The White Peak’s dark side

Lis­ten for tales whis­pered on the wind, of high­way­men, mur­der and heart­bro­ken damsels haunt­ing a walk through the Der­byshire Dales.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents - WORDS : PHI L I P THOMAS PHO­TOS : TOM BAI L E Y

A grisly tale of high­way­men, mur­ders and damsels in dis­tress.

SPINDLY BRANCHES CLAW at the path, ag­i­tated by the wind; an arc­tic mur­mur coil­ing through the dale. It car­ries the omi­nous ring of gal­lop­ing hooves from some­where up ahead. Alone, I’m pinned to the spot, ev­ery sense tuned in to dan­ger. Are my ears play­ing tricks? Prob­a­bly.

I’m four miles north of Bakewell in the Peak Dis­trict, tak­ing ten­ta­tive steps into Coombs Dale – a deep and sidling lime­stone val­ley. Leaden skies cast an un­set­tling pall over ev­ery bump, bend and craggy rib. It’s prime ter­rain for an am­bush. Had I strayed this way in the 1700s, I would have good rea­son to fear for my money or my life. For th­ese were the thiev­ing grounds of Black Harry – Der­byshire’s most no­to­ri­ous high­way­man.

For­get the folk­lore about gen­tle­manly ‘knights of the road’ – he was a rob­ber of the rogu­ish kind, prey­ing upon the Peak Dis­trict’s de­fence­less road­go­ers. In his day, a bum­bling writer would be fair game. Lit­tle is known about his life and ex­ploits, ex­cept for his grisly fate at Ward­low Mires, which is the des­ti­na­tion of my cir­cuitous route through the White Peak. His name lives on how­ever, on maps and in the Black Harry Trails, a web of bri­dle­ways around Mid­dle­ton Moor. There’s a cask ale named af­ter him

too – a dark one, nat­u­rally.

Like many of his un­for­tu­nate vic­tims, I set out from Stoney Mid­dle­ton. Don’t be fooled by the sash­win­dowed cot­tages and the fes­tive well dress­ings in July – it’s a vil­lage with a grim past. In 1762, 24-yearold Han­nah Bad­de­ley threw her­self from the 80-foot lime­stone cliffs at the mouth of Mid­dle­ton Dale. Jilted by her lover, she de­cided life was no longer worth liv­ing. Mirac­u­lously, her bil­low­ing pet­ti­coats slowed her fall, be­com­ing en­tan­gled with bram­bles protruding from a ledge. Ex­cept for a few scratches and bruises, she sur­vived un­harmed, but sadly died only two years later. The clifftop she jumped from be­came known as Lover’s Leap.

Around the same time, a Scot­tish trin­ket ped­dler drew the ire of Eyam lo­cals when he snitched on their un­li­censed en­ter­prises to the parish con­sta­ble. A posse fol­lowed him to the Moon Inn at Stoney Mid­dle­ton, where their ini­tially chummy be­hav­iour turned venge­ful. The land­lord looked the other way as the Eyam mob beat the out­sider to death. They hid his body deep in nearby Carl­swalk Cavern, only for it to be dis­cov­ered 20 years later. The scene of the crime no longer ex­ists, but a later tav­ern took its name, al­legedly haunted by the spirit of the Scots­man.

I pass the cur­rent Moon Inn as I turn up Stoney Mid­dle­ton’s high street. With a 20% gra­di­ent, it’s claimed to be the steep­est high street in Bri­tain. Back lanes and field paths lead me down into Coombs Dale, me­an­der­ing west­wards through sheep pas­ture and scrag­gly copses. The val­ley opens out onto Mid­dle­ton Moor, where I reach

Black Harry Gate – a cross­roads of pack­horse routes used since the mid­dle ages.

Black Harry prob­a­bly took his men­ac­ing nom de plume from this place, shared with the green lane wig­gling down the hill­side from Mid­dle­ton Dale. The name of ‘Black Harry’ pre-dates the high­way­man in lo­cal his­tory and the out­law’s true iden­tity re­mains a mys­tery. Pre­sum­ably, the orig­i­nal Black Harry Gate wasn’t of the five-bar steel va­ri­ety I un­latch to con­tinue on my way.

I turn south, trac­ing Black Harry Lane up­hill as its peters into a squelchy bri­dle­way, fun­nelled be­tween fence and wall. When Black Harry plagued th­ese parts, Der­byshire’s high­ways weren’t in a much bet­ter state. Trav­ellers had to nav­i­gate rut­ted turn­pike roads, churned up by horses and cart­wheels. High­ways crossed law­less moors, yet to be en­closed by the dry­s­tone walls which neatly divvy up the land to­day. If er­ratic up­land weather didn’t ham­per your progress, a high­way­man might.

High­way­men emerged in Bri­tain af­ter the English Civil War, when the coun­try was flooded with guns and dis­grun­tled Roy­al­ists down on their luck. With no po­lice to en­force law and or­der, the early 18th cen­tury was a golden age of high­way rob­bery, when the likes of Dick Turpin ter­rorised the Great North Road ( see Walk 17). Armed with a brace of flint­lock pis­tols and don­ning a scarf for dis­guise, they re­lied on nim­ble steeds for a hasty get­away. Dodg­ing dan­ger for lu­cra­tive prizes, Black Harry tar­geted the pack­horse trains which fre­quented Black Harry Lane.

Once over Long­stone Edge, im­per­illed trav­ellers could heave a sigh of re­lief. I do too as a wavy mane of greens and browns un­folds to­ward Bakewell, dot­ted with toy­town rooftops. By way of Moor Lane, it’s down­hill to the Pack­horse Inn at Lit­tle Long­stone, which thank­fully is open when I ar­rive.

A cen­tury af­ter Black Harry ha­rassed the Peak Dis­trict’s mon­eyed way­far­ers, a swifter, safer and smok­ier way to get from Derby to Manch­ester ar­rived here. No longer would trav­ellers be ac­costed by a fig­ure in a tail­coat and tri­corn hat, bark­ing “Stand and de­liver!”. Coaches now fol­lowed rails, not rut­ted roads, and the only stony-faced char­ac­ters bar­ring the way would curtly de­mand ‘tick­ets please.’

In 1863, the Mid­land Rail­way carved out a cor­ri­dor be­tween Bakewell and Bux­ton. The line closed 105 years later and the trackbed was re­pur­posed as a route for walk­ers, cy­clists and

"Dank, broadleaf wood­land closes in around me as I tread into its be­witchi ng gloom."

horse rid­ers, chris­tened the Mon­sal Trail. Be­hind the old coach­ing inn at Mon­sal Head, a path slinks through a coarse shawl of bare trees and down to the em­blem­atic viaduct span­ning the U-shaped dale. Al­though I’m cross­ing it on foot, and not in the com­fort of a train car­riage, it still feels like cheat­ing the land­scape. I cruise past the old plat­form of Mon­sal Dale Sta­tion, rel­ish­ing an ef­fort­less mile via cut­tings and em­bank­ments, thread­ing be­tween Up­perdale’s cosily-packed con­tours. But not ev­ery nook and cor­ner of the Peak Dis­trict was tamed by rail­ways.

Drop­ping to cross the River Wye by the grand old tex­tile mill which har­nessed its power, I turn north into Cress­brook Dale, part of the Der­byshire Dales Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. Dank, broadleaf wood­land closes in around me as I tread foot­paths into its be­witch­ing gloom. Mosses coat the rocks, trees and tum­ble­down walls. Hid­den from view, Ward­low Hay Cop looms over the canopy and crags en­clos­ing the dale. It’s here the story of Black Harry re­sumes.

Find­ing him­self cor­nered on this prom­i­nent tump, Der­byshire’s most-wanted sur­ren­dered to con­sta­bles dis­patched from Castle­ton. Sent for trial, he was hanged, drawn and quar­tered, af­ter which his body was taken to Ward­low Mires. Hung in chains from the ‘gib­bet’ (a wooden scaf­fold) on Peter’s Stone, his pu­tre­fy­ing corpse would serve as a macabre warn­ing to oth­ers who might be tempted by a life of crime. Leg­end says his bones were picked clean by ‘Der­byshire vul­tures’ from Ravens­dale.

Beady-eyed corvids are watch­ing when I emerge from the cover of the trees and steer a course through the twist­ing and bare-sloped tail end of Cress­brook Dale. The path skulks around the grass­domed tur­ret of Peter’s Stone, guard­ing the way out to the main road. The last crim­i­nal to grace this lime­stone out­crop was An­thony Lin­gard of

nearby Tideswell, con­victed of stran­gling the lo­cal toll­house-keeper in 1815. Cu­ri­ously, when his body was brought from Derby Gaol to Ward­low Mires, the sol­diers es­cort­ing it took a wrong turn at Rowsley, along a pri­vate road through Bee­ley be­long­ing to the Duke of Devon­shire. Tra­di­tion dic­tated that when a corpse was trans­ported over pri­vate land, its route be­came a right of way. To­day it’s the B6012.

11 years later, Lin­gard’s skele­ton was cut down from Peter’s Stone af­ter lo­cals com­plained about his bones rat­tling in the wind. Nowa­days, the only dead thing on dis­play at Ward­low Mires is found in­side The Three Stags Head, where a mum­mi­fied cat stares out at drinkers from its glass case (well, it would if it still had eyes).

With dusk ap­proach­ing, I’m re­lieved to find shel­ter at the inn – how­ever creepy it might be. Der­byshire’s moors and dales turn fright­ful as the witch­ing hour nears. Fire­side yarns are the broth of myth and mys­tery keep­ing their bloody past alive. It turns out, the White Peak is not so white af­ter all.

THE WAYS OF AN OUT­LAWAbove: Black Harry lends his name to a bri­dle­way net­work con­verg­ing on Black Harry Gate. Down­load a map at: www.bit.ly/black­harryAbove right: An 18th-cen­tury print of a high­way rob­bery on Houn­slow Heath.

GIB­BET ROCK Dan­gling from a scaf­fold on Peter’s Stone, con­victs’ ca­dav­ers were a de­ter­rent vis­i­ble from the high road. A WAY OFF THE MOOR Moor Lane veers across Long­stone Edge, de­scend­ing into the vil­lage of Great Long­stone. LOVER’S LEAP Bro­ken­hearted Han­nah Bad­de­ley threw her­self from the clifftop here – and sur­vived.

RAIL TRAIL The Head­stone Viaduct car­ries the Mon­sal Trail over the River Wye at Mon­sal Head. A MOR­BID WARN­ING From 1751, English law re­quired ex­e­cuted mur­ders were pub­licly hung in chains or an iron gib­bet cage. WHERE RARE PLANTS GROW Mosses are among the rare plants found in Cress­brook Dale, in­clud­ing the lo­cally en­demic Der­byshire Feather­moss.

WILD THINGS WEL­COME HERE Cress­brook Dale is a Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve, pro­tected for its wood­land and wild­flower-rich lime­stone grass­land.

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