Above: Known as ‘the human fly’, Joe was acknowledged as one of Britain’s finest mountaineers.

He carved orienteering clues into rocks at 20 locations around the valley. The one above right is on the back of the shrine beside the lane leading down to the twin reservoirs.

I hadn’t heard of ‘Joe Brown’s numbers’ until a few days ago when someone I met mentioned them. I asked on the Goyt Valley Facebook group whether anyone else knew about them, and was soon able to discover the story.

Joe died last year, but in his time was acknowledged as one of Britain’s finest rock climbers. Someone on his Wikipedia page says “he’s regarded by many as the finest British climber of the twentieth century”. I can well remember watching his terrifying ascent up Orkney’s ‘Old Man of Hoy’ live on BBC in 1967.

During the early ’60s Joe worked at White Hall Outdoor Centre, just outside Buxton. And it was during this time that he created an orienteering course in and around the Goyt Valley.

According to this website, the course is around 17 miles long and comprises 20 clues, each a series of numbers about two inches high, chiselled into stone.

Peter on the GV FB group explained: 

“The first number is carved onto the gatepost at the back of the White Hall Centre (above). It points to clue 2. Clue 2 points to clue 3 and so on. The numbers are all either a grid reference, or a compass bearing and a distance to the next clue.

“It’s probably worth chopping up your hunt into 3 or 4 chunks as finding the clues typically takes longer than getting to the next one. There’s a bottle of 12 year old single malt just by the last clue for people to have a wee dram to celebrate the bog hopping back to the start!”

Reading descriptions of the course, it does look fairly challenging. Some of the clues seem very hard to find, and also badly weathered, making them difficult to decipher.

Spoiler alert!

Peter is keen that the various clues and locations remain secret, so that anyone setting out isn’t able to cheat too easily. But it doesn’t take much Googling to find them. So I hope he’ll forgive me for adding these links to the map and locations.

One of the easiest one to find – and the clue that appears most often on various websites – is on the back of the small shrine beside the lane running down from Long Hill to the reservoirs (photo top of page). There’s also one close to the ruins of Errwood Hall. But I haven’t been able to track this one down.

There’s also to a geocache version of the challenge (click to view). I’ve never tried geocaching, but would love to know how it works. If anyone has tried using it to follow Joe’s course, please get in touch, or leave a comment below.

Page update: Peter Ambrose on the GV Facebook Group has offered to help anyone who wants advice on setting out on the challenge. Many of Joe’s numbers have suffered from the elements over the last 60 years and aren’t that easy to either find or decipher. To get in touch with Peter, simply send him a message via Facebook.

Topic tags (click for similar posts): Valley folk | Walks