The last day of our short break in the Peak District, we’d planned to go out for a walk. I had a few routes in mind but decided to “suck it and see” depending on the conditions. When we woke up it was raining, but the forecast was that it would clear before the afternoon so we would need to restrict ourselves to a shorter walk as I was working the next day and didn’t want to leave it too long before we set off for home. So after picking up some bacon and a few other items at the Chatsworth shop, we drove over to Monsal Head, a famous Peak District beauty spot.
We parked up by the Monsal Head Hotel – the large car park soon fills up at the weekend but there was plenty of room on a Monday morning. It’s in an elevated position looking over the Wye Valley at a spot where the Wye, flowing eastwards, encounters a band of harder rock and is forced to make a sharp turn southwards, carving its way through a of limestone ridge. Until the 1960’s a railway line from Derby to Manchester ran westwards along the valley over the Headstone viaduct and through a series of tunnels. Today the railway route has been turned into a walking and cycling trail – the Monsal Trail. From the viewpoint we looked down over the viaduct and the valley.
Despite being a somewhat grey day, overcast with middling visibility, it was still a stunning view.
We walked along the trail some 26 years ago carrying my daughter, who was then a baby less than a year old, in a baby carrier strapped to my back. I remember her hitting me on the head to try to make move quicker! Since then the trail has been improved and the tunnels opened up so that you can walk or ride through them during the daylight hours.
Without a definite plan in mind, we decided to follow the trail westwards for a few miles and see where we ended up, so we took the path down from the viewpoint by the hotel down to the viaduct. This was the view looking north west along Monsal Dale
and south west, downstream.
We followed the former railway track, taking care to avoid being run over by bikes! It was reasonably busy despite being a Monday morning in early Autumn.
Views down into the valley itself were rather intermittent as the track was lined by trees that blocked the view for much of its length. Eventually the rather attractive Georgian buildings of Cressbrook Mill came into view.
Despite being a peaceful valley today, at one time, during and after the Industrial Revolution, Monsal Dale was a hive of activity with the river powering cotton mills at Upperdale, Cressbrook and Litton and with lime kilns further west in Chee Dale.
The first mill at Cressbrook was built for Sir Richard Arkwright in 1779 but this burnt down in 1785 and was rebuilt by his son in 1787. The large Georgian building visible from the trail is an extension built in 1814.
Just after the viewpoint we entered our first tunnel.
Emerging at the other side there was a view down to very pretty part of the valley known as Water-cum-Jolly
Soon we were back inside another tunnel, emerging and looking down over Litton Mill. We climbed up the path to the top of the tunnel to get a better view
Built in 1782 Litton Mill became notorious for the poor treatment of the workers and apprentices – and that’s during a period when workers didn’t have an easy life, to say the least!
At that point we decided to retrace our steps, walking back through the tunnels before descending down into the valley at the deserted train station at Upperdale.
We crossed the river over to the small settlement. The distinctive blue/green paint telling us that the former famm and mill worker houses were now owned by the Chatsworth Estate. The larger house was a Band B while the other buildings had been converted to rental properties. Very attractive they looked too.
We followed the road for a short distance and then took a path that took us back over the river
and then under the viaduct and along the river south west from Monsal Head
Looking back towards the viaduct
We carried on walking down the valley beside the river
We didn’t follow the river all the way to the A6 but a short distance after the weir crossed over a bridge to the other side of the river and then followed the path that rose steeply up through he wooded flank of the valley,
eventually emerging back at Monsal Head
We stopped a short while to admire the view and then it was time for a brew in the courtyard outside the pub next to the Hotel.