Putting a little bit back into ‘bewitching’ Dark Peak destination

Imagine a set of drovers setting out to steer their cows to Penistone market along the old Cut Gate track above Derwent village 500 years ago. As the rain lashed down, and they all stumbled up through the mud, the cattle drovers may have used their own particular expletives for the ‘Bog of Doom’ waiting on the hilltop.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 12:00 am
Walkers taking a break on one of the Cut Gate high points taken by Graham Dunn.

And if their minds wandered after climbing up and over the windblown moors, could they have imagined an even more eloquent name for someone making that same journey, for fun?“Cut Gate is a really special, bewitching place,” says Chris Maloney, who runs the Keeper of the Peak Twitter account helping mountain bikers ride responsibly around the Outdoor City and Peak District.“I enjoy clattering over the rocks, but I also enjoy taking in the landscape in places like Cut Gate, and listening to the curlews. We’re lucky in Sheffield that we have access up our valleys into some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.”

Over recent years, the Cut Gate bridleway over Margery Hill between Langsett and the north tip of Howden Reservoir has become a destination ride for the more adventurous mountain biker, drawing cyclists from all over the UK to tackle five miles of Dark Peak hills, rocks and until recently bogs.The route is also well used by hill walkers, fell runners and horse riders, but erosion from hundreds of feet and scores of tyres every weekend was turning parts of the track into an almost impassable morass - hence the ‘Bog of Doom’ title coined by local mountain bikers.So Chris and colleagues from Ride Sheffield and Peak District MTB travelled to a House of Commons meeting three years ago to enlist Cut Gate in the national ‘Mend our Mountains’ appeal run by the British Mountaineering Council, which eventually raised over £74,000 to help repair Cut Gate, including sections of stone slabs over the former bogs.“It’s a really exciting demonstration of people’s willingness to put a bit back for the benefit they get from using the countryside, and that’s been brilliant,” says local hillwalker Peter Judd of the BMC, adding that walkers, riders, runners and climbers all contributed to the appeal, and learned a lot about each other, and the local landscape, in the process.

You can now stroll over what used to be calf-deep bogs on a ribbon of slabs. “It’s a joy to walk across,” says Peter.This month saw the culmination of £220,000 work on Cut Gate (and the nearby ‘North America’ moorland near Langsett) by Moors for the Future, including helicopter airlifts of stone flags and drainage materials, and work using diggers to improve drainage away from the paths.Along with the Mend our Mountains contribution, funding came from East Peak Innovation Partnership, Sheffield Council, Peak District National Park Authority, Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership, British Horse Society and the European Outdoor Conservation Association.The aim was to protect the ecological, flood retention and climate mitigation benefits of the landscape, not just lay a path over the Bog of Doom.“We co-ordinated the work to protect the precious blanket bog habitat, which is home to an array of wildlife,” says Chris Dean, head of Moors for the Future Partnership.

The eroding Cut Gate path in 2019.

“The improved path will help everyone to protect the moor by preventing erosion of the delicate peat. In turn, we hope that this will allow people to explore and appreciate the moorland landscape.”Mike Rhodes from the Peak District National Park Authority sounds a word of caution to less experienced cyclists, walkers and runners.“This route is a challenge,” he says. “It’s a full day adventure into some of the wildest terrain in the National Park. It’s not to be taken lightly.”Late last summer, Chris Maloney and a friend were negotiating the uphill return over Cut Gate from Slippery Stones.“We’d been talking about the rare bearded vulture that had been seen near the Derwent Valley, and there it was above us, this massive vulture silhouette, following us all the way up to the cairn.

Maybe it was thinking: ‘Right, these two look as if they’re going to peg it by the top, I’ll get a tasty snack.’”All part of the Cut Gate adventure, says Chris. But from now on, there’ll be a cleaner get away.

Stephen Morrison on one of the Cut Gate cairns
Digger working on the path early 2021.
Peter Judd of the BMC at one of the flagged 'bridges' on a boggy section of Cut Gate taken by Glynis Judd.