There's a light at the end of these tunnels

A bit of attention to some old brickwork has given better access to the Monsal Trail in the Peak District. Jenny Clayton reports

'The valley is gone and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool in Bakewell in Buxton," ranted John Ruskin when a railway was first built in the 1860s through the peaceful Wye Valley, which runs through the Peak District National Park.

I'm on the Monsal Trail, which follows part of the trackbed of the former Midland Railway. For a hundred years trains thundered through here carrying passengers and freight between London and Manchester. The line was closed in 1968, the rails ripped up and sold off.

When the Peak District National Park acquired it in 1981, the park authorities created an eight and a half mile trail from Topley Pike to Coombs Viaduct. I'm here today to explore a missing link in that trail: four newly restored railway tunnels which walkers had, until recently, to detour around for safety reasons.

My walk begins at the western end at Wyedale, three miles east of Buxton. Picking my way through woods along the banks of the churning river Wye, I soon emerge into open grassland. The path leads up on to the old track by a cluster of stone cottages at Blackwell Mill and as I walk, wide views of hills and dales stretch ahead, the river below me now, winding through the valley. I pass through a railway cutting colonised by trees and bushes to reach Chee Dale, its spectacular 200ft limestone cliffs sweeping up into the sky, beloved by climbers.

Onwards, I reach one of the tunnels at Chee Tor. Once, the going was tricky here: the path was steep and slippery as it crossed the Wye via stepping stones which are often submerged in winter. But I'm being allowed to pass through this tunnel, because it is one of the four that are due to be opened to walkers, cyclists and horse riders from 25 May. It will make the Monsal Trail a more family – even pushchair- and wheelchair-friendly – walk.

I'm met at this point by my guide, Rhonda Pursglove, the Pedal Peak District project manager, to find out more. "They've been talking about opening the tunnels for years, but the funding only came through in 2010, so we've had to motor on with the engineering and deal with conservation issues as well," she tells me.

We venture into the Chee Tor tunnel, which is almost 440 yards long (400 metres) and 20ft high. It's dark and damp, but the old brickwork has been repointed and cables laid, which means it will be lit from dawn to dusk. The ground is being resurfaced in Tarmac. The whole project is costing almost £2.5m and will mark the 60th anniversary of the Peak District National Park, the first National Park to be created in the UK.

Out into the light, we follow the track forward, crossing the river by the imposing iron viaduct at Miller's Dale. This was one of the main stations with a branchline to the fashionable spa town of Buxton. We stop off at one of the original buildings, now used as a ranger's post, to talk to Garry Bacon who has been minding the Monsal Trail for many years.

He paints a picture for me of Millers Dale in yesteryear: a bustle of trains transporting milk from local farms, to the south, and bringing in coal for the nearby lime kilns; the whole place a smoke-filled hive of industry. Now the area is more likely to attract nature-lovers and geologists keen to study the limestone formed 300 million years ago, but visitors will be able to listen to reminiscences of the railway at audio posts along the trail.

Out in the car park we see a hardy family of walkers: Grandad, Mum and chubby baby cocooned in Dad's backpack, ready themselves for a hike. Perhaps not the full eight and a half miles – Millers Dale is one of the starting points along the trail for more modest circular walks.

We set off downstream towards the next tunnel at Litton Mill, a small hamlet of pale-grey stone buildings around a former cotton mill which opened in 1782. They are still cabling the Litton Tunnel when I visit, so it is dark, lit only by shafts of light from either end, but once out, we are rewarded with views as quaint as the name of the location, Water-cum-Jolly, with its meandering river, mill pond, and cowslip-strewn meadows.

The trail continues a short way to the third tunnel over the river from Cressbrook, another historic cotton mill, now developed into stylish flats. Escaping the wind, we venture through the sturdy brick and stone, blackened from smoke, and press on to Headstone Tunnel at Monsal Head.

Thousands of people would make the trip out from Manchester and Sheffield to marvel at its majesty. You can climb up to the Monsal Head Hotel for a pint, a meal, or even a bed for the night, or wander into the nearby villages of Little and Great Longstone.

I leave Rhonda and continue on alone along the trail to Hassop Station, where once goods were unloaded for the Chatsworth Estate. Today, it's a rather welcoming bookshop and café. There's another car park here, so it attracts a crowd of non-walkers, too, and you can hire bikes.

I don't make it to the end of the trail, two miles away, beyond Bakewell Station. After all, it's getting dark and those cakes in the café need some research.

Compact Facts

How to get there

There's car parking at either end and other points of the trail.The nearest railway stations are at Buxton and Matlock, from where you can get buses to near the trail's start and end.

Further information

Contact the Peak District National Park Authority (01629 816200; peakdistrict.gov.uk/monsaltrail).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup