Join us this week for a delightful stroll along a beautiful, arguably overlooked part of Derbyshire, the Cromford Canal. This walk is rich in natural beauty and steeped in industrial heritage, and has a special place in the heart of Cath Lee, walk leader at Peak Walking Adventures, who has pulled together this series of her top ten walks in the Peak District and Derbyshire and explains why its so special to her.
The Cromford Canal (Easier – Parts of it Accessible)
Once an important part of our industrial transport infrastructure, much of the Cromford Canal is now a nature reserve, rich in wildlife including dragonflies, birds and water voles. You can walk along the old canal tow path on the five mile stretch through the Derwent Valley between Ambergate and Cromford passing through the village of Whatstandwell which is where I grew up. I have very happy childhood memories of walks with my parents along the canal and being excited upon spotting tadpoles in the water and colourful damselflies darting amongst the grasses on the banks.
There is a rail and bus service which operates between the three villages, so you can walk all, or just a section of the path and then get the train or bus back.
Much of the Ambergate to Whatstandwell end of the path is occupied by the nature reserve, but at the other end of the trail towards Cromford is where the industrial revolution burst into life! Industrial artefacts of the trail’s former life can be spotted most of the way along the route until you’re confronted by the imposing structure of the Leawood Pumphouse, built in 1849 to pump water from the River Derwent into Cromford Canal. It is maintained in pristine working condition thanks to the dedication of the Middleton Top and Leawood Pump Volunteer Group. Visitors can experience the power of this great steam engine as it pumps four tons of water into the canal with each piston stroke with regular steaming dates throughout the year from Easter until October. On the opposite side of the canal is High Peak Junction where train carriages used to be hauled up hill to Middleton Top Engine House. Using the power of steam, the engine raised and lowered wagons on the Middleton Incline of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. You can leave the Cromford Canal here and head up the incline to join the High Peak Trail which eventually brings you to just outside of Buxton (at 17.5 miles it’s a bit more than a detour though!). Stick with the Cromford Canal though and you’re almost at the end as a short walk from High Peak Junction comes the
end of the canal at Cromford Wharf, and the home of World Heritage site, Cromford Mill, part of the wider Derwent Valley Mills complex stretching all the way from Derby. Cromford is forever associated with Sir Richard Arkwright as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Arkwright built the world’s first water powered cotton mills here and pioneered the factory system. The mill is undergoing redevelopment (but still very much open for business and welcoming visitors) to showcase the significance of this area.
With the walk complete you find yourself on the doorstep of Matlock Bath and all the attractions on offer from Gulliver’s Kingdom, the Heights of Abraham and quality shopping in another gem of yesteryear at Masson Mills.
For those up to the challenge it’s worth noting that the path you have walked so far forms part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way which you can continue on all the way to the Upper Derwent Reservoir.
If you want to explore this area further as part of a guided walk contact Cath Lee at Peak Walking Adventures or join one of the many free walks which form the Autumn Footprints Walking Festival, 12th to 27th September.
As ever, for more information about these walks plus much more visit our website, www.visitpeakdistrict.com/walking
Next week takes in Curbar Edge, a gritstone edge synonymous to the Dark Peak area of the Peak District.