On the moors beyond Hathersage, history and geology combine to produce a fascinating panorama. The main stone bed from which this area is formed is Chatsworth grit, a coarse, gritty sandstone, with scattered pebbles, that is extremely resistant to erosion. This was once much valued as a building material and many Peak District buildings, including Chatsworth House, are constructed from it. The other major use to which it was put was to fashion grinding stones for the emerging Sheffield tool and cutlery industry and to provide millstones for grinding corn. Millstone Edge was once a thriving quarrying area. However the introduction of carborundum (a synthetic abrasive) in the 20th century led to a fall in demand for millstone grit and the consequent demise of the quarrying industry. The quarrymen may have gone but they have left piles of half-fashioned millstones lying amidst the debris of quarried stone near the start of this walk.
The escarpment that forms Burbage Edge is an impressive backdrop for a series of flat-topped hills rising from the moor. Over Owler Tor, Winyards Nick, Higger Tor and Carl Wark were once part of the same sandstone bed as Burbage Edge but were displaced by faulting. With their concave sides, bare gritstone edges and level surfaces these uplands were ideal sites for fortification. There are at least nine fine examples of hill-forts in the Peak District probably dating from the Iron Age, and Carl Wark is certainly one of the most spectacular. It is lower in height than its neighbour, Higger Tor, but it is defended naturally on all but one of its sides by very steep slopes. On the undefended side a stone rampart has been built, about 20ft (6m) wide at the base with boulders bonded to a wall of turf. In the southwest corner, where the defensive wall turns inwards, lies what would once have been the entrance to the fort. The age of the fort has never been satisfactorily settled. One school of thought would place it in the post-Roman period of the 5th and 6th centuries ad because of the technique used in building the stone and turf wall, and because of similarities with the construction of Dark Age (AD 500–1100) forts in Scotland. Others have argued that the 'in-turned' entrance suggests a much earlier Iron Age construction. Gardom's Edge, near Baslow to the south, which is very similar to Carl Wark in that its interior is small and rocky with little space for buildings, is actually a neolithic enclosure, however nothing has yet been found at Carl Wark to date it from this time. The controversy will continue but probably Carl Wark was originally an Iron or Bronze Age construction, which was refortified at the end of the Roman occupation.
Leave the car park through a kissing gate opposite the entrance, rising towards birch wood. Walk on, veering right and clambering up rocks to a crossing path. Go left, with the prominent outcrop of Mother Cap soon appearing. Pass to its left and continue towards Over Owler Tor. Just before the outcrop, head down left on a narrower path, crossing the heather to meet a path beside a fence.
Turn right along the path, which later leaves the fence and continues straight ahead to contour the hillside towards distant Higger Tor, eventually reaching a wall on the left. Where that turns away, fork right and then, passing a clump of trees, go right again on a fainter path. Walk on, joining another wall on your right. The path fragments to avoid boggy patches, but keep heading to the left corner of Carl Wark, now ahead.
Ignore a crossing path and descend below the northern flank of Carl Wark. The path again splinters, but head towards the right corner of a small pine wood, where a packhorse bridge crosses Burbage Brook. Continue forwards to cross a second stream, rising beyond to reach a broad track.
Follow the track left to Upper Burbage Bridge, crossing the tributary streams below the road. Head to a kissing gate by the car park, turning left before it along the higher of two paths, which leads to Higger Tor. Climb to the top and continue left along the plateau to descend from the southeast corner, picking through rocks.
Follow the path across the moor towards Carl Wark. Climb to the massive defensive wall and turn in to explore the summit plateau. Leave through the original defensive gateway at the other end of the wall and descend south across more moss.
The path becomes clearer, rising over the flank of a lesser hill, then falling beyond to the A6187. Cross this busy road with care and go left over a bridge (no pavement), leaving through a gate on the right into woodland.
Bear right at a fork, crossing a bubbling stream, then over a footbridge across Burbage Brook. Follow the riverside path downstream.
At the next bridge, turn sharp right up a sunken path through the heath, which ends at the road opposite the car park. Turn left on the road and cross with care to arrive back at the car park.
Generally good paths, although moorland path below Carl Wark may be indistinct and boggy in wet weather, no stiles
Millstone tors and quarries, heather moors and woodland
Keep on lead near sheep, particularly at lambing time and from March to July
AA Walker's Map 1 Central Peak District
Surprise View pay car park on A6187 east of Hathersage
None on route
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.