The three bridges either crossed or viewed on this walk are all venerable. Two once carried commercial traffic, allowing pack horses or in one case, coaches and horses to cross the River Wye dry-shod. The third is strictly not in the same category as the other two, but is in fact a viaduct that carried powerful steam trains on the Midland line between London and Manchester. This is the famous Monsal Viaduct that gave the Victorian environmentalist, John Ruskin, so much pain.
In its early stages the walk follows a flooded section of the Wye where its impounded waters were used to power one of the first cotton mills in the region. Later, having crossed an attractive packhorse bridge, the way is past the surface buildings of an abandoned chert mine, an especially hard form of limestone once used to help grind china clay for the pottery industry.
Although the walk visits what is probably the best viewpoint in the Peak District, the route it follows is along comparatively little used footpaths and bridleways across the high ground separating both Bakewell and Ashford in the Water from Monsal Dale. The prettily named village of Ashford in the Water where the walk starts and finishes was once the home of workers in one of the Peak’s long abandoned and lesser known industries. These men and women made objects, some as large as tables, from inlaid coloured limestone, colloquially called Derbyshire marble. Ranging from black to red, this with the addition of imported green malachite from Italy became popular in Victorian times. The red form incidentally, was only found in one small place and the total stock was removed from its mine and now sits unwanted in the cellar of Chatsworth House. Now only found at rare auctions, inlaid Derbyshire black marble items can fetch high prices; Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has a comprehensive display of inlaid Derbyshire marble, together with the mock-up of a small workshop.
7 miles (11.25km) of easy to moderate walking on well surfaced footpaths and bridleways, with two short sections of roadside footpaths. 197 feet, (60m) climb.
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer Map: White Peak Area, Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock and Dovedale.
Parking available either by the roadside near the market cross or in the public car park in Ashford in the Water.
Public transport: the hourly TP service from Derby to Manchester calls at the village and stops conveniently close by the start of the walk.
Refreshments: two pubs and a café in Ashford with another pub at Little Longstone together with a restaurant and café at Monsal Head.
- Where the main road through Ashford in the Water turns sharp right, go to the left and over the pedestrianised bridge. Turn left at the A6 and follow its grassy verges and footpath for about a third of a mile, over the A6020 and also the old village access road.
- The attractive shelter of the old market cross was once the focal point of trade from the surrounding farms. The bridge to its left carried horse-drawn traffic into and out of Ashford. On the far side of the bridge the walled paddock at the riverside was once used to pen sheep waiting to be washed in the river. The parish church has many links with the village’s one time industry of stone polishing. There are several old miners’ graves and an inlaid black marble table, a fine example of Derbyshire marble work.
- A few yards beyond the old road and where the main road starts to climb, go to your left through a kissing gate. Follow the field path a little way above the now abandoned mill lakes, across a series of meadows and as far as the backs of houses on a small estate.
- Take the path between two houses, then go over the road to reach another path bearing right away from the properties.
- At the main road, go through a narrow stone stile and bear left to follow the roadside footpath for about a quarter of a mile, past what was once one of Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills, but is now a small industrial complex. Continue beyond its access road.
- After passing the tree lined side channel where water was once diverted along it to drive a small mill in Bakewell, turn left to cross the narrow packhorse bridge.
- The narrow stone bridge was once used by trains of pack horses carrying goods across the lower Pennines, between Cheshire and Sheffield. Notice the lay-bys where pedestrians could avoid the heavily laden panniers of passing horses.
- Go forwards and slightly left uphill past the abandoned chert mine on your right, out on to the higher pastureland.
- Go forwards on to the walled bridleway up and over the rise and then down to the Monsal Trail.
- Monsal Trail uses the section of the old Midland line between London and Manchester which was closed by the Beeching Axe.
- On reaching the trail, look across to the house standing beside the A6020, the Chesterfield to Manchester road. The house is older than it looks and was once the place where travellers paid their tolls.
- Follow the trail for a little over a mile, over a road bridge and past the remains of Longstone Station which backs on to Thornbridge Hall, a Victorian country house.
- Look out for a footpath sign on your right and follow it, down from the embankment, bearing left over three fields until you reach the road.
- Turn left along the road, past the Packhorse Inn at Little Longstone and continue as far as Monsal Head.
- Cross the road and keeping the small car park on your right, aim for a stone stile at the top of a hairpin bend coming up from the dale.
- Go through the stile and bear left on to a path climbing towards open country above the wooded hillside.
- Pause to admire the view of Monsal Dale. The Victorian environmentalist John Ruskin hated the viaduct and its then railway, referring to it with the comment: ‘The valley is gone and the gods with it, and now every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half an hour and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere’. One cannot but wonder what his comment would be if the viaduct was demolished now, for it seems to fit so well into the picture of dale and hillsides.
- Passing one or two well placed seats, bear left at the next path junction in order to follow a walled field access track for about half a mile.
- Turn sharp left with the track, and then right after a couple of hundred yards and ignoring the side track bearing left, go forwards and gradually downhill until the track improves on passing a remote bungalow.
- Follow the lane as far its junction with a side road.
- Turn right along the road and follow it directly into Ashford in the Water.