Winnats Pass is a limestone gorge near Castleton. It is the only road out of Castleton to the west. The A625 under Mam Tor used to be a route out, but it was closed in 1979 due to continuing land slides (well worth a visit if you’re in the area, it almost feels like you could be part of a post apocalyptic world!). The name Winnats Pass comes from an old translation of “Wind Gates”.
The road is a steep 1 in 5 pass and is relatively busy. The road is narrow and winding and great care needs to be used with plenty of blind spots. I have to admit though, on those rare occasions you can see where you’re going and it is safe to do so it makes a fantastic driving road, without breaking the speed limits of course (going above 60mph wouldn’t be highly recommended anyway!).
It used to be thought that the gorge, with its high limestone pinnacles towering over the sides were the result of a giant collapsed cavern. However more recent studies show it is now believed to have been a ravine between the coral reefs that originally formed the limestone. One thing the White Peak is famous for if you look into it is the abundance of land that used to be underwater! Quite hard to imagine.
It is an impressive site from the road side, with the steep sides rising quickly with large pinnacles looming over. There are two very impressive pinnacles leading from the roadside called “Matterhorn Ridge” and “Elbow Ridge”. They look like fantastic, roped scrambles but I’m afraid the exposure is beyond me. I did climb up the grass slopes in the rain once at the side of one the ridges, at the time I thought I was mad and still haven’t got over that notion yet.
Most people however don’t visit the top of Winnats Pass, by that I mean the cliff’s of the pass not the top of the road where it flattens out. You can access via paths from both the bottom or top, but if you’re looking for a flying visit I highly recommend parking in the lay-by at the top (go to the top of the pass, to the t-junction, turn right, immediately on either side are the lay-bys). From here there is a flat path across the farmer’s field taking you to the south cliffs.
It was just a week ago I decided to visit. Well, strictly speaking I had been the week previously but due to my memory card packing up and forgetting my spare I had to return. Most of the day, as typical lately it had been bad weather. We had seriously heavy rain, thunder and lightning, strong winds etc. However around 6pm it had started to clear and I made a last minute decision to head out. The day had changed completely on arrival.
Winnats Pass with its steep sided slopes stops receiving light to the gorge quite early, perhaps just over an hour before sunset. So when I arrived in plenty of time and set up near the last stile at the entrance of the pass looking back to Castleton. I concentrated my composition letting the road lead in, to the fantastic limestone pinnacles, further on down you can see the patchwork fields and barn, Castleton beyond with Peveril Castle just in view and finally the infamous Hope Cement Works finishing the picture off. I elected not to include sky into the composition to draw everything in and force you to examine the image, trying a composition with sky in I felt had less impact and I like the shadows of the clouds on the distant hills.
After that image I honestly thought that would be it, I decided to move on slightly further along so I could have a shot of the pass with Mam Tor in the background “just in case”. I actually started off with some different shots, looking straight down over the cliff edges but a big bank of cloud didn’t allow me any light. I waited patiently not expecting much, only rain as the cloud built. However, as luck would have it just before the sun was due to go behind Rushup Edge it made a great appearance, casting the pass in a golden glow while the sun pushed through in all its glory.
Usually, when the sun goes below the horizon I generally elect to call it a day if I’m in the hills. I like the sun to cast a glow across the ground, creating shadows and that nice warm golden glow. However, I decided it’d be a good idea to explore the whole of the ridge for future visits so I went to one of the last pinnacles just to check compositions etc, while walking along I could see the clouds starting to light up a fiery red, pockets of red glow were appearing in nearby fields, on Stanage and Bamford Edge and the Great Ridge on the Edale Side was really glowing. I was sort of cursing for being in the wrong place. However, things again quickly changed. The sun sunk lower, the clouds started taking on more colour and I decided it best I set the camera up again just in case. I’m really glad I did with the clouds eventually turning a real fiery colour, the pass added even more drama looking menacing with the road leading into what looked like oblivion. It’s not often you see events like this, I just thanked my lucky stars I had decided to go out that evening when it looked fairly uncertain especially after the day we had.
Moral of the story? Always head out, even if it looks a little uncertain. Sometimes, just sometimes it really does pay off and more often than not you get better pictures because the conditions are so rare and amazing to behold.
Oh and on a final note, perhaps my memory card broke on my previous visit for a reason. I certainly wouldn’t have ended up with these images!