“ Country trail in the Peak District, Derbyshire. „
Whilst camping in the Peak District this summer we decided to do the Monsal trail. Having two young children and one of them being a pushchair it sounded perfect a disused Railway. We had previously that week done the Tissington Trail and had enjoyed it this one sounded even better with tunnels to go through.
The trails history
The Monsal trail follows the route of the old Midland Railway line; the trail runs from Topley Pike junction to Coombs viaduct which is a mile from Bakewell. It was built in 1863. The Monsal trail is roughly eight and a half miles long. It was in 1968 when the line was closed and eventually in the 1980's the Peak District National park took the area over and opened it as the Monsal trail leaving some of the tunnels closed off. For a long time parts of the trail did not follow the track bed as some of the areas were deemed too dangerous and you were diverted up steep hills and round like at the Monsal head. It wasn't until May this year they opened the tunnels that were shut for safety reason after spending over three and a half million on them. You may have seen the Monsal trail on TV as Julia Bradbury did it. As some of the tunnels have just been opened and it has been on the television about it, it is a popular one with people. The reopening has made the trail more assessable to wheel chair user, bikers and like us pushchairs.
As we decided to walk the trail we choose to park in Bakewell and get the bus out, we were told to get off at the Waterloo Pub on the A6 to Buxton. After the useless information we received from the tourist information centre in Bakewell we eventually, after some rocky off roading made it from where the bus dropped us off to the trail at Millers Dale. Millers Dale isn't the beginning of the trail but nevertheless it was good enough for us. At Millers Dale there is a car park a long side the trail allowing you to park up. The old station at Millers Dale is still present along with part of a platform. The station does look a little run down. We found when we arrived this part of the trail was quite busy. The old station did have toilets within it and there was also an ice cream van parked up with it being the summer holidays. From here you are straight over the viaduct. The iron work at this part of the trail is fantastic and is worth standing and having a good look at it. The trail is pretty flat on foot and felt quite easy to walk on.
The first tunnel we personally came to (unfortunately we had missed a couple before Millers Dale) was Litton Tunnel. My son who is three and a half years old was amazed by the tunnel and I have to say I was too. Neither of us had walked through one before. We explained to our son that a long long time ago a train used come through this tunnel. We then found ourselves standing in a line forming the carriages of our son's train while he made all the right noises through the tunnel! The tunnel was lit with lights above there is a need for this as once you get so far in you can't actually see light from either end. I was very impressed by the length of the tunnel.
I was very surprised how quick the next tunnel came up. Yet again you get the same experience of the last tunnel. As soon as you enter the tunnels you are hit with the temperature difference the tunnels are a lot cooler and slightly damp. Looking at the tunnel walls and thinking how these where built those hundreds of years ago amazes you. We loved the view and light you get as you come out of the other side of the tunnel. Not far up the exit of the tunnel to your left in view is Cressbrook Mills which is very impressive. At points like this and former stations there are information boards which not only did we find useful but very interesting too.
The most impressive part of trail, I felt anyway, came next. Near to Monsal Head coming over the viaduct towards Headstone Tunnel you are greeting with an immense view it really does take your breath away. Looking around you, stood on the viaduct you see the end of the valley surround and the tunnel dug into the landscape ahead. Looking up you see the landscape climb up and you realise you are in the bottom of it. Again the tunnel ahead is just yet again a tunnel and after this view the tunnels seem less impressive although my son was quite happy to see one. Until recently you couldn't access this tunnel the Monsal Trail took you up and around off the railway line. I would have loved to have actually gone up the path to see the views from above but having the pushchair and the small boys this wasn't practical. It is quite a steep path as you can imagine. Going through the Headstone Tunnel you can see there has had to be many repairs with the newish red brick in the tunnel walls and many parts of the tunnel wall have been re-pointed. At first I felt it spoilt the tunnel but then I realised it was part of its history and the fact that it still stands over a hundred years since it was built is amazing. When the line closed there was talk of the viaduct being demolished but in 1970 a preservation order was put on it. This is a little ironic as when it was planned to be built there was up roar saying it was destroying the beauty of the dale. A point for people with cameras make sure you get the shots at the viaduct side of the tunnel as when you come out the other end it is spoilt by safety features. (Which I do understand have to be there for our safety if the tunnel is to be open.) There is a metal archway with the roof out at the exit to stop any of the above landscape falling on your head as you walk out. There is also metal railing on either side of the path you walk along for a few yards as you walk back out into the open landscape.
After taking in the views at Monsal Head nothing seems as nice as you walk along the line. You eventually come to Hassop Station which has interesting history behind it. It is nice to see the old station in full use and looking rather nice. It is now used as tourist spot with a cafe, toilets, bookshop and a cycle hire. Although we didn't go to the cafe it looked trendy and was full inside and out. As the cycle hire is situated here you can imagine it was quite busy and there was a lot of activity at this part of the trail. There is also a car park at this point which looked to be pretty full too.
The remaindering walk
After Hassop it wasn't far to Bakewell Station were we left the trail to return back to our car. Thankfully after a long walk the station is above the town so we had a downhill walk to the car park. Unfortunately the station is now used by an international company so you can't go in but you can admire it from the outside. Along the trail there are useful maps attached to posts of the trail. We found them useful to pin point where we were and what we had left to do.
Overall opinion of the Trail
I really enjoyed this trail and so did the rest of my family. At points there isn't a great deal to look at around you as you just walk through trees and shrubbier but when there is it is magnificent. Compared to the Tissington Trail (another disused railway in the Peak District) the points of interest have more of a wow factor but the Tissington does have better views through most of the trail. I would certainly recommend you do the Monsal Trail even more so since they have opened some more of the tunnels. They have made this trail assessable to more people and I think people young and old would enjoy it.
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