On the High Peak Trail
The High Peak Trail takes the line of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway between Parsley Hey and Cromford. This railway is worth a brief description because of its unique nature.
The line originally connected the canals at Whaley Bridge and Cromford, running up the Goyt Valley to Buxton and across the limestone plateau to Middleton by Wirksworth, then down to Black Rocks and down again to the Cromford canal in the Derwent Valley below. Built in 1830, it was one of the earliest railways in the country, and because of the hilly terrain it traversed it originally had 9 inclines where the trucks were hauled up or down the incline by stationery engines.
The inclines are still visible but only one of the winding engines has survived - at Middleton Top, near Wirksworth. The best places to see the old inclines are at Middleton, at Sheep Pastures above the A6 at Cromford, and in the Goyt Valley - where the road above Errwood Reservoir now goes down one of them.
The Goyt Valley section of the line closed as early as 1892, but the rest of the line continued in service as a unique part of the British Railways system until 1967, when it was a victim of the Beeching cuts.
The line was purchased in 1971 by Derbyshire County Council and the Peak District National Park Authority and converted into a cycle track, and the trail makes a fine day out - probably more interesting than the more popular Tissington Trail.
From Parsley Hay the line passes beneath the A515 and winds its way past the brick works at Friden and on to the south of Pikehall. Some of the high embankments are especially noteworthy and unusual - the engineering is more reminiscent of a canal than a railway. It then passes Minninglow and various industrial relics including the only old-style lime kiln still intact in Derbyshire.
Further on it passes Harboro Rocks - the site of numerous archaeological finds from its caves - and various lime quarries and continues to the Hopton Incline. This was originally one of those with a fixed engine, but this was later removed and trains were hauled up this 1 in 14 incline by normal locomotives, making it the steepest such climb on the British Rail system.
Beyond Hopton incline lies Middleton Top, where there is a visitor centre belonging to Derbyshire County Council and the Engine House belongs to Derbyshire Archaeological Society. The incline here is 1 in 8, so it's a steep descent to Middleton. The trail then continues past Black Rocks before descending the equally steep Sheep Pastures incline to the A6 and the Cromford canal by the Derwent.
Cycle hire is available at Parsley Hay (tel: 01298 84493) and Middleton Top (tel: 01629 823204).