Pedalling west along Bonsall Lane, on the southern slope of Wyns Tor, I found myself glancing either side at one of the great inflection points of England. To my left, the emerald plateau of high limestone country rolling south to the Midlands. To my right, the purplish-brown smudge of moorland on the northern horizon: the start of the Pennines and gritstone country. At the next junction, I turned right, dropping into the village of Winster.
Some Peak District villages have found their roots hacked at by holiday homes, but Winster seems much as I knew it 30 years ago. It nestles in Wyns Tor’s crook, a tumble of old lead miners’ cottages, each one similar but different, mixing determined independence with the strength of common purpose, all banked up on each other.
This cascade ends at the village’s smart main street, built during the lead boom of the 18th century, when Winster trapped its moment of ascendancy – like the Nabateans of Petra – in rough sandstone. At that time, the village had two dozen pubs, the consumption of beer being held as prophylactic against lead poisoning. Now there are just two, the Old Bowling Green, tucked off the main street, and the Miners Standard that I passed at the top of the village.
Just after the pub I discovered another thriving community piled up on itself: a banked road verge thick with flowers. I couldn’t remember seeing anything so rich in a while. There was nothing unusual about the species, but the assemblage – like the lead miners’ cottages – was delightful: hogweed or cow parsnip; cow parsley; forget-me-nots hanging on; dame’s violet, escaped from the gardens of nearby cottages; oxeye daisies and germander speedwell, its white dot at the heart of the flower; ivy and goosegrass; shining crane’s-bill, another escaper; and bloody crane’s-bill, not yet in flower but a hallmark of this high limestone country.
Most vibrant of all were the delicate pink columns of passion dock, its leaves once used at Easter time to liven up the porridge of working families in urgent need of an antiscorbutic after the long months of winter.