Category Archives: Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak

The branch line that thinks it’s a main line

Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, Derbyshire

Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, Derbyshire

There’s a sleepy little branch line up the Ecclesbourne valley in Derbyshire, from the former Midland main line at Duffield to the market town of Wirksworth.  Since 2002 a group of volunteers have been reviving it for tourist traffic.  Its survival is unusual, but nothing like as unusual as its origin.

For complicated reasons of Victorian railway politics, there was a possibility in the 1860s that the Midland Railway’s line from Derby to Manchester might be blocked by its competitor, the London & North Western Railway, when the joint lease on the section between Ambergate and Rowsley ran out in 1871.

In case this happened, or perhaps to prevent the L&NWR making trouble, the Midland built the branch up the Ecclesbourne valley as far as Wirksworth, which is as far as any reasonable railway line would go.  Beyond that, they secured the right to tunnel under the hills, crossing the Via Gellia road on a 280-yard-long viaduct, emerging into daylight above Matlock and dropping down the Derwent Valley to their newly-built line from Rowsley westwards.

If it had been built it would have been even more heavy-duty than the “flute” line through Monsal Dale, Miller’s Dale and Chee Dale.  It would have been a stiff challenge to drive expresses and – even more – coal trains up the grade, through a series of lengthy tunnels and round tight curves under the Heights of Abraham.

The Wirksworth-Rowsley extension was never built, and instead trains pottered up and down the Wirksworth branch, carrying limestone, milk and passengers.  The milk and passengers went over to road transport before and during the Second World War, but the huge Middle Peak Quarry kept the railway running until 1989.

Then, when the quarry was mothballed, the railway was left intact but utterly neglected, so that by the time the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway crews had the go-ahead to bring it back to life it was an 8½-mile-long jungle.  Whereas most railway-preservation groups have to lay fresh track, as did the EVR’s neighbours at Peak Rail, here the heavy work has been clearing out blocked culverts and replacing rotten sleepers.

The line is  open up the existing main line at Duffield so that passengers can connect with East Midlands trains’ hourly Derby-Matlock service.

The main-line connection has been severed and, so I’m told, there’s only a minimal chance of it being reinstalled.  The EVR can provide a worthwhile passenger service with steam locomotives and diesel railcars, and Wirksworth is a pleasant market town with a fascinating history.  The future looks promising for this once derelict survivor of a time when railway companies would build their lines almost anywhere.

Details of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway services are at

Break of journey: Cromford Station

Cromford Station, Derbyshire

Cromford Station, Derbyshire

The little railway with the long name – the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midland Junction Railway – only reached Rowsley, just short of the Chatsworth estate, before the money ran out and railway politics cut it short.  The original Rowsley station still stands, isolated in the middle of a retail park more depressing (in my view) than the contractor’s yard it replaced.  When the line to Manchester was resumed in the 1860s, it turned left and headed up the Wye valley, rather than following the original route.

One of the directors of the MBM&MJR was Joseph Paxton, the protégé of the Bachelor Duke of Devonshire.  He sketched the first design for his Great Exhibition building, the Crystal Palace, on a sheet of MBM&MJR blotting paper during a directors’ meeting.

Paxton designed the company’s stations at Rowsley and Matlock, and his son-in-law, George Henry Stokes, did the particularly attractive station at Cromford in what is generally described as “French château” style.  The existing main, down-side building is later, but the tiny up-side waiting room and the elaborate stationmaster’s house are Stokes’.

Ever since main-line services ceased in the late 1960s, the Cromford station buildings have been neglected, until in recent years the Arkwright Society has renovated the down-side building as a suite of two offices and Ryan Phelps has converted the waiting room opposite into a compact, high-quality holiday let [The Waiting Room Holiday Cottage – Cromford – Railway Station Cottages] which sleeps two very comfortably, and four at a pinch.

Here you can live in great comfort, with an hourly train-service up and down the Derwent valley between Derby and Matlock.  The first train north comes through at 0605, and the last one south passes at 2249.  Sleep would have been more of a problem when the great coal trains lumbered through twenty-four hours a day.

In a spare twenty minutes I took the guests on the 2010 Waterways & Railways of the Derbyshire Peak tour to take a look at Cromford Station.  One lady, curious to know if a train was due, pressed the “enquiries” button, expecting a recorded announcement, and was fascinated to be put in touch with a man who not only gave her the time, but checked that the driver was ready to leave Matlock on time.  And so fifteen very mature people stood fascinated, waiting for the headlight to appear in the tunnel, and to photograph a very brightly painted diesel railcar.  We’re all anoraks really.

Cromford Station House is private, and the Waiting Room is of course let regularly:  if you visit Cromford Station please keep to the public platform.

Changing trains in the middle of nowhere: Miller’s Dale Station

Miller's Dale Station, Derbyshire (1970)

Miller’s Dale Station, Derbyshire (1970)

Miller’s Dale Station was one of the sites on the Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour in June 2010.  It’s a parking place on the Monsal Trail which utilises the trackbed from just west of Bakewell through to Blackwell Mill, a couple of miles from Buxton town centre.

The whole line is an astonishing piece of engineering, carved through the dales of the River Wye in the 1860s to the fury of John Ruskin, who complained that it destroyed an idyllic landscape so that “every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton”.  The rapid succession of viaducts, cuttings and tunnels led the railwaymen to call this line “the flute”.

Travellers gaze at the huge expanse of the former station, and wonder why the Midland Railway built a five-platform station on a shelf halfway up a remote cliff-face.  The reason was to provide a connection between the dead-end branch line to Buxton and the fast trains between Derby and Manchester, and – from 1905 – to allow expresses to overtake the heavy goods trains that struggled up the grade from Rowsley.

Ironically, when the line closed in 1968, there was uproar at a plan to demolish the Monsal Dale Viaduct, and in the 1980s the Peak Park Planning Board concluded that it was far cheaper to repaint the magnificent iron and steel Miller’s Dale Viaducts than to dismantle them.

This means that it remains possible for PeakRail to bring train services back to Miller’s Dale, one day.  When this plan becomes a reality, I suspect there will be an outcry from nature-lovers at the destruction of wildlife on the trail, and once again every fool in Buxton can swap places with every fool in Bakewell if they wish.

There’s a detailed account with a collection of images of Miller’s Dale Station at ttp://, and Graeme Bickerdike provides an informative update on the physical condition of the engineering structures along the line at

At present, Miller’s Dale Station has nothing to offer but public lavatories.  The nearby café, known as the Wriggly Tin, is now a house.  But according to a recent press report, this situation may shortly improve:

Rails across the Peak

Peak Rail, Rowsley South Station

Peak Rail, Rowsley South Station

Peak Rail is a steam-railway project with a huge future.

The present is relatively modest.  Trains operate along a four-mile stretch of the Derbyshire Derwent valley.  Most of the resident locomotives are diesel, though trains are often steam-hauled.  The catering staff do an excellent line in Sunday lunch, afternoon tea and cream tea.  There is a regular roster of events to bring in special-interest groups.

The next major development will be running trains into the Network Rail station at Matlock.  For a long time the Peak Rail line terminated at a temporary station, Matlock Riverside, which is within walking distance of the town centre.  Now that Peak Rail trains stand on the adjacent track to the railcars from Nottingham and Derby, it’s easier for passengers to make use of the line, and a restored direct rail link enables steam tours from afar to travel up to Rowsley, and for Peak Rail excursions to head south on to the national network.

But the big agenda is the vision that started the whole project in 1975.  When the main line through Matlock to Manchester closed in 1968 the trackbed remained largely intact and much of it eventually passed to the respective local authorities, Derbyshire County Council and the Peak Park Planning Board.  The Peak Railway Association exists to support Peak Rail with proposals to restore train services up the Wye valley west of Rowsley, bringing visitors to Bakewell, Monsal Dale, Miller’s Dale and eventually Buxton.

The practical impediments are, apparently, replacement of an overbridge at Rowsley and “difficulties” with Haddon Tunnel [].  Otherwise the obstacles are primarily economic:  Repeated examinations of the plan have so far ruled out reinstatement, though the attractions of routing freight by rail across Derbyshire, relieving the heavily-used Hope Valley line from Dore to Chinley, may become more attractive in the years to come.

Details of Peak Rail’s services and events are at

Buxworth or Bugsworth?

Buxworth Basin, Peak Forest Canal

Buxworth Basin, Peak Forest Canal

The little village of Buxworth, just to the north of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, is a highly significant historic site.  Here the wagons of the Peak Forest Tramroad, which was completed in 1800 and still in use after the First World War, tipped their limestone into kilns and narrow boats for transportation down the Peak Forest Canal to Manchester and beyond.

The tramroad is an example of the principle that “if it works, don’t fix it”:  it used flanged rails rather than flanged wheels, with loaded wagons descending by gravity and empties returned by horse-power, and a braking system that consisted of sticking a metal pole into the spokes of the wheels.  When the iron rails wore out in the 1860s, the railway company that owned it simply fabricated new steel rails to an eighteenth-century design.

The tramroad was ripped up in the 1920s, though the stone blocks that supported the rails are still found in great numbers.  The canal went out of use, leaked and silted up, so that when I first went to Buxworth in the early 1970s the basin was a barely recognisable jungle.

The proposal to build a Whaley Bridge and Buxworth by-pass would have ploughed straight through the middle of it, until the Inland Waterways Protection Society [IWPS –] successfully argued for it to be designated an Ancient Monument in 1977 and the by-pass alignment was moved to the south where it was eventually built.

The basin is intact and now beautifully preserved, entirely because the volunteers of the IWPS contributed time, physical labour and expertise, and begged, borrowed and salvaged materials to reveal and restore the complex, intriguing layout of a location that was a busy, dirty, money-making industrial site until a little more than a hundred years ago.

Now it offers peaceful, attractive moorings for canal boats, and on the day the Manager of the site, Ian Edgar, took my Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak group round, schoolkids were learning to canoe in one of the basins.

At the head of the basin is the Navigation Inn [], once run by Pat Phoenix, the actress who played Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street, and now operated by Jan & Roger, who provide excellent beer and anything from a fried breakfast to an à la carte meal in congenial pub surroundings.  Jan tells me that she’s rearranging the canal memorabilia that came with the pub, so that you can read the walls coherently, one room after another.

Buxworth Basin is well worth a look, and if you talk to Ian Edgar, call it Bugsworth, as they did in the eighteenth century.  If you talk to your sat-nav, it’s Buxworth.