Surrounded by a magical ring of beech trees, the hilltop is littered with strange slabs of pale limestone; they could be teeth extracted from some stone giant. Take a closer look and you will see that they are not like the random blocks we passed on our way up here, but deliberate human constructions.
These are Neolithic tombs, dating from around 3,000 BC. They developed in a growing complex, which eventually became one big circular mound during the Bronze Age (1,200 to 700 BC). The hilltops or ‘lows’ of the White Peak were sacred places to its prehistoric inhabitants. After much looting and destruction this is a desecrated scene today, but many of the tombs retain their distinctive form. Take a peek under the slabs.
According to the OS map, almost every major height in the area is crowned with such a ‘tumulus’. This place would have seemed much less bleak in the Bronze Age than it appears today; the climate was a good deal warmer and the higher places were the first to be cleared of impenetrable ancient woodland.
Six miles to the northwest is the impressive stone circle and burial complex of Arbor Low, at the same altitude as Minninglow (around 375 metres above sea level). It is no surprise then that an ancient trackway – marked on the OS map as ‘ROMAN ROAD’ but in fact much older – ran from Arbor Low and past the base of this hill, on the other side to that of the railway.
Here and there its course is still part of a rough track today, but most of it has vanished. Another crossing of the plateau that was more or less abandoned as civilisation and trends moved on, just like our railway was. Let’s go back down, via a different footpath, to find yet another crossing.
Look for the concessionary footpath signs leading through pastures, down the opposite side of the hill to the one we came up. On reaching a green lane, turn right onto this; cross the High Peak Trail, and continue a short way along the track.
This trail was originally developed by Simon Corble for the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain.
Simon Corble is a theatre director, playwright and actor based in Derbyshire’s Peak District, is passionate about the countryside and discovering the hidden secrets of the natural world.
Thanks are also due to Ben Brooksbank and David A Hull for photographs reproduced under Creative Commons Licenses