High Peak Junction is nestled beside the Cromford Canal and was an industrial hub of activity back in the days of canal haulage, the High Peak railway was the one of the worlds earliest long-distance lines, built 1825 – 1830.
The first locomotive arrived at this railway in 1841 and was called “Peak,” built by Robert Stephenson and Co. The track ran behind the workshop, and the original water tank for re-filling the steam trains still stand behind the workshops with a carriage sitting on the lines beside it.
High Peak Trail History
The High Peak Trail stretches out for seventeen ½ miles through to Dowlow near Buxton. In the industrial days this would have been a busy rail track, mostly transporting minerals from the quarries, later a licence for carrying passengers on a separate track.
Steam trains would have had an extra help on these steep inclines using a pully system with heavy cabling, although originally Hemp rope or chain was used, the cables can be seen today as an example. The locomotive and train were hauled up by a static steam engine.
The inclines are so steep, braking on these sections as you can imagine was also very tricky. There were only a few local accidents involving locomotives the most serious was a fatal one in 1937.
The High Peak Junction workshop these days is a tourist centre which also has a working forge, which was fired up on one of our visits and examples of local crafts such as a basic wood turning lathe, music was laid on and relaxing too. We found out later in our circular walk at a café at Cromford canal, the Friends of the Cromford Canal had organized the activities which made our walk so interesting and fun.
High Peak Junction in the Derbyshire Peak District has been a family favourite location for many a year and we often combine our visit with a relaxing circular walk along the high peak trail to the top of the first incline and follow the sign posted walk down into Cromford Village, such a pretty little village with a variety of shops, a beautiful mill pond, Greyhound Pond, and plenty of history to boot.
Location and Parking
The railway runs alongside the canal, and we cross over the railway bridge onto the towpath after walking from the par park. At the High Peak Junction workshop there is a convenient toilet block as well as a lovely shop with friendly staff on hand who will be happy to help and there are workshop tours available on set days.
The car park is a pay at the meter and is a good size. The post code and address is DE4 5HN Cromford Hill, Matlock, Derbyshire.
Walking the trail
The trail up hill is called the sheep pasture incline, it goes through a short tunnel section that takes the trail underneath the A6 road and past the catch pit, where you will notice a crashed wagon still inside it.
The incline is very steep and has warning signs for cyclists due to it is gradient. It is a beautiful trail with views for miles around from the top and there are a few picnic benches, simply perfect for a little break and time to take in the view.
Sitting at the top of the first incline is a great spot for a packed lunch we often stopped here while we took in views across fields and woodlands, the picturesque Cromford village is in sight from here. Looking down into the valley it is easy to spot Sir Richard Arkwright’s, Willersley Castle.
Dominating the area is Sir Richard Arkwright’s Willersley Castle which the inventor and industrialist had built as his main, grand home, though unfortunately was not completed before his death on 3 August 1792 (aged 59) and as such, never had the opportunity to live in it.
Willersley castle is now a Hotel and conference centre. Matlock bath is clearly in view from the top of the incline, Sheep Pasture Top, and if you look very carefully you may even be able to see the cable cars that connect the Heights of Abraham to the cliffs above Matlock Bath.
Below in the valley is the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Sir Richard Arkwright’s mills can still be seen today, and most can be visited locally.
A short walk from this point beside the picnic tables is the sign posted track down towards Cromford village. I’ll add another additional route for you here, just in case you’d prefer the slightly longer route and with a rocky interest, if you continue on the High Peak Trail a little further you will arrive at Black Rocks, an outcrop of Ashover gritstone, well worth it for the amazing views, more car parking and toilet facilities can be found here too.
If walking up to Black Rocks, it is easy to find your way down into Cromford village by walking through the carpark to the main road and walking down the hill until you reach the village down in the valley.
We walked down the way marked pathway to the right and through the pasture field and wound our way down into Cromford village where you can find plenty of opportunity for refreshments and shop browsing, such a lovely area and was home once to the mill workers, Sir Richard Arkwright built a large part of Cromford’s housing for the mill workers and also the Greyhound pub, chapels, shops and a school.
A short walk and across the A6 road and we find ourselves at one of Arkwright’s mills, Cromford Mills, so we popped in for a short visit.
Cromford Mills is an amazing place to visit and contains within its courtyard small cottage industry units, including an antique shop and gift shop and a café plus much more and has a wonderful atmosphere to soak up, not even mentioning the history of the mill and its renovations.
Cromford Mills had been shortlisted as one of three finalists in the “Best Major Regeneration of a Historic Building or Place” (in 2018) prestigious Historic England Angel Awards.
Cromford Canal and café
Once onto the Cromford canal it is great to stop for a well-earned coffee break, the coffee shop next to the cheese shop is a lovely spot to chill out and it sells much more than coffee and cake.
Rather than buying a slice of tempting cake, I bought myself a nice bag of wholemeal strong flour for bread making, also a local product from Cauldwells mill at Rowsley, Matlock.
I enjoy baking, and I think this flour will be perfect for some nice bread rolls. After Coffee we strolled along taking in the activities beside Cromford wharf, a few beautiful examples of miniature steam engines were on display at the wharf on that day and one was steaming along and took a couple of passengers, so nice to see them working.
Beside the canal a lovely hand turned musical box if that is the right term for them, the kind that take music cards and turned by handle to produce the music, it sounded amazing and looked like challenging work to keep up, but the musical tone was carried on the air and cheered the soul.
A little further along and model boats were being sailed along the canal, lovely sight.
We fed the giant army of ducks on the canal and then carried on along the canal back to the High Peak Junction workshops to complete the circuit, we arrived back to the workshop just in time to watch a horse drawn barge coming through taking passengers for trips along the canal.
What a fabulous sight to see, and what a wonderful experience it must be too.
High Peak Junction in Cromford is part of Derbyshire’s industrial heritage in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site. A real hub for hikers and families, it is loaded with history, a haven for wildlife and is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Water vole and little grebe a tiny diving waterbird, the smallest of its species in Europe, have started to make a comeback and can be seen along the canal regularly. Leawood pump house is just a short distance along the canal and has regular steaming events throughout the year.
Leawood pump house
Leawood pump house was built in 1849 at Milton Ironworks in Elsecar in South Yorkshire, the main beam weighs a massive 27-ton, thirty-three foot long, and its purpose was to pump water from the river Derwent into the Cromford canal.
This magnificent beam engine is amazing to see, I am always wide eyed and curious like a child when I visit on a steam day. It is wonderful to see such a powerful beam engine, part of the steam revolution still in full working order more than 150 years since it was built. With each piston stroke it pumps four tons of water into the canal!
The Cromford canal was completed in 1794 by William Jessop & Benjamin Outram and is 14.5 miles in length, joining the Erewash canal at Langley Mill. Unfortunately, the canal is no longer in use apart from being a wonderful area for wildlife, it was last used in 1944.
High Peak Rail
The High Peak rail line ran along the back of the High Peak Junction workshop building where the rail carriages can still be seen sitting on the old tracks and beside them the original water tower that was used to refill the steam engines at this point.
The High Peak Trail follows the old track of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, built from 1825 – 1830 one of the world’s earliest long-distance lines. The trail is well maintained and is worth walking, cycling or even riding on horseback for some gorgeous views of the Derwent Valley.
The High Peak trail in full, is 17.5 miles from High Peak Junction near Cromford, all the way to Dowlow near Buxton.
High Peak Junction is a terrific place to walk and relax, so much so that I never tire of visiting with my family. Sometimes we will just take a short walk along the canal a while, past the canal wharf shed and up to the old lock house, then returning by the Leawood pump house which is just over the viaduct that carries the Cromford canal across the river Derwent.
We will then return to the car park or other times we will take a longer circular as I mentioned before. There are many walks here, woodland and meadows nearby too.
Always a pleasure to return to and that is the reason I have chosen to share one of my peaceful places here with you.