Hiking, Peak District Walks

Peak District Hike: Black Hill and Crowden Castles

Start Point: Crowden car park

End Point: Crowden car park

A loop route heading north east from Crowden alongside Crowden Little Brook then across the moors to Black Hill. Turning south west down the Pennine way at Black hill all the way back to Crowden.

Distance: 13km

Difficulty: Intermediate

Rating: 5/5

After our excursion into the White Peak area the previous Wednesday, the dark and windy moors were calling us back to them. The White Peak is lovely in it’s own way, but I just can’t get enough of stomping through a vast peat bog while the wind tries to blast me away. The route featured 594m of elevation gain along it.

We started at Crowden, parking up in the free car park there. Following the road back out of the car park we then took a left rather than walking back towards the main road. Shortly after our left turn there was a path on the right side of the road that led off into the woods. We followed this path through the woods and onto the hill. After exiting the small woodland we walked a little further before turning up the hill and headed towards a style a little way up the slope. This first climb took us up to an old quarry. The scree pile conceals the rest of the quarry from outside view, but it is a very prominent feature on the hillside.

The first climb up to the old quarry

We carried on straight past the old quarry, avoiding the path that forked off to the right and another that led off further down into valley towards Crowden Little Brook. Our chosen path took us up the hill to Westend Moss and White Low.

As we made our way up the side of the valley, pausing every so often to take in the views of the valley we were gradually rising above and leaving behind us, the cloud began to move in. Moving up and over White Low we were quickly enveloped by the cloud layer, the surrounding hills and valleys rapidly obscured from view. Thankfully, the path was clear enough to follow and there was enough visibility to spot waymarker posts as the cloud shifted around us.

The cloud layer closing in

Making our way across the bog, the occasional bird swooping down out of the fog to investigate why these strange humans were trudging across the moor, I was struck by the strange ethereal beauty of the cloud shrouded moors. It didn’t really matter that there were no views for us to take in, the experience of finding our way across the hilltop in the cloud was magical in it’s own way. The sound was dampened as well as our sight. We simply had to trust what we could see right in front of us and hope that no troublesome spirits were playing tricks upon our eyes. When we did eventually reach the Black Hill trig point, we stopped for lunch, the cloud layer and the wind our only company as we tucked ourselves into the lee side of the trig point and ate our food.

After some lunch, we re-assembled our gear and set off in a south westerly direction down the Pennine way back to Crowden. I had assumed that the first half of the hike would be the most eventful. For some reason the images I have of the Pennine way in my head are all of easy to follow slabs across the moor, which is certainly not the case along this section of the Pennine way.

We started off on an easy to follow path made of stone slabs, but we were treated to a variety of challenges over the stretch of Pennine way between Black Hill and Crowden. The weather had been pretty moist, to say the least, over the previous few days so Crowden Great Brook was displaying some power. There are a number of points along a section of the path along Crowden Great Brook where you are required to cross the river. At more than one point the river was a bit tricky to get across and we had to search around for suitable crossing places. We survived without being swept away and made our way up away from the river and towards the top of the valley edge.

On approach to Crowden Castles

This section of the hike, beginning to gradually climb the valley edge, brought us in sight of Crowden Castles. Approaching from the north, the view of Crowden Castles is straight out of a fantasy adventure, especially with the cloud layer still sitting low and lending such a mysterious aura to our surroundings. There is no proper path leading over to Crowden Castles, so some keen adventuring is required to reach them if you want to take a look. I’ll be returning here for a future expedition for sure!

The path continued to make its way up towards the top of the valley edge, giving us excellent views of the valley as a whole. Long range visibility was still low and the cloud did keep moving in and shifting around as we progressed, but for the most part we could see up and down the valley, with the cloud layer forming a featureless, white roof above us. We’d barely seen anyone else out along the entire route so the feeling of being disconnected from the wider world was very prominent. The handful of other hikers we’d come across had emerged out of the fog and dissappeared back into it just as quickly, leaving me with the sensation that I’d imagined them, that they had never really been there at all.

Taking in the views

As Crowden came back into sight, the cloud layer lifted a little and the temperature picked up slightly. We could see numerous small waterfalls making their way down the western side of the valley as we descended back down towards the river. Coming back down to Crowden you have a couple of options. You can carry on down the Pennine way until you hit a small road, at which point you take a left and follow that road back into Crowden hamlet and the car park. What we did was take a path that led down to the river. On the western side of Crowden Great Brook here there are no signs saying that this is not a designated path and there is nothing stopping you cross the river over the dam like structure here. It seems perfectly safe to cross, so we went across it. On the otherside however, we found a padlocked gate (which we popped over easily enough) and a ‘keep out, no swimming’ sign facing towards Crowden. This path back into Crowden isn’t blocked and if you’re alright with jumping a gate at the end then there seems to be nothing particularly wrong with taking this path, but if you are worried about crossing the dam structure, then just keep following the Pennine way down to the road. These two variations have very little difference in distance between them.

A stunning and incredibly atmospheric walk that I will certainly be happy to walk again in the future or use as a trail running route. The weather made it particularly special for me and I enjoyed myself a great deal. This part of the Peak district feels very remote and it’s a wonderful option if you want to have a good hike away from the crowds.

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