On a sunny weekend today’s Matlock Bath is popular with middle-aged motorcyclists whose expensive mounts line the riverside frontage. They are just the modern manifestation of the visitors who come to enjoy the local scenery. As far back as the Georgian era, people have come to admire the unique setting of this small village: at first it was only visited by those who could afford the expense of horse-drawn transport, but when the railway came, and with it cheaper transport, it opened up the place for those with lighter purses. Since then the coming of the motor car has spread the net and people flock from all over the north Midlands for a day out in this mini-holiday resort.
Early visitors likened Matlock Bath to an alpine resort, and that cannot be far from the truth.
Romantic poet Lord Byron described Matlock Bath as; ‘There are places in Derbyshire rivalling Switzerland and Greece’. A bit far fetched, but with the vertical limestone crag of High Tor and its continuing ridge opposite the main part of the village, the aspect is not far removed from some alpine village – admittedly not quite as high, but nevertheless the looks are there. The ambience is continued with the cable car up to the Heights of Abraham and its terraced woodland walks. There’s even a tiny chapel, St John’s, about half way between Matlock and Matlock Bath that could easily be mistaken for a miniature Alpine Schloss.
Probably the closest to a truly alpine footpath is the path along what is known as ‘Giddy Edge’. This path, complete with a metal handrail crosses the upper face of High Tor and can truly be compared – again, in a small way, to Via Ferrate the iron ladders that criss-cross the Dolomites and other limestone mountains of the Alps.
This walk uses many of the high-level and riverside paths that wander high and low around the village. Starting at Matlock Bath railway station the walk climbs up the side of High Tor into the outskirts of Snitterton. This linear satellite village follows what was once the only road south from Matlock until the line of the A6 was developed. Entering woodland, the path climbs to the summit of High Tor, where the exciting prospect of the Giddy Edge path begins its descent back into Matlock Bath. Here if you want, a truly alpine extension to the walk can be made by taking the cable car to the top of the Heights of Abraham and enjoy its woodland walks. (Visit www.heightsofabraham.com for opening times) Continuing towards the riverside section of the walk, a footpath leaving the car park climbs to the ridge-top continuation of High Tor, before dropping down to the river by a series of well-laid steps. A left turn at the river will follow the wooded path called ‘Lovers’ Walk’ until it reaches a modern footbridge. Over this are the Riverside Gardens and beyond is the Pavilion, the restored replica of an alpine Kursall, or spa. The fascinating Peak District Lead Mining Museum is here together with a friendly café dispensing home-made food. There are many alternatives for refreshments along the roadside, ranging from fish and chips to several excellent restaurants and pubs.
A WORD OF CAUTION
While the Giddy Edge section of the walk has a well-placed handrail, it should be approached with great care and certainly not in wet or icy conditions.
For anyone not wishing to use the Giddy Edge path, there is an alternative route bearing left at the start of the edge path which crosses the highest point of High Tor.
Children and dogs must be under close scrutiny at all times.
Take the side road parallel to both the river and railway line, away from the car park.
Turn right and go under the railway, uphill towards the entrance to the bottom station of the Heights of Abraham cable car.
Do not bear left to the cable car entrance, but continue ahead and through a squeezer stile next to a metal gate.
Climb the roughly surfaced track until it reaches an unmade road lined with houses.
Turn left on this road and go through a gate opening on to a surfaced track leading into woodland.
The track climbs steadily, bearing right in its upper reaches.
Where the track on leaving the trees bears left, continue ahead until it peters out. (The track going left is heading for a radio mast).
The woodland is part of the High Tor Recreation Grounds. There are several roofless old mines around the summit, often bearing fanciful names such as ‘Fern Cave’ or ‘Roman Cave’, but none are quite so ancient. It was once possible to enter the mines for self-exploration, but an over-cautious council has closed them off on Health and Safety grounds.
There was once a café on the summit of High Tor, but it mysteriously burned down within a few days of its closure.
Swing round to the left away from the mast compound and make for the summit of High Tor to admire the view. N.B. There is no barrier at the summit, so keep well away from the edge – there is a 190 foot drop straight down the tor face.
Bear left away from the summit rocks and follow the signpost towards Giddy Edge, making use of the iron handrails as necessary. N.B. If it’s icy, raining or if you do not have a head for heights, bear left away from the start of the Giddy Edge path and go over the highest point of High Tor. This path joins the Giddy Edge path on the far side of the summit.
Continue on the edge path, using a well-placed seat for a rest along the way.
At the far end, join a rough path zig-zagging steeply downhill through mature woodland.
Go to the left and then right around the perimeter fence of the cable car. Go under the railway bridge and turn left on to a side road.
If you wish to extend the walk, then the cable car bottom station is conveniently close at hand. The ticket also gives access to woodland walks and two well-appointed mines (guided) at the summit. There is also a café and gift shop.
Walk through the station car park and go to the right on to a path leaving from near the coach parking bays.
Follow the path uphill until it reaches a stepped-path going left.
Follow the path uphill and then along the ridge until it reaches another stepped-path descending right.
Go down these steps and on reaching the riverside path (Lovers’ Walk), turn left and walk downstream, past an over-arching metal bridge.
Walk on until the path reaches a second, more modern bridge.
There was once a small menagerie and a hand-drawn ferry opposite what is now a rowing boat hire jetty.
Cross the bridge and turn right to pass through Riverside Gardens and the pond full of golden carp.
Make your way up to the Pavilion and the main road.
Turn right along the road, following it past the famous fish pond (currently devoid of fish) and then past the old (Jubilee) bridge. Divert through the memorial garden.
Turn right beside the Midland Hotel and follow Station Road back to the car park.