Surrounding the Peak District village of Birchover is a haunting landscape of gritstone bluffs, standing stones, burial mounds and Bronze-Age stone circles, hidden in inky woodland or exposed on windswept upland.
The paths here are littered with the history and mythology of the south-east Peak, from the hermit of Cratcliffe Tor who led travellers to safety off the ancient Portway trail, to the notorious outlaw who leapt across the soaring pillars that straddled Robin Hood’s Stride. Rowtor Rocks tells a story of prehistoric rock art and Victorian sculpture, while Stanton Moor reveals 4,000 years of human activity.
Spectacular sunset on a bitterly cold day at The Grey Ladies / Nine Stone Close Stone Circle, Robin Hood’s Stride Peak District National Park ©Alamy
To the tor
From the B5056 lay-by, cross the road at the bottom of Dudwood Farm and follow the Limestone Way over the cattle grid towards the towering bulk of Cratcliffe Tor and on up the grassy slope. Go through the gate and climb through woods.
Hermit and outlaw
Follow the path along the base of Cratcliffe to the Hermit’s Cave, a fenced-off overhang flanked by moody yews. The flat stone served as the hermit’s bed; a carved-out alcove his candle shelf; the etched stone crucifix his focus for worship.
Carving of Christ on the cross, Hermits Cave near Elton in the Peak District, Derbyshire ©Getty
Backtrack to a stile leading to a meadow. It emerges at Robin Hood’s Stride on a crest of the Limestone Way. From here you’ll see Nine Stones Close in a field below (only four remain). Haddon Moor and Longstone Edge are a magnificent backdrop for this Bronze-Age circle. Take time to scramble up Robin Hood’s Stride with its squeezes and overhangs, before retracing your steps to the B5056.
Art and carvings
Just north of the lay-by on the B5056 you’ll find a right-hand sign for Birchover. Climb the stepped path through meadows to a farm track, skirting the base of Bradley Rocks on its north side. Join Main Street (a misnomer for the narrow lane) and follow it to the vicarage. Between the neighbouring St Michael’s Church and The Druid Inn, a sign points the way to Rowtor Rocks, carved with stairways, tunnels and rooms, which are all the work of Reverend Thomas Eyre.
Rowtor Rocks ©Alamy
Other etchings imply something far older: prehistoric rock art with cup marks and rings, and what look like petals and bird wings.
Across from The Druid Inn (a good lunch spot), head up the wooded ridge overlooking the village rooftops to the quarry car park. Turn left on to Birchover Road.
Cork Stone ©Getty
Take a right-hand path leading to Stanton Moor. Pass Cork Stone, with its carved-out footholds and iron grips, before skirting the moor clockwise.
Nine Ladies Stone Circle
With its offset King Stone, Nine Ladies is found on the moor’s north-eastern edge; legend says these nine women and a fiddler were turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath.
Drop down to Earl Grey Tower, built by the Thornhill family to commemorate the 1832 Reform Act. Then search out the isolated boulders that scatter the eastern edge of Stanton Moor: The Duke of York, Duchess of Sunderland, Cat, Gorse and Heart stones, some with historical graffiti.
Earl Grey Tower ©Alamy
Descend to Lees Road and cross to Barn Farm, continuing through the campsite with its alpacas and peacocks to Birchover village. Celebrate the walk’s landmarks with The Red Lion’s on-site brews: Bircher Best, Cork Stone, Nine Ladies and Robin Hood’s Stride (and try the pub’s own Bircher
Beyond the vicarage, turn left to Rocking Stone Farm this time, and trace the east and south side of Bradley Rocks back to the start.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Main image ©Getty