History, wildlife and spectacular views: the Peak District's gritstone edges are one of the regions most remarkable features – and are easy to explore
The Peak District's gritstone edges are one of the most remarkable features of the region, attracting walkers and climbers all year round. Offering breath-taking views, historical features, and a haven for wildlife, each of these escarpments of the Dark Peak have their own special atmosphere and points of interest.
For adventurous visitors, nine of the Peak District's most famous edges can be explored in the Nine Edges Challenge – a continuous, long-distance walk of 36km. And climbers will find some of the best locations in the UK, with a range of ascents for all abilities.
Derwent, Stanage and Burbage
Derwent Edge is the northernmost of the edges, and the steep climb up is rewarded with stunning views across Ladybower Reservoir to Win Hill and Kinder Scout.
Above: looking up at Stanage Edge. Top: view of Curbar Edge from Baslow Edge
Gritstone tors – unusual outcrops of weathered rock – are dotted all along the edges. These often have enigmatic names – on Derwent Edge look out for the Cakes of Bread, the Salt Cellar, and the Coach and Horses (also known as the Wheel Stones).
Stanage and Burbage Edges are fantastic for birdwatching. Ring ouzels spend their summers here, nesting on the edges and in the surrounding bracken. These birds are quite rare, and have a Red conservation status – so to help protect them, keep dogs on leads, don't get too close, and stick to footpaths.
For centuries, this area was quarried for gritstone to create millstones – used for a variety of purposes, from grinding grains to sharpening tools. You may notice examples of the ring-shaped stones abandoned along the base of the edges. The millstone is the official emblem of the Peak District National Park Authority, and can be seen at many entry points across the Peak.
Froggatt, Curbar and Baslow
The path onto Froggatt Edge winds through beautiful birch woodland. As you emerge from the woods, there's a small stone circle on the left, which is believed to date from the Bronze Age.
Red deer can be seen in the area, especially at dusk and dawn. Nearby Big Moor is considered one of the best places in the UK to experience the spectacular red deer rut in autumn. The extraordinary bellows can be heard right across the moor at dusk – and the stags can often be seen with antlers locked, showing off their strength to the females.
Froggatt Edge merges seamlessly into Curbar Edge – and an enjoyable 10km circular hike takes in both edges, returning via White Edge. Expect glorious views with every step.
The view from Curbar Edge
On Baslow edge, the Eagle Stone is an unmissable landmark that can be seen for miles around – in summer, it's surrounded by a sea of purple heather. Legend has it that the stone is named after Aigle, a Celtic god who liked to throw enormous rocks around. An old local custom has seen generations of young Baslow men climbing to the summit of the rock to prove their readiness for marriage.
To the south of the Eagle Stone is an impressive stone cross. This is the Wellington Monument, dedicated to the Duke of Wellington to celebrate his victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Gardom's and Birchen
In the woods behind Gardom's Edge, keen-eyed walkers may notice an intriguing stone hidden in the trees. In the 1960s, archaeologists discovered intricate prehistoric carvings of cups, rings and spirals, believed to date from the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.
A steep scramble up to Birchen Edge brings you to the Nelson Monument. This imposing gritstone column was erected in 1810 to remember Admiral Lord Nelson, and commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar.
Not far away are three large and distinctive rocky outcrops. Known locally as the 'Three Ships', each rock has had the name of one of Nelson's ships carved into the rock face: 'Victory', 'Defiance' and 'Royal Soverin' (No-one is quite sure why the latter is spelled like this, instead of Royal Sovereign. Perhaps the person who carved it decided the correct spelling would take too long!)
On the edge
Like so many of the Peak District Edges, Birchen Edge is a wonderful spot for a picnic. There are lots of options for other refreshments too – from tea rooms at Longshaw, near Burbage, to a vintage coffee van that parks up at Curbar Gap most weekends. Or visit the lovely villages of Froggatt, Curbar and Baslow for cafés, country pubs and fine dining.
Green Adventures October 2023
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