Friday 3rd March. Langley Mill to Ambergate. Just walking in the rain
My wife and I had booked in to the Greyhound Hotel in Cromford: recently refurbished and very acceptable. We had driven up from Warwickshire on the Thursday evening so that Alison could deliver me to Langley Mill on the Friday morning. Having walked a dozen or so canals, I had planned the weekend in reasonable detail. The one thing you cannot control very well is the weather.. Friday March 3 was wet.
I had suitable clothing and would enjoy it come what may. And I was furnished with copies of the relevant pages ‘A Walkers Guide to the Cromford Canal’ by Michael Harrison and Valerie Roberts. This had been mailed to me by the most cheerful and helpful Victoria (whom by chance we would meet the following day).
Starting point found, I was adjacent Lock 14. Aware that the initial stretch of the canal walk would be a whole 50 yards (before Langley Mill Boat Yard stops you getting into a stride) I had the welcome distraction of a working boat being craned off a low loader near the lock, for future use by Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association. Many of its members were there to witness the arrival and were pleased to share their plans. I understand the vessel needs considerable restoration, before it can begin assisting with restoration!
The scene is very different when re-joining the canal off Stoney Lane. I was now to learn that a flash is a flooded patch of ground of varying width and depth: todays conditions would ensure they were at their widest and deepest. Thirty minutes into the walk and I was wishing I had been wearing wellingtons. I was more than ankle deep in muddy water for long stretches. I feared the walk would turn into a yomp with trench foot. However, despite soaking socks and boots my feet did not become uncomfortable the whole day.
Without the Guide sticking to the route of the Cromford would have been really testing. As it was I made an error after crossing the footbridge over the River Erewash, straying left of the intended line. I knew that several unmentioned ponds and a railway underbridge meant I must be off course. Back to the footbridge to study my soggy notes more closely. As related, these open fields would provide no clues as to the route of the once doughty canal. I walked the course of the Thames and Severn in 2008 which had similar challenges. The contrast to a regular towpath however, with the occasional canal-connected landmark, is still compelling.
Solitude prevailed all the way to Ironville where a man was walking three dogs. By now, the canal had become properly recognisable. I wanted to consider the notes about features such as Pottery Lock and the deepening of the waterway a little further ahead, but by now I could not separate any of the pages (I hope you are feeling sorry for me. If you are reading this in flaming June I won’t get much sympathy!). The bridge signifying the Pinxton Arm, due to its elevated position, would leave me perplexed until I could read the book again. In the car park, day-trippers were eating their sandwiches in their cars. You may deduce this was a rainy day.
I knew that Codnor Park to Ambergate was five or six miles. The canal for now at least took on impressive dimensions, helped by the Butterley Park Reservoir feeder which made a noteworthy photo. The details guiding the walker over Butterley Tunnel were crucial; it would be awful to have not seen the important ventilation shafts. (When will they be called into service once again?).
Having walked the Union/Firth and Clyde in Scotland (2003), the references to Butterley and the Falkirk Wheel were poignant. Hammersmith Station looked ghostly on this grey day, but I’ve no doubt there is a band of supporters determined to return this stretch of railway to its former glory, as dedicated as the heroes who make up the FCC. Butterley Tunnel is indictative of the challenges, it is impossible to imagine the celebrations if it ever reopens.
The text promised the first sighting of a boat – well the iron skeleton of a former narrowboat, long since abandoned in another truncated stretch. This section was very enjoyable, helped by the improving weather. I splashed on through fields, which led to lengths of canal in water, then replaced by allotments.. abandoned cars.. industrial development.. The site of the gauging narrows must be inspirational to the restoration plan.
I found I had a 30 minute wait at Ambergate Station until a train to Cromford. Several other waiting passengers would have witnessed me splashing around like a six-year old in the large puddles to loosen some mud from my boots and trousers. Before too long I would be at the hotel: a full hot bath, then various ales.
Saturday 4th March. Ambergate to Cromford. Good Day Sunshine.
Beautiful morning. Alison and I took the train to Ambergate, to walk the five miles up to Cromford. It looked too complicated to examine the route between Bull Bridge and Ambergate and I think it was Poysers Bridge where we joined the canal. In contrast to the wet weekday the day before, this bright Saturday made the path busy with walkers and wildlife. Best to come amongst a variety of water birds were a pair of tufted ducks, barely a few feet away from us. The woods and scenery were worth coming for. Homesford Tea Room and High Peak Junction were both worth visiting.
Along this stretch there are lots of historic buildings, bridges, etc which make for an interesting journal: I always make a small album with notes and pictures of the canals I’ve walked. Our date did not coincide with Leawood Pumping Station in steam so maybe a reason to come back one day. Certainly there was more than enough water in the racing River Derwent to have topped up the canal.
On duty in FCC shop was the lady who had posted the guide book a week earlier, a lovely coincidence. “Why don’t you write some notes about your walk for our magazine?…..”.
Jeff + Alison, Warwick.