A wild walk in the Peak District to a great pub: The Three Horseshoes, Staffordshire

The Peak District spans five counties and 555 square miles. It became the UK’s first national park in 1951. Blending the wild moorlands of Dark Peak and the limestone valleys of White Peak, the Staffordshire southwest corner of the national park is a patchwork of waterfalls, bogs, farmland, moors and high and steep outcrops of wind-sculpted grit.

From the Three Horseshoes pub, on the edge of the national park and near the ancient textile town of Leek, you can walk up the road to follow a cascading loop along the Churnet River to Ramshaw Rocks and across the countryside to the Roaches for incredibly great views . To avoid the half-mile start up the road, you could take the occasional bus 16 to a stop or park near Upper Hulme. The rest of the walk is on quiet lanes, trails and tracks and is spectacular. On a fine day, energetic hikers might traverse Gradbach Woods to the moss-covered chasm known as Lud’s Church, but I set out in a windy drizzle and this seven-mile trail is quite adventurous.

There is a wren jumping among the rose hips as I trudged along the A53 towards Buxton. Just before the grit mill wheel above a national park sign, an idyllic trail leads left to run alongside the small Churnet River, with the first of several small waterfalls. The next is off the quiet lane that winds through Upper Hulme. Last night’s pouring rain, which trucks are now spraying in the form of sprays, transformed the streams flowing along the moss-covered slopes into roaring brown Niagara.

Humid air is full of manure and wood smoke

A fallen holly tree across the stony path forms a natural arch. From time to time, there are arrows showing that the trail is part of a walking route called the Churnet Way, which starts here in the Staffordshire moors. There are sheep grazing around gnarled trees and a ruined cottage. As I pass a farm, roosters crow, dogs bark, and there’s a battered line of dead stoats nailed to a barbed wire fence. Presumably they were killed by a farmer to prevent them from preying on eggs or young game, but they add a macabre touch. Humid air is full of manure and wood smoke. Across the fields to the distinctive silhouette of Ramshaw Rocks, and sweeping views of the Peak District open in all directions.

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A paved path climbs through the heather, past a protruding block of grit known locally as bread and cheese. I reach the characteristic sloping slabs at the top of Ramshaw Rocks just as the side sleet begins to pass through them. The barren coal cliffs and stunted hawthorns all seem to drift abruptly away from the wind. The image of Sean Bean as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings saying “You don’t just enter Mordor” comes to mind as I wade through a swampy valley full of reeds and marsh grass. Two lightly splashed runners pass me from behind, surprisingly fast and silent as elves, while I am screaming and cursing in the mud. Reaching a small lane near Hazel Barrow Farm, I opt for a blissfully easy mile along the deserted asphalt. Heading across water-flooded farmland to the high ridge of the Roaches, I climb along a stream to a path along the top of the escarpment.

The Roaches, long cliffs that slope like a broken table, are named after the French word for rocks. Walkers and climbers flock here on sunny weekends, drawn to the spectacular views over Cheshire, Lancashire and Wales. Beneath the escarpment, around the sprawling silver of the Tittesworth reservoir, the old market towns and dark green hedges, which border a paler patchwork of fields, are all plotted until they vanish into distant hills.

The Wrekin in Shropshire is a lonely hill on the horizon, illuminated right now by a surreal and hazy glow of sunshine. I pass oddly shaped boulders and the striking cliff-top Doxey Pool, one of the many local homes of a sinister nymph who captures unwary travelers. The fallen runners pass me again, disappearing quickly and mysteriously as I slowly begin to climb down giant rocky steps into a misty coniferous Mirkwood.

The lonely hill immediately ahead of me, above a drifting mist nest, is Hen Cloud. The local hills are named after an Old English word incl (relative to the plate) which means heap of rock. As I begin to climb, Hen Cloud is suddenly drenched in a short, otherworldly light, but it’s raining again as I triumphantly reach the top and half-slide down a steep rocky path to the trail at the bottom. There is a gentler path, following the main trail until it comes back. There are roadside parking lots and a steaming tea room in an old stone farmhouse. I feel like a wanderer returning from a year-long quest in the wilderness that he has forgotten how to interact with ordinary life.

As I begin to climb, Hen Cloud is suddenly imbued with a short, otherworldly light

I walk the last half mile down the road from Upper Hulme in five minutes, drawn to the pub by the idea of ​​trying the Jacuzzi, drinking coffee in a warm, dry room, and heading to the dining room for a morning dinner. There is nothing puritanical about the pleasing dishes of the Three Horseshoes crowd, which recently earned them a gold medal for casual restaurant of the year in Staffordshire.

The cauliflower soup, rich in applewood smoked cheddar, is topped with toasted hazelnuts, the fries are quadruple crisp, and the salad is loaded with toppings. By the evening, I am enthusiastically recalling my walk in the wild peaks and planning another walk tomorrow.

Google map of the route

Start The three horseshoes
Distance 7 miles
Time 4 hours
Total ascent 440 meters
Difficulty Stimulating
Follow the GPX track of the route at Ordnance Survey

The pub

Listed in Camra in 2019 as one of the UK’s best beer gardens, the Three Horseshoes started out as a modest brownstone inn on the main road from Leek to Buxton. Next to the bar is a photo of the building in the 1920s. Doom Bar and other beers from Sharp’s Brewery are on tap, as well as the odd guest beer like Jute da Saltaire. In addition to the stone-walled bar, the restaurant, spa, and extra lounges have gradually expanded to distant fields and hills. The beamed dining room surrounds a flaming faux coal hearth with an anvil.

Food is as plentiful as you may wish after climbing the rock roaches and down the steep sides of Hen Cloud. Supportive breakfast options include Staffordshire Oat Pies: whole oat pancakes stuffed with bacon or mushrooms and melted cheese.

The rooms

Decor favors shades of gold and copper, and elegant rooms have canopies, whirlpools, or even private gardens and whirlpools. One package includes the on-site Mill Wheel Spa (otherwise £ 25 as an extra). The industrial-themed spa opened six years ago along with the brand new garden rooms. In addition to the sauna, steam room, and hot tub, it has a beach hut-style space where you can lie on the warm sand with music, essential oils, and lighting in style from sunrise to sunset.

Double from £ 102 B&B, shoesinn.co.uk

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