A stroll along Cromford Canal

The Peak District is spectacular in Autumn and there are so many wonderful local walks. One of our favourites is along the Cromford canal to Whatstandwell to grab a bite to eat at the dog friendly Family Tree – they do the most amazing afternoon tea, 3 tiers of sandwiches, delicious home made cakes and cream scones, and a bowl of water for Fudge!

Derbyshire has a diverse rich heritage and the Cromford Canal is part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which saw the birth of the industrial revolution.

Cromford Canal swinging bridgeThe Cromford Canal was constructed by William Jessop and Benjamin Outram, partners in the Butterley company, to join Cromford with the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. It created an important link to carry raw materials including coal, lead and iron ore, and enable finished products of the area to be exported widely, such as the Butterley Company’s castings and Arkwright’s spun cotton.

Cromford Canal BridgeThe 14.5 mile stretch was completed in 1794 and was operational until 1944. Today it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a haven for wildlife. As you wander along the towpath you may be lucky enough to see water vole, grass snakes, little grebes, moorhen, coots or dragonflies.

As well as the wildlife you can find out more about the history of the canal. High Peak Junction was a busy freight interchange with the Cromford and High Peak Railway. The old railway workshops now house a small museum and listening to the audio guide transports you back to the age of steam.

Further along the towpath is Leawood Pump House, an impressive monument to Victorian engineering, which stands 45 feet tall, with a 95 foot chimney stack. Built in 1849 the enormous Watt-type beam engine is a gigantic 33 feet long, with a 50 inch diameter piston.

Leawood Pump HouseThe pump draws water from the River Derwent through a 150-yard tunnel to a reservoir in the basement. The water is then lifted 30 feet up into the canal to top up the water levels sufficient for the barges to operate.

water pump at Leawood Pump Cromford Beam Engine

The impressive pump moves four tons of water per stroke and seven strokes a minute, a total of over 39,000 tons of water per 24 hours! The pump was made so large because of the restrictions on removing water from The Derwent River. Due to the water powered cotton mills further upstream water was only allowed to be drawn from the river once a week for a 24 hour period between 8pm on Saturday and 8pm on Sunday!

The pump house was restored in 1979 and is still going strong, the next “steaming” of this amazing beam engine will be on Saturday 31st October, it’s extremely impressive and definitely worth a visit.

Swans at Cromford CanalThe canal is ideal for walkers of all ages and abilities, and with regular public transport stops along the northern stretch you don’t have to walk back to your starting point if you don’t want to. The canal tow path is suitable for pushchairs, and those who use a powered wheelchair. You can also hire a Tramper and there is a Changing Places toilet.

Horse drawn bargeAlternatively you can get a different view from the water aboard the narrow-boat Birdswood, which is operated every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday by Friends of Cromford Canal – on certain days it is horse drawn, which is an extra treat.

Derbyshire has so much to discover and you can find out more about the “Valley that changed the world” by joining in one of the Derwent Valley Discovery Days. 

Have fun!

Felicity