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High Peak Trail

High Peak Trail
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Regular followers of my walks will no doubt have noticed that I always try to design the walk around a convenient pub.  This walk is no exception and can almost be considered a pub crawl. It passes the doors of two and, more to the point, starts and finishes at a walker (and dog) friendly pub, the Rising Sun at Middleton by Wirksworth.

Providing that you intend using the hospitality of the Rising Sun, I have taken the liberty of starting the walk from the pub car park.  In the early stages of the walk, the route follows the High Peak Trail, down two of its inclines, past Black Rocks as far as the canal. Here the tow path leads the way into Cromford, or at least the road past Arkwright’s Mill as far as the main road.  Across this, the walk enters the village proper, passing on the way, the recently re-furbished Greyhound, originally built by Arkwright to accommodate visitors to his new invention. Turning left on to Cromford Hill, you must look out for Alabaster Lane, the first opening on the right after Water Lane, the Via Gellia road.  Alabaster Lane soon becomes a bridleway taking you up towards the perimeter of Dean Quarry.  Where the lane (by this time a grassy path) crosses one of the quarry roads, the way of the walk becomes a field path all the way into Middleton village.  The village has one pub, the Nelson Arms, another walker and dog friendly hostelry. A left turn at the cross roads beyond the pub climbs up to a side lane on the left, aptly called The Moor.  At its summit a broad grassy high level path to the left leads all the way to Middleton Top Visitor Centre.  Here a left turn joins the trail which is followed back to the Rising Sun.

From the Rising Sun cross the B5035, Cromford/Ashbourne road and walk up the side road opposite as far as the old railway bridge.

Immediately after going under the bridge, turn left on to a side path climbing up to the High Peak Trail.

Turn right on the trail and follow it down the incline.  Go over two bridges and as far as Black Rocks.

The High Peak Trail follows one of the oldest railway tracks in Britain; it started as a horse drawn railway.  Built by canal engineers to link Cromford and High Peak Canals, it climbed inclines, not by locks, but by steam engine operated cables. There are two on this section of the trail, the first is below Middleton Top and a second further on beyond Black Rocks.

Look out for side turnings at the foot of Middleton Top incline; the first leads to the Nation Stone Centre based on an abandoned quarry.  The second is to Steeple Grange Light Railway, a collection of narrow gauge industrial locomotives.

Walking past Black Rocks car park where it might be possible to get a drink, continue along the trail and as far as the old engine house for Sheep Pasture Incline.

There is a lot to see around Black Rocks.  First are the remains of an old lead mine at the side of the car park.  Next the trail passes beneath dense trees below Black Rocks and then on a level open stretch, there is a magnificent view of the Derwent Valley and rocky crags surrounding Matlock Bath. Finally the chapel-like structure of the old engine house still offers a hint of the mechanism involved in moving rolling stock up and down the incline.

Walk steeply down the incline as far as the canal.

Look out for the catch-pit near the bottom of the incline, it was meant to stop runaway wagons. The old railway workshops that serviced rolling stock are now a visitor centre where there is tea and coffee and other refreshments on sale.

Cross over the canal and turn left to follow the canal tow path all the way to its terminus at Cromford Wharf.

Turn left beyond the wharf and walk past Arkwright’s Mill up to the main road.

Structures around the terminus of the Cromford Canal once echoed to the sound of barges loading and unloading. The building above the far bank is now a café.

There will be no time to visit the mill today, but it is worthwhile exploring its history on another day.  One thing you may notice as you pass the mill is its grim almost fortress-like walls.  Even though Arkwright chose to develop his new invention in what was then a remote rural setting, there was still the danger of attack by Luddites afraid of the new process undermining their home based industry.

Cross the A6 at the traffic lights and turn left along Cromford Hill Road.

Cross over a turn left in front of the Greyhound Inn.  Cross Water Lane, the A5012 Via Gellia road.

After 100 yards, turn right into Alabaster Lane and follow it uphill past the backs of houses.  Ignore side roads and paths.

Beyond the houses the lane becomes a sunken track where mud might be encountered.  Continue uphill until the track becomes a footpath where it follows the boundary fence of Dean Quarry.

The quarry on your left is a major employer for the area.  Not visited on this walk, but worth looking for is the viewpoint near the top of Cromford Hill. A plaque commemorates the day when a man with a wheelbarrow containing a pick and shovel walked on to Dean Field and started digging.

Reaching a small gate, go through it and turn half left to cross the quarry road (watch out for heavy traffic).  Go through another gate on the far side and turn left to follow a narrow path.

After about a quarter of a mile, turn sharp right on to a field path.  Follow it past an old barn.

Reaching the backs of houses, turn right up to the side road and turn left.

Go forwards where the road bears left and walk to the end of a cul-de-sac.

Bear left then right by some garages and walk between a group of bungalows, down to the road through Middleton by Wirksworth.

Turn right at the road, walk uphill past the Nelson and as far as the cross roads.

Turn left and follow Water Lane for about 150 yards and then go left on to the lane called The Moor.  Follow this uphill and then bear right with it on to Middleton Moor.

Look out for a bridle gate on your left.  Go through it and on to a grassy path leading to the chimney of Middleton Top winding house and the Visitor Centre.  Turn left on to the trail and walk downhill back to the bridge where a right turn leads to the Rising Sun.

Opposite the bridle gate on to Middleton Moor you may become aware of a green fence surrounded by warnings not to interfere with it.  There is nothing particularly sinister about the fence, but it is part of a long-term test of fencing to surround HM prisons.

There are many remains of parts of the Cromford and High Peak Railway to be seen at Middleton Top, from the stone sleepers that once carried the track to winding gears – there is also a section of the original rails round the back of the centre.  The engine is steamed on advertised days during the summer months.

Useful Information

7 miles (11.25km) of trail, canal tow path, village centre and bridleway followed by high level field paths. 885 feet (270m), descent and ascent.  Mostly dry conditions along the trail and canal path.  Muddy sections on the bridleway and field paths into Middleton by Wirksworth.

Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map, Sheet 24, the White Peak.

Public Transport. Trent Barton ‘Sixes Service’ 6.1 Derby/Bakewell to the cross roads below the Rising Sun (hourly).

Car parking.  Pub car park if planning to use the pub later, otherwise roadside nearby.

Refreshments: Rising Sun at the end of the walk.

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