As part of a future project, and also in an attempt to regain something of my old fitness, this week I travelled to the Monsal trail in Derbyshire and the Peak District. There are numerous photographs online of the trail, I can particularly recommend those taken of Monsal Dale from Monsal Head.
The Monsal Trail is just under 9 miles in length running from the Coombs Road viaduct, about a mile south of Bakewell to Blackwell Mill junction, 3 miles or so from Buxton. The trail runs along the course of the old Midland Railway The line was completed in 1863 through the very heart of the Peak District. The Peak Park authority bought the line and opened it as the Monsal Trail in 1980 after carrying out essential safety work. Numerous tunnelled sections of the line have simply been closed off for safety. Footpaths connect the sections closed by tunnels, cyclists need to link the sections by road.
The Duke of Devonshire had a station built at Hassop, which is now the highly successful Country Bookstore. It is planned to expand this venture, the bookstore will not only be serving those who travel the route from the cafeteria but will are also to offer cycle hire.
Monsal Head, standing high above the dale, affords the best viewpoint for admiring Monsal Dale. This is a good starting point for a variety of walks. Refreshments are available from the pub or tea shop. Parking is Pay and Display behind the pub (the car park in front of the pub is small and for short stays only).
Monsal Dale is steeped in industrial history. Litton Mill lies downstream from Millers Dale station and is notorious for the uncompromising treatment of orphans by Ellis Needham, some as young as 9 years old, from London and other major cities. These provided a source of cheap labour with no-one to show any concern. The graves of many of these child labourers are found in nearby churchyards. Despite its dark past, the mill is an interesting building which is now in the process of conversion into luxury apartments.
Further downstream still lies Cressbrook Mill, which was opened in 1783 by William Newton. Previously the site had been a herb distillery. Richard Arkwright supplemented his Cromford Mills through the use of Cressbrook. As happened to several of the Mills, the original one burnt down. The subsequent mill was in use until the mid 1960’s. The mill has now been converted in luxury flats. Both Litton and Cressbrook mills were water powered.
There are plans to reopen the tunnels and provide the chance to cover the whole route along the line of the railway bed, a £3.85 million plan which will extend the route for cyclists and enable walkers to cover the real route without deviations. These tunnels were specially opened for Julia Bradbury when she filmed this walk for the series Railway Walks, however Ms Bradbury and her camerman and sound man would have had the BBC transport waiting for them at the end of their walk. This walker had to turn around and retrace his footsteps back to the car park!