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The White Peak - A Taste of the Peak District

The greyish-white Limestone has been used extensively to construct walls, barns and houses. On a wet day, some of the villages can look rather grey though. A lot of the stone used to construct the walls are surface stones, picked from the surrounding land. Here and there are small quarries, worked for a while to provide the extra stone needed to complete enclore work.

Limestone is not an easy stone to work, so ashlar or near ashlar surfaces are rare. Local buildings in the White Peak therefore have an interesting non-uniform surface texture close up.

The many different limestone formations of the White Peak give rise to local colour variation. Limestone beds towards Staffordshire contain a higher mud content and therefore are darker. Limestones of the central White Peak are very pure and are much lighter in colour. The Bee Low formation limestone are some of the 'cleanest' in the UK and are therefore worked for their chemical purity rather than as building stone.

Hopton Wood stone is part of the Bee Wood limestone formation. It has been used for some building in Chelmorton and Hartington, the driest part of the White Peak in terms of available groundwater supplies. This stone is prized as for interior detailing, finely worked and polished to display the fossils. It has been used by the War Graves Commission as well as sculptors like Epstein and Hepworth.

In some villages such as Monyash, Wormhill and Great Longstone, the builders have used the warmer colour of gritstone around the windows and doors. This contrast in colour adds interest and I understand that it is easier to obtain a crisp ashlar surface.

What is Limestone?

The landscape of the White Peak is dominated by the underlying limestone geology; its main mineral is calcium carbonate. Limestone is formed in a shallow warm sea and often contains fossils. The limestone has been uplifted by the forces of plate tectonics forming a plateau with an altitude of around three hundred metres (about a thousand feet) above sea level. Soils are thin and alkaline, meaning the area is best suited to sheep and cattle farming.

How has it Influenced the White Peak Landscape?

Limestone is chemically weathered. Carbon dioxide dissolves into falling rain, creating carbonic acid. This reacts chemically with the calcium carbonate from which the rock is made, thus the rock becomes eroded away. Add in the action of running water and in limestone country you will end up with caverns. The great show caverns (like the Great Masson Cavern or the Devils Arse) of the Peak District are exclusively in the limestone areas. There are a host of smaller passages, forming the potholes, through which the cavers squirm. Where the rivers have dissected the limestone plateau, steep sided valleys have been formed, sheltering some interesting and rare species.

Quarrying and Climbing

In the Buxton area, the quarrying of limestone is a major industry. Mining was a major industry during the 18th and 19th centuries with underground mines like Ecton and Millclose providing copper and lead not only for Britain but also to the rest of the world.

The Peak District National Park was formed in 1951 and has roughly the shape of a right hand (fingers together, thumb spread apart). The part between the index finger and thumb incorporates the quarrying round Buxton, thus avoiding the conflict between National Park conservation and destruction.

In more recent times, there has been much controversy over the re-opening and extending of quarries within the White Peak, such as Longstone Edge and Stanton Moor. Despite the protests of conservation groups and local people, who will inevitably be affected by heavier traffic, more noise and dust, the mining companies generally seem to win out - I wonder why? Ah well, money talks!

Still, I shouldn't complain. Several of the worked out quarries left behind rock faces of interest to Peak District climbers, local activists like Gary Gibson and 'Sid' Siddiqui have created large numbers of bolted climbs (thanks guys) and some have trad routes, notably Staden Quarry. Access can be a little sensitive, the quarry owners are not always sympathetic to climbing!