“The all-round view from Mam Tor takes in, the green Hope Valley with its centuries of history; the hidden ice-age features of the vale under Eldon Hill, as well as the stunning Edale backed by the looming Kinderscout.”
The writers on the Mystery under Shivering Mountain route:
With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak
The Shivering Mountain is one of the wonders of the Peak, and on this walk we look forward to the comments of two of our interpid travellers. To this we add one of the most celebrated mystery writers, who as a doctor, spent a few weeks in nearby Sheffield, but found time to write a short story. For the substance and background to the story, we again need to go underground, and again it is an old mine, that is now a show cave.
Not far away is a natural cave, where late Victorian geologists and archaeologists made some interesting discoveries. It’s then up on to a long ridge with superb views across the landscape. We can see the bleakness of the moors to which we are heading, but before that there is a secluded valley. It has stimulated the eloquence of a Victorian working-class poet from Manchester.
We leave Speedwell Cavern and take the former A road towards Mam Tor, and we go past the old Odin’s lead mine with the crushing circle still preserved opposite to the mine entrance. After a series of landslips, in the 1970s, the ‘shivering mountain’, Mam Tor, won the battle over the road and it was deemed too unstable to re-build. Let’s follow the road up and over the heavily ruptured remains.
The Terror of Blue John Gap is a typical Conan Doyle title. Sir Arthur is known for the creation of the famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes, who incidentally, was modelled on a top doctor at Edinburgh, where Arthur completed his medical training.
The Sherlock Holmes books became famous in his day, and he also wrote a large number, over forty, of other novels as well as about ten non-fiction works. Arthur was an interesting character, who turned his clever mind to many topics. He moved around the country during his medical training. In his first years as a qualified doctor, before settling down, he went abroad, as he was particularly taken with the sea, and served as medical officer on trips to the Arctic and Africa. He wasn’t successful in setting up a doctor’s practice in Plymouth and finally moved to Portsmouth. He lived the latter part of his life in Sussex, which is where he died in 1930.
A medical career filled his ambitions as a young man, but during the early part of his life he was also an active sportsman, and made several appearances, principally as a batsman, in first class cricket. The development of Sherlock Holmes and other thriller writing came to the fore during one part of his life, but it is believed he became bored with Holmes and killed him off at the Reichenbach Falls. However, due to popular demand he had to resurrect his detective. In his latter life, mysticism gripped him and he devoted his writing to books and articles on the subject. He was a firm believer, and could not even be dissuaded from it by his friend, Houdini, who tried to demonstrate it was illusions.
As we round the top of the disintegrated road there is a sign to the Blue John Mine and this is why we have introduced the Conan Doyle story, The Terror of Blue John Gap. So how did Conan Doyle come to write his story about this location? It was due to his travelling for his medical training. Conan Doyle spent a short time, in 1878, in nearby Sheffield, so it is reasonable to assume he was familiar with the area. The short story might have been in his thoughts for a while, as it would be 1912 before he would publish this work.
Blue John is a derivation of Bleu-Jeune. It is a banded variety of fluorite. It is mainly worked into jewelery, but some larger pieces have been made into vases and dishes. One of the prime designers and makers of Blue John ornaments was Matthew Boulton, who lived in Birmingham in the late eighteenth century and was a member of the Lunar Circle along with Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood.
For Conan Doyle’s story, the context of the piece we have selected is from a diary entry of Dr John Hardcastle and it comes from near the beginning of the story when he described staying on a farm:
Already I feel the benefit of this wonderful upland air. The farm of the Allertons lies fourteen hundred and twenty feet above sea-level, so it may well be a bracing climate... It is a most lonely spot, and the walks are picturesque in the extreme. The farm consists of grazing land lying at the bottom of an irregular valley. On each side are the fantastic limestone hills, formed of rock so soft that you can break it away with your hands. All this country is hollow. If you could strike it with some gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum, or possibly cave in altogether and expose some huge subterranean sea...
The Terror of Blue John Gap – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Having visited the Blue John mine, if we follow the road to the junction, we need to cross into the rough pasture area in front of us, where we will find Windy Knoll Cave, which has railings in front of it. This was the subject of a significant investigation, in Victorian times, when William Boyd Dawkins, along with his exploring colleague Rooke Pennington, extracted the remains of several thousand animals from Windy Knoll Cave. William was Professor of Geology in Manchester, and Rooke was a solicitor from Bolton, who had an amateur enthusiasm for geology. The latter opened his own geological museum in Castleton with a range of rocks and minerals. From the Windy Knoll cave they found over six thousand specimans of bison and reindeer, together with bears, wolves, foxes, and hares. William Boyd Dawkins published his find in Early Man in Britain.
As we leave Windy Knoll, the massive hill of Mam Tor is in front of us, as is the path that will take us to the top. Once at the peak we can see the mast above Eyam that we passed some time ago. We can also see Peveril Castle. In the distance to the east, there are the gritstone edges, with Stanage Edge being prominent. If we walk to the other side of Mam Tor, we look out over Edale, and the high peat moors of Kinderscout stretch out in the distance.
Mam Tor is a very distinctive landmark, because the southern face of the hill has slumped down leaving the layers of rocks exposed. The slumped rocks can be seen as irregular mounds at the base of the hill. The collapse of the rocks from the face has been a process that has taken place over a long period of time. Before we move on we want pick up the idea introduced by Michael Drayton, 'The Seven Wonders of the Peak'. . One of those wonders has always been Mam Tor, although soem writers have chosen a slightly different seven. Let’s see what a couple of our travellers thought of this ‘wonder’.
Celia Fiennes, we first met in Bakewell. She was the early eighteenth century woman who toured England just accompanied by her servant.
The fifth Wonder Mam Tour which is a high hill... It looks just in resemblance as a great Hay-Ricke that’s cut down one half, on one side that describes it most natural, this is all sand, and on that broken side the sand keeps trickling down allwayes especially when there is the least wind, of which I believe this Country is scarce ever without it, many places on the hill looks hollow and loose which makes it very dangerous to ascend and none does attempt it, the sand being loose slips the foot back again.
Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary – Celia Fiennes
Another view was added by Daniel Defoe some thirty years later, who wasn't impressed
But this in a country which is all over hills, cannot be much of a wonder, because there are several higher hills in the Peak than that, but not just there.
A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain – Daniel Defoe
Let’s leave Mam Tor and stride out along Rushup Edge, from which the views are magnificent. On one side we look over a shallow valley and undulating landscape and we can see the, now disused, quarry workings of Eldon Hill, which shields from our sight Eldon Hole. On our right we look down into Edale, which is a wide sweeping valley faced with the steep sides and crags of Kinderscout. The small village of Edale nestles on the far side and the booths of the old packhorse trail follow the line of the far declivity.
In Ebenezer Elliott we met a working man who used poetry, first as a means of solace, and then as a method of communication to reveal the visions of the working-class. Thomas Barlow was born in 1826 in Lancashire and took up the trade of calico printing at Hyde near Manchester. He became one of the first working class magistrates in the town of Glossop, which is about fifteen miles north of where we are now. At the age of forty-one he published a collection of his works, entitled A Picnic at Woodhead, which includes a lengthy poem, Scenes Around Castleton.
Thomas describes both the landscape and the specific features such as the castle. He also praises Richard Furness, who we met at Eyam, as the poet of the Peak. We are now overlooking the delightful valley of Edale.
Then, Edale sunny-sided Edale!! Thoughtful
Wilt seem as bright, as beautiful as now!
Thy sister valley, too, will seem as fair;
For ye, together, are a lovely pair:
Edale and Castleton, Mam Tor between,
How wondrous one! The other how serene!
Picnic at Woodhead – Thomas Barlow
Rushup Edge gives us wonderful views in summer but, at other times of the year, bleakness soon appears over the rough grassy knolls. This is a windswept area and we begin to get the first taste of the moors. Near to the gate that leads to the track down to the road we turn right to cross the moor. If there has been no rain for several weeks, you will find it dry, but after even a small amount of precipitation, the black peat will cling to your boots. The route is straight across the moor and finally reaches a stile, after which, we descend down a track which crosses our path. Just to our left is the old Saxon Edale Cross.
On this walk it has been the rocks and the scenery that have been so much to the fore. The Blue John mineral has given us ornaments and jewellery since the late eighteenth century. The tradition continues today with minor extraction, cutting and polishing still taking place. The area and the mineral inspired one of the most well-known detective writers to a story. Arthur Conan Doyle not only gives us a mystery, but also includes a splendid description of the landscape, rocks and the minerals. Since we left the village of Hope, we have been able to see how Mam Tor dominates the western end of the Hope Valley. It has been in the list of the Wonders of the Peak since the seventeenth century. It has been interesting to see how it has been described by two contemporaneous writers, Daniel Defoe and Celia Fiennes. Our final contribution in this chapter was from one of our working-class Victorian poets, who gave us his personal description of Edale.