A Walk through an Industrial Heritage

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

21st May

(C) David Oakes 2019

A Wander through the Dales…..

Last week saw the first real sunny day of the spring so it was not to be wasted and with Rucksack packed and Buster in tow off we went to explore. Monsal Dale is one of many limestone dales through which the River Wye has cut its twisting path, sometimes tranquil and at others frantic as it pours over one of the many weirs……

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The sun may well have looked bright but at first light it still had that cold winter look about it and with the bare brown trees of winter the mood in the shadows was very sombre. Monsal Dale like so many of the Derbyshire Dales are deep valleys surrounded to a lesser or greater extent by Limestone outcrops.  Eventually the rising sun rose above the valley and started to add some warmth to the Dale……

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The River winds a circuitous route in places broad and other narrow were it has struggled to cut its path through the limestone.  As is so often the case in the Derbyshire Peak District, the Dales look peaceful and tranquil, but they hide what was once a very busy industrial location over very many centuries. Mineral extraction was just one of the industries and with the coming of the railways it embraced its the new transport opportunities. Nor could the railway be ignored as it cut is track way much more directly through this and many other dales…..

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The Railway was constructed to link Industrial Manchester and the industries of Lancashire and the North  with London and the South of England.  Although the line was an important and busy Passenger and Goods line, it had the added advantage of helping develop the Tourist Industry of the region.  Sadly like so many of Britain’s railways it was closed as part of the so called improvements to make the railways more viable!!!

No obstacle was to great for the engineers, tunnels driven through hillsides, embankments created and viaducts thrown across many a valley and river to retain the track height.  Monsal Viaduct is to-day much admired as an engineering achievement, a great piece of architecture and yes it does stand dramatically above the dale as it spans the Wye……

Monsal-with-BB-02888 Certainly the giant arches dwarf the walker bellow adding a little drama to what is now a quiet place. True you can stand and marvel at the skill of the stonemason and bricklayer as it stands as solid as the day it was built.

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But it does raise the question…”Would it have been built to-day?”.  In England there is much of an outcry over a proposed High-speed Rail link from London to the Midlands.  Of course the pro-argument is that it will bring jobs, create wealth and is for the good of the economy (yes, the familiar arguments) but for those who will loose homes, farms, jobs it is a tragedy that they find hard to come to terms with….all very real heartaches and irreplaceable losses.  Then you add the impact on the countryside, the wildlife and the nature reserves it will cut through again losses that even the most well thought out mitigation measures would do little to ameliorate.

So it does beg the question, would this railway line be constructed today through sites of Special Scientific value and now considered one of the most beautiful series of Dales in Derbyshire.

But since the line has been closed, and the railway lines removed it has left a great legacy. The railway ‘track’ is now known as the Monsal Trail one of several ex railway lines that are now providing great paths for walkers and interlinking routes for cyclists…..

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 The lines may have gone but they leave behind the occasional reminders of railway life such as the odd Lines Mans Hut…

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The high elevation on the side of the Dale gives great views to add pleasure to your explorations of the River Wye.

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UpperDale one of many small hamlets nestling beside the Wye….

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And the view down to Cressbrook Dale…

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With good views of Water-Cum- Jolly

it is here where the Wye cuts through a  small Limestone Gorge

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It is here that man has re-shaped the flow of the Wye with yet another weir, built to channel waters to use to power several Mills…..

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Cressbrook Mill is just one of many that once lined the banks of the Wye

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You would be excused for thinking that this was an new building for it has been recued from near total ruin and misuse and renovated in much style to provide Apartments, Town Houses and Holiday accommodation.  Swish indeed but there are many stories of misused and abused Child labour in days gone bye and much worse if one believes the rumours.

Neat and trim it all looks today but I also spotted this sign, which if it is to be believed,  has seen the local council restrict just when and when not the rocks falls can take place on to the road!!

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I hope you have enjoyed this short trip to Monsal dale and a short walk along the Monsal Trail…..perhaps we should be grateful to our forefathers for building the track and closure giving us another benefit to enjoy. Yes the trail has a rosy future and given Derbyshire another iconic landmark….

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© David Oakes 2013