I arrived at Hathersage train station on the first day of this new year, Dark Peak map in hand and the sun shining. A man wearing a bright pink top hat and sparkly boots held the gate open for me, his outfit making me smile as he caught up with his partner who looked equally glamorous. The streets were quiet other than occasional exchanges of “Happy New Year” between locals.
After a few minutes I was treading new ground along narrow lanes and gaining height to admire magnificent views of the Hope Valley. Walking up a steep footpath through a field with sheep I thought that they looked about as fed up with winter as everyone else. This made me smile again.
Just before I crossed the road into a woodland, I noticed a familiar face. It was Sheila from Edale who had walked past my house that very morning while I was having a stretch. We were headed in the same direction so we walked together for a few minutes, and I silently noted the overlap of the unfamiliar with the familiar. She had walked from Edale to check on her sheep on rented land in Hathersage. Naturally I was impressed that she had walked that far, but Sheila is well known for walking long distances so I wasn’t surprised. When I told her I’d taken the train she said “that’s cheating” while turning to look at me with a big smile. She was right.
Our brief exchange was wonderful. She told me about her sheep, I asked her what it was like to walk that far in wellies, and we looked at my map together. She wasn’t sure if her wellies would last the walk back to Edale as they were already split, so she said it was good to know that the trains were running. When we parted ways I paused a moment to look back. She was standing by a wall, stretching in the sunshine, preparing to cross the fields to her sheep. She looked beautiful and happy. I felt like I’d taken a step back in time, witnessing a woman who walked miles to tend to her flock and seemed content to do so.
While I paused to study my map next to Scraperlow farmhouse, a family approached me to ask if I was heading somewhere in particular. I explained that I was practising my navigation skills and taking it easy with a short route as I was recovering from two days walking up Ben Nevis. Eventually I told them that I was heading towards the next farm to see if I could locate the view of a painting I’d seen. They were heading in the same direction and curious to know where I’d seen this painting and which angle the view was from - exactly the reason I was going there to find out. They walked on ahead while I put on a few warm layers.
The destination of this walk had been inspired by a landscape painting that I saw at the Millenium Gallery store in Sheffield last summer while recording a podcast interview for Wild About Kinder. ‘View from the Cupola, Derbyshire’ by Stanley Royle is an oil on canvas painting dated 1924. I remember looking at the huge painting and wondering where the scene was.
Listen to our conversation about the painting here:
A bit of online research had informed me that the site of the painted scene was Mitchell Field in Hathersage, and more googling revealed a rich history to the area. This place sounded exciting, the curious historian in me had been awakened by art, overlapped by my desire to explore a new part of the Peak District.
I approached Mitchell Field with slow, tenative footsteps, as if to both delay and savour the moment that was ahead of me. Even though I felt cold, I took my time to look around and to listen. I wanted to find the exact scene from the painting so I kept referring to the image I’d downloaded on my phone. I wandered around and studied the views from different angles, trying to imagine it from years before to figure out what might have changed since then.
Eventually I noticed a second footbridge marked on the map and made my way there to see if it resembled the one in the painting. Although I didn’t find a beautiful stone bridge, I could see a clear vision of the painting while looking at the view. It wasn’t exact but it was very close! I decided to sit down for a sandwich and a brew.
It’s quite something to bring an idea to reality, to sit inside a painting for a few minutes. It’s in still moments like this that I come back to myself. It's like landing home. I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than to combine all of my interests in one experience.
I enjoyed a peaceful walk back into Hathersage via Dale Bottom and Toothill Farm, browsed some second hand books in the Outside shop, then sat at the train station for half an hour to do some research on Mitchell Field while I finished my flask of coffee and ate a homemade mince pie under the shelter.
This excursion sent me down all sorts of rabbit holes that I’m not sure I’ll ever come out of. I’ve discovered the site of the cupola furnace at Callow that dates back from Tudor to Georgian times, the restoration plans for a former lead smelter’s cottage, and some interesting Lister history at the nearby Scraper Low Farm.
New Year’s Day often prompts us to think about the future, but this walk took me back in time. It reminded me to acknowledge and appreciate the past. With a dose of curiosity, a few squares on an OS map can reveal so much.