I still had an hour to spare by the time I reached the little crossroads that leads up towards Curbar Gap. There is a parking spot there where I can waste an hour with ease and I often do so. On one side the moor stretches back towards Barbrook, on the other there are high stone crags and sweeping vistas. I have lost count of the number of times I have called here, just a few minutes off the main road into the city and yet, apparently, there was still far more to see.
The whole question of perception has to be re-examined when you know a place that well and yet still appear to have missed a tall standing stone that is, unmissably, right beside the entrance to the little parking area. I did a double-take on seeing it. It really is too big to miss. And yet, I had.
Now, okay, in my defence, it is not an ancient, megalithic standing stone but a guide stoop. These waymarkers were erected around 1697, during the reign of William III to ensure some kind of signage to help travellers cross the more remote parts of the landscape. Many still survive in Derbyshire and I knew that, as the crow flies, another stood perhaps a mile away near the Barbrook circles. This one even bears the name of the surveyor who had it placed here, Humphrey Gregory. The stones provide graphic directions to the nearest market town, though you have to know that in order to reach them you must turn right at the marker.
Of course I had to go and have a look. It is, after all, mere paces from the car park… even if I had never noticed it before. Beside it, in a similar state of apparent invisibility, lies one of the Companion Stones; sculpted blocks inscribed with poetry. There are twelve such stones in the area, each also bearing directions. They were designed to give directions not to a geographical location, however, but to the future.
The stoops no longer serve, their inscriptions are weathered and few now walk these routes in order to get from town to town… we walk for pleasure, for relaxation, not trade or survival. Their faces are covered in lichen and eroded by wind and rain. Beside them the Companion Stones are sharp and new, just a few years old… mere babies in the landscape. The contrast is as stark as that of the patched walls that edge the moor… old, grey stone nestling beside the newer, warmer tones of repaired gaps. Small birds flew up in clouds from the bracken around me and a crow watched as I walked over the moor, across a place where once people dwelt, where the traces of their huts can still be seen and the rounded stones of their circles bear witness to mysteries we have forgotten. One day, the inscriptions on the Companion Stones will be no more than faded, soft-edged relics of an age long gone and I wonder what future generations will think their purpose might have been.