About me


I have been walking in the Peak District for over 40 years now. It’s a landscape I love to explore and never tire of.

I publish my first book in March 2017, Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone. I have another three books in the pipeline.

I write about the Peak District, its history, landscape, walking and exploring. I have a particular interest in how man has been involved in this incredible landscape that I have on my doorstep.

I spend most of my time outdoors in the Peak District along with my duties as a Volunteer Ranger for the Peak District National Park. Being a team member of Woodhead Mountain Rescue, a walking guide and I have recently started to train a search dog for SARDA the Search and Rescue Dog Association. So my time is pretty full.

I am married to Metalsmith Alison Counsell, who developed and sells the 3D stainless steel maps of National Parks through her website Wapentac

If you want to contact me you can email me at paulbesley(at)googlemail.com

History on Higger Tor


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Yesterday I spent a few hours on Hathersage Moor and Higger Tor seeing if any benchmarks shown on old maps would still be evident today.

The image from the old map above is taken from a survey of the Moor carried out in 1852. Would the benchmarks shown still be there, did they actually exist or were they just markings on the map showing where a measurement had been taken from? What did they actually look like?

The one on Higger Tor, (Higher Tor), seemed to be the easiest to find. It’s the small arrow between the ‘r’ and ‘T’ of ‘Higger Tor’. The marking is not to scale obviously, nearby there is a triangle denting a triangulation point. It also has lots of features to aim from and sure enough that’s how it turned out. It took a while of rummaging around and at first I was looking for a benchmark on a vertical surface and chiselled in the style that is normally seen on buildings and gate posts. Then I found it, on a large flat stone, in the middle of the edge path. The marking was on a horizontal surface and pointed west, not north as in the map. It was a simple arrow with no levelling line at the tip of the arrow. The mark was still very clear, although if you weren’t looking for it you probably wouldn’t notice it. Did they take the measurement and then make the mark or vice versa? A Benchmark denoted a levelling point, hence the number, in feet, nearby, and the triangle marked the spot for triangulation. Are they one and the same place or was the triangulation in a different spot. Close by there was a spot that would have been perfect for a tripod and theodolite.

Dropping down from the Tor onto the Moor I set out to find the other two marks that are shown on the map as you head south-west towards the walled enclosure. Success was not to be mine. I needed to do a great deal more work on the position of the marks. The bracken hid many boulders and time had allowed moss and lichen to grow over a large number. I didn’t want to disturb too much so looked but could not find the two.

I did find other items of interest though. A possible burial cairn, complete with chamber. A partially finished grindstone, some way from the traditional grindstone fields and more markings that were different to the Ordnance Survey marks.

A few hours spent walking in the foot steps of surveyors and masons and perhaps Bronze Age man.

The Derwent Reservoirs


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The original plan for the Derwent Valley Water Board Reservoirs

Here is what the Upper Derwent and Woodlands Valley should have looked like. Originally there were set to be five reservoirs, Howden, Derwent, Bamford, Ashopton and Hagglee, each with a dam spanning the relevant valley.

The first two, Howden and Derwent were constructed at the turn of last century. The Derwent Valley Water Board also had the rights to the water in the Woodlands valley and developed plans to construct three huge reservoirs stretching up the Woodlands valley, consuming the Snake Road and most of the farms and Hamlets on either side.

The major problem with the plan was the Snake Road, one of only two trans Pennine routes, the other being the Woodhead Road. Re-routing the Snake was a major construction project with huge cost implications. To reduce the cost an alternative proposal was put forward. If you have to move the road, why not just construct one enormous dam spanning the Derwent Valley at Bamford and rising to the top of Bamford Edge and across to Win Hill. Both the Derwent and Howden dams would have been consumed  beneath the waters.

Eventually, cost and the inter war years moved the focus on to a third reservoir, Ladybower, stretching from Yorkshire Bridge up to Fairholmes, flooding the villages of Derwent and Ashopton.

Of course if one huge dam had been built there may not have been the Dambusters raid in Germany, no Four Inns walk and the start of Peak District Mountain Rescue, no Upper Derwent Valley.

So there you have it, that’s why the Upper Derwent looks like it does today.



Triangulation Points


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I like collecting things. Triangulation points are a favourite along with benchmarks that can be found along a walk or near to one.

There is something very satisfying about reaching a trig pillar, partly I guess because they invariably involve a walk up hill and a reward of sweeping views, weather permitting. There are 84 pillars within the Peak District National Park boundary and many more triangulation points and thousands more benchmarks.

Some are not shown on maps with the traditional blue triangle, the one at Hey Edge for instance, built but never used for triangulation, but was used for levelling, so does it not qualify for the blue triangle.

Some triangulation points are not even pillars. One of my walks takes in the Hunting Tower on the Chatsworth Estate, the triangulation point being the flagstaff. Another is the centre of the spire of All Saints Church in Bakewell.

With the advent of GPS the triangulation pillar network became largely redundant, but a few still do have a purpose. The pillar at Harland South, levelling bracket number 2998 is part of the Global Positioning Network and as such is protected by Ordnance Survey. A plate informs the visitor that any damage should be reported to the phone number.

Triangulation points always come in a minimum of three so a favoured walk of mine takes in the Hunting Tower at Chatsworth, the pillar at Birchen Edge along with the Three Ships and the pillar at Harland South, passing Hobs House, one of the first ancient monuments to have legal protection in the UK, on the way. Two pillars, one part of the Global Positioning System and one flagstaff on a hunting tower. Not bad for a day out.

Autumn on the Common


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Nature put on a beautiful display this morning on the common. The sky had a broad undulating wave of cloud stretching from west to east. The cloud an Altocumulus undulatus, isn’t that a lovely name, hung like a roll of cotton wool just pulled from its packet. This type of cloud is formed when the air above and below move at different speeds, producing a shearing effect and giving us these soft billows of white fluffiness.

Autumn is starting to settle in now. The air is much cooler in a morning and the sun stays lower throughout the day. One of the nice aspects of autumn is the unexpected warmth the sun can give once out of the shadows. Sitting against some gritstone with the sun on my face and looking out across the Common is a pleasure I look forward to.

The Common has not started to produce its distinctive autumnal smell, decaying leaves, fungi, damp peat and earth, but it will not be long. The low sun gives a nice display of shadow lighting on the woodland floor. Streaks and dapples of sunlight dancing on the oak and beech leaves that carpet the woodland from last winter.

Dark Peak Gritstone graffiti


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Its always nice to find some interesting graffiti when out on the Peak District. Gritstone retains the carved word really well.

Today I had a walk in the Woodlands Valley and paid a visit to the Alphabet Stone by Bellhagg Barn, below Bellhagg Tor. The stone has the alphabet carved in both upper and lower case. Legend has it that the carving was done by the local school teacher as a means of keeping the children occupied  when he had to leave for brief periods to tend to sheep, he being a part time shepherd too. I can certainly picture children tracing out the words with their fingers.

Nearby is another stone with graffiti. This says Red Dragons and the initials WF. The words seem to have been scratched on to the stone, unlike the Alphabet Stone which has been carved, so may have been put there by someone not used to stone work. Who were the Red Dragons and who was or is WF I do not know.

Derwent Dam


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Views rarely seen by the public. This is the inside of Derwent Dam. Beautiful crafted walls show the original untainted colour of the stone. The stone is dressed which is amazing considering that it would never be viewed, a nice touch of quality by the builders. There are two staircases in the cross tunnel leading each to the East and West Towers. The interior has a slightly eerie feel to it, monastic in a way. The temperature is constant and the slightly sandy floor gives the impression of the inside of a Pharoahs Tomb to an imaginative mind.

Not many people will know that the Dam stretches for hundreds of feet in to the hillside on both sides, which is one way to stop it sliding down the valley and losing all that water.

The interior of the Dam is made of stone “Plums”. Plum shaped boulders that were placed near to but not touching each other. When the concrete was poured in it filled the gaps and hence no air pockets of weakness.

A common misconception with the Dam is that it was used for target practice during the war. This is not true. The Dambuster Squadron did practice there as it was similar in design to the Mohne and Eider Dams. This fact combined with what seem to be pock mocks on the stonework developed into the myth of the RAF firing at the Dam for practice. The mundane truth about the pock marks is that they were made to accept the scissor lifting device used to place the large and heavy stones into place during construction.

Grindleford Cafe


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A sign welcoming you to Grindleford Cafe in the Peak District National Park

I saw an article  recently entitled The Ten Best Cafes In The National Parks or some such. On the list was Grindleford Cafe, at Grindleford Station in the Peak District National Park.

It’s very well-known to all Peak District visitors. Not because of its food, which is simple, filling and, thankfully, of the none healthy variety. Its reputation comes from the plethora of signs and the grumpiness of its previous owner one Phillip Eastwood. The cafe is now run by his son, again Phillip, he is of a much more benign nature.

I remember the elder from my school days when he had, I think, a garden shed on the side of the Snake, selling bacon butties, tea and Kitkats. The station ticket office and waiting room became available and he sets up a cafe for all the walkers, not many bikers in them days, and the climbers. It was a no frills set up, hardly any decoration, the seating and old lights still in place, gas lights too but unused. The food was of the transport cafe variety, huge portions you ordered, sat down and then waited for your number to be called. The food was passed, there’s a euphemism, more like slid across a pass to you. If you didn’t hear your number it just sat there, that was your half of the contract, they cooked, you took away.

The order counter had signs of what you could and could not do and eat. Mushrooms were a favourite target for angst. STOP ASKING FOR MUSHROOM WE DONT DO THEM. HOW MANY MORE TIMES. READ THIS. Or similar. In later years the same invective was aimed at Latte. No but we do milky coffee, was often the reply. Or THIS PASS IS FOR FOOD NOT YOUR EMPTY PLATES. ITS SIMPLE.

When I had my business if we finished early on a Friday we would go there for dinner, not lunch, that was pretentious in Sheffield and if there was one thing Phillip disliked it was pretensions. A full blowout with pint mugs of tea loaded with sugar, sliced white with marge, brown sauce from a giant dispensing unit, was the best thing. In winter you could have that in front of a roaring fire. Can’t do that in Costa McDonalds.

Phillip would come and sit with us, us all in overalls and plaster dust and chat about this and that. I got the feeling he liked us more than the Sunday morning brigade who had driven out from Sheffield and walked no further than the distance from the car, maybe they pushed a little one in one of those massive carts they put babies in nowadays. Go on a weekday and it’s still walkers and now cyclists eating the same food, it’s almost a stolen pleasure in today’s health obsessed culture.

I miss Phillip, he was a character and he was real. There are few of those around today. He didn’t pretend to be something else, and he built a business that has become loved. Grindleford Cafe is as much a part of the Peak District National Park character as is its emblem the grindstone wheel, and that’s not a bad legacy to leave.

Changing landscapes


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Derwent Village, Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park

A changing landscape has always fascinated me. I think the interest comes when I find out things are there that I never even knew about. I have a boyish attraction to the man made artefacts that were once of use and even important but now are long forgotten.

Benchmarks are a particular delight when I find one. A friend and fellow Ranger sent me a picture of one this week and it prompted me to look for more, so I got out my old maps and started to look.

The map above is from a survey in 1880 and it shows the now submerged village of Derwent. You can still walk around the village when the waters or low, discerning streets and boundary walls. Some of the village still exists, the school for instance, the one at the top, not in the village, I had not realised there were two. The gates to the Vicarage can be seen but the building along with Derwent Hall and the church have long gone. Grindle Barn is still there although the path up now sets off from a different place.

What is interesting are the OS benchmarks. There is one by the road between the upper school building and Wellhead at a height of 712 feet and 4 inches. Something to go and seek out next time I am there.


The Common


Puffball on the floor of oak woodland

Nearby we have a common, one hundred acres of enclosed land split in two by a gritstone escarpment that runs east to west along its entire length.

In the seventeenth century oak and birch were planted to the south of the gritstone to supply the growing local population with timber for building and fuel. Today you can still see pollarded trees that produced long straight poles, perfect for the hand tool industry that had grown up in Sheffield.

North of the gritstone edge the land was enclosed for grazing and now stands as heath land with heather and silver birch. A large open space in the middle enclosed by stone walls was used for grazing of herds sheep, protected from the wind which can whip across the common by the oak woodland that surrounds it.

The common is full of flora and fauna. Greenfinch, woodpecker and warblers can all be seen amongst the seventy plus birds that frequent the area. It is rich in food for these and small mammals. In summer the common has huge quantities of bilberry amongst the heather and come autumn fungi abounds both on the heath and in the woodlands.

I find myself spending more time there, becoming more inquisitive about its history and the hand that man has played in shaping the land. One hundred acres with so much diversity and history, it is the perfect study of Dark Peak development.