Once an important part of our industrial transport infrastructure, much of the Cromford Canal is now a nature reserve, rich in wildlife including dragonflies, birds and water voles. You can walk along the old canal tow path on the five mile stretch through the Derwent Valley between Ambergate and Cromford passing through the village of Whatstandwell. This place is full of happy childhood memories of being excited upon spotting tadpoles in the water and colourful damselflies darting amongst the grasses on the banks.
There is a rail and bus service which operates between the three villages, so you can walk all, or just a section of the path and then get the train or bus back.
Much of the Ambergate to Whatstandwell end of the path is occupied by the nature reserve, but at the other end of the trail towards Cromford is where the industrial revolution was all started...
Industrial artefacts of the trail’s former life can be spotted most of the way along the route until you’re confronted by the imposing structure of the Leawood Pumphouse built in 1849 to pump water from the River Derwent into Cromford Canal. It has been maintained in pristine working condition thanks to the dedication of the Middleton Top and Leawood Pump Volunteer Group. Visitors can experience the power of this great steam engine as it pumps four tons of water into the canal with each piston stroke with regular steaming dates throughout the year from Easter until October.
On the opposite side of the canal is High Peak Junction where train carriages used to be hauled up hill to Middleton Top Engine House. Using the power of steam, the engine raised and lowered wagons on the Middleton Incline of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. You can leave the Cromford Canal here and head up the incline to join the High Peak Trail which eventually brings you to just outside of Buxton (at 17.5 miles it’s a bit more than a detour though).
Stick with the Cromford Canal though and you’re almost at the end as a short walk from High Peak Junction comes the end of the canal at Cromford Wharf and the home of World Heritage site, Cromford Mill part of the wider Derwent Valley Mills complex stretching all the way from Derby.
Cromford is forever associated with Sir Richard Arkwright as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Arkwright built the world’s first water powered cotton mills here and pioneered the factory system- you can now go and see the Arkwright Experience at Cromford Mill where a projected version of the mill owner takes you on a virtual tour of his busy mill!
With the walk complete, you'll find yourself on the doorstep of Matlock Bath all the attractions on offer from Gulliver’s Kingdom, the Heights of Abraham and quality shopping in another gem of yesteryear at Masson Mills.
For those up to the challenge it’s worth noting that the path you have walked so far forms part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way which you can continue on all the way to the Upper Derwent Reservoir.
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