Review of ‘Moors, Crags and Caves of the High Peak and Neighbourhood’, by Ernest Baker

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.


by Ernest Baker
Published by Halsgrove
ISBN 1-84114-171-2 (2002)

This is a long-awaited reprint of the classic work by Ernest Baker, an early enthusiast of walking, rock climbing and caving in and around the Peak. The exploits in this book took place in the early 1900s, with Baker leading a group of walkers and climbers belonging to the renowned Kyndwr Club.

Access agreements lay many years ahead but Baker was a man ready to trespass in pursuit of his goals, outwitting keepers on the high moors and enduring extreme discomforts both above and below ground. This is how he and his companions were received at the Yorkshire Bridge Inn after descending from a blizzard on Bamford Edge: '... each was admitted only after the courteous landlord had raked him fore and aft with a brushwood besom and chopped the icicles off his whiskers with a big pocket-knife, a painful purification ...'

Rock climbing was such a novel pursuit that a tin box was left on top of a summit named the Inaccessible on Robin Hood's Stride, where successful climbers could deposit their visiting cards! Certain manoeuvres are read with a shudder, such as the Wharncliffe method of crossing fissures: 'Stand bolt upright on the edge of a rock tower, facing another rock tower that is sundered from yours by a chasm 50ft. deep. Throw your arms straight up, then bend forward stiffly till the hands touch the opposite wall and your body bridges the gap. Bringing one foot forward to steady yourself, you drop your body across and rest on the edge of the tower by the forearms, then lift yourself into safety by a movement of the wrists.'

Exploration of the underworld is described as 'an uncleanly topsy-turvy pastime'. This phrase makes perfect sense to one who once emerged coated in mud after adventure caving in Bagshaw Cavern (on behalf of the Peak Advertiser). In addition to Bagshaw Cavern, Baker and his group went far beyond the tourist routes inside most of the show caves of Castleton, including being lowered into a Bottomless Pit in a bosun's chair. Worse still were the subterranean terrors of Eldon Hole with its evil reputation. Small wonder the early cavers coined the phrase 'cave fright'. These men had only candles to light their way but were burdened with the means to illuminate the massive caverns they discovered - lamps with accumulators, magnesium wire, limelight and 'fire balloons' powered by metholated spirits.

These old accounts are bound to have particular appeal to those who follow the same activities today but will nevertheless have wider interest due to Ernest Baker's descriptive style and the variety of familiar landmarks.

Review by Julie Bunting

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