Lumsdale under snow (Helen Moat)
Blog Words : Freewheeling | 18 January

Exploring Derbyshire's hidden corners

Helen Moat discovers a forgotten remnant of England's industrial past in a picturesque valley in Derbyshire

The stillness is unnerving in this dark, dank valley. Nature is out of control here.

In summer, ivy, moss and bramble choke stone and tree, swallowing even the stream. In winter too, when the trees are bare and the vegetation has died back, the tangle of exposed roots creep across the paths, sidle up buildings and across slabs of rock.

I come here in every season, but especially in winter when the ground is covered in snow and the waterfalls are partially frozen over – or on damp, grey days when the mist drops down into the dale and clings to the great slabs of rock on the sides of the ravine. Like today.

This place feels forgotten, although it was once very different. I catch glimpses of the past through the snaking roots and shrubbery: a gable here, an empty window there, a missing door, a roofless ruin, a right angle of walls instead of a rectangle, a pile of rubble.  Further up, there’s the curved wall of an empty paint vat, a single surviving flue and a wheel pit with an empty linchpin. In an archway, there is the worn-away convex curve of stone where a millstone once ground.

The Derwent Valley Mills in Derbyshire, England, is a World Heritage Site, the sprawling redbrick buildings and chimney stacks great monuments to the Industrial Revolution – and to one of its founding fathers, Richard Arkwright. Just off the main Derwent trail is Lumsdale, a mostly unknown wooded gorge close to the town of Matlock.  Few venture here, yet it’s a place of strange decaying beauty. The first mill was built here in the 1600s. By the height of the Industrial Revolution, there were at least 7 mills crammed into this narrow ravine.

I close my eyes and breathe in the faint scent of water hitting cool air, rock and soggy bracken. The smell of rotting vegetation pervades the air. I try to imagine what it would have been like here centuries ago when the mills were still operating. I can almost smell the pungent aroma of ground minerals, the crunched bone of animal, the chaff of the wheat and the woven cotton. Through the sound of cascading water, it’s not hard to imagine the grate of millstone and the voices of the mill workers hanging in the heavy, dust-filled air. This place is full of ghosts.

I open my eyes again and continue the climb. “Hello.” An elderly lady calls to me. She’s carrying sheets of typed paper. “Would you be interested in my guided tour of the Lumsdale Arkwright Mills on Sunday?” Her small eyes are bright with excitement. We chat for a while until I notice the sun will soon touch the meadow above the ravine.

“I promise I’ll come,” I shout as I leave.

High above the dale, I look down at the waterfalls that spills tens of feet. Transparent pebbles of water bounce into the air. Below, the stream is bracken-brown. At the water’s edge, great green and russet slabs of stone sculpt the valley like heavy, angular Russian monuments.

At the top of Lumsdale, I sit by the only surviving mill pond of three. A black Labrador breaks the glassy surface of the water with his snout. The inverted landscape trembles. Mallards fly out of yellowed reeds. A flock of ravens rise up on the hillside in an echo. 

Lumsdale is a place that calls to me over and over.

Helen Moat has won several travel writing competitions, including runner-up x 2 with The British Guild of Travel Writers and highly commended in the BBC Wildlife Travel Writing competition. She is currently writing the Slow Travel: Peak District for Bradt Guides.You can find more of her travel pieces on her blog.

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