Walking and rail history combined in new Peak District guide

Authors Dave Singleton and Brian Bethune.
Authors Dave Singleton and Brian Bethune.

Two friends have combined their passion for walking and railway history into a new Peak District walking guide.

The book by Brian Bethune and Dave Singleton features 12 circular walks which are all based around the 33 miles of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway.

Longcliffe, April 1967. Photo: ER Morten.

Longcliffe, April 1967. Photo: ER Morten.

Ranging between three and nine miles in length, the detailed walks all start at strategic points along the route of the old railway, which extended across the high limestone plateau of the White Peak from the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge to the Cromford Canal at Cromford.

Some of the old railway trackbed still exists as the High Peak Trail, but the book also goes “off-piste” with its walks, which are interleaved with the fascinating history of the line during its 142 years of operation.

The guide’s two authors became friends when they met on a charity walk on behalf of “Free Tibet” in the mid-1990s and, sharing a passion for walking, they’ve been putting their boots on together ever since.

Brian, from Chinley, said the book was aimed at walkers and railway enthusiasts from all age groups.

Ladmanlow Crossing, June 1953. Photo: ER Morten.

Ladmanlow Crossing, June 1953. Photo: ER Morten.

He explained: “The Peak District, incorporating the southernmost part of the Pennines, is fantastic country for walking, but once you also know something of the history of the place – both early manufacturing, the first canals and some of the earliest railway tracks – and its crucial role in the development of Britain as an industrial superpower, it transforms a great walk into a fascinating history lesson.

“The Cromford & High Peak Railway played a major role in the region’s success so writing a book which brought all that together was a no-brainer.”

As well as original black and white photographs, courtesy of the renowned Buxton photographer ER Morten, colour photographs and narrative points of the history of the local industrial heritage are also included to bring the walks to life.

The book, priced £9.99, can be purchased at various bookshops and information centres across the area, including Ashbourne Visitor Information Centre, Brierlow Bar Bookstore, Scriveners Books of Buxton, Scarthin Books of Cromford, Cromford Mills, Footsteps of Whaley Bridge, New Mills Heritage and Information Centre and the Peak District National Park Information Centres at Bakewell and Castleton.

Hopton Incline, 1953. Photo: ER Morten.

Hopton Incline, 1953. Photo: ER Morten.

History of the Cromford and High Peak Railway

Although waggonways, tramways and incline planes were well established in the mining and quarrying industries of the 18th century, it was not until the mid to late 1820s that the practical operation of a modern railway using steam locomotion was created.

Although these lines were initially conceived as freight lines, the unexpected desire for fast, reliable passenger transport made railways a sound financial investment.

At that time there were numerous railways being planned, one of which was the Cromford and High Peak Railway, proposed in 1824 and operational by 1831.

Pictured at Harpur Hill, 1953. Photo: ER Morten

Pictured at Harpur Hill, 1953. Photo: ER Morten

Its main challenge in connecting the Peak Forest and Cromford, was to climb up and over the 1,200ft plateau of the White Peak. To achieve this, the line was required to follow a winding route, contouring around the hills on level sections before climbing more steeply on incline planes.

Predominantly a freight line, it struggled financially until it became integrated into the expanding national rail network, and with the growth of the limestone industries in its central and southern sections its success was assured. Sadly, after 120 years of operation, it started to feel the impact of rapidly expanding road haulage, and was gradually closed down between 1952 and 1973.

However, even to this day a two-mile section remains operational as part of the mineral line between the quarries of Hurdlow and Dowlow and the national rail network in Buxton.

In the 1970s, the Peak District National Park Authority, together with Derbyshire County Council, acquired the 17-mile section of trackbed between Hurdlow and Cromford and created the High Peak Trail. Since then numerous other sections have opened, so that today walkers can gain access to 73 per cent of the original line.

Climbing Hurdlow Bank, Easter Monday 1961. Photo: ER Morten.

Climbing Hurdlow Bank, Easter Monday 1961. Photo: ER Morten.

The front cover of the new walking book 12 Circular Walks Around The Cromford & High Peak Railway.

The front cover of the new walking book 12 Circular Walks Around The Cromford & High Peak Railway.