A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 25 June 2007

Industrial Heritage

This was a 7 mile walk I did a week ago, starting and finishing at the Lea Bridge car park by the river Derwent just east of Cromford in Derbyshire (OS Outdoor Leisure Map 24, Grid Reference 315561). The whole area is fascinating for those interested in canals, railways and industrial archaeology. Just a short walk from the car park is High Peak Junction, where the Cromford and High Peak Railway meets the Cromford Canal. This railway (now a leisure trail) is an engineering masterpiece. It was originally planned as a canal linking the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge 33 miles away. But due to severe engineering difficulties and problems with water supply over the high-level limestone route, it eventually opened in 1830 as a railway. Engineered by Josiah Jessop (son of the canal engineer, William Jessop, who constructed the Cromford Canal - and also the Grand Union Canal which connected Birmingham with London), it's perhaps not surprising - considering canals were in the Jessops' blood - that the stations were called wharves, and that steam-powered beam engines hauled wagons (filled with minerals, grain or coal) up gradients, these inclines being the rail equivalent of a flight of locks. My walk took me up the first incline to Sheep Pasture, where the sun came out, and the view north towards Cromford and Matlock was very pretty indeed. The centrepoint of this view is the little symmetrical hill of High Tor, positioned on the eastern side of the river Derwent just beyond Matlock Bath. This made me nostalgic as it was this tiny, insignificant peak that sparked my imagination many years ago, and impelled me to go walking seriously for the first time. I've climbed much higher hills since then, but this one holds a special place in the memory. Then a flat section led to Black Rocks where some young climbers were roped-up and practising. The final incline eased me up to Middleton Top, where there's a very fine beam engine preserved in the Engine House (see photo), and where there's also a Visitor and Cycle Hire Centre. It seemed like a good time for a break and some lunch. But I didn't stop long as the clouds were closing in. Heading over Middleton Moor and down into the rather unexceptional village of Middleton, I found a path which skirted the rim of the noisy, working Middleton Quarry and then descended via an old green way to Cromford, where Richard Arkwright famously built his water-powered cotton mill in 1771. The rain began to fall steadily as I passed that excellent second-hand bookshop, Scarthin Books; so I put on my waterproofs and strode quickly towards Cromford Wharf, from where I took the canal towpath back to the car. This was an enjoyable half-hour stroll with wild flowers bordering the path and sheep sheltering under trees from the rain...

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