Cromford Canal Walk
Buckland Hollow Tunnel (Excavator Pub) to Ripley Road Bridge
Sunday 7th Sept 2009
My last visit to the Cromford Canal was back in April when I walked the Missing Link with Tilly, exploring the stretch from Watstendwell Station to The Excavator Pub at Buckland Hollow.
With another Sunday available we decided to try and walk the line a bit further, but had been warned that this section gets pretty indistinct. Ideally, I would have bought an OS map but sadly I wasn't very prepared and instead opted for a close examination of the Google Earth images accessed via the Friends of Cromford Canal website. I then made a couple of rough maps on some A4 paper and hoped for the best.
Tilly was nursing a sore ankle so we decided to tackle it in little stages, returning to the car at frequent intervals and try to leapfrog along the line. We therefore parked up in the Excavator Pub car park and set off under the railway bridge, which once spanned the cut. With a bit of imagination the line of the canal is reasonably clear in this area, striding out in a straight line between the trees, all filled in with rubble as it heads towards a large farm.
One problem with following a long extinct canal track is that it is very easy to get the levels slightly wrong and as we approached the farm the canal bed appeared to have been obliterated by the digging out of a fishing lake. Imagine our surprise when we spied, sitting at the far end of the lake, a perfect example of a canal bridge, all you need is a narrowboat to complete the scene. Far from merely infilling that canal the debris has been mounded up about 20 feet - but infill is easy to remove..
Beyond this lake the line is completely lost as it makes its way over meadowland, at which point we returned to the car and drove round to Bridle Lane with its cluster of what must have been old canal side houses. The bridge at Bridle Lane has been lowered, but the water pipe continues to arch its way over the canal bed. From Bridle Lane the towpath side of the canal is well defined in concrete and, given its remoteness, few obstructions have been placed in its course.
This length remains in water, with a steady flow draining out of the Butterley Tunnel and into the nearby streams via a couple of side sluices. To render this navigable one would only have to close the sluice gates (and pray the the banks hold!).
The next major structure is the road bridge at Hartsey Hill. The canal bed is remarkably clear at this point save a low level water pipe. Redirecting this at a higher level would appear to be a relatively simple job.
With the towpath deteriorating we approached a substantial house, with what appears to be a well maintained landing stage. However, this is the journey's end for now as forward progress was blocked by the towering ramparts of the A610 Ripley Road. This structure was built in the 1960's, presumably at the same time Bull Bridge Aqueduct was destroyed lower down the valley. The watercourse is now reduced to a couple of meagre looking concrete pipes navigable only by adventerous ducks and rats. Whilst it is a significant obstacle, the embankment is made of earth and it should be possible to bore a tunnel through without disturbing the traffic racing far above.