Landslide victory


Mam Tor, the shivering mountain, stands at the head of the Hope Valley in the High Peak District of Derbyshire. Though not a small hill, standing 60 metres over the valley (and 500 above sea level), it stands out for its unusually sheer eastern face in a region of rolling green hills and limestone gorges. This bare rock cliff could at first be mistaken for a long abandoned example of the many quarries in the area, but it doesn’t quite have the mark of man. Rather, in a land of tame weather and gentle geology, it’s the finest example of man’s rare concession of the landscape to nature.

The cliff was actually formed by bronze age climate change, when Britain got even wetter. The persistent waterlogging of the weak shale hill and washing out of small particles eventually led to its undermining and collapse. A hillside slumped into its valley.

Three millennia later, in 1847, the Manchester and Sheffield Turnpike Company decided to build a bypass of the steep Winnats pass, and chose the gentle slope beneath Mam Tor for the route.

Forgetting, of course, that the gentle slope was a loosely stuck heap of shale scree, still calmly creeping down the valley.

Man didn’t give up this hillside without a fight. The highways authorities that inherited the road, by then renamed the A625, rebuilt it six times between 1912 and 1974, when large sections slid away. On the final occasion, the road was reopened as only a single lane, with traffic taking turns.

Further flows in 1977 and 1979 finally finished it off. The A625 ended at Castleton, the last village in the valley; drivers from Sheffield to Manchester forced to find a new road.

The carriageway was left to freely flow with the landscape, looking first like the fresh destruction of a powerful earthquake, cracked and folded, filled with steps and waves, the strata of a century of road repairs exposed as cliffs.

Then, falling away, the last surface stripped by rain and ice, paint peeling, catseyes rusting, the cracks nurturing grasses and alpine flowers, the sunken sections flooded and filling with bog plants. A picture of a post-apocalyptic Britain reclaimed by nature.

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