The return of Stanage Pole - a totem for the Peak District
After eight months of design, metal working, and wood curing led by the grandson of the former Redmires dam keeper, the new Stanage Pole took up its place on Sunday ready for the next generation of outdoor citizens.
“The nicest thing for me was that it made a sound when it went into the hole,” said Henry Folkard of the British Mountaineering Council. “It made a ‘plop’ noise, and there it was.”
Over 500 supporters of the Stanage moors watched as the new larch pole was hoisted into place on the set of ancient rocks where a pole has guided walkers, runners and packhorse drivers on the ‘Long Causeway’ between Sheffield and the Hope Valley since at least 1724, and probably a lot earlier.
“That’s when our earliest records are, but the initials on the stone go back to the 1600s,” said Stella McGuire, who works on cultural heritage for the Peak District. “It’s said the stone had initials dating back to the 1500s, but they can’t be found anymore.”
The Long Causeway has existed since at least medieval times, said Stella, adding that the site of the pole marked a boundary between Northumbria and Mercia over 1,000 years ago.
Access campaigner Terry Howard has been passing Stanage Pole since his boyhood. “I’ve walked over here hundreds of times, in raging blizzards and saturated after a night out bivvying. For me it marks the way home, but it also marks the way out. The site is steeped in history as the meeting point of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and it’s also where the north of England joins the midlands and the south.”
For Tony Hood of Edale Mountain Rescue, the pole is where the Peak District begins, as well as a focal point for rescuers searching for lost walkers in poor weather. “In the past, people would have been very glad to see Stanage Pole when lost in the clouds in the middle of winter.”
Stanage Pole itself had been lost, and much missed, after the Peak District National Park Authority removed the rotten pole as a safety measure last year. Shortly after, walker Chris Wells noted its absence and rang the Peak park. “They were thinking about what to put in its place, so I said if you don’t mind, I’ll come up with a design.”
Chris knew the old pole well after boyhood visits to his grandfather, a dam keeper at Redmires: his great-grandfather actually owned a farm at the start of the Long Causeway. He’s also the Sheffield designer who came up with the ‘seven hills’ logo for Sheffield Council.
After discussions with the Peak District, Stanage Forum and other local groups, it was decided to use wood from the nearby North Lees plantation along with a cage and steel housing provided by Hope Construction Materials to allow the wooden pole to be easily replaced, all supported by donations from the Clarion Ramblers, the Cutlers’ Company and the public. Finally, Sheffield’s Durham Foundry celebrated the work of their apprentices by casting a special iron ‘pebble’ to sit round the base of the pole with information about the site.
The public pole-raising attracted Sheffielders who’d known the old pole for most of their lives: ranger Mike Rhodes remembered a poignant solo visit to watch a lunar eclipse after breaking up with his girlfriend, whereas Dave and Bev Popplewell were recreating the day 37 years ago when Dave proposed marriage kneeling in a puddle at the side of the rocks.
“It was cheaper coming here than going to a beach in the Seychelles,” said Dave. “And much better,” said Bev, romantically.
A first-time visitor to Stanage, Yvonne Witter, was equally impressed: “Stanage Pole is an icon in the sky of the Peak District.”
The National Park’s chief executive Sarah Fowler said: “The pole is an amazing landmark that’s been here for centuries, but for me today is also about people’s connection to the landscape. What we want to achieve is a virtuous cycle, so if you love this place and feel inspired by it, do what you can to care for it - that might be not dropping litter, or parking sensibly, or it could be supporting us in other ways or making a donation. Today is an example of a whole load of groups putting something back to this place, and keeping it for the future.”
The sun shone and the views opened out to Kinder, Sheffield, Castleton Cement Works and beyond.
“Just look at the weather,” said John Horscroft from the Stanage Forum. “God is obviously a Stanage fan.”