At the heart of England’s railway network during the Industrial Revolution, the Peak District of Derbyshire was criss-crossed by railway lines. During the 20th century, the lines closed, one by one, leaving a legacy of railway track beds. Some of these have been re-developed where it is practical to provide the Peak District’s network of traffic free cycle trails like the Tissington trail, High Peak trail, Monsal trail, Manifold track (also known as the Manifold Way) and the Sett Valley trail.

The city of Derby still is a manufacturing centre for railway stock, however it is a shadow of its former self having significantly contracted since the 1980s. There is no railway museum but there is some railwayana in the Industrial museum at the Silk Mill close to Derby city centre. A few minutes walk further from the centre, along the bank of the river Derwent, you can cross the bridge that once took the Great Northern line Derbyshire and Staffordshire extension through the suburbs of Derby, past Parker's Piece and the former Bliss's factory, through Chester Green and on to Nottingham. To the west, the impressive and ornate Friargate Bridge still stands as a proud and well maintained reminder of the line that became known as the Derby Friargate line. At Friargate station, a massive warehouse was built and is now a Grade 2 listed shell. Little remains of Friargate station, the last time I visited in the 1990s it was an overgrown piece of wasteland, however, the platforms and a few other features were still visible. The arches still survive and, according to a contribution to the Wikipedia, were the inspiration for Flanagan and Allen's song 'Underneath the Arches'. Just off Friargate you can still find a cobbled yard by the arches where the ticket office and the steps leading up to the platforms still exist.

After the disappointment of the closures of many of the Peak District railways post Beeching, railway buffs and tourists have been delighted by the rise of railway organisations like Peak Rail, the Midland Railway Centre and the Steeple Grange Light Railway, run by volunteers.

So, come and enjoy the railways in and near the Peak District National Park ...

Image: at the Steeple Grange Light Railway station, Wirksworth, Derbyshire. 18 inch narrow gaugerailway.We have a variety of attractions for railway enthusiasts or interested tourists. There is Peak Rail who run regular steam services between Matlock and Darley Dale, the Midland Railway Centre near Ripley where youngsters can see Thomas the Tank engine and ride on Santa's Special. If Narrow Gauge is your interest then you should visit the Steeple Grange Light Railway at Wirksworth. The railway offers a short ride through a cutting, up the 1 in 28 gradient with a stop on the way back at Killersdale Halt. Here you will have a short interactive talk about the history of the railway from its earliest days as a standard gauge line to the present day.

It is an 18" gauge railway which was started in 1985 and has slowly developed since. It has not been easy to obtain rolling stock of that gauge and so some of it has had to be re gauged. The motive power comes from several electric and diesel electric units; there are 5 currently operational with even more under restoration or awaiting restoration. The main one used is 'Greenbat', an electric loco used in steelworks in Halesowen and Tinsley. The other one that I have often seen there is 'Horwich', bought from Gloddfa Ganol, Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1997 upon closure of the museum. Passengers are carried in a manrider, as used in various underground mines in both the coal industry and mineral extraction mines. Just mind your shins when you get in and out, it hurts, as I can vouch!!

The steeple Grange Light Railway runs along a track bed that was originally standard gauge. It was named the 'Killers Branch' as the brothers who operated the Middleton Quarry at that time had the name Killer. It was an offshoot from the main line that is now the High Peak Trail. When the society was formed, it was never the intention to restore that, it was to create an entirely new light railway - they have succeeded in a big way. Possibly the late spring is the best time to visit as the local flora is in full bloom. The area is surrounded by SSSIs, including the National Stone Centre, which is designated an SSSI because of the geology.

Image: The railway line at Steeple Grange, Wirksworth disappears into the trees.This is definitely not a whole day experience but would be worth combining with a visit to the nearby Ecclesbourne Valley Railway project in Wirksworth, the National Stone Centre (great childrenís centre with interactive geological activities including panning for gems, fossil rubbing and trails, one of which drops you down to one of the Ecclesbourne valley railway stations) and a walk round Black Rocks is worth while whilst you are in the area.

To the east of the Peak District you can visit the Midland Railway centre at Butterley. This is a standard gauge railway running steam trains and diesel units plus a Midland Railway museum on the main site of at Swanwick. They offer a variety of special interest trains throughout the year and can even offer other services including weddings! See their site at http://www.midlandrailwaycentre.co.uk/public/home.html for full details.

To the west of the Peak District National Park lies the Churnet Valley railway, operating steam trains through the beautiful Churnet Valley and the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway which offers a 3 mile round trip on miniature trains.

Nearby Staffordshire was a coal county, having several collieries. One of these, the Foxfield Colliery in the Cheadle Coalfield, needed a railway line to join it to the rail network. After attempts to get one built to Cheadle had been thwarted, the colliery owners built one on the cheap to link it with the main line. That was in the 1890s and the colliery closed in 1965. It survives today as the Foxfield Railway. The organisers run plenty of special interest trains such as the Real Ale Train and you can book to actually drive a train (very popular and can require booking a year in advance!)

One other point of interest to railway enthusiasts could be a visit to what may be the oldest railway arch in the country at Ticknall in south Derbyshire. At Calke Abbey, the Ticknall Tramway was built at the start of the 19th century to transport lime from the limeyards to the Ashby Canal, in Leicestershire. The tunnel was restored by the National Trust and you can walk through this grade II listed structure. Click here for more information about the Ticknall Tramway.

 


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