Day out: Minninglow Hill, Derbyshire
Celebrate the winter solstice with a pre-dawn hill walk to an ancient burial site – shaped like a festive garland – in the Peak District
From the air, Minninglow Hill looks like a Christmas wreath, its outer and inner rings of perfectly rounded beech trees circling an ancient burial site. In winter, it is particularly atmospheric.
To make the best of the Yuletide experience, arrive at Minninglow Car Park, a designated Dark Sky Site, under darkness. Wrap up well – there is a two-hour interval between stargazing and sunrise. If the sky is clear, you can trace the blurry path of the Milky Way, pinpoint planets, constellations and stars, such as Orion and the North Star, or marvel at a meteor shower. It's a magical spot for stargazing.
Enjoy the stillness and tune into the blackness – sounds intensify, the rustle of small animals is sharp in the night air. Warm up with a mulled wine as you wait for the stars to wink out and the monochrome landscape to take on definition and colour.
Head east along the High Peak Trail in the gathering light. Cross the high embankment of the dismantled railway. Just past the quarry and an old crane, once used to deliver limestone to the freight trains, take the path (on private land but access is allowed) up to Minninglow Hill.
Slip through the gate into the burial site, pass through the beeches and explore the ancient stones. The Neolithic chambered tomb and two Bronze Age bowl barrows look mysterious in the pre-dawn. The Romans also spent time here: excavations have unearthed human bones, bronze, coins and pottery from the third century.
History of Minninglow
Enjoy a yuletide breakfast as you watch the sun ascend through the naked branches of the trees, brightening the pale slabs of burial stones. This is the perfect place to celebrate the solstice. The word comes from the Latin ‘solis’ for sun, and ‘sistere’, to stand still. Celebrate the ‘standing still of the sun’ – as Druids did – knowing the days ahead will again lengthen, the earth warm and the growing season recommence.
To see the sunrise in all its magnificence, leave the site by the opposite gate, heading out on to open land. Settle down on the hillside and watch the sunlight wash over misty dales and silvered uplands. Drop down to the green lane that leads back to the High Peak Trail, taking time to gaze at the burial site one last time.
Like a winter scene from a Bruegel painting, the rounded hill of Minninglow with its circle of trees stands proud above the White Peak – a place where ancient man celebrated the circular nature of life.
Helen is the author of Slow Travel The Peak District, Bradt and A Time of Birds, Saraband, a memoir and travelogue describing her journey across Europe to Istanbul on her sit-up-and-beg bike.