For many years, the Vale of Edale remained isolated. Its location, surrounded by the glowering heights of Kinder Scout to the north, and a long ridge of hills to the south made it difficult to reach. The River Noe just manages to find a space through a narrow gap in the hills on its way towards Hope.
Everything began to change when the railway arrived in the heart of the countryside. The Cowburn Tunnel cut through the rocks to provide the exit. Further east, the even longer Totley Tunnel opens the route up to link Manchester and Sheffield.
The right to roam the privately owned moor above Edale was severely restricted until the 1950s. Now that access to roam has been negotiated, subject to certain byelaws, the moors are very popular with walkers. But Kinder Scout, a plateau that covers five square miles and rises to a maximum of 2,088 feet, can be a very dangerous place. The weather can change quite suddenly from bright sunshine to thick mist, making it impossible to find your way without a compass.
Tom Stephenson’s classic long distance walk, the ‘Pennine Way’ has its official starting point at the Old Nag’s Head, in the centre of the village. It follows the Pennine Chain for over 250 miles northwards, to the Scottish Border at Kirk Yetholm. Attracting some 10,000 walkers each year, it is a good test even for the most experienced walker.
Fred Heardman, the one time landlord of the Old Nag’s Head, known to his friends as ‘Bill the Bogtrotter’, set up the Edale Mountain Rescue Team of volunteers. Many walkers had cause to be grateful to Fred and his friends, before the official mountain rescue service began. He also set up an information service, provided until recently at the Peak National Park Information Centre at Fieldhead. This has been replaced on the same site by the prestigious Moorland Centre. People still remember Fred for devising the demanding annual Four Inns Walk, which starts at the Isle of Skye Inn, near Penistone, north of Sheffield and ends at the Cat and Fiddle near to Buxton, calling at the Snake Inn and the Old Nag’s Head. Sadly, three Rover Scouts died on the walk during bad weather in 1964.
Nowadays, Edale is busy with visitors all summer and at the weekends in winter, but originally it was a loose confederation of five booths. These are huts giving temporary shelter to boothmen, while they kept watch over livestock. The booths eventually became the permanent settlements of Upper Booth, Barber Booth, Ollerbrook Booth, Nether Booth and Grindsbrook Booth-more usually known as Edale.
In 1790, Edale cotton mill built at Nether Booth, on a site originally occupied by a corn mill and tannery, was one of only two such mills situated on the east of the Pennines. At one time up to 80 people worked at the mill. They were mostly women who walked over daily from Castleton, except in bad weather when they bought provisions and stayed the night. It ceased operations in 1934, and has been converted by the Landmark Trust into flats.
The Rambler Inn, near the railway station plays host every fourth Tuesday night of the month to the popular ‘Folk Train’. The train brings musicians and beer drinkers along the Hope Valley line, when music is played and songs are sung before the party alights at Edale. Although the scheduling of the journey is organised, the entertainment provided is impromptu.
The charming little parish church, built in 1886 is the third on the site, but prior to 1633, the village had no church and the villagers worshipped at Castleton Church. When someone died, the coffin had to be carried over the hills, for burial at Castleton.
David Taylor, a wandering Methodist preacher and a colleague, having lost their way walking through a blinding snowstorm, saw a light shining in a solitary house. They knocked at the door and walked in. The occupier, John Hadfield, grabbed the sword he had used at the Battle of Prestonpans from the mantelpiece and prepared himself for battle. On seeing this, David Taylor stepped forward saying, ‘Peace to this house’. Not only did this allay Hadfield’s fears, but shortly afterwards prayers were said and he agreed to the house being used for Methodist services. A new chapel now stands in Barber Booth close to the original site.
There is a good variety of accommodation available in the area. On the walk up from the railway station and car park, a number of private houses offer accommodation, as do both pubs. At Champion House, the Derby Diocese and the County Council jointly run a residential youth centre and a short distance away at Nether Booth is a Youth Hostel.
Caravan and camping sites close to the village centre occupy an adjacent site to Coopers Café. A post office and shop are nearby. After walking through the village, the road soon narrows and turns into a track crossing Grindsbrook Bridge onto Kinder Scout and open country.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Ladybower and the Derwent Valley is a very popular area for visitors. The dams in the valley were used by Dr Barnes Wallis and his team to test his bouncing bombs, and the film ‘The Dambusters’ was partly shot here.
Castleton Caverns without doubt the most spectacular collection of caverns in the country. Speedwell (Tel. 01433 620512), Blue John (Tel. 01433 620638), Treak (Tel. 01433 620571) and Peak (Tel. 01433 620285).
Chestnut Centre (Tel. 01298 814099) near Chapel-en-le-Frith houses Europe’s largest collection of multi-specied owls and otters. Situated in wooded parkland. Shop, tea room and exhibition buildings. For further information website: www.ottersandowls.co.uk
Old Nag’s Head (Tel. 01433 670291) this splendid old pub built in 1577, has represented the official starting point of the Pennine Way since 1965. On the wall is a blank framed certificate awarded to those who complete the walk. There is an interesting collection of photographs of the unusual rock shapes to be found on Kinder Scout in the Hikers Bar. Open for bar meals daily throughout the year. Home cooked food, with extensive menu.
Edale Cottage Café (Tel. 01433 670293) situated close to the railway station this busy little café provides an appetizing menu of hot and cold meals. Open daily from the middle of February to 31 October, and then weekends only for the remainder of the year.
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Edale is a very popular centre for walkers and this easy walk provides excellent views of the valley and the surrounding hills. The Sheffield to Manchester railway line brings walkers in the thousands every year to explore the glorious walking countryside.
The Old Nag’s Head is the official starting point of the Pennine Way, which winds its way northward nearly 250 miles to Kirk Yetholm on the Scottish border.
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