On the Hunt for Wild Orchids….. and a step back in time


Being honest it isn’t so much of a ‘hunt’ as a trek to a location in South Derbyshire that is a little off the usual beaten track. The location is Ticknall Limeyards, but more about this once very busy industrial location later.

For now let me tell you that the site is a listed SSSI for its botanical and geological importance.  It is the later that provides the chalky Limestone soils so loved by many herbs and especially Orchids.  Common Spotted Orchids are the predominant specie. Usually the flower spike with its tight cluster of petals are carried high on a long stem…. so once you find the right location spotting them is usually easy.  But this summer we had forgotten just how virulent all the plant growth has been…and the past week of rain and high temperatures have added to the abundant growth of herbage. However once you spotted one you soon spotted many more….

Apart from the Common Spotted Orchid, the squat dome shaped heads of the Pyramidal Orchid are just starting to establish themselves, so another visit is needed.

Now let me tell you about the history of Ticknall Limeyards.

Well lets start by saying that this location sit’s astride the Geological Thringstone Fault.  The fault runs east west through the village of Ticknall.  To the south are the Coal Seams of South Derbyshire and Leicestershire whilst to the north are beds of Carboniferous Limestone and in places around the village are areas of heavy clay….all three valuable commodities and to have all three in one location was a bonus to be taken advantage of.

The Limeyards are really quarries where limestone was excavated. To make it valuable it was then burnt under very high temperatures to extract a powder we know as Quicklime.  The furnaces needed coal and there was plenty of that within relativly easy reach.

Within this old quarry a number of furnaces, called Lime Kilns, were built.  Deep pits, stone and brick lined. A coal fire was built in the base and the limestone shovelled in from the top…. after some time the Quicklime was  raked from the base.  I believe there were 8 Kilns in use.


To make the process profitable it all needed a constant and large supply of materials and of course the Quicklime needed to be shipped out to industrial customers. … and this is where you can stand and see just how imaginative and creative our predecessors where. We are talking about the 18th and 19th centuries. Hand labour was the power and Horse drawn carts the transport.  So multi layer roadways in and out of the quarries were built for the carts.

But innovation didn’t stop there.  Apart from product from the Limeyards, Bricks and Tiles from the nearby Brickyards needed transport to the Midlands and South of England.  There was a Canal at nearby Ashby but the landscape prevented its economic extension to Ticknall.

To solve the transport problem the Engineer Outram was commissioned to build a Horsedrawn Tramway linking Ticknall to the Ashby Canal some 10 miles away. Opened in 1802 it carried all the local produced products of Lime, Bricks, Pottery and Tiles. Coal came the reverse direction.  It fell out of use in the early 1900’s.

That Tramway can still be traced today and makes a great walk.  The Limeyards have gone back to nature.  Trees surround, pools have formed in hollows and the vegetation  is prolific forming and a haven for wildlife.

One of the exciting experiences of walking into the Limeyards is to approach through one of the tunnels built for the Tramway.  Nearly 200 yards long it is dark but does lets you feel that you walking back in time. So grab a torch and join us….


A onetime busy, noisy, dirty, smoky  location is now a place of solitude.

There are a great number of quarries and mine locations across Derbyshire all with stories of our industrial heritage…. many like Ticknall Limeyards are now some of the very best Nature Reserves in the county…. nature soon takes back what was taken from it so violently.

4th July

(C) David Oakes 2019

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