Three Shires Head

18th-century packhorse bridge across the River Dane at Three Shires Head

Last week, for the second summer in a row, I had the opportunity to spend five days alone photographing the Peak District of England.

While last year’s trip was a satisfying experience because of the perfect summer weather, this year’s was thoroughly disappointing, as England experienced one of its wettest weeks on record: a whole month’s worth of rainfall fell in a single day while I was there.

Persistent rain precludes the photography of many subjects but facilitates one: waterfalls. They look their best under subdued light, when rocks are slick and vegetation lush.

With this in mind, I headed for Three Shires Head on Axe Edge Moor, a point so called because it is where the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire meet.

Falls on a tributary of the River Dane

The best-known landmark in this location is a packhorse bridge, which was built in the 1700s to carry trade in different types of goods. Silk was produced at nearby Hollinsclough and transported to the mills at Macclesfield, while coal was mined on the moor from the 1600s onwards and sent to the industrial cities of northwest England.

Packhorse bridges were typically simple, single-arch structures, built from local stone. They were designed to be just wide enough for one heavily-laden horse to cross and without parapets that might interfere with the horse’s panniers.

In earlier centuries, when the jurisdiction of county police forces ended at the county border, Three Shires Head was a favourite refuge of fugitives from the law, who crossed from one county to another, in a remote, steep-sided valley no wider than a few hundred yards, to evade the reach of whichever county’s police force was pursuing them.


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