A mountain railroad cuts through the Pennines –the high ground that forms the Peak District and what many call the “backbone of England”. The Hope Valley Line connects the cities of Mansfield and Sheffield through the Hope Valley and a really long tunnel (Totley Tunnel is a 6,230-yard (3.5 mi; 5.7 km) ) on the Sheffield side of the range. The tunnel is so long that it is probably the longest distance on the train between beers. To the west of Edale, the two-mile long Cowburn Tunnel burrows through the west flank of the Pennines down toward Manchester.
I prepared for weather and headed out for an early morning train — the local trains are operated by Northern Railway and run nearly every hour on weekdays at roughly one hour intervals. Judging from a quick scan of the other riders, there were several others who had hiking on their mind. All manner of tweeds and gore-tex was evident. Six or eight of us piled off the train at Edale Station and began walking toward the village.
A Dayhike on the Backbone of England
Edale, in the heart of the Pennines is roughly in the middle between the two big cities. it is a small village which I am pretty sure is mostly famous as the place where the Pennine Way begins its travel 267 miles (429 km) north into Scotland on the high ground of the backbone of England. Edale consists on an Inn or two, a few houses, a beautiful old Church, and a visitor center for the Peak District National Park.
I found the trail’s beginning in the village near the Old Nags Head Inn –I would be back. For now though, I set off up a climbing ravine that quickly broke out into open fields above the tree line below. A flagstone pathway rose through the field and disappeared over a horizon ahead. passing above the fields I entered into moor-ish terrain that climbs toward the Kinder Scout plateau.
This is rough country, but it affords you with huge panoramic views across the valley below. I picked out a loop route that would give me a nice morning workout. There isn’t alot of useful navigational signage throughout the route so I had to watch closely for my turns. An exhilharating (and a bit wet) wind was roaring across the hillside –not unpleasant, but I was glad for my wind and rain gear.
After crossing a high ridge, I found my turn down one of the many side dales (valleys) leading into a farm lot. From there, the trail crossed the same hillside at a lower level any connected to the pathway leading back to Edale. A thirst was building.
The following gallery are images from the hike. Click on any image to open slideshow view.
The Old Nags Head
Completing the loop brought me back to Edale and the Old Nags Head Inn where there was a welcoming fire, hot food, and a tasty pint or two. This pub dates back to 1577 and I was told that it ranks on someone’s list of the 100 most notable pubs in England. It is a relaxing place with simple but hearty food choices. Their house ale is called 1577 and is a dark, malty brew that was much appreciated following the long walk. The Inn also offers a couple of self-catering cottages for those who want a country stay.
Pub Crawling by Rail
From Edale, my plan was to work my way back toward Sheffield on trains, getting off at each stop to search out a beer. I got this idea from coming across a website that had a nice set of advice for where to stop and it makes clear that the way the train schedule is set, there is time to get off the train at each stop, have a quick pint, and get back to the station in time for the next train.
The website seems to be out of operation as I write this article, but the guys who ran it have a Facebook page called the Edale to Sheffield Real Ale Train Pub Crawl . I did correspond with one of the guys, Lee Inman-Morfit who told me that he and some friends had made a hobby of “train pub crawls” and that the Trans-Pennine’s Hope Valley Line is particularly suited for this. They have also worked on other routes elsewhere in the U.K. From Edale going back to Sheffield, the Hope Valley Line stops at Hope, Bamford, Hathersage, and Grindleford before entering the Totley Tunnel. There is another stop or two after the tunnel but before Sheffield, but I was in no shape to give those a try. When trying to find their site, I did find another website that I am not sure is related, but it has a similar focus on “rail ale trails”.
My first stop was the other pub at Edale –a place called the Rambler Inn. It is quite close to the Edale Station and is comfortable enough although it lacks the deep character of the Old Nags Head Inn. The Rambler Inn offers a house beer called Rambler’s Gold which I found a bit stale. The barkeep was quite friendly though and told me that his experience with train pub crawlers had generally been good, except when it has occasionally come in the form of a rowdy group — he specifically mentioned a group of marines who had been rude …
From Edale, the next stop for me was Hope. There is a bit of hiking required at each of the stops, but this one provided the most interesting walk for me. In addition to a pub visit there is a country brewery called Intrepid Brewing Company that I had tried (unsuccessfully) multiple times to contact about a visit. From Hope Station I was close enough to walk over there and see if anyone was home. When I found it in a pleasant little hamlet called Brough, there was no one there so I had struck out one more time. This brewery seems to operate a bit under the radar –I inquired about them at each of the pub stops and at the Peak District National Park visitor center but found no one who was aware of them. I did not find their beer in the local pubs. I never heard back from them but I finally found one of their beers on tap at a pub in the southern part of the Peak District.
From Brough I found a public footpath through farm fields to the village of Hope. The pathway was very faint, but made a high line across the high side of the pastures so the walk is quite scenic.
Approaching Hope there was an interesting structure that I couldn’t figure out whether it is a current day working facility or an historical artifact. A stone-walled ring at first appeared to be a ruin, but there was a sign inside. The function of the ring was (maybe still is) to be a place where people could drop off stray animals they may have found and for people who were missing animals to come looking for them –kind of a self-service pound. The sign described a fairly lengthy set of rules of use.
The Old Hall Hotel housed a fine, old pub –muddy boots welcome!