Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Derwent Valley Heritage Way Section 4 Cromford to Belper

Cromford Wharf
Transport between legs is getting easier courtesy of the railway that runs alongside our route now and it was only about 15 minutes on the train between these two places.  On getting out at Cromford we had to walk along the road a bit past the large pile of Willersley Castle - a manor house that was built for Richard Arkwright; the industrialist who founded Masson Mill that we had passed yesterday.  It is now a Christian Hotel - not sure I have ever heard of such a thing but in a location like this you would definitely have all the inspiration you need to find your spiritual side!  We also passed by St Mary's Church, a rather dark looking building partly hidden by trees.

High Peak Junction
It was opposite this that we picked up the path once more at Cromford Wharf, the terminus of the Cromford Canal and the transport link that made industry in this area really possible.  The link to the outside world made the transport of goods significantly quicker and more reliable in the 1780s although the pace of the canal would be pretty pedestrian by today's standards.  The visitor centre was gearing itself up for a busy sunny Sunday and the smell of bacon wafted over the canal basin from the nearby cafe.  The boat sheds of the wharf are a reminder of how the place used to operated but in truth this is a rather sanitised place, devoid of the smells and sounds that would have accompanied the industrial activity associated with the canal trade.

Leawood Pumphouse
The canal though would be our companion for the next 5 miles or so.  In truth much of it is in a fairly poor state of repair but not something that couldn't be remedied.  Considering the state of other canals that we have encountered on our routes this one is in much better condition.  Certainly for the first mile or so the canal is navigable and a boat plies between the visitor centres at the canal basin and High Peak Junction a little further on.

Grass Snake
Sunday morning activities were in full swing by now with Rugby matches going on across the valley and the canal towpath a constant stream of dog walkers, joggers and cyclists for the first mile or so of our walk.  Even the water course itself was a hive of activity with swans, ducks, coots and moorhens all grabbing their slice of the bank.  This continued for the whole distance between Cromford Canal Basin and the High Peak Junction, which came upon us rather more quickly than I expected.  I have been here before of course, most recently after completing the High Peak Trail a few years ago.  It is a curiosity of the former railway system as the railway from here was built in the canal age and predated most of the rest of the rail network.  By the time it closed in the late 1960s it was an anachronism and probably far too dangerous to be considered for preservation in an operational state.  Yet only the rails have been removed and the workshop here is a visitor centre and the canal wharf a little further on is some kind of hostel.

Waiting for a Train
High Peak Junction was the interface between the Cromford Canal and the railway line constructed across the middle of the Peak District to connect to the Peak Forest Canal in the north west of Derbyshire and from there onwards to Manchester and the industrial cotton towns of Lancashore.  The railway was built with steep inclines where the trains would be powered by stationary steam engines pulling the goods wagons up the hill.  The cables pulling the trucks occasionally snapped and runaway trucks would clatter down the hill to be caught in the catch pit below.  One is still here at High Peak Junction!

Whatstandwell Tunnel
Having satisfied our curiosity with the displays we continued on our way past the old pump house that was a little further on.  Sadly it wasn't working on the day we passed by.  Originally its purpose was to raise water from the Derwent into the canal to keep water volumes topped up.  It still looks very handsome alongside the canal.  A little further on and we crossed the Derwent by means of a large aqueduct.  On the other side of the wall we caught sight of a large snake, rather unlike any I have seen before as it was almost totally black.  However, its neck had the same ring as a grass snake and I suspect it was a variant of that species.  Whatever it was it didn't look terribly well - its milky looking eyes suggested it might be dead although another passer by looking at it thought it wasn't as he sees them regularly basking in the sun against the wall.

Choked Canal Bed
Around the corner from the aqueduct we crossed the railway that had now emerged from a tunnel and would be our constant companion all the way to Ambergate.  What was less evident though was water in the canal which was now intermittent.  I understand that the ecosystem that has been created in the canal bed along this stretch probably means that it will never operate as a canal again even though it ought to be reasonably easy to restore.

Leaving the Cromford Canal
The next 3 miles of the canal can only be described as utterly delightful.  Despite the fact that we by now quite late in the season this was a day that belonged firmly in the summer camp than the autumn one to come.  The sun was hot and the dappled shade afforded by the woodland flanking the path was very welcome.  Only a tunnel (which added a bit of spice to proceedings) and the odd cyclist changed things a bit and we all wandered along at our own pace rather staggered for extended periods of time.  Progress along this section was very quick though - we made really good time and before we knew it we were at Ambergate and very reluctantly had to leave the canal behind.  Although it looks to continue further for some distance the reality is that it doesn't go a lot further before being extinguished.
Ambergate Cricket

In Ambergate we were faced with the astonishingly busy A6 and this was rather a terrifying prospect to cross.  We did manage to find a break in the traffic though and by now we were feeling rather parched and the Hurt Arms Hotel was a very welcome watering hole.  We sat outside in the beer garden and despite having five miles of walking under their feet our children were very keen to have a bounce around on the bouncy castle that was stationed outside.  From the field next door we got the odd shout from cricketers that were playing a rather competitive sounding match.

Feeling refreshed we walked along the perimeter of the cricket pitch, initially along the main road and then up a side road that took us up and away from the Derwent after we had crossed it again.  We passed through a pleasant stretch of woodland before a section of road walking.  Thankfully the road wasn't very busy as walking with children on these sorts of routes is never much fun.  The views out across Ambergate and the Derwent Valley probably just about made up for the unwelcome walking conditions and by now we could also see our ultimate destination of Belper.

Derwent Valley Near Belper
We were most pleased to leave the road and the path once more returned to the valley floor.  By now the railway that we were following was not just the branch line to Matlock but the main railway between Sheffield and Derby.  The difference in traffic was very noticeable too with trains thundering by at high speed every few minutes.  We speculated on where the trains were travelling to and from for this also the main line between the south west of England (from as far away as Penzance) to Scotland (to as far away as Aberdeen).  At least one of the trains may well have been the longest direct service in Britain.  Interspersed between Inter-City trains were great lumbering freight trains, travelling a lot slower but no less impressive.
Belper Mill and Weir

Our path meandered beside fields and in between trains was most peaceful.  Autumn fruits were in full swing and many of the trees and bushes were sporting their new colours.  Yet the temperature of the day and bright full sunshine suggested that summer was still in full swing - all rather confusing really!  Eventually we entered Belper from the north west and were greeted by the most beautiful dahlia gardens I have seen for some time.
East Mill
Belper looks like an agreeable kind of place.  True there is some dereliction as some of the former mills and other industry have closed but some of the old housing built for the workers is delightful and the mill at the north end of the town flanked by a large weir in the Derwent is most impressive.  Faced with a long drive home though we didn't linger for too long; preferring to save it until our next trip.  As for this section of the walk the part alongside the Cromford Canal was possibly the most enjoyable section we have walked yet.  The section over from Ambergate was less enjoyable but that may have been because we were thinking about our trip back to Sussex by then.  The only down side of this walk is that it is quite a long way from home.

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