A Canal Side Walk…..


High Peak Junction, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire

Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and now provides a quiet relax walk along its towpath and through woodlands, past a couple of Nature Reserves and providing views along and across the Derwent Valley.

Yes, its is quiet… yet that was not always the case for this once very innovative and busy industrial location in the heart of rural Derbyshire.

About a mile up the canal from the above location is Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mill Complex, this is where the modern factory production system was born as part of the industrial revolution.  It is also just one of the reasons that the canal was constructed here.

Like all canals,  canal architects and builders would seek to find a level route. Here they follow the 275ft contour line as it twist along the valley. Opened in 1794 the canal linked Cromford to Erewash and onwards to the River Trent an important transport link for raw materials and finished goods from Arkwright and other industries along the Derwent valley.

Innovation wasn’t just with the construction of the canal.  By 1831 a Railway link was added, one of the first commercial railways and again very revolutionary.  The Railway was built to link Cromford to Manchester high over the Peak District a major engineering achievement. The result was that goods for export could be transport to the ports of Manchester and Liverpool so much quicker.

The building below is one of the oldest Railway Wharfs where goods were tranship from train to canal and vice versa. Along this section of the canal there are other pieces of railway architecture as reminders of this link


At this point the canal is wide to allow for barges to be turned, moored and wait there turns to unload and load.  From here as the canal goes south it soon becomes narrow, just wide enough for two barges (narrowboats) to pass.  So lets start the walk from an industrial past through a woodland and wild habitat where trees overhang the water which in places is now overgrown being no longer navigable….just a tranquil location with nature, rather than industry, being the so much at home…

All canals need water and here water from the River Derwent was used.  The problem was that the River runs some 100ft below the Canal contour.  So again inventive engineers installed, at Leawoods, a Steam Powered Pump to lift water from the river up to the canal.  The Pump House is kept in running order by volunteers, they are pleased to show off the steam engine and the pump on special ‘ In Steam Weekends’. At the moment the pumphouse is not looking its best as it is under wraps undergoing restoration works to the building.  So here is an image of today and one taken on a previous visit.  It is also here at Lea where the canal crossed, by means of an aqueduct, the River below.  The channel on the aqueduct just wide enough for a barge..

 Our walk takes us back to the start at High Peak Junction.  Here there is a very small but interesting museum.  Located in what must have been one of the very first Railway Workshops. It is also alongside Middleton Incline up which carriages were winched by chain, powered by a might static steam engine at the top.

Despite the years that smell of steam, smoke and oil permeate the atmosphere adding to the experience and allowing the imagination to travel back in time..

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23rd October

(C) David Oakes 2018