Bleaklow's not so much a hill, more a vast expanse of bare black peat, where even the toughest moor grasses can't take root. Wainwright once wrote that nobody loved the place, and those who got on it were glad to get off. But there's another side to Bleaklow. There are corners where bilberries grow thick round fascinating rock sculptures; where heather, bracken and grass weave a colourful quilt draped beneath wide skies. Places like Grinah Stones, Yellowslacks and Shepherd's Meeting Stones are all remote, but they're dramatic places, far superior to anything seen on the popular routes. Bleaklow's true top lies in the midst of the mires, but only a few feet lower is Higher Shelf Stones, a bold summit with a distinctive mountain shape and some good crags. Climb Higher Shelf Stones from Old Glossop, and you'll see the best of Bleaklow.
Time has been kind to Old Glossop. Planners and industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries built their shops and factories further west, leaving the old quarter untouched. Here 17th-century cottages of darkened gritstone line cobbled streets, overlooked by the spired All Saints Church. Shepley Street takes you into the hills, and it's not long before you're climbing the heathery spur of Lightside and looking across the rocky ravine of Yellowslacks. A fine path develops on the cliff edge before entering the confines of Dowstone Clough, which clambers towards Higher Shelf Stones. Eventually the clough shallows and the stream becomes a trickle in the peat, leaving you to find your own way. Sandy channels, known as groughs, lead you southwards.
Higher Shelf Stones
Suddenly, the trig point appears above the haggs. From the summit rocks you look down on the deep twisting clough of Shelf Brook and out across the plains of Manchester to the shadowy hills of North Wales. It's time to leave the high moors. There's a faint path across a grassy spur descending into Shelf Brook's clough, where you join the Doctor's Gate track. This gets its name from Doctor Talbot, the Vicar of Glossop (1494–1535), who paved the packhorse route over the moors to visit his father in Sheffield. His trips were worthy of note because he was in fact the illegitimate son of the very powerful Earl of Shrewsbury. Much earlier, the old highway was used by Roman troops marching between their forts at Navio (Brough, near Hope) and Melandra (Glossop). We follow their footsteps as the track twists through the clough, by the rounded Shire Hill and back to Old Glossop.
From the car park, cross a bridge and walk through Manor Park, passing the cafe to emerge on to Manor Park Road. Turn left towards Old Glossop and then right along Shepley Street, passing a factory, to a bus turning circle. Continue eastwards on a farm track, between the partially wooded dome of Shire Hill on the right and the pine- and oak-clad slopes of Edge Plantation on the left.
On reaching a gate, leave the track through a kissing gate on the left. The path, confined at first by a fence and dry-stone wall, climbs northeast on a pastured spur overlooking the curiously named but pleasant craggy valley of Shittern Clough. In the upper reaches and beyond a second kissing gate, the now well-defined path continues the climb through bilberry bushes and then over the heather of Upper Lightside.
The path settles along the spur's southern brow high above Yellowslacks Brook. A dilapidated wire fence comes in from the right and the path goes along the left-hand side of it before joining the cliff edges of Yellowslacks and Dog Rock. The crags close in to form the rugged channel of Dowstone Clough and the path slips through the fence posts. Towards the top, the path joins the stream in the now shallow clough to avoid the peat haggs.
Eventually the stream divides among a bed of rushes (grid ref SK 088953). Cross the main stream and follow the snaking tributary gully, which soon curves east and then south through a complex of peat haggs. The summit of Higher Shelf Stones lies just over 0.25 miles (400m) to the south, but remains hidden until the last moment, when the trig column suddenly appears a short distance to the right, perched atop a rocky slab.
From Higher Shelf Stones, leave the trig column in a northerly direction and after approximately 20yds (18m), curve left skirting the edge of the peat haggs to pick up a narrow path towards Lower Shelf Stones. Carry on to the shoulder of James's Thorn, where a grass path forks off left to the second crash site (see What to See). The way back continues beside the peat (with the peat haggs to the right and moorland to the left) over the crest, dropping to a fence stile by a small pool.
Now clear, the path descends across the grassy hillside, later settling beside the gully of a stream. Passing through a broken wall, it joins a track from the right and continues as a broader track, eventually meeting Doctor's Gate Path by a stone barn.
Continue down the valley to a junction by Mossy Lea Farm. Bear right, soon picking up the outward route at the foot of Lightside to return to Manor Park.
Unsurfaced tracks and sometimes indistinct moorland paths (good navigation skills advised), several stiles
High peat moor
Walk is on access agreement land; dogs should be kept on lead
AA Walker's Map 1 Central Peak District
Manor Park car park, off Glossop High Street East (A57)
By Manor Park café
The route is unsuitable for inexperienced walkers in poor visibility
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
The natural features of this central English county range from the modest heights of the Peak District National Park, where Kinder Scout stands at 2,088 ft (636 m), to the depths of its remarkable underground caverns, floodlit to reveal exquisite Blue John stone. Walkers and cyclists will enjoy the High Peak Trail which extends from the Derwent Valley to the limestone plateau near Buxton, and for many, the spectacular scenery is what draws them to the area.
The county is well endowed with stately homes – most notably Chatsworth, the palatial home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, with its outstanding collections of paintings, statuary and art. Other gems include the well preserved medieval Haddon Hall, the Elizabethan Hardwick Hall, and Kedleston Hall, whose entrance front has been described as the grandest Palladian façade in Britain.
The spa town of Matlock is the county’s administrative centre and other major towns of interest include Derby and the old coal mining town of Chesterfield, with its crooked spire. Around the villages of Derbyshire, look out for the ancient tradition of well dressing, the decorating of springs and wells – the precious sources of life-sustaining water – with pictures formed from flowers.