Living in North Wales, there really isn’t any need to go far for a good day out in the mountains, but sometimes it’s good to have a change. A Peak District trip was on the cards, and one walk I never tire of is the Great Ridge from Mam Tor (also known as The Shivering Mountain) – OK, so Mam Tor might not have the wildness of the Carneddau (see post #208) but the Great Ridge is said to be one of the best walks in the Peak, and who am I to disagree.
I’m not a great fan of road-walking – roads are for cars, and it’s good to get away from the ‘infernal combustion engine’, but this time we actually chose to follow a road. This is a road with a difference though, it’s the ill-fated Sheffield Turnpike road built in 1819, later renamed as the A625 road from Sheffield to Stockport.
Before the Turnpike was built, the road was a packhorse route using a breach in the escarpment at Winnats Pass to pass between Chapel en le Frith and Castleton. The newly built turnpike crossed the East Face of Mam Tor, taking a much easier gradient than the Winnats Pass trail. Unfortunately, the surveyors and builders seemed to have ignored the fact that the East Face of Mam Tor is in a perpetual state of landslide.
It’s all down to geology. The hill is composed of bands of gritstone and shale – water gets between the rock layers, and in winter causes even more damage through freeze-thaw action. In effect, the hill is constantly moving, not in a dramatic avalanche style, more of a relentless, slow-speed grinding down.
So relentless is that movement that the history of the road is a history of puny human efforts to hold back nature. Major road works were carried out in 1912, 1933, 1946, 1952 and 1966 when the road was closed for 6 weeks. In 1974 large parts of the Mam Tor section collapsed during a massive landslip, and additional road works were subsequently carried out when wet years led to further landslips – the road was finally abandoned in 1979. Light traffic is now routed through Winnats Pass, following the line of the original packhorse trail.
The road is still used and enjoyed, but now it’s by walkers and cyclists instead of motorists. It has been estimated that the hillside will continue its slow progress downwards until the angle of the slope is about 30° – this will take about another 1500 years, so I guess we can still enjoy the dramatic side of Mam Tor for a while longer.
After leaving the road near to where it joins the Winnats Pass road, we headed uphill to the summit of Mam Tor. The road to Edale crosses the ridge before diving off downhill to the Edale valley and a paved path heads up to the summit – love ‘em or hate ‘em, paved paths in popular areas save a lot of wear and tear and cut down the amount of erosion by people and water. The path up to the summit has a conveniently sited car park nearby, and most visitors to the top probably walk less than 1.5 kms.
The path descending northeast from the summit heads away from the crowds, though it will be a rare occasion when it is completely deserted. Mam Tor is a mere 517 metres in altitude, and the majority of the Great Ridge is only a little over 400 metres, but size isn’t everything and the continuation of the ridge is almost a mountain route in character. When the end of the ridge is reached at Lose Hill, an easy walk back to Castleton brings you back to a choice of welcoming pubs – could this be the real reason that this is one of the best walks in the Peak?
Text and images © Paul Shorrock