Parsley Hay, a popular National Park cycle hire centre and picnic area, stands close to the junction of the High Peak and Tissington Trails. Originally known as the Parsley Hay Wharf (the Cromford and High Peak line was originally conceived as a canal), it is now the hub of the trail-users and convenient for the exploration of both lines.
The Cromford and High Peak Railway was built at the start of the “Golden Age” of railway building. Designed by Josias Jessop and opened in 1830, it was later taken over by the London and North Western Railway but fell under the Beeching axe in 1967. The Ashbourne-Buxton line was much more short-lived, opening in 1899 and closing within months of the High Peak line in September, 1967.
Both lines were purchased by the National Park authority and Derbyshire County Council in the late 1960s, and converted into the popular walking and riding routes which they are today. But, as we will see, there are still many reminders of the past along the way.
This 47m/51yard long tunnel is an oddity in such an exposed place over 300m/1,000ft above the sea. Note the plaques above the entrance portals at either end. The northern one shows an originally horse-drawn railway waggon with the words “Cromford and Highpeak Railway, 1825” surrounding it, while the one above the southern portal pays tribute to the engineer and to the solicitor of the company “Jos. Jessop Esq. Engineer” and “Wm. Brittlebank Esq.” Note also the heather growing on the cutting sides – a rarity in limestone country.
Shortly after leaving the Newhaven Tunnel, the trail passes through the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s Blake Moor nature reserve, an area of wetlands and flooded claypits away to the left, which is important for amphibians and other aquatic wildlife.
It is now straight ahead for about two miles on the pleasantly-winding High Peak Trail to the brick works at Friden Grange.
The factory at Friden Grange makes heat-resistant refractory bricks for the furnaces and ovens used in the steel-making process. Its site here, high on the limestone White Peak plateau, is explained by the fact that local pits were the source of high-grade silica sand which is needed in the manufacture of this type of bricks.
Turn right on reaching the road by the brickworks, and follow this down past the Friden Pits, from which the silica sand was extracted, to reach the busy A515, Ashbourne-Buxton road.
Turn left at the grassy triangle and walk past the sadly-derelict Newhaven House Hotel.
D. Newhaven House Hotel 166601
This former coaching inn on the busy Ashbourne-Buxton turnpike once had stabling for as many as 100 horses. It was built by the Duke of Devonshire around 1800 on this once-profitable route, but at the time of writing is a fine old listed building desperately seeking a new use.
At the far end of the hotel buildings, take the gate which leads up a field to a stile, and then follow this path through a series of stiles which lead past Standege Grange on the left.
A gap leads through the shelter belt known as the Horseshoe Plantation, from where you drop down to the Tissington Trail, which runs across the foreground of the view, by bearing right through two squeezer stiles.
You are now back on the Tissington Trail, where you turn north (right) and follow this for about 5km/3 miles back to Parsley Hay, with increasingly fine view westwards over Hartington and towards the hills of Ecton and Wetton which stand above the winding Manifold Valley. After about half a mile, you pass the Ruby Wood Plantation on your right.
Ruby Wood Plantation
The Ruby Wood Plantation and picnic site was planted in 1991 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Peak District National Park, and is a good example of how, with the proper management, healthy woodland can be encouraged to grow even on these bleak heights.
It is only a few more steps, through another limestone cutting and past some old quarry workings, until you reach the Old Signal Box at Hartington.
Hartington Old Signal Box
This splendid old wooden signal box was one of the few buildings connected with the former railway line which was not demolished when it was converted to a leisure trail. Carefully restored in its original livery, it used to serve as a visitor centre on summer weekends, and children enjoyed the thrill of operating the old signal levers in the box while enjoying a grandstand view down Hand Dale towards Hartington. There is still a car park, picnic area and toilets.
The trail leads on through cuttings and over embankments which give a grandstand view of Hartington Moor Farm down to the left, with Long Dale beyond. The deep “V” of the Parsley Hay cutting now looms ahead. This is another of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s local nature reserves, important for its unique geological cross-section through the limestone strata. You are soon back to your starting point of Parsley Hay.
If you wish to visit the outstanding prehistoric site of Arbor Low,(and it should not be missed) it is less than a mile away, across the A515. Take the Youlgreave road after a few yards and follow this for about half a mile to the sign (right) which leads through Upper Oldhams Farm (voluntary fee) to the monument.
The great Neolithic henge and stone circle of Arbor Low has been called “the Stonehenge of the North.” But its remote setting at 375m/1,230ft above the sea gives it much more of a sense of closeness with the prehistoric past than its Wiltshire counterpart.
The henge was constructed between 3,000 and 2000 BC probably as the focus for communial religious or ritual ceremonies. The circle of stones, now all fallen, were
added later, and later still during the Bronze Age, a circular burial mound was superimposed on the henge’s eastern rim.
A couple of fields away to the south is the even earlier Gib Hill burial mound, which was originally built in Neolithic times as a long barrow and later, like Arbor Low, had a Bronze Age barrow superimposed on it. The views from both monuments across the rolling limestone plateau are superb.
Start/finish: Parsley Hay car park just off the A515 near Hartington
Distance: 11 km/7 miles
Approximate time: 3 hours
Highest point: Arbor Low 374m/1,230ft
Map: OS Outdoor Leisure Sheet 24, White Peak
Refreshments: At the Parsley Hay Cycle Hire Centre, or there is usually an ice cream van at the Hartington Old Signal Box on summer weekends
Terrain: An easy half-day walk which sticks mainly to easily-graded former track beds of old railways, so no steep climbs
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010