The former Midland line north from Derby followed the valley of the River Derwent as far as Rowsley. From here the route switched to the more north-westerly direction of the River Wye, however between Bakewell and Monsal Dale the route veered north of the river, climbing to higher ground before dramatically rejoining the River Wye at Monsal Dale.
Five Arches/River Derwent
Ford Lane crossing was probably the location of one of my earliest introductions to railways. Once a week my grandfather, who lived in Little Eaton would catch the Ripley - Derby Trent bus to Ford Lane to come visit us for the afternoon. Meanwhile my mother had walked us down from Allestree and we would wait by the level crossing for my grandfather to arrive. Which of course meant watching the trains goes by, a task that was marred by the heavy road traffic which used Ford Lane as a link between the A6 & A61. The signal box was delight with the sound of its bells indicating approaching trains. And watching the signalman move to the large wheel that closed the crossing gates to the road traffic meant the trains were nearby!
Its now hard to believe just how much traffic Ford Lane carried, all that changed when the Abbey Hill link road was built. This reduced Ford Lane to a quiet country lane, which became even quieter when it became a dead end after the level crossing was removed. The embankments built to carry the new road across the railway provided a new panoramic view of the line. In this grainy 1973 view looking northwards up the Derwent Valley a green Class 47, believed to be 1999 reaches the northern approaches of Derby, with about another five minutes journey time before reaching Derby Midland Station. Ford Lane crossed the tracks at the point between the first and second coaches, the signalbox was located behind the locomotive, replaced by the rather non-descript off-white structure seen in the above view.
The Denby Branch
A little way north of Ford Lane the mainline curved gently to stay close to the River Derwent whilst a single line branched off to the north east at Little Eaton Junction headed towards Ripley. The passenger service to Ripley had ceased in June 1930, but coal trains for the washery at Denby allowed the line to remain open for many years. My grandparents lived on The Leys in Little Eaton, the street overlooked the line, but our regular Sunday afternoon visits of course never witnessed any trains running! Family walks up Drum Hill meant crossing the line, which usually showed signs of activity during the previous week. Some midweek visits on my pushbike during the school holidays witnessed trains coal trains working up and down the branch but regrettably those early photographs were not very successful. It was only in the mid 1970's that we had some photographs turn out OK.
On a trip back to the UK in April 2004 a visit was made to Little Eaton to see what remained of the branch line through here. The left view shows the level crossing, the signal cabin has long since gone. The right hand view is the best I can do in light of a house having been built on part of the land that was in the foreground of one of the views above. The middle view taken just north of the crossing shows the vast growth of lineside trees and bushes, the new house is on the left and from the view above the Class 20's would have been located somewhere behind the dark green bush.
Coming back to Little Eaton Juncton to rejoin the mainline the next location northwards is Duffield.
Just before Duffield a length of the Up goods line became the test bed for the Research Department investigating the possibilities of a solid trackbed made of reinforced concrete rather than wood or concrete sleepers resting on a base of stone ballast. This type of trackbed had advantages in places where access was restricted, such as in tunnels, or locations where drainage might be a problem. After the concrete paved track was laid the Up fast line was slewed over to connect with the experimental track and was traversed by all types of passenger & goods trains. The view of the HST below is taken on this experimental track.
The school's games classes included rugby and long distance running. The rugby field was a short distance from the school and was in sight of the branch line to Wirksworth, so frequently my attention was distracted from the rugby game to the railway line as the stone trains made their way up and down the branch. I detested rugby, and much preferred the long distance running up the Chevin. We had to cross the line twice on the run, and it was visible for quite awhile as we trudged through the Derbyshire countryside. So it makes sense now to take a brief look at the Wirksworth branch.
The Wirksworth Branch
The Wirksworth branch was a little out of the range of my bicycle trips so it was not until we were motorised that the possibility of photographing trains on the branch became reality. And usually these occurred when we were coming back from somewhere else, so all the views took place at the Wirksworth end of the line! And it seems that most visits were on extremely dull days.
This branch's passenger service survived slightly longer than that of the Ripley branch, Wirksworth's passenger services were withdrawn from January 1st 1949.
Also visited during April 2004 was Wirksworth as seen in the above three views, where although the stone trains have long since stopped rolling, the station and yard are undergoing a new lease of life.
On returning to Duffield the mainline continued northwards following the River Derwent and encountering the first tunnel since since leaving Derby, as the line burrowed though the Chevin in Milford Tunnel which is 855 yards long. On exiting the tunnel the railway quickly ran alongside the meandering River Derwent, the route taken by the railway builders required three large bridges in the Belper area.
For much of its run through Belper the railway runs in a cutting, as can be seen in the two views below.
The views below are taken midway between Ambergate and Whatstandwell, alongside the Crich Chase nature reserve. Just visible in the first view above the locomotives is the Cromford Canal, which was mostly made redundant by the arrival of the railways.
Cromford & High Peak
The Cromford & High Peak railway originally ran from Cromford Goods Yard in a generally north westerly direction to Whaley Bridge, a distance of 33 miles. It was later cut back eleven miles from Whaley Bride to Harpurhill. The line contained some remarkable operating features which included four inclines: Sheep Pasture and Cromford (later combined), Middleton and Hopton. Between Longcliffe & Friden were some unusually sharp curves, the curve at Gotham had a radius of 55 yards and turned the line through 85 degrees. These curves permitted only four wheel wagons to be used on the line and at a speed limit of 5mph on the sharpest of curves.
The gradients on the inclines were so steep that cable working was required on two of them. To lift the line out of the Derwent valley the 1,320 yard Sheep Pastures incline commenced at 1 in 9 and then steepened to 1 in 8. The shorter Middleton incline covered 770 yards at 1 in 8.25. The Hopton incline was at 1 in 14 for 200 yards, this however had been adhesion worked since 1877! Trains were normally double headed over this incline. It was necessary to get a run at the incline, the speed limit was 30mph, but a sharp curve at the base of the incline would not permit a no holds barred attack on this gradient.
Locomotives were primarily sourced from Rowsley shed (17D), but there were subsheds at Cromford, Middleton & Sheep Pasture which provided accommodation and routine minor maintenance for the locomotives. These sheds provided for the High Peak Junction - Friden section of the line. Beyond Friden the Ashbourne - Buxton was joined, with Buxton providing locomotives for this section.
Since the line ran through that part of Derbyshire which was scarcely populated the online traffic was limited to mostly stone and water. Quarries were serviced at Hopton, Hoptonwood, Middleton Top & Longcliffe, and traffic was also generated at the Harboro Brick Works, Longliffe and the Derbyshire Firebrick Company at Friden. Water was also transported in converted LNWR tenders and left in sidings along the route. This was for use by the isolated homes in the area as well as for use by the locomotives.
Returning now to the Derwent Valley the mainline crossed the Derwent yet again prior to reaching Cromford station, before plunging into another tunnel. Once clear of this tunnel Matlock Bath station was reached before entering High Tor tunnel.
The northbound departure from Matlock required yet another long bridge to cross the River Derwent, the confines of the gorge in the Matlock area was left behind and the valley broadened out, enough to provide ample space for the now long removed yards and shed at Rowsley. At Rowsley the railway crossed the River Derwent for the last time, the railway continued its journey northwards confined to the valley created by the River Wye. Beyond Bakewell the railway climbed away from the Wye valley and cut across the familiar Derbyshire drystone wall country to rejoin the River Wye by means of a lengthy tunnel followed by the use of Monsal Head Viaduct.
Its about 1967, another trip with the parents to the Peak District, and the obligatory stop at Monsal Head "for the view". We've come here numerous times before and the railway usually manages to present nothing for me to see. However this day a southbound train is heard approaching, the trusty Instamatic 100 is whipped out and aimed at where we think the train might be.
And somehow the picture survives, long after the locomotive, the coaches and the camera have gone on to greater glories. And as irony would have it, two decades later Monsal Head Viaduct is the place where I proposed to my 'soon to be' wife.
Its also amazing what you can do with a scanner these days.
And I suppose it would be a fitting place to end this page, we started out at Derby crossing the Derwent on a fine stone bridge, here we end it as another fine Derbyshire river, the Wye, is crossed by another stone bridge.
Page added May 15th 2001.