Encounter with the ‘Grey Man of High Wheeldon’

Encounter with ‘The Grey Man of High Wheeldon’ or is this my own shadow.

Just once in awhile you pick one of those days for a walk which unknowingly when you set out has that extra ‘ingredient’. On this occasion it was moisture which made all the difference as we shall see.

With the prospect of a really fine sunny day last week I decided at fairly short notice to go on a walk in the Peak District. I wanted to go somewhere not too far away and yet explore some new places. On High Wheeldon was a trig point that I hadn’t recorded a visit although I had been there some time in the past, and secondly the hill known as Carder Low which had some open access looked an area worthy of including in my walk. With this in mind, I set off with the aim of parking in Monyash.

Driving up to the Cat & Fiddle I noted that the Cheshire Plain was choked in a cold air inversion and the mountains of Wales stuck out clearly beyond. Ahead of me I was surprised to see another cold air inversion to the east but for now I felt that Monyash would be high enough to be above the fog ceiling. My journey down the A515 revealed otherwise as I drove from the bright sunshine into the gloom. Indeed Monyash was well into the fog but with a good weather forecast I expected that the fog would soon disperse. I donned warm walking gear in a temperature only just above freezing and set out from the village in very poor visibility. The sun was just a pale disc in the sky and heading west and walking back along the B5055 so the sunlight was getting stronger with just that hint of blue sky directly above me. I now took the driveway to the farm known as The Whim.

The sun breaking through the fog in this atmospheric picture on the driveway to The Whim near Monyash.

With low sunshine and fog it made for some interesting photographic conditions. Fog was still thick in the fields beyond The Whim and what I thought was a herd of cattle were a group of donkeys as I drew closer to them. Reaching the A515 at Bull-I’- th’-Thorn the fog was thinning and all of a sudden I was out into the bright morning sunshine. I continued on a field path west before joining the lane through Hurdlow Town. This small hamlet has some old properties with both Hurdlow Manor and Hurdlow Hall displaying dates from the 1600’s above the front doors.

En route on the quiet lane from Hurdlow Town towards High Wheeldon.

Chrome Hill just pokes out above the fog ceiling.

I had bright winter sunshine as I continued west towards Wheeldon Trees but I soon noticed that the fog was still choking the Dove Valley as I neared High Wheeldon. The question now was would I’d be in time to climb High Wheeldon to view the cold air inversion. By the farm at Wheeldon Trees I took the path west to make the short and steep ascent to the summit and was rewarded with a magical scene. From my perch I was a couple of hundred feet above the fog ceiling. To the northwest, Chrome Hill just poked out through the cloud and the higher land beyond was clear above the fog. I had picked the perfect time and so it was a good spot to stop in the sunshine for my morning break. There was hardly a breath of air blowing and the only sound was the occasional skylark overhead. Now this is what makes walking so rewarding at times. Later, I was joined by a young family who were on holiday locally.

Walking the lane near Wheeldon Trees and hoping that I get to the top of High Wheeldon before the cold air inversion disperses.

Morning break. This will do nicely. Just the sound of skylarks overhead on this perfectly still morning on the summit of High Wheeldon.

We departed with me taking the route down the steepening northwest slope. The next part of my walk would be in the fog, or so I thought. I wanted to take a look a Fox Hole Cave which lies just north of the summit of High Wheeldon. The cave which has a narrow entrance and is guarded with an iron gate has produced many finds and it is believed to be the oldest site in Derbyshire with evidence of human occupation. A number of partial excavations, carried out between 1928 and the early 1980s, have produced Mesolithic, Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age and Roman material, but it is the cave’s Palaeolithic context that makes it of particular interest. Later Upper Palaeolithic artefacts of flint and antler have been found in association with charcoal, denoting a hearth, and bones of horse and red deer, split and therefore indicative of human activity. Two recent radiocarbon dates of c.12000BP (Before Present) have been obtained from antler spearpoints from the cave. The monument includes all the deposits within the cave, and includes the flat area outside the cave entrance.

Fog drifts around Aldery Cliff below High Wheeldon.

Descending further I would be soon into the fog which was still thick around the base of the hill but now my attention was drawn towards the shadow I was making on the fog. In olden times, one might be mistaken by assuming this was something like the ‘Grey Man of High Wheeldon’, a larger than life shadowy figure in the mist surrounded with a halo. Imagine the stories which could be conjured up in medieval times. Of course today we know this as the Brocken spectre and this can be explained as follows. The “spectre” appears when the sun shines from behind the observer, who is looking down from a ridge or peak into mist or fog. The light projects their shadow through the mist, often in a triangular shape due
to perspective. The apparent magnification of size of the shadow is an optical illusion that occurs when the observer judges his or her shadow on relatively nearby clouds to be at the same distance as faraway land objects seen through gaps in the clouds, or when there are no reference points by which to judge its size. The shadow also falls on water droplets of varying distances from the eye, confusing depth perception. The ghost can appear to move (sometimes suddenly) because of the movement of the cloud layer and variations in density within the cloud. (Explanation from Wikipedia).

The footpath junction on Green Lane below High Wheeldon as the fog begins to disperse.

Once down into the fog so the illusion disappeared and by now the sun was beginning to break through the fog. I headed down to Green Lane before taking the path southeast to Crowdicote. There was now another atmospheric magical moment where the sun was evaporating the heavy dew and for awhile I was walking through what looked like a shallow layer of dry ice similar to what they use on stage during a musical performance. It all seemed very unreal as I walked along in this magical landscape. It only lasted a few minutes and by the time I’d reach Crowdicote it had all but gone.

A magical atmospheric moment with the sun beginning to evaporate the heavy morning dew giving rise to shallow drifting fog.

Just magical. Imagine walking back in say the 16th century on a fine still February morning. Smoke drifts upwards from the outline of a nearby farmhouse. You can felle the warmth of the sunshine for the first time this year.

I now continued along the valley towards Pilsbury Castle on this perfectly still and hazy February morning with the only sound being skylarks above. Smoke drifted upwards from the dark outline of a nearby farmhouse insomuch it felt as if I had travelled back centuries in time. Later, the hazy outline of Pilsbury Castle came into view. Reaching the place I paused to study what was left. The castle earthworks which is set on a highpoint overlooking the Dove Valley is unusual insomuch that it was never developed further that a motte and bailey defence work and only guarded with wooden fencing and wooden watch towers. With no brick work, the castle probably only survived into the early 13th century before being abandoned, and today we only see the mounds and ditches and no walls.

Pilsbury Castle. The mounds and ditches are clearly defined from the path above.

My next objective was to get to Carder Low for my lunch stop. A pleasant path was followed across several fields and on reaching the open access land made directly for the summit. The summit is crowned with an ancient cairn where many prehistoric artefacts have been found however there is little evidence visible nowadays but the summit made an idea lunch stop. It was simply just wonderful to be out on a day like today and despite the temperature not being that high and with a lack of breeze the sun felt quite warm.

Carder Low and my lunch stop. This area lies on open access land.

With lunch over, I headed southeast to join the right of way but had to squeeze between a wall and barbwire fence whilst crossing the open access land. I now joined a path eastwards passing through old lead workings before joining the lane north to Vincent House. From here I took the path northeast via Darley Farm and Moscar Farm before crossing the A515 once more then taking a field path across to the road heading down towards Monyash. Rather than follow the road all the way into the village, I opted to take a field path then enclosed path to the west and in the process found a walking pole which I handed in at the cafe in the village. It was merely a case of adding yet another walking pole to the collection they already had.

I intend leading this walk for the group during the latter half of 2019 but I can’t guarantee the same magical weather.