Monsal Viaduct, Derbyshire
Looking down upon the twin valleys of Monsal Dale and Upper Dale at one of Derbyshire best known beauty spots you pause to take in the tranquil surroundings. The River Wye winds its way through the dales only disturbed by Ducks and Fly Fishermen. Then of course there is the Railway Viaduct….once a vital link from Manchester down through the Peak and East Midlands and on down to London. The railway is long gone and now a walking and cycling trail with spectacular views. Whilst the railway does provide some clues that perhaps its location here was not just an accident of design it is the River that provides more clues to the areas Industrial past…
The River Wye with its clear waters flows for the most part silently and smoothly through the Dales but occasionally its path is diverted over many man made ‘improvements’. Some odd buildings, then there are weirs, falls and deep channels cut to temporarily divert the flow through mill sluices to power various mills both big and small, mills that ground cereals or bones whilst the larger mills this power was used in textile production.
But that is all in the distant past and today it is a wildlife and walkers haven, a walk where the sound of water is never out of earshot, passing places with names like Cressbrook, Riversdale and Water -cum-Jolly, it is here where you can see how the waters have cut these dales from the limestone….
At the head of Upper Dale, at Cressbrook, stands a massive Mill complex. Built originally by Richard Arkwright it was by all accounts a successful enterprise, past through various owner but eventually failed in the 1960’s. After a long period of neglect and decay the building was once again brought back to life and is now an modern Apartment complex…. and rather fittingly has its own water powered electric supply.
There is an similar mill about half a mile up stream on the Wye at Litton which has a much murkier past. History recounts that it took advantage of the then Child Apprentices Schemes, transporting children from the large cities, even as far away as London. They were then subject to very harsh working and poor living conditions. Local legends suggest that many lost their lives there.
Today that is all just historical memories and hard to visualise.
Indeed it is hard to imagine gazing at this green and tranquil landscape, that after it had been carved out by the receding ice age, that it was once a relatively populated area. Farming of course was one development, but mining for Lead and other minerals was also an important industry, followed by Quarrying for stone extraction and cutting. No doubt the smaller mills sprung up as part of the local economy followed by the larger Textile Mill complexes and of course the railways….. all now gone, now just added interest to a great spring walk in the Dales.
(C) David Oakes 2019