The Monsal Trail runs along a disused railway line that has been converted into a track for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. It runs for eight and a half miles from Coombs Road Viaduct, one mile southeast of Bakewell to the head of Chee Dale, about three miles east of Buxton. The route follows the deep limestone valley of the River Wye through breathtaking countryside. But not without diversions, to avoid tunnels, one of which occurs on the way from Great Longstone to Monsal Head, where there is a magnificent viewpoint.
From this point you get a wonderful view of the River Wye slowly winding its way down the dale between meadows and the steeply wooded side of the valley. Yet John Ruskin, the poet and conservationist ranted when the viaduct was built: ‘The valley is gone - and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton.’ Despite the controversy over the building of the Monsal Dale Viaduct, it is now considered an important feature of historic and architectural interest. When the railway line closed after 100 years, and plans mooted to demolish the viaduct, there was a widespread protest. The answer came in 1970, with the award of a preservation order.
In the 1860s, the London-Midland railway ran along the line linking St Pancras and Manchester. The pretty little woodland station at Great Longstone, the last stop before crossing Monsal Dale Viaduct, still stands, but now only passed by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The station at Millers Dale was once a major junction on the Midland Railway Line, and was one of the largest stations on the line. The original station, opened in 1863, had three platforms, two on the main line for trains between London and Manchester and a bay for the branch line to Buxton. A further two platforms were added when the second viaduct was opened in 1905. It was one of the few stations in England to have a post office on the platform.
The railway closed in 1968, and the line remained unused for twelve years before being taken over by the Peak National Park. The track has been converted into a walking route, known as the Monsal Trail. It stretches from Wye Dale, near Buxton, to Coombs Road, near Bakewell. Most of the tunnels have been closed, but alternative routes have been provided. The station car parks at both Bakewell and Millers Dale are convenient for those walkers who come by car to explore the magnificent scenery of the Wye Valley and to enjoy the abundant wildlife, flora and fauna.
It was difficult territory to construct a railway line with tunnels, viaducts and cuttings and was made even more complicated by the local landowners. Initially, it seemed to have got off to a good start. Paxton built an impressive Italianate Railway Station at Rowsley, along with four stone cottages to house railway workers. The Station Hotel, now renamed the Grouse and Claret, was built nearby and everything was ready to extend the line through the valley.
Unfortunately, there was a problem. The Duke of Devonshire was adamant that he would not allow the line across Chatsworth Park. If that was not bad enough, the Duke of Rutland also refused an alternative plan for the railway to run across his estate at Haddon. All the railway company could do at the time was to run trains between Rowsley and Ambergate. The problem was solved when the Duke of Rutland agreed to the plans of the Midland Railway to build a track out of sight, in a cutting behind Haddon Hall. A new station was built a quarter of a mile south and instead of the line running up the Derwent Valley, it ran along the Wye Valley. Paxton’s splendid station was left isolated in the wrong valley. It was not until 1867 that the line finally reached Manchester. One hundred years later Dr Beeching announced the closure of the line.
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A former railway line, it is eight and half miles long and runs from one mile south east of Bakewell, to the head of Chee Dale. Tunnels have been closed, but alternative paths round them created - not suitable for disabled people. The section from Bakewell to Little Longstone is suitable for cyclists and horse riders.
The main car parks with easy access to the trail are at Bakewell and Millers Dale. Pay and Display parking is also available at Monsal Head and Tideswell Dale. There are various information points along the way detailing the closed sections and providing details of wildlife, flora and fauna.
Access for disabled people is available at Bakewell Station, where a level stretch of the trail runs southeast to Coombs Road Viaduct, a distance of one mile. In the opposite direction the trail is suitable to the closed Headstone Tunnel, near Little Longstone, a distance of about 3.5 miles.
Level access is also available from Miller’s Dale Station, either for half a mile west or two miles east.
The route through Chee Dale is particularly challenging after heavy rain, when the stepping stones are often submerged under the waters of the River Wye! It is also a place where seasoned climbers, test out their skills, as is nearby Ravenstor, with its fearsome overhanging rock face.
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