottages. Now it seems like it’s just rich people with varying degrees of bad taste). From there we jumped onto the Roman Road (I find it so amazing to traverse a Roman road, and followed the Fosse Way up across Beacon Hill (tumuli, glorious trees, perhaps my favourite place of the day) then down into Shepton Mallet — that first view of it is so beautiful, but we quickly entered the industrial area and those buses aren’t too regular.
Not a terrible band, no, a lovely village on the edge of the beautiful Mendip hills. We got off the bus with a walk printed off the internet in hand, and off we went.
Actually, no, first we stopped at Lynda’s Loaf for pies and hot cross buns…and, well, we also got some eccles cakes. Because it was amazing, smelled like baking bread because that’s where they bake the bread, and everything looked delicious. And it was.
So off we went. This is the last ever walk we print off the internet. The instructions were bad, we walked through fascinating landscapes with no information and lost ourselves there several times.
We did learn that ‘combe’ mostly means ‘bog valley’. Still, it’s beautiful. If we’d have had the OS map, we might have found the barrow, the cave known as the Attborough Swallet, known where the lead mine workings were, the lime kiln exactly. Next time.
We should also have looked up the church, unexpectedly beautiful and rich
Being Good Friday we didn’t go in, but I regret it terribly now as wikipedia quotes Wade and Wade in their 1929 book “Somerset”:
The chancel contains the only extant specimen in Somerset of a frid stool, a rough seat let into the sill of the N. window of the sacrarium for the accommodation of anyone claiming sanctuary.
The countryside was beautiful today though, and we stumbled across these Dr Seussian clumpings of grass that made me happy indeed:
Waiting for the goddamn OS map to arrive to find out what they might be. Mine workings we think. Perhaps.
Then open space. Sky. Joy.
We got lost here. But I suppose it resulted in one of my favourite photographs, though I do want to kick that person who wrote this walk in the head.
Ill humour could not survive these guys though:
I fucking love lambs. And sheep too lazy to stand up.
And all of these sheep actually, even the grown ones. It makes a difference when you can’t actually see their vacant yellow eyes staring blankly at you, just the crazy hair that makes them look like a cross between the impossibly fluffy sheep and the victorious sheepdog from some of my favourite Wile E. Coyote cartoons:
It was all downhill from there.
Literally and figuratively. Despite this:
There was only one dog on puppy lane, and he was no puppy, though bless him.
And it being a holiday, the pub closed early. So no pints for us to toast achey limbs and sore feet. Because this is the first walk in a long while. But yay spring.
Starting from Bakewell, walking over the hills first to Magpie Mine and then past two tumuli in a lonely field, we gradually approached Haddon Hall.
Described by Simon Jenkins in “1000 Best Houses” as “the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages”. Set in the heart of the beautiful Peak District National Park, parts of the house date from the 12th Century, sitting like a jewel in its Elizabethan terraced gardens, and overlooking the River Wye.
I can’t say I disagree with any of that. It survived mostly because the family went to live somewhere more grand, and only visited occasionally, thus preserving it from any destruction – reconstruction for purposes of even more arrogant display.
My favourite part was the Haddon Hall Chapel, white walls drawn upon in the 15th Century. the designs still enchant, and the whole is a lovely example of sacred peaceful space.
Reading Cullen or thinking about Alexander’s Pattern Language helped break down just what it is about this place that created such a sacred space far deeper than that simply created by putting a cross on a wall — the feeling of light and space given by high white walls — and the thickness of those walls, finely crafted windows as deep wells of stone letting in much light, old wood carved with love and skill, the beautiful timber ceiling, the seeming simplicity of the space, but broken up and framed in numerous ways by wooden partitions, these framings changing as your moved, and lovely corners you could not see without movement, the surprise they gave.
The beautiful and detailed drawings in black and white. The fashion for them long gone but these have survived. You feel you are glimsping a different way of relating to the world and a different vision of faith through their lines.
Haddon Hall itself was much the same. The courtyard is simply lovely, a place that invites you to spend time in it:
A little grand for me, but wood paneling brings such warmth to a room, and these stone steps were unique and wonderful:
I loved the blocks and the shape to this fireplace, and oh the wooden roofs. Maybe it’s having grown up with a roof of wood but there is something about them I think, that brings the natural world into a room and creates a feeling that your are being held somehow:
The older parts of the house have lovely thick walls, old battered doors, climbing roses and herbs. This entrance was rather swoony…
Beautiful strips of garden — I was just sad the kitchen gardens have not survived because those are what I love most of all:
But the mysteries of the kitchens remain:
Also remaining are fascinating spaces created over various periods of construction, like this one, created by the building of a defensive wall:
I also loved their little collection of things discovered hidden away long ago and left by their owners, inlcuding copious amounts of dice and some playing cards:
This is a beautiful, welcoming space. Wealth had much to do with that, of course, and there are some of the rooms where you just can’t forget that with their tiresome (though still beautifully crafted) repetitions of family crests — peacocks and boars dressed in frilly ruffs. Everywhere peacocks and boars, at their worst when monumental.
But given its age and organic growing over time, it is again a place of odd corners, sudden surprises, always beautiful craftsmenship of workers who seemed to love the works emerging through their labour. The tiny diamond window panes are shaped and curved to maximise the sun, I have never heard of such a wonderful thing. They frame the gardens and the view of the peaks.
Even the tapestries had some lovely touches, and I don’t usually care for tapestries.
Monkees and serpents and bagpipe monsters!
We began our Sunday (not last Sunday either, but the Sunday before) in Newport. A bit grim, Newport. What is not permanently shut down is shut down for the Sunday…but there are burgeoning signs of life and it is the kind of place I like to imagine arriving at its possibilities of beauty and full employment and a bustling centre catering to the needs of its current residents. This probably will not happen under capitalism as we know it.
Cupcakes may be a good start, and this arcade could contribute to that start — it would certainly be a better one that the desultory big apartment box development of seemingly even shittier quality than London’s ‘luxury flats along the Thames’, though that seems hard to fathom.
We stood in front of this entance waiting for the bus that would take us to Caerleon, only £1 and 15 minutes away. It was beautiful, unexpected and beautiful.
The two small, but quite wonderful museums of Roman life there were not unexpected. I knew this had been a centre for Roman troops, that a huge bath complex had existed here, villas, barracks, and an amphitheater. Nothing had quite prepared me for how cool, and empty, the amphitheater was.
Nor did I have any idea that Arthur Machen, Arthur Machen of A London Adventure, or the Art of Wandering as well as of The Imposters was born here, though he left when he was two for a village named Llanddewi Fach five miles away. Arthur Machen who I quite adore.
His house even has one of these, built since he lived there of course, but I imagine using the same cellars:
We didn’t get reservations at the restaurant in the nice and ancient priory next door, but did have a pint in the lovely Hanbury Inn, where, by the way, Tennyson began work on ‘Idylls of the King’:
There were chartists here too, of course, but the plaque mentioning them is more about the walls built to defend against them. Only a bit of that is still standing, thank god.
We couldn’t dally, we walked back to Newport. A walk partially along the river, partially along the motorway, strong in contrasts and industrial grit but also some pigs. I like those walks if I’m honest.
Caerleon To Newport, Wales
And then? Fish & chips, delicious fish & chips in the Harbour fish bar, and then to see friend Fox and Thee Faction, and my new music crush, Helen Love at a fundraising gig in Le Pub as part of the We Shall Overcome weekend — from Thee Faction’s website:
The weekend acknowledges two things. First, it acknowledges the horrendous dismantling of society that the Tories have been pursuing. We have never been so socially insecure since before 1945. There is no safety net we can reliably fall back on. Everything is precarious. So everyone is a failed pay cheque or two away from absolute destitution. And that means that an enormous number of us are already there. Secondly, it acknowledges that every night socially and politically conscious musicians are busy, in ones, twos, threes, fours, playing in pubs and clubs across the land, doing their bit and making a little bit of noise to a relatively small number of people.
Cool to be a little piece of something like that.
I keep realising I leave it too long between gigs, great music, pints, awesome pubs like this one, and toilets that entertain.
We started in Bakewell, beautiful Bakewell with pies that taste the way you always dreamed pies should taste, and the tarts are quite nice as well.
We climbed up and up, past some grandstanding llamas and into some beautiful woods, here we are off our planned route and well into our several-mile accidental diversion:
I loved most the Carlton Pastures, with Bronze Age tumuli dotting their great expanses, the dead overlooking the views from the hill tops.
We continued to pass an inordinate amount of sheep clustered ominously under the trees — it did indeed rain.
Finally to Chatsworth itself — a great change from glorious rolling hills and the grounding of farms and livestock, or the evocative tumuli of ancestors who lived very different lives, much harder lives than we do. Here it sits, a great square presence on the river Derwent. It is meant to look like wealth and power, and look like wealth and power it does.
Here it is from above, looking down from the pastures. You have to remember that this is a landscape sculpted and shaped to accentuate its great romantic sweeps and, of course, the wealth and power of its owners. First by gardener Capability Brown, and then by Joseph Paxton, an immense amount of money and labour have been expended to create a landscape that tries demurely to appear natural as though no such thing took place. This is one of that plural noun hatred of gardens that I have expended venom on before. Funny how many of them are in the Peak District, Keddleston Hall is just around the corner, vying with this one. I did want to see how it sat within its landscape, and the walk was worth it.
Of course the Duke of Devonshire trumped almost everyone by the removal of the local village that once sat along the Derwent. He rebuilt it with the help of Joseph Paxton (who built the Crystal Palace in my own patch, who also built a remarkable conservatory for the Duke, demolished in 1920). Rumour has it that the Duke himself sat with a pattern book and picked out a different pattern for each of the homes there.
It bothered Mark and I that it was this picturesque, and undoubtedly the homes were of better quality than those that had been lost and lives thus improved. But in the end this seemed to add insult to injury, because these lives were thus put on display when ancestral homes were moved at a whim and the Duke able to show off his philanthropy and his taste to his friends, his dependents become showpieces.
We left that place, set off into a misting kind of rain that helped erase the ugliness of unchecked power and massive gaudy aristocratic bling. We headed to see the Ball Cross Iron Age hillfort, which sat overlooking the valley though the view is now obscured by trees.
A great walk all in all, whatever your feelings about Dukes and things, and Bakewell is very well served by public transport.
And did I mention that steak and stilton pie? I dream of it still…from the Bakewell Pudding Shop.
Bakewell To Chatsworth And Back
These beautiful hills on the south edge of the Peak District did not only see the beginning of the Industrial Revolution through silk and cotton mills or serve as a centre for the quarrying of stone, but have also been a key source for lead. Most of the mining traces are gone, those jobs that kept body and soul together for so many gone with them.
We fought it in Los Angeles, where slum buildings contain layers upon layers of brightly-coloured environmental disaster. I have spent years talking about lead, trying to get it remediated, working with families whose children suffer from its effects.
I never gave much thought to where the lead was from, how it was worked. Funny blindspot given my dad’s work for the copper mines, our mining claims filed with the BLM.
On holiday we stumbled across the The Peak District Lead Mining Museum, where the above picture is from. The best thing, and rather an anomalous thing, in Matlock Bath (the Paignton of the North, and not our thing at all on a summer weekend). I quite loved it, and as we were alone to enjoy the exhibit much of the time (having missed the tour of the actual mine across the road), we got to crawl through the narrow spaces designed to recreate the experience of being in the mine. Probably it is mostly for children, and many children went down those mines, and adults stunted by poverty and malnutrition. We were a little big for them, but they were brilliant none the less.
I loved too the bits of history found here, the old equipment brought here by the immense effort of teams of volunteers. Like home in Arizona, people love these old mines and the rusting hulks of ingenious machinery built to work them despite the suffering of working them. I share this love too, from my dad, and divided feelings of deep admiration for the men who went down into these dark and dangerous places and the work that they did there, and the hatred for the cost of it in suffering and environmental degradation for the profit of a few.
But I love the stories miners tell, and I’ve heard more than one say how much they miss that life underground. But they weren’t mining lead.
Almost all traces of the lead mines that once covered this part of the country are gone — all that remains are pits in the ground, old foundations and walls. We saw a picture of Magpie Mine here, though, and decided to try and get there if the weather was kind.
And it was.
We came up through Bakewell, across fields impossible in shape (hard on the legs too)
and impossible in number of peas
And then we saw it
Magpie lead mine was worked for over 250 years — the steel cage taking miners down the shaft is from the 1950s, but the first engine dates back to 1840 and of course, some of the stonework even earlier. In 1881 they completed a sough of 1 3/4 miles to drain the mine workings into the river Wye, 8 years it took to build.
All of it now ruins, picturesque against the sky. Again I am divided at its undeniable beauty, and all that it has meant both as a place that gave life through labour and took it away through the conditions of that labour, and the lead that must have come home with the miners in the folds of their clothes and the grime on their faces to poison their families who weren’t themselves down the mine …
Bakewell To Magpie Mine And Back
This couldn’t quite compare to our lovely Pensford ramble, but was a pretty good walk none the less. We started in the town of Clevedon — once an agriculture village, but Victorian times transformed it into a seaside resort. It’s now home to the awesome Curzon Theatre, but we didn’t catch a film. The pier was nice, its cake mediocre. Climbing up the hill from there was quite beautiful, however, with stone walls along one side, water on the other.
We came back down through a bit of the town, across rhines draining the levels reminding you that once these were all marshes, and fields where we saw deer leaping away through the grass. Under the motorway, which was actually quite enjoyable, and then up and up towards Cadbury Camp.
Occupied from the 6th century BCE through the 1st century AD, this was probably also contained a Roman settlement. From the National Trust site:
The Camp was built in the late Iron Age, probably by the Dobunni Tribe who lived in the Somerset Area. They dug out ditches and threw back the soil to make high banks for the fortress to protect them from any invading forces. They added a high timber fence on top of the bank and a complicated entrance to make it difficult for anyone to attack.
The name Cadbury meant Cada’s fort. Cada was an early Anglo Saxon personal name.
The site itself is lovely, with splendid views.
But sadly there was more building along this walk, closed pubs, signs of rather obscene and unfriendly wealth in the form of high walls and no trespassing signs and things like this:
Not quite made up for by these rather more enjoyable examples of weirdness:
I’ve said before, it is so hard to believe that a significant part of what we call now the industrial revolution started in these beautiful valleys and hills — and for that reason the Derwent Valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. A copy of the book that was published based on the application to UNESCO was sitting on our shelf in the cottage — not the most gripping of styles but the content was quite fascinating none the less. Especially as one of these opening quotes is undoubtedly true:
The Arkwright system substituted capital for labour, machines for skill, factory for home, and mill discipline for family work routines. (15)
— David Jeremy, 1981.
This is where so much that now shapes modernity started, as strange as it seems in such beautiful surroundings. Cromford Mill was the world’s first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill, built between 1771 and 1790 by Richard Arkwright.
It was expanding on the technologies to be found down the road in Derby. In 1721 the opening of Lombe’s Silk Mill:
brought to England technology developed in Italy which enabled silk to be thrown on machines driven by water power. This important step towards full scale factory production did not on its own trigger rapid or widespread economic investment in mechanised production, but its influence on the later developments in the cotton industry which took place a few miles to the north, at Cromford, is now widely recognised. (15)
We spent more time in the country and at Arkwright’s showcase Masson Mill so didn’t explore too much this larger central complex, but it is impressive:
It was always more than buildings or machinery however, but also a whole new organisation of work, method of management, and also control over labour. Cromford became essentially a company town, with mill workers living in the housing that Arkwright built, shopping in his stores, and we heard, spending company scrip.
Cromford was relatively remote and sparsely populated, and Arkwright could only obtain the young people he required for his labour force if he provided homes for their parents. In Cromford, there emerged a new kind of industrial community which was copied and developed in the other Derwent Vallet settlements (15)
This system in its entirety was soon copied, and several other mills used ‘pauper labour’, building dormitories for large numbers of children. It is curious being outside this complex as it is so obviously built for security, with thick high walls, gates and no windows at ground level — so these copies emerged through industrial espionage or after the patents on the system had expired by 1785.
Arkwright’s associates Jedediah Strutt, Thomas Evans, and Peter Nightingale all became themselves mill owners — by 1788 there were over 200 Arkwright type mills established in Great Britain. For the first time I heard of ‘Traitor Slater’ or Samuel Slater, who apprenticed with Strutts in Milford and took technologies with him to US to found a new cotton weaving industry there along these lines. Johann Gottfried Brugelman pursuded a number of workers to move to Ratingen and installed the system in Germany.
Capital and technology crossing borders, expanding across the world. Somehow it is so poignant to see it here move so quickly, become so complete. This story embodies Marx’s theories about technology and competition, as Arkwright’s system composed of machinery and power transmission, the buildings, the production systems and labour management were all taken on in their entirety and then efforts made to improve on them.
New Lanark’s initial buildings developed with exactly this system, and Owens did not start working to change it along more philanthropic lines until 1799 — I’ve only just realised we went there while I had stopped blogging for a while, but it is an amazing place.
As the mill system outgrew the Derwent Valley, with its steep hills and limited room for expansion both in terms of space and labour, mill owners looked to move their operations. Cotton’s new centre moved to Manchester, leaving these mills preserved (sometimes falling down).
The money that was made here was evidenced by Arkwright’s private residence — Willersley Castle c 1790 — we only caught a glimpse of it through trees and had a laugh at its sign: Afternoon tea available all day!
Also St Mary’s Church, built 1797, his private — and very large — chapel:
He (in partnership with others) built the Cromford Canal in the early 1790s. Originally intended as a through route between the mills and Manchester, it was soon replaced by the Cromford and High Peak Railway built between 1824 and 1830s.
I so love canals, I am glad they have brought back this one, and are looking to connect it once again to the canal network.
This is Leawood pumphouse 1849, which housed a steam pumping engine to increase supply of water to the canal:
We also walked down (well, up and up and up some more first) to Lea Bridge and Smedley’s (formerly Nightingale’s) Mill. It was built in 1783 by Peter Nightingale — Arkwright’s financier and landlord in Cromford — and Benjamin Pearson, a formerly trusted employee. It was built in anticipation of the patents expiring, and must have been the source of no small amount of social tension and generated a lawsuit. In 1818 John Smedley took over. Smedley’s is still running and much expanded, newer building having surrounded the old mill which they say still remains at the core. They continue to be a major employer in the area.
Florence Nightingale was one of these Nightingale’s, Peter being her great-uncle, and she spent quite a lot of time here, so there is a community hall named after her.
More on the inside of the mills with the obscene amount of amazing photographs from Masson Mill, built by Arkwright as a showpiece and consolidating everything he had learned from the earlier buildings and operations. But later.
This was perhaps my favourite place, though words like that cease to have so much meaning in an area as beautiful as this one. We came up through the woods
We knew we were close to where we wanted to be, but we weren’t on the path we were supposed to be on, so looking for the nine ladies stone circle we found this instead:
No one quite knows what these are apparently, this one sits along the ‘Duke’s Drive’, possibly part of an effort to transform the moor into somewhere to visit and enjoy following Parliament’s Act of Enclosure in 1819.
Enclosure breaks my heart, but stone circles are a joy. The nine ladies (and a tenth stone face down was found after a drought some years back) are lovely — but quite small. It makes for a very different effect from the standing stones I know, or a circle like Stanton Drew or Stonehenge.
Stanton Moor in its an entirety is a beautiful Bronze Age ceremonial landscape, covered both with monuments but also somewhere archaeologists now believe people to have lived and worked the land. From the conservation document detailing what is here to be preserved from the sandstone quarries that still encroach upon the moor:
The prehistoric monuments which survive on the moor include an unusually tight cluster of ceremonial sites comprising three embanked stone circles, a standing stone, and at least one (possibly two) ring cairns. A fourth circle, Doll Tor, lies to the west, just 250m outside the limit of the modern moorland. Close to these monuments lie more than 120 cairns, many of which appear to be primarily funerary (Figures C5 and C6). Again, the survival of a cairnfield with a very high proportion of funerary cairns is rare in the region, where only two or three other (much smaller) sites have been recognised (220.127.116.11). In addition, early 20th century excavation on the south-western fringe of the moor (18.104.22.168) revealed a large number of funerary urns and cremated remains in what may have been a fl at cemetery (Storrs Fox 1927).
It is an extraordinary place, made even more beautiful by August’s purple heather and the green hills beyond.
One of the beautiful and larger mounds, with evidence of the stone cist that used to sit in the centre, containing the mixed bones of ancestors
We followed the sandy path along the curve of the hillside
Sat for a while here, to rest and look out over the landscape
A standing stone — the Cork Stone — towers over us, behind it an old quarry. Going up one side are metal staples and footholds dug into the rock. We didn’t climb it.
Here it is looking back
The edge of the quarry, picturesque now covered in golden grass and heather
Coming up to Stanton Peak’s trig point
Then back down the far side of the moor, back down into trees past old walls and lined pits
To what must have been another burial cairn
A sheep with the hair of a greek statue
And into Alport, lovely but we thought there was a pub, badly needed a pub, and there was no pub. Not until we walked up another very big hill into Youlgreave.
But it did have scenery and chickens
Youlgreave was lovely, but we were too tired to explore it properly…
In every city, town and village we have walked past old mills, now repurposed and turned into luxury flats most of them. It was good to see one still running as a mill, and even better to learn it was open as a museum. It was such a pleasure to walk around a working mill, see the history of past innovations. Had we not been about to embark on a walk of many miles up several large hills, we would have bought some flour…
Some of the exhibits discussed the changing technologies — both the move from the beautiful old water wheels that to my mind still signify a mill to the new water turbines that so much more efficiently powered the machinery, and the use of rollers to grind grain rather than the great circular millstones. Once upon a time mills were a ubiquitous feature of towns, villages and cities — I loved this map that showed just how many there once were in this area along the river systems:
The change in the grinding of grain to bake our bread is just one of the changes that modernity has brought to our lives, a change to both the rhythm of our days and the food that we eat. I wonder if we can even guess now just how great a change that has been.
The machinery inside was wonderful
The Hammer Mill — ‘Miracle Mill’ No. 2, used to pulverize stock into powder:
Measurers and grain elevators:
Flour sifters at all levels of fineness, and their machinery:
This was less the amazing old machinery, and more the title — Baron “Dreadnought” Grinder:
You climb story after story, here is a view of the beautiful country from the top:
An old dust collector at the very top, of exquisite carpentry surrounded by bewildering belts and struts
This area was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, which impacted upon flour mills as much as mills of any other kind — the Caudwell Mill was in the forefront of some of these changes. It was fascinating to continue our walk, get a bit lost per usual, and stumble across further remnants of this past. Not without first passing one of the most lovely farms I’ve seen:
and a chicken crossing a road — though too far away for questions:
We climbed up into the woods
We think we had already gone wrong at this point, but I could not be sorry. Because then we found this:
Something to do with the quarry we think, though perhaps another mill. Up through more forest
To find a fallen stack of old mill stones — victims of technological change left here unwanted and unneeded…
and perhaps this was part of the end of these quarries, now reclaimed by the forest and more beautiful thereby.
This is heading up to Stanton Moor, which was more beautiful still, but more on that later. Better to sit with thoughts of human endeavour, how much everything has changed, what happened to technologies left behind and the men who once excelled in them…