A Taste of the
Peak District, Derbyshire stately home, Calke Abbey near Staunton Harold Reservoir and Ticknall Village …
Abbey is situated to the south of Derby, near the village of Ticknall and
not far from the town of Melbourne. The surrounding
park with its varied terrain and many paths through woodlands, has
been designated a National Nature Reserve. Pictured to the left is one of
the pretty brick cottages of the village of Ticknall that you pass on the
footpath from the village leading into Calke Park.
There is a pleasant circular walk from Staunton Harold Reservoir car park, passing the sailing club and along the along the reservoir road to Ticknall, through the limeyards and woodlands to Calke Abbey, then across the fields and back to the reservoir road. This circuit really enables you to appreciate the beauty of the area.
Whilst on this walk, take the time to explore the old tramway tunnel, a Grade II listed structure and part of the Ticknall Tramway built in 1802 by the famous (well, famous at the time) Derbyshire engineer Benjamin Outram. Take care as the surface is uneven and usually dam and slippery. A good torch and stout footwear are needed to pass through it. The tramway connected the limeyards to the Ashby-de-la-Zouch canal at the Willesley basin near Blackfordby in Leicestershire. After 1874, it was cut short at the Parks junction. There were several alternative routes considered for the tramway but the only way to avoid crossing the driveway to the Harpur family residence of Calke Abbey, thus preserving the appearance of the park, was to go underneath. It is not buried deeply (the tunnel construction method is called a cut-and-cover) and has an arch shape that resembles a canal bridge, probably because it was built by a canal company! It is considered as one of the oldest railway arches in the world and was restored by the National Trust and converted into a footpath in 1995. The tunnel is 138 yards in length and has a variable height and width, the maximum height being almost 8 feet and the maximum width being about 12 feet.
The tramway was in use for slightly more than a century (last used in 1913 and closed officially in 1915). It was built as an alternative to the existing form of transport (horse drawn wagons) because there were moves afoot to convert the existing road into a toll road. The other option would have been to build a new length of canal, however, that was too expensive as it would have meant building several flights of locks. The tramway had a gauge of 4 feet 2 inches, the wagons were horse drawn and built by the Butterley iron company. The tramway was used to transport the products out and the coal for the kilns in.
The heyday of the Ticknall Limeyards (now a nature reserve) was in the early 19th century. They were worked by both freeholders and tenants of the Harper-Crewe family who were the landowners hereabouts.
If you are interested in light gauge or narrow gauge railways in general, see the railways page of this site for further information about the railways in Derbyshire, and the Peak District.
A good stopping point on this South Derbyshire walk is the tea room and National Trust shop at Calke Abbey, in the old stables area, close to the fish ponds set in their steep sided and deep valley next to the car park. The house itself is fascinating, for example see the amazing 18th century silk bed, the walled garden, the servant’s route through the Brewhouse tunnel, take a virtual tour of the upper floors of the house if you are unable to get up the stairs or even eat in the licensed restaurant. The museum has a new display about how the Trust keeps on top of maintenance by monitoring and detecting deterioration to the many items on display.
Calke Abbey was never actually an abbey but it does have monastic beginnings. Back in the 12th century, Richard, the 2nd Earl of Chester established an Augustinian priory here. This fairly quickly became just a cell of the nearby priory at Repton, until Henry the Eighth's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Nothing remains of the original building which was completely remodelled in the early 18th century. It passed through many hands and was used as a billet for officers during the second world war. It was acquired as the home as the home of the wealthy Harpur family in the 17th century and remained so until the 1980s. At that time, after many years of neglect and several years of debate, Nigel Lawson, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that funding would be made available to save this fine historic house and it was acquired by the National Trust. The house has been preserved as it was and is a time capsule with an eclectic mix of treasures collected from around the world, sort of telling the tale of a reclusive and odd family. A couple of highlights ... The Salon is a huge space, originally designed as an entrance hall, which was converted into a private museum during Victorian times and His Lordship's Bedroom, complete with Victorian wallpaper and hunting trophies hanging above the bed. The The outside attractions at Calke Abbey are the walled garden including an orangery and kitchen garden, the stable yard, the Auricula theatre and of course the surrounding parkland with deer and a 1000 year old oak tree!
Tel: 01332 863822
The interior of the Ticknall Tramway Tunnel through Calke Abbey grounds:
Looking out at the limeyard end of the tunnel:
A view of the Calke Abbey grounds from the driveway leading to the house from Ticknall: