All Man-Made At Derbyshire’s Middleton Top

It was a gloomy September afternoon when we visited these relics of the Cromford and High Peak Railway just outside Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It is a truly remarkable piece of early railway engineering. The challenge was to make a viable transport route over the High Peak in Derbyshire to Manchester: Derbyshire coal and finished manufactured goods to go to the city, raw cotton for the East Midlands textile factories to come the other way. The line of rail was surveyed by Josias Jessop in the late 1820s, and his solution to surmounting the seemingly impossible limestone uplands involved the construction of 9 inclined planes (5 up and 4 down).

The 33 miles of line was the first long distance railway to be built anywhere. It also preceded the introduction of steam locomotives, which had not quite been invented in 1825 when the original Act of Parliament was drafted, though the Act did make provision for their presumed arrival. Instead, stationary steam engines, housed in august ecclesiastical looking buildings like the one seen here, provided the power to haul the goods wagons up and down the inclined planes. On the flat stretches, and until the arrival of the expected steam locomotives, horses and donkeys pulled the wagons. In 1831 it took two days to travel from one end of the line to the other.

The steepest stretch was up to Middleton Top from Cromford Canal. Within the short distance of 5 miles the railway had to climb over 1,200 feet, requiring five inclined planes with stationary steam engines to do the job. The Middleton Top engine house (below) still has its fully operational Butterley beam engine, which is shown off from time to time during open days, but not on the day when we were there. (Sorry, engine enthusiasts – no hiss of steam or magic whiffs of burning coke and hot grease).

Middleton Top steam engine house


These days most of the line has gone and the old track bed provides 17 miles of fine walking and cycling on the High Peak Trail which in turn joins up with other walking routes that cover 120 miles of the magnificent Peak District. The men who toiled on this line, or in the quarries and mines whose produce it carried, or the women and children who worked in the textile factories served by it, would not have believed this transformation – from the mass-production-imperative of the Industrial Revolution that gave workers little respite from their heavy labours or work-induced diseases, to a mass health and leisure facility for the citizens of several nearby conurbations. No smoke or chemical fumes or mine dust or cotton lint to inhale day in and day out, just the wide open country and the time and space to breathe and simply be. Freedoms and landscapes to treasure then.


P1050679 Middleton Top quarry

Redhill limestone quarry at Middleton Top, opened in the early 1900s to take advantage of the nearby Cromford and High Peak Railway.



This happy chap has just wheeled his bike up 700 metres of the very steep Middleton Incline, and presumably the inclines before it. The trackway varies in steepness between 1 in 8 and 1 in 14. In its working days, there were up and down rails side by side, the trucks raised and lowered on heavy steel cables.



Cee’s Black & White Challenge things made by humans

Six Word Saturday


30 thoughts on “All Man-Made At Derbyshire’s Middleton Top

    1. Come to think of it, am also poorly travelled in the old homeland, but am happy to pass on bits I do visit. Was just looking at your downtown Jo’burg pics. I also have some rather gloomy shots of same, taken on a quick visit to Museum Africa.

      1. I’m sure you’ve seen more of the UK than I ever did.
        It has been raining again this morning. Last night was one of the heaviest downpours I’ve experienced in quite some time.
        The veggie garden is partly flooded.
        A Soggy Saturday indeed.

  1. Hmmm, where to start? Fascinating history, monochrome AKA black and white works perfectly for these photos, amazing where people have gone to carve out roads/train tracks, and finally, I love the re-using of tracks for trails, rails-to-trails they’re called here. We’ve biked on some of them and they go inn some wonderful places. My husband’s biked on many more than I, of course. OK. ‘I guess that end my comment. 🙂 Happy Saturday, Tish.


  2. I’ve spent the afternoon rocking and rolling, Tish (I know- quite bizarre! 🙂 ) and don’t have the energy to contemplate getting up there. Shame so many of the trains have gone.

  3. This looks like a fascinating place. I like the way you have processed the images. It really adds to the feeling of stepping back in time.

    1. Thanks, Suzanne. The first 4 were taken in monochrome setting and I desaturated the last 2 added a touch of blue, but also the light was very odd that day and added its own editing 🙂

  4. We had an old railroad right down the road that ran between several mills along the river. It disappeared and the track was removed. It is now one of the best riding tracks in the area, although it has been rather neglected lately, so I don’t know what condition it is in. But I’m very glad the mills are gone, though the valley’s industry went with them.
    First, the mills moved south because that’s where the cotton was grown and laborers were cheaper and then, they all went to Pakistan or India, where they have remained. Now that we aren’t letting immigrants in to pick cotton, there’s no problem because we don’t grow cotton anymore. It’s all grown in India, Israel, and Pakistan.

    Meanwhile, many southerners feel that someone stole THEIR mills. Every once in a while I point out that the stole them from US first, so it was only fair that they get re-stolen. And the pollution level is much lower. But, of course, there’s no work in the valley.

    1. There’s the crunch – loss of industry = loss of livelihoods, but a cleaner environment. In Derbyshire they seem to have managed to transform the industrial past into a thriving tourist industry, all the trails accessible from towns and cities by public transport: bus and/or train. The moors and dales are positively crowded at weekends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.