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Three Shires Head Walk: Swimming Holes and Waterfalls

Three Shires Head Walk: Swimming Holes and Waterfalls

Three Shires Head is the quaint location of a bustling series of small waterfalls with perfect little pocket-sized swimming holes. Located at the meeting of three UK counties, this increasingly popular Peak District attraction is a simple walk with some very convenient parking facilities, making Three Shires Head a wonderfully family-friendly trip out.

In this guide, we’ll tell you what Three Shires Head is and where to find it. We’ll discuss how to get there and where to park and provide a brief description of the walk. Lastly, we’ll suggest other wonderful waterfalls and hikes in the Peaks before finishing with a suggested gear list and a few bonus tips.

To see footage of our Three Shires Head walk in the Peak District National Park, feel free to watch our YouTube production below.

For more incredible walks in the Peak District, check out our guides on Chrome Hill, Mam Tor and Dovestone Reservoir. Otherwise, read our Peak District Hiking post (coming soon), where we reveal some of the best hikes in the Peak District National Park.

About Three Shires Head

Three Shires Head, also referred to as Three Shire Heads and Three Shires Pass, is a splendid spot in the Peak District National Park where three counties meet. At the convergence of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire is a delightful little stone bridge over a wonderful set of gushing cascades. In addition, if the weather allows, it’s possible to swim in the pools at Three Shires Head. Well, when I say swim, it’ll be more of a plunge really, but it’s quite refreshing all the same.

How Long Is the Three Shires Head Walk?

Reaching Three Shires Head requires a short and picturesque walk through the Peak District countryside. There are a couple of route variations which we’ll touch on below, but, for the Three Shires Head route we did, you can expect the walk to be around 1.5–2.5 hours, coving a distance of about 8km.

Where Is Three Shires Head?

As mentioned, Three Shire Heads sits at the meeting point of Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire on the western edges of the Peak District National Park. The walk we took to Three Shires Head begins in Gradbach, within the county of Staffordshire. The trailhead for the Three Shires Head walk is also extremely close to other popular Peak District attractions such as Lud’s Church and The Roaches (guide coming soon). So, there’s plenty to pack out a day trip with.

Beck on the Three Shires Head waterfall walk

How to Get to Three Shires Head

Getting to Three Shires Head is fairly straightforward. Of course, you’ll be needing access to your own set of wheels to reach the waterfalls and swimming holes at Three Shires Head. Below, we’ll list a few of the popular locations to travel from and their respective distance and drive times.​​​​​

  • Manchester: 1.5 hours // 32 miles (51km)
  • Sheffield: 1.5 hours // 34 miles (55km)
  • Buxton: 15 minutes // 6 miles (10km)
  • Macclesfield: 35 minutes // 15 miles (24km)
  • Bakewell: 35 minutes // 18 miles (29km)

If you don’t have access to your own vehicle, then we recommend hiring something. Of course, this can easily be organised from both Manchester and Sheffield. When hiring a car, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.

Public Transport

Despite how well-connected many of the walks in the Peak District are, sadly Three Shires Head is not one of them. There are no buses running to Gradbach or any other trailhead location, so your only option is to drive.

​​​​​​​Three Shires Head Parking

Parking for the Three Shires Head waterfall walk is found in Gradbach. This tiny hamlet lies to the south of the Three Shires Head waterfalls and is a popular place to begin the walk from.

The Gradbach Car Park sits on the edges of the River Dane on Gradbach Mill Lane. The postcode is SK17 0SU and you can find the location on Google Maps here.

If you’re choosing to hike from Wildboarclough (more on that below), you can find parking here.

Three Shires Head Walk​​​​​​​ Preview and Map

  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 8.5km
  • Time: 1.5–3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 180m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Gradbach Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Three Shires Head Walk

From the Gradback Car Park, follow down by the side of the River Dane. It can be quite muddy around here, so you’ve been warned. Cross over Love Lane and then proceed through the farmland, crossing at the gates and styles as and when you meet them. You’ll find the grassy path easy to follow as it descends towards Birchen Booth Farm.

Once you reach this farm, the Three Shires Head walking route follows along the edge of the River Dane as it winds its way toward the waterfalls. Soon enough, you’ll reach a gate. Pass through and follow the track down to Three Shires Head, where you’ll find the swimming holes, waterfalls and a pretty stone wall bridge across the river.

Three Shires Head Waterfalls

As far as waterfalls in the Peak District go, the ones at Three Shires Head are up there with the best of them. Better still, it’s possible to do wild swimming at Three Shires Head. The stone bridges that pass over the cascades add to the picture-perfect outlook of the whole scene.

The official name of the Three Shires Head stone bridge is Panniers Pool Bridge. That’s because historically horses would have carried heavy panniers (large baskets or other containers) across the stone arch bridge. You can quite imagine it.

The delightful waterfalls at Three Shires Head gush enthusiastically over the rock boulders into the inviting waters of Panniers Pool. Well, I guess how inviting Panniers Pool looks depends on the kind of day you visit. We weren’t keen on a dip during our Three Shire Heads walk, to be honest. But, never say never.

Three Shires Head Swimming

If you don’t mind a spot of wild swimming, then by all means, enjoy a quick dip in Pannier Pools at Three Shires Head. There’s no doubt in the height of summer, after a hot walk to the waterfalls, a refreshing plunge will seem quite attractive.

It’s quite common to see people bathing here on those rare hot days we occasionally experience in the UK. But, equally, enjoying the waterfalls and pools of Three Shire Heads from the surrounding rock platforms is just as lovely.

Remember though, even in hot weather, water in the UK can be very cold. Although the swimming pools at Three Shires Head are not especially deep, you should assess the conditions for yourself before entering the water.

Once you’ve enjoyed a spot of swimming or just relaxing at Three Shires Head, simply return the way you came.

Three Shires Head waterfalls and walk

Other Three Shires Head Walking Routes

​​​​​​​The out and back trail Dan and I completed is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to see the waterfalls and swimming holes at Three Shires Head. But, you can also complete the hike as a loop trail, or begin at the nearby location of Wildboarclough as an alternative. Let’s take a look.

​Circular Walk From Gradbach

  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Distance: 8.5km
  • Time: 2–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 220m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Gradbach Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Although Dan and I walked an out and back to Three Shires Head and the waterfalls, it’s possible to turn the hike into a loop. So, once you’ve arrived at Three Shire Head waterfalls as per the route we took, cross the stone Panniers Pool Bridge and return on the path that winds around Cut-Thorn Hill, before taking a trail to the left and around Birchenough Hill. Then follow this south all the way to Gradbach Car Park.

Circular Walk From Wildboarclough

  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Distance: 8.5km
  • Time: 2–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 270m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Clough House Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Beginning from Clough House Car Park (see above Three Shires Head Parking for location) the walk follows the Cumberland Clough stream and open farmland before crossing over the A54 Buxton Road. From here, you’ll join up with the River Dane and follow it down to the pretty waterfalls at Three Shires Head. Then from Three Shires Head, the trail winds around Cut-Thorn Hill, crosses back over the A54 Buxton Road and returns through Wildboarclough.

Additionally, you could easily make this walk an out and back if you prefer, and return via the route you took to reach Three Shire Heads.

Quickest Walk to Three Shires Head

If you’re really short on time, it’s possible to park in a lay-by on the A54 Buxton Road and walk from there. The walk is around 1.5km in length and you’ll arrive at the waterfalls of Three Shires Head in less than 30 minutes. These are the map coordinates, where you’ll find the free roadside parking along Buxton Road.

For the walk, head north along the road until you reach the metal staircase on your right. Then, head down and across the fields towards Three Shires Head. The trail isn’t as obvious for this route option, but it is a quick walk and mostly downhill.

Other Peak District Waterfalls

There are some wonderful waterfalls in the Peak District. Some of our favourites include Padley Gorge, Kinder Downfall, Lathkill Dale and Waterfall Swallet (guides coming soon).

Three Shires Head waterfall

Other Walks in the Peak District National Park

There are countless enjoyable walks to find in the Peak District. Below are just a few of our favourites.

  • Mam Tor: one of the most popular walks in the Peak District and perfect for a sunrise hike.
  • Alport Castles: a hidden gem in the Peak District, the Alport Castles are the result of one of the largest landslips in the UK.
  • Derwent Edge: a beautiful walk up a typical Peak District escarpment and across the wild open moorland. Additionally, there are a number of interesting rock formations along the trail.
  • The Roaches and Lud’s Church: close by is the hike up and around the famous rocky ridge of The Roaches and the fairytale rocky chasm of Lud’s Church.
  • Dovestone Reservoir: enjoy views of Saddleworth Moor from the Trinnacle Trail in the northern reaches of the Peak District.
  • Stanage Edge: whether you hike or climb, a visit to the Stanage Edge escarpment will leave you spellbound.
  • Dovedale to Milldale: a walk through the beautiful Dovedale passes hidden caves, picturesque forest and clifftop trails. Also, be sure to add Thorpe’s Cloud and Bunster Hill to your hike.
  • Kinder Scout: walk to the highest point in the Peak District.
  • Thor’s Cave: this impressive natural cavern has fantastic views across the Manifold Valley in the south of the Peak District.
  • Chrome Hill: climb true peaks in the Peak District. In additon, we recommend visiting for sunrise.
  • Bamford Edge: easily one of the most photographed parts of the Peak District.
  • Padley Gorge: a deep and narrow valley offers a magical woodland walk to all who venture within.
Dan on the Trinnacle Trail in the Peak District
Dovestone Reservoir and the Trinnacle Trail

Five Hiking Essentials

These are our five hiking gear essentials for the Three Shires Head waterfall walk in the Peak District. But, for a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a hiking trip to the Peak District, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.

You should also pack water, snacks and warm clothing. Remember your towel and swimmers if you’re considering taking a dip!

Bonus Tips

  • School holidays: in the warm summer school holidays, Three Shires Head can be extremely busy. So, avoid holidays and weekends for a quieter visit.
  • Amenities: you won’t find any shops, cafes or public toilets at Three Shires Head or any of the trailheads for the walk. So, be sure to pack everything with you for the hike.
  • Explore more of the Peak District: if you want the hassle taken care of when it comes to trip planning, Get Your Guide offers some pretty great tour options for the Peak District National Park.

Save or share this post with your hiking buddies before your next trip to the Peak District National Park!

Beck Piggott

With an art and design based background, Beck uses photography and writing to help inspire readers to climb mountains, hike coastal trails and chase waterfalls around the globe.

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