The Peak Forest Tramway

Last year Dave Kitching suggested that 30 years of walks was worth celebrating by recreating the first walk on the Peak Forest Tramway and showing our appreciation of Pete Yearsley having started and organised the walks for so many years. We agreed, Pete confirmed it was in his diary and fully intended to be at the beginning of the walk to start us off with a good ‘Right Then’. However the week before the walk the operation he’s been waiting for on his foot came up so he was unable to make the walk. It was a surprise then to find several ‘Petes’ on the walk (some quite scary!)

At 6 Miles long the tramway carried limestone from quarries in Dove Holes to Bugsworth Basin where it was loaded onto boats for transportation and burned for agricultural and industrial use.

Guides for walking the Peak Forest Tramway start at Bugsworth Basin and end at the quarries in Dove Holes. We decided to follow the limestone on it’s journey from the quarries to the basin.

The tramway originally ran from Loads Knowle Quarry, but soon after opening in 1796 it became apparent that this was too small to meet demand so the line was extended into Dove Holes Dale. Here a network of lines ran into the quarries. We followed the line that took us through Holderness Quarry. Nearly a hundred years since this was closed and although being reclaimed by nature the man-made edges and spoil heaps are plain to see and you get a feel for the scale of the operation. Here we found the first sleeper blocks of the day.

If you could carry on walking on this line you would reach the A6, which crosses the tramway on a bridge. It is no longer possible to walk to the top of the inclined plane, so when we could hear the A6 ahead we retraced our steps back to the cars and after divesting ourselves of wellies and donning more comfortable walking boots drove down to Chapel-en-the Frith where we met the rest of the walkers.

A quick trip to see the top of the inclined plane was next. The plane was self-acting; descending loaded waggons hauled up ascending empty waggons by attaching them to an endless chain or rope. It operated in this way for nearly 130 years.

It isn’t possible to walk down the plane but we could stand on the public footpath at the top looking down to Chapel and appreciate the steepness of the incline. Standing at the corner and looking back towards Dove Holes it is possible to see the line of the tramway. The original buildings still stand at the top of the tramway, all now private dwellings but sympathetically converted.

Returning to the bottom of the hill we started the walk proper. A modern house has been built on the bottom of the inclined plane, however straight across the road from here the bridge which carried the Buxton Road over the tramway can still be seen in the top corner of the council depot. Through Chapel sections of the tramway have been built over, however it is still possible to follow a good part of the route, a few more sleeper blocks can be found at the side of the path here.

At the other end of Chapel is Stodhart Tunnel, just inside the entrance of Stodhart Lodge (now a care home). At 94-yards long, this is the second oldest rail-related tunnel in the country. Although the northern portal and some of the tunnel was lost when the A624 was re-aligned in a road improvement scheme the remaining section is Grade II* listed but in a very poor state of repair.

Crossing the A624 we walked down the road to Chapel Milton, where the Peak Forest Canal was originally intended to terminate. This would have meant building more locks so the canal was terminated at Bugsworth. The tramway runs through private land at this point but the tramway trail is through a field just at the side and both go under the impressive double viaduct (In the picture below, the tramway can be seen to the right beyond the fence). Once across the field we were back onto the tramway where many sleeper blocks are still in place.

We walked past what had been Forge Mill Bleach Works which had a connection to the tramway for delivering coal and taking cloth for onward distribution. This land is now having a large number of new houses built on it although it was nice to see the original chimney still standing. We left the tramway briefly at Whitehough where we stopped at the Old Hall Inn for lunch. An old coaching Inn attached to an Elizabethan Manor House, we were seated in the banqueting hall with it’s minstrel gallery, a fitting place for our celebration. Ian gave a few words of thanks to Pete for initiating the walks and all the organisers over the years, then we enjoyed a most delicious lunch. As an extra treat Craken Morris had arranged to dance at the pub for us.

Returning to the tramway it was a short walk to Bugsworth Basin. We passed Whitehall paper works (now Vinyl Compounds, a European leader in PVC technology) and the site of Crist Quarry. Some time was spent examining the 2 skew bridges that took a raised branch up to the New Road lime kilns above the basin. It was considered that it was impossible for these to be original bridges. After the walk Ruth did some investigating and came up with the following information:

The first Kilns, accessed from what is now the Middle Basin Arm by barrow bridges across Black Brook, were demolished in 1840 as inefficient and new more modern kilns erected further up the bank around 1841. These were the 'New Road' kilns about the remains of which there was a planning ‘fight’ between the IWPS and the planning office, which sadly resulted in the erection of new houses on the site. These Kilns were also the ones for which the branch tramway (with the bridges) was built.

It appears that the principals of these bridges had been worked on for many years by railway engineers, the first workable design was published in 1829 by a Peter Nicholson and set off a flurry of improvements by many engineers, e.g. Charles Fox in 1836. By 1840 (our earliest date for these kilns) improvements were still ongoing and being built for railways. Although we do not have evidence for when the branch was actually built, it is fairly certain the technology and design of such bridges was well enough understood by the dates of the kilns at Bugsworth. (from Brian Lamb and Graham Boyes "The Peak Forest Canal and Railway”(RCHS 2012), and others).

Next stop Bugsworth Basin, where Ian gave a guided tour, walkers were able to peruse the information cabin and we all admired the newly installed murals showing the timeline of the Basin.

Thirty years ago the Basin was still in the process of restoration and seeing it in water and full of boats a distant dream…

THE END

For further information on the tramway visit: http://www.pittdixon.go-plus.net/pft/pft.htm