2020 Travels – Cromford & High Peak Trail

Regular readers of the blog will know how much I really like visiting Derbyshire, and Cromford in particular. Last year, I went there twice; in February on a cold and dull day, and again in September on a warm and sunny day.

Today, Thursday 10th September, it was a cloudy day, but not too cold. I started off the journey, as ever, at Burton on Trent station. I almost missed the train up to Derby, as it arrived just minutes after I got to the platform. I rode the train up to Derby, where I found my way to platform 4a for my train up to Cromford.

The train shuddered its way up the Derwent Valley line, through Duffield, Belper, Ambergate and Whatstandwell, and on to Cromford. I left the train there, along with one other passenger, then I walked down the hill near the station to the village itself. My first port of call was to be Masson Mills, which is just north of Cromford, on the way to Matlock Bath.

Masson Mill was the third mill built by Richard Arkwright, who built the famous mill at Cromford. It was built next to the River Derwent to make use of the river’s water flow to power a mill wheel, which gave power to the mill. It was used to produce cotton until it stopped in 1991, after more than 200 years in operation. In 1995, hydroelectric generators were installed at the mill, which use the power of the River Derwent to generate electricity for the site. Upon closure, the mill became a working museum and retail outlet. I couldn’t visit it today, because it has been closed since March. You know why.

Moving on, I headed back to Cromford the same way I came up to the mill. My next port of call was a familiar one to me; Cromford Canal Wharf. I walked the Cromford Canal last year from Whatstandwell up to Cromford, and this time I was going to tackle the High Peak Trail, a walking and cycling trail which incorporates the former Cromford & High Peak railway, which was a railway used to carry goods and minerals between Cromford and Whaley Bridge from 1831 until it closed in 1967.

In spite of the lack of sunshine, the wharf was busy with tourists and walkers enjoying food and drink at the cafe. I got on to the canal towpath and headed towards High Peak Junction, just a mile or so down the towpath. Social distancing was a bit difficult due to the narrow towpath, but people seemed to be politely making way for others to pass them on the path.

I eventually reached High Peak Junction. I knew I was nearly there because of the smell from the sewage works next to it. I had a bit of a look around before making my way up the biggest hill I have ever climbed.

Before I started the big climb up, I saw something I had read about in books about this place and always wanted to see. In 1888, an accidental runaway wagon slid down the hill, cleared the canal and road before coming to a crashing halt nearby. A “catch pit” was built to stop this from happening again. A bell system warned the pointsman of runaway wagons, and he set the points on the railway track to catch the erstwhile wag on in the pit. In the 1950s, a wagon did slide down the incline and into the pit, and it’s still there to this day.

The rogue wagon rotting away in the catch pit at Sheep Pasture. The pit was lined with old railway sleepers.

I almost joined the wagon in there, as the path down is quite steep, and I nearly took a tumble into it. Having recovered from that, I made my way up the old Sheep Pasture incline, formerly used to haul wagons up the hill to the top, where engines would carry them over more level terrain towards Buxton in Derbyshire. If you want to learn more about the Cromford & High Peak Railway, I recommend the book The Cromford & High Peak Railway in Colour by John Evans (ISBN number 9781445664088).

I found the hill very tough going. I won’t lie to you, I’m not exactly at the peak of physical fitness, and it showed. Others weren’t so fazed by the climb; a young woman jogged past me on the way up the hill.

I think I could see the top of the hill from here.

I should have guessed by the name “High Peak” that it wasn’t going to be an easy stroll. However, after about twenty minutes of walking and sweating, I finally made it to the top. The view was stunning, and it made all the effort worthwhile. I hung around for a while to catch my breath and have a drink of water before continuing on the trail back towards Cromford.

Fortunately for me, it was mostly downhill from there. I exited the High Peak Trail near Black Rocks, an outcrop of gritstone used by rock climbers to… climb. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for me to have a look at it this time, but I will hopefully come back in the future to have a look around (I won’t be climbing it).

The Steeple Grange Light Railway is also near Black Rocks. It’s a narrow gauge heritage railway and visitor centre. Again, I didn’t have time to properly visit the place, but I did take a photo while I was there.

Steeple Grange Light Railway, located between Wirksworth and Cromford.

From there, I headed down the hill and back towards Cromford. I had a quick walk around the centre of the village, around the mill pond and up The Scarthin, where I sat down at a bench and ate my lunch. It was very quiet there, with hardly anyone else around.

I had about an hour before my train back to Derby was due in, so I had a quick look at Cromford’s war memorial located at the entrance to the village, then headed back over to the Cromford Mill. No visit to Cromford is complete without a visit to Cromford Mills. It’s a bit different to how it used to be; I was asked to leave my phone number and surname by a very friendly staff member upon entering the site, for contact tracing purposes. There is also a one-way system and signs encouraging social distancing.

I had a quick look around the mill, then headed back up the Lea Road to the railway station. Even though I’ve been there twice before, I never really got many photos of the place, so I took a few before my train arrived. I actually arrived there when my train was headed up to Matlock, from where it would come back down twenty minutes later.

Once again, Cromford and the Peak District didn’t disappoint. There is so much to do and see there. The only disappointment was the weather, but at least it wasn’t raining. Thanks very much for reading, and you can follow the blog on all your favourite social media platforms, if you want to:

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