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On The High Peak Trail

Our starting point today was Black Rocks located between Wirksworth and Cromford . Derbyshire and the Peak District can lay claim to many beauty spots. This is just one of them. Black Rocks is a millstone grit formation that overlooks the High Peak Trail , which was a railway line in a former life. Well worn footpaths abound but all lead gently upwards to the vertical face that dominates the surroundings. At the face of Black Rocks we looked back to the quarry on the hillside opposite. Whilst concern is being expressed elsewhere in the Peak District concerning the issues of quarrying this one at least revealed that industry in the area thrives side by side with the tourist traffic that visits the Peak District throughout the year. To the right of Black Rocks we found a path that took us to the top and a birds eye view of Cromford .

Back down on the High Peak Trail we headed toward High Peak Junction . The trail was highly populated with walkers, cyclists and the odd jogger and for a damp Thursday morning in October the turnout was unexpected. After a short distance we were soon rewarded with a wonderful view over Cromford and the Derwent Valley. Many sites of interest can be made out and an information board helps to identify them. The cable car pylons at the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath ; the chimney at Masson Mills at Cromford , one of two owned by Arkwright; another beauty spot at High Tor , Matlock Bath with Matlock Town beyond; Willersley Castle built of local stone as Arkwright's mansion which he never occupied as he died before it was completed and the outline of Riber Castle on the ridge above Matlock .

Around the corner lay an old stone building known as Sheep Pasture Engine House. First opened in 1830 it contained a stationary engine built by the Butterley Company and was used to haul the wagons up and down the 1 in 8 slope, 1320 yards from High Peak Junction . In my opinion this was some building and again raised issues as to why it was left empty and not being renovated and put to use. Another funding debate was in the offing but fortunately there wasn't a soap box in sight.
Through the gate and looking down the incline you cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like all those years ago. The incline was steep and three quarters of a mile long and one that we had to come back up! Half way down there were more winding gear workings just where the Midshires Way crossed the High Peak Trail and thoughts were abound about the number of accidents that may have occurred due to runaways. There were, in fact, very few accidents. In 1857, the Cromford and Sheep Pasture inclines had been merged into one, and in 1888, a brake van parted from the train near the summit. Gathering speed, it was unable to round the curve into Cromford Wharf. It passed over both the canal and the double track railway line, and landed in a field. A catch pit was therefore installed near the bottom. This can still be seen from the A6 with a (more recent) wrecked wagon still in it. This didn't stop us looking over our shoulder at frequent intervals, just in case.
Next stop High Peak Junction , the start or end of the trail. Here the old railway line met the Cromford Canal and reminders of yesteryear included two old guard's vans and the old railway workshops. We had also encroached onto the Derwent Valley Heritage Way . Wow, so much to see, so much to do. another day beckoned. The information centre provided light relief in the shape of a cheese sandwich and cup of coffee and then it was back up the incline. Just to mention that there was a video tour available but our clock was ticking.

Surprisingly, the trek back up to the car wasn't too bad, probably due to the fact that the gate at the top of the incline was always in sight and therefore getting nearer and nearer. By now it was raining and thinking of the camera equipment we decided to drive to next point of the High Peak Trail . Thats our excuse and we are sticking to it.

At Middleton Top Visitor Centre we avoided another look around the restored steam engine house (been there, done that) and walked towards Hopton . After a while we came across a rather informative board and details of a bridge that linked two quarries. The photograph of the bridge was very impressive but we assumed that the bridge had disappeared many years ago. So onwards to Hopton Tunnel. I have to say that walking along this stretch of the trail was pretty much uninteresting and perhaps best undertaken by high speed bike.
There was something annoying about that bridge that meant a detour to Middle Peak Quarry. Quarrying has now stopped here and clearly some conservation work is being done as a footpath from Wirksworth takes you through the old quarry itself. The footpath is well fenced and stone has been piled up on either side to stop any view of the quarry itself. But being intrepid reporters, seekers of truth and justice and just plain nosey, we scaled the gates into the bowels of the quarry itself. I presumed this quarry had been in existence for over a 100 years. It was enormous and very unsafe. Fresh rock falls were evident and the whole site looked unstable. How the owners would landscape this to something acceptable I do not know and probably they don't either. Look at our panoramic photographs to see for yourself.

Chris Sabian, Peak District View - 2007-06-19 17:13:19

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