Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England

A Rock and A Hard Place


If you ever purchase a calendar featuring ‘images of Derbyshire’ you can bet your bottom Bakewell tart, that at least one month will be illustrated with an image of millstones, abandoned on the moors.

Stanage 4-1

Indeed the millstone is the iconic symbol of the Peak National Park,

I’m shamefaced to say I’d never been up here until last Friday, I knew about the place, just below High Neb on Stanage Edge.

Stanage 7-1

It’s a popular spot for photographers, as you can imagine, there is something a little magnetic about those stones, the rough and the smooth, the taming of the stone

Stanage 8-1

We thought is might be the sort of landscape that would give poetic inspiration to Glo, (you see dear blog readers, we think of you on our sorties)  and this shot is for Gerry, we know how she likes a little whimsy in her world.

Stanage 9 for Gerry-1

So what is the story of this graveyard of stones? The most informative website is Peak District Industrial Landscapes

Gritstone has been worked into tools to grind grain for at least 2,000 years.   The earliest evidence are querns :  simple blunt cones and cylinders worked entirely by muscle power can be found at  Wharncliffe near Stocksbridge.  Querns (that is hand powered stones) with a more familiar wheel design comes from an early  medieval dig at Blackwell near Buxton.  The millstones which attract the attention of the visitor most often, however,  are the stones designed for use by water, wind and steam mills.   There are probably 1,500 of these scattered throughout the Peak, although approx 80% are within 2 kilometers of a line drawn from Moscar (map ref.: SK2388) to Fox House (SK264803) and on to Dobb Edge (SK2687150) in the grounds of Chatsworth. A few more are on Stanton Moor or scattered around Ashover.

Stanage 6-1

It took a man and a boy a month to cut a pair of these stones; and what I can’t help but wonder is how, given  the influence of market forces (which I’m thinking must have been more real, urgent  and hand to mouth then, than now)   and given the number of stones still on the hill, did men and boys go on labouring on these stones long after  they could still sell them? Here’s a stone left unfinished, we felt it had  the look of a sacrificial altar about it).

Stanage 11-1

Or are these stones the unrealised currency the men’s retirement* fund, for surely this  type of labour must have been a young mans game, ‘ Eh lad, get some stones cut, for the lean times, when your back is to weary to work’.  That is a miserable thought, please, other scenarios  are welcome.

Look at the  awesome view. (Joe told me to write that).

Stanage 3-1

I use the word ‘retirement’ lightly, we are talking of an era where you worked to live, that was your lot.


Author: uphilldowndale

Watching the rhythm of rural life, from the top of a hill in northern England. Having spent most of my life avoiding writing, I now need to do it! I am no domestic goddess, but if I were expecting visitors to my home, I would whisk round with the duster and plump up the cushions and generally make the place look presentable. I hope that by putting my words where others may see them it will encourage me to ‘tidy up and push the Hoover around’ my writing. On the other hand I may just be adding to the compost heap. Only time will tell! Pull up a chair, sit yourself down, I’ll put the kettle on.

14 thoughts on “A Rock and A Hard Place

  1. Wow! How much do they weigh?

  2. The urrent weather encourages us to reach out to the sunshine don’t you think?

  3. Since carving them was so labor intensive, they probaby tried to stay ahead of demand, carving a bunch during warm weather, so they’d have some stockpiled to sell when the weather was cold and snowy — since there must have been thousands of grist mills back in the day and there was a steady demand. — and then the technology changed out from under them. A stockpile of 1500 sounds like a lot, but they probably shipped them all over the country.

  4. I’ve been around at the links. Gives one pause to consider the “how” of it all. We take so much for granted . . . sometimes I think most of human building and adventuring happens because there are people who don’t know they can’t do that. I do appreciate the whimsy. It’s how I cope with the real world as I encounter it. Daunting place.

  5. Well, you have definitely PEAKed my interest and I have been MILLing things over in my head ever since. I wonder if my muse will put its nose to the grindstone? In the meantime it’s nosing around the fascinating information and links. Thanks for the mention and so lovely to know I’ve been included with such wonderful company on this amazing walk. Agreeing with Joe about the awesome view!

  6. Great pictures. I think the stones are probably a tribute to the ability of men to go on doing what they do because that’s what they do.

    It does you make you ponder a bit on the modern worship of market forces though.

  7. I like the idea that they were saved up there for a rainy day, only it would have been just as hard to get them down from the moors at such a time as it was to make them up there in the bad weather. I’ve always been mystified by seeing millstones up on the tops. For one thing, they all look so ‘new’.

  8. Or, they’re not abandoned mill-stones at all. They are, in fact, the remnants left behind by Fred Flintstone’s pit crew during the prehistorice “Round Britain Race” which had to be abandoned when Elf’n’Safety noticed that the cars had no reliable braking method, or indeed safety features of any description.

    It may have been a very long week at work (not finished yet, either) and I may just have had a little too much caffeine for one day….

  9. A terrific post and wonderful photos with, as Joe says, awesome views.
    I’ve seen millstones like these and marvelled at them.
    Thanks also for the interesting, and informative, link. xx

  10. That is an awesome view. And this was a very interesting post.

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