Review of ‘The Derbyshire Portway - Pilgrimage to the Past’, by Stephen Bailey

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 Stephen Bailey
Published by Scarthin Books
ISBN 1-900446-13-8 (2008)

The word pilgrimage should not deter from the fact that this unique walking guide describes a journey of very little hardship, just a largely beautiful long distance route packed with historical interest. No ascetic obligation to drink from a spring, seek hospitality from strangers or sleep in a cave.

Many walkers will have unwittingly trodden parts of the Portway, yet Stephen Bailey has sought out every possible step of the way, covering almost 48 miles from the Derbys/Notts border to Mam Tor at Castleton. Whilst the existence of this ancient route is widely accepted and perhaps has prehistoric origins, we will look for it in vain on our maps. Over the centuries, land enclosures, the development of roads and railways, quarrying and mining have all reduced the Portway to a series of minor tracks and quiet lanes.

That the route served more than local needs is suggested by such sections as Dudwood Lane which runs between Elton and Winster without linking them. Its purpose may have been for transporting goods, everything from Roman querns to lead to fleeces. Landmarks that might have confirmed a traveller was on the right track include prominent outcrops such as Robin Hood's Stride, fords, tumuli, hermitages and religious establishments, and the occasional inn - the Holly Bush, two of which are found along the route, is one of the earliest known inn signs.

Through 10 years of detective work the author has succeeding in matching early records to existing visible features: substantial hollow ways, centuries-old hedges, ridgeway tracks that avoid steep valleys, the scant remains of a medieval castle and mounds of unknown purpose. The Portway lead mine and more than one Alport also lie along this Pilgrimage to the Past. The entirely walkable route is split into 10 stages of between 2 and 10 miles, each with an informative commentary, walking map and photographs.

Review by Julie Bunting

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