Padley Gorge & Surprise View: Abseiling, foraging and temperate rainforests in Derbyshire’s Peaks

BBC broadcasting and DJ legend Nihal Arthanayake heads south of Manchester for a hiking route that sees him rappel off cliff edges, go looking for his own dinner, and explore one of the most unique environments in northern England.

By Manchester's Finest | December 5th '22

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Walk: Padley Gorge & Surprise View
Difficulty:
 Easy
Time: 1h 36m
Distance: 4.31km
Elevation: 343m

The nights may have closed in — with less than a month to go until the shortest day of the year — but that doesn’t mean the great outdoors is off limits. In fact, early-winter is one of the best seasons for a good hike, with temperatures yet to hit rock bottom and incredible colours on the ground. 

Our next episode of Weekend Walks celebrates all that makes this point in the calendar so special. With BBC Radio 5 Live broadcasting and DJ legend Nihal Arthanayake in tow, we head out to the Derbyshire Peaks on a crisp, dry day with one priority in mind: foraging for nature’s own bounty and having a spot of lunch in the wild. Not to mention taking in the rich crimsons, deep browns, and light darks that define November and early-December.

Hanna Outdoors and Nihal Arthanayake

Starting out

Today’s route begins at Grindleford Railway Station, on the banks of the River Derwent. Home to less than 1,000 people, not to mention the namesake spring water advertised on a sign at our jumping off point, within a second or two of arrival it’s impossible not to be taken in by the charm and timelessness of this place. Think white wood-panelled building in a cute little corner of what’s up there with England’s finest National Parks, woodland and picturesque fields visible in all directions. 

Our first section of the hike takes us into that forested terrain, specifically Padley Gorge. This deep but narrow valley has its own stream — Burbage Brook — which becomes a great orientation tool as the foliage grows thicker. Notably, this is one of the furthest inland examples of a temperate rainforest in the UK, which means you definitely can’t bank on a dry day, but the flora on display, even in winter, is nothing short of spectacularly varied. Providing, of course, you know what you’re looking for. 

While on this path, Nihal fills us in on some of the highlights from his storied career, including an encounter with Method Man and Redman, who hatched plans to smoke a certain illegal but common herb using a full chicken, and a meeting with Sir Paul McCartney. The list could no doubt go on, if it wasn’t time for us to press on with the next stage of the walk — which also happens to be the most flavoursome, even up against the aforementioned poultry pipe. 

Lunch in the sticks

From the bottom of the gorge to new heights, it’s time to ascend up Bolehill Wood, which, it has to be said, is a bit of a climb. Once the ground levels out, though, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a large population of birches. This whole area was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1972 because there are so many of these trees, which once covered the majority of Peak District gritstone uplands, but due to deforestation most have disappeared. 

It’s here we meet the aptly monikered Forager Jim of Forage Box, a specialist in identifying and preparing edible goodness from the great British countryside. Helping our intrepid explorers find mushroom delights like Wood Blewits, Deceivers, and Meadow Wax Caps, in addition to non-fungi bits for the feast like Dandelion and Garlic Mustard leaves. A number of poisonous things can also be found on this forest floor, in particular Brown Roll Rim mushrooms, which are incredibly common during late-autumn and early-winter, but not something you ever want to eat. The point being, it’s vital to know exactly what you’re looking for, and what must be avoided, if you plan on following suit. 

Off the cliff edge

After lunch, we continue through the trees to the spectacular Lawrence Field Quarry. This disused millstone facility takes its name from the moor behind its summit, which is 280m high and offers incredible views. Since the 1970s, this has been a popular spot with climbers, so we rope Nihal into a little abseiling action. Although initially wary of repelling almost 1,000 feet down off a sheer cliff edge, once back on solid ground his satisfaction at the achievement is more than tangible. Meanwhile, the sheer scale of distance from bottom to top becomes clear. 

Suffice to say, then, now is probably the time for a stiff drink at the nearest watering hole, which comes in the form of ultra-charming The Fox House, completing a route that may only be around 4KM in length, but is arguably among the most thrilling and inspiring in our Weekend Walks series. 

Once furnished with refreshments, Nihal talks us through his new book, ‘Let’s Talk: How To Have Better Conversations’, which charts chats that have changed the world, and presents research on the best ways to have a good natter — one of which is making sure you don’t get your phone out the moment you sit down. Thankfully, our final stop isn’t the kind of inn that screams modern technology, making for the perfect place to talk through an incredible afternoon of experiences. 

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