A Scramble to Alport Castles

Thursday 25th July 2019

So far, we’d managed to explore a fair portion of the Peak District without attempting a single group scramble. In July 2018, we were all over it in Snowdonia… Up and down the Gylderau, Tryfan and we each survived the length of Crib Goch.

On what was set to be the hottest day of the month, we drove east towards the Derwent Valley with the intention of conquering one of the Peak District’s most infamous scrambles.

Along the south-western edge of Ladybower Reservoir, we parked close to the bridleway just east of Ridges Coppice (SK 179 884) and paid only £3 for the day. I was surprised the charge was so low, even if we were nearly 1.5km away from Fairholmes Visitor Centre. Shared between four of us, it was no great expense at all.

Leaving the lake behind, we began climbing up along the bridleway beneath the woods. It was surely no later than 10am by this point and yet, the temperature must’ve been around 20°C already.

It would’ve been a great mistake to have set off without sun cream and not to mention water. Most people would advise wearing a hat or cap but personally, I do not like them.

Leaving the woods for the exposure of Open Hagg, we could see odd-shaped peaks away to the south-west. Looking now, I can see that one of these might’ve been Lose Hill – the eastern end point of The Great Ridge.

We followed this bridleway as far as a junction just south of Woodcock Coppice, which would lead us down along a meandering path beside Hagg Farm.

After crossing the A57, we then crossed the River Ashop and a distinctly-man-made drainage ditch.

High up to our left would’ve been Crookstone Out Moor and its Knoll, as we followed a permissive footpath walking west and parallel to the road.

Just ahead of reaching Upper Ashop, we turned on towards the road once more. A ford crossing lay in wait – almost ankle deep, despite how it may look on camera.

A couple of girls were swimming in the river to our right and, as we moved to cross back over the A-road, another car pulled up (there’s no official car park beside the gate), presumably with the same idea on such a scorcher of a day.

Having crossed the road near Alport Bridge, we followed a footpath up and away from the road once more.

Signage at this point was as excellent as I’ve come to know in other corners of Derbyshire. Yet we’d barely seen another soul outside of our own party.

By now it was mid-morning and, with the sun rising high and temperatures continuing to rise, we sought shelter beneath the trees for a few minutes to take on fluids, food and reapply sun cream where necessary.

We’d gained to get this far but also knew that we’d need to cross the next valley and climb higher again, to reach the moors above Ladybower.

You can just see the two stone towers of Alport Castles, left of centre in the photo above.

This walk was not about the number of miles, distance or completing it within a specified time. We were out with the aim of doing the scramble.

Past Alport Farm, we crossed a very reasonable footbridge near Alport Castles Farm. Two other walkers were resting beside the river. One commented on how ‘refreshing’ the water felt against her  hot and sweaty feet.

My gut reaction was that she probably wasn’t wearing appropriate socks or footwear….

They both warned us of the severity of the climb ahead, having just come down this way. They certainly weren’t crying wolf!

From the top of this section, we could see the two towers (labelled only as ‘The Tower’ on OS Maps). A visual guide to aim for. Put the map away.

I feel I should point out that there is no right of way leading even to the base of the tower. Officially, it resides within the boundary of Open Access Land, meaning that we all have that right to roam, here.

We did clamber over a wire fence. I’m not proud to admit that but there was no obvious alternative way around. Someone before us had piled rocks on either side – presumably to facilitate the frowned-upon action of climbing over a fence.

There may be another way, if one was to follow the public right of way further around Little Moor.

We’d decided that we would follow the line of a very shallow gully on the south-west side. But without walking, climbing or scrambling along it, due to the presence of large rocks. I followed the grass up along one side.

Where I went left, everyone else kept to the right and I was the one who caught the unmistakable stench of dead sheep! Fortunately, I didn’t see it but took it as a clear sign that I should’ve gone the other way (along with the fact that neither my legs or arms were long enough to see me safely up and over the next section).

View from the top.

Despite the fact that we did a fair amount of scrambling in Snowdonia last year, I would regard this has quite a simple scramble. It would be very achievable for most people, I imagine.

Sitting well over 400m above sea level, there was at least a welcome breeze. Not a cool one, by any means. But some reward for having hiked so hard in this heat.

Coming down is always the part I don’t look for to, regardless of where or how I’m walking. We would basically head east.

Through the powers of YouTube, I’ve since learnt that the route of our descent closely follows a more popular way up for many people. It was quite steep and almost-vertical in places, or so it seemed… I felt that the line of our ascent would’ve made for a safer descent.

‘The Tower’ of Alport Castles.

We stopped for lunch within the rocky depths of this space, which almost looked like the site of a former quarry. Or a local man’s amphitheatre. There was quite an echo to the place.

As lunchtime came and went, we began our escape from Alport Castles; heading east and to the north of Little Moor.

Basically, we followed this drystone wall until we met up with the right of way.

From the heights of Rowlee Pasture, we could look east, beyond the Derwent Valley and to the High Peak. Lost Lad was in there somewhere.

Our path was straightforward and the stones led us most of the way to a point where we could rejoin our outward route – close to Bellhag Tor.

A final descent through the trees was very welcome, even though we would have lost most of the breeze. I believe ICE CREAM was on the menu that evening and I probably caught the sun a bit too much on the back of my neck.

[Image source: osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk]
A good day without making too many miles. Very few others about and we conquered a true highlight of the Peak District that I doubt I would’ve looked to complete as part of a solo trip to this area.

Distance of this walk: 8.75 miles

Thanks for reading.

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Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in North Somerset, close to the Mendip Hills and I enjoy spending time outdoors. In particular, going on long walks and camping across the summer months. I also get around to explore other parts of the UK. In 2018, I hope to find a new workshop because I miss woodworking and no day-job will ever provide the same sense of satisfaction as making your own. I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Olly Outdoors (walking, hiking, camping) You can also find me on YouTube and Facebook (where I have respective channels and pages for each blog). I'm also on Twitter and Instagram (@OllyPJ).

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