On the Edge at Stanage

“All good walks start with breakfast.”

Over the years it’s become somewhat of a tradition to seek out a hearty breakfast before a walk and, in that time, a few firm favourites have emerged. The understandable rarity of free tables at Fresh Basil in Belper would suggest that it’s not the hidden secret we all hope to find, while the proximity of Byways Tea Rooms to Bloomers, The Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, and The Wee Dram, one of the finest whisky establishments this side of the Scottish border, will always lend it a special place in our hearts.

Recently though, we’ve started walking with Freya. Freya is the four-legged member of our walking troupe and needs sustenance before a walk just like we do, which led us to our search for the best dog-friendly breakfast establishment in the Peak District. With no small amount of luck, we discovered a place that will take considerable effort to best: Eyam Tea Rooms.


The Plague Village

It’s with no small amount of humility and embarrassment that I have to admit that I mispronounced Eyam for most of my time walking in the Peaks. Betraying both a lack of local knowledge and historical awareness, I’ve long assumed the small village off the A623 in Derbyshire was pronounced eye-em or some variation on that theme. I’ve also resisted local’s attempts to correct my ignorance, preferring to believe that wires had become crossed in conversation and that when I spoke of eye-em, they’d simply misunderstood my intentions and were responding about another similarly-named village in the same parish.

So you don’t suffer under the same misapprehension as me, if indeed you do at all, let me lay this one to rest: Eyam is pronounced /ˈiːm/, the ‘Ey’ part of the name sounding like the in happy or the i in serious. The ‘a’ in Eyam appears to be silent. Imagine saying the word ‘me’ backwards and you’ll be a lot closer to the correct pronunciation than I have been for the last 10 years.

It’s hard to imagine that a small and unassuming village would be steeped in such fascinating and tragic history. Known for lead mining since the Roman era, the village is now better known as ‘the plague village’ and would become the setting for a heroic display of selflessness on the part of its inhabitants during a plague outbreak in 1665.

In 1665, a bale of cloth was ordered from London by a local tailor and was escorted to the parish by the tailor’s assistant, George Viccars. The damp cloth was hung out to dry upon arrival, unwittingly stirring the fleas within the parcel and triggering a chain of events that would lead to the death of more than 260 villagers in Eyam from the bubonic plague. While London had been ravaged by plague in the preceding years, more than double the mortality rate was metered upon the villagers in the Peak District.

In the following year, plague swept through the village until the newly appointed rector, William Mompesson, intervened. Wanting to prevent the same tragedy unfolding in the nearby towns of Bakewell and Sheffield, Mompesson told his parish that the village must be quarantined, with nobody allowed in or out. Willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of those in the nearby communities, Mompesson assured his parishioners that he would do everything in his power to alleviate the suffering of his village if they, too, agreed to stay. Food supplies would be sent from nearby Chatsworth thanks to an agreement with the Earl of Devonshire.

In 1665, a boundary stone acted as a marker to separate the villagers of Eyam from those in nearby Stoney Middleton, with vinegar-soaked money – believed to stop the infection – being exchanged at the site for food and medical supplies.

On 1st November 1666, a farm worker named Abraham Morten became the last of more than 260 people out of a population of around 700 to succumb to the disease. To this day, a board in the cottage that Eyam Tea Rooms now calls home remembers Hannah Rowland, who died on the 5th November 1665.

While certainly unusual to eat pre-walk breakfast in a cafe with such a tragic history, in 2017 you’ll only find exceptional service and food here. Francis and Fiona have created a remarkably relaxing and enjoyable place to start your day, where both you and your four-legged friend will be welcomed to breakfast. There are treats on the counter for well-behaved dogs.

On the Edge at Stanage

On the Edge at Stanage

Having walked Mam Tor before the bank holiday weekend in rain that defied both gravity and waterproofing, we turned our attention this week to Stanage Edge and the 9.5 mile AA walking route starting at the wonderfully-named Oddfellows Road car park at Hathersage. Hathersage is recorded in the Domesday Book as Hereseige in 1086, and around 1220 it was recorded as Hauersegg, the origin of its name generally accepted as deriving from the Old English word ecg meaning “edge”.

“…a vast extended moor in which strangers would be obliged to take a guide or lose their way.”

Defoe, who was never particularly a fan of mountain scenery, described the dramatic cliffs that form Stanage Edge as a vast extended moor in which strangers would be obliged to take a guide or lose their way. With this in mind, we loaded our route into the trusty Ordnance Survey maps app and set off up the gentle incline at Baulk Way and through the valley at Hood Brook. The Bronte Cottage and North Lees Hall gave us ample excuse to take a break from the ascent, poorly masking our relative lack of inclination to inclines and affording us enough time to remark at how a reasonably warm summer day could have us all wearing ‘sweat bibs’.

North Lees Hall
North Lees Hall

North Lees Hall is a Grade II-listed building that influenced Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre after she made several visits to Hathersage. The hall provided the inspiration for Thornfield Hall, the home of the novel’s hero, Edward Rochester.

From here, a paved track known as Jacob’s Ladder takes you to the top of the cliffs where we again paused to take pictures of the emerging views across the valley, or at least that was our intention. What we actually took were lots of pictures of Freya.

Freya on Jacob's Ladder
Freya on Jacob’s Ladder. Spectacular scenery not captured in this shot, but it is there. Promise.

Beneath the cliffs of Stanage Edge, old millstones and grindstones are scattered around the area, reminding visitors of the steelworks industry in Sheffield and local corn mills that used to flourish here. By the 1860s, much of this industry had declined due to French imports that were both cheaper and better quality and due to the introduction of the roller mill.

Ascending to the clifftop, the views become extensive and awe-inspiring. On a clear day, you can see across much of the Derwent and Hope Valleys to Mam Tor and Kinder Scout, with the panoramic view visible as you walk the short distance to the trig pillar at Crow Chin.

Crow Chin
Crow Chin Trig Pillar

Rather than descending as the walking route suggested, we decided to walk the clifftop above Robin Hood’s Cave past Cowper Stone, a block of gritstone at the most southerly point of Stanage that’s been popular with climbers since it was first conquered by protagonists such as Johnny Dawes and John Allen in the 1980s. This almost continuous line of cliffs has featured prominently in guide books for climbing for well over a century now.

This easy stroll continues for a couple of miles before heading south towards Higger Tor, one of my favourite places in the Peak District. It’s not as difficult to traverse as many of the Peak’s hills, especially when approaching from Crow Chin via Fiddler’s Elbow, but you’re often met by local livestock that are keen to pose for a picture or two and the view across the valley once you reach the rocky outcrop is spectacular.

Cattle on Fiddler's Elbow, the ascent to Higger Tor
Cattle on Fiddler’s Elbow, the ascent to Higger Tor

By the time we reached Higger Tor, we’d walked about 7 miles. While there are plenty of smaller rocks to rest upon, you can always be sure that Pete will attempt to find a throne. And with our expectations met, we designate this rock hereafter as Pete Rock.

Pete Rock

From Higger Tor, a short walk down to Fiddler’s Elbow road takes you to the start of a clearly defined path that leads, without too much trouble to your tired legs, back to Hathersage where our walk ends.

Eyam Trivia

Eyam is set 800 feet above sea level and owes its location to the availability of water than accumulates in the hills to the north of the village and issues out of a series of springs. In 1588, 12 sets of stone troughs were built in Eyam at convienient places, and the water was conducted to the troughs by pipes. Because of this, Eyam became one of the first villages in the country to have a public water system.


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