I’m feeling very smug! I managed to fit in this cracker of a walk on a beautiful cold December day with frost on the ground but a warm sun above.
I parked at Middleton Top and set off with Nellie across fields on a footpath opposite the bike hire workshop and Visitor Centre, heading over Middleton Moor which is being grazed by a small herd of cute highland cattle. The views were spectacular. A cloud inversion in the Derwent Valley made Riber Castle in the distance look like it had a milky moat!
On reaching a stile and gate we turned right and walked down Moor Lane which gave me an aerial view of Middleton-by-Wirksworth, a hotchpotch of houses and cottages, many dazzling like mirrors as the sun glistened on their solar panels.
An information board positioned on a corner pointed out distant way marker features including Black Rocks, Crich Stand and Alport Heights.
Arriving at a T-junction we turned left to walk up the top end of Water Lane that took us past a succession of small fields and lots of old derelict field barns, probably dating back to when lead miners and quarrymen who lived hereabouts also farmed part-time on little smallholdings. Middleton Moor contains a wealth of industrial heritage with much evidence of old mine shafts dating back hundreds of years. I’m always fascinated by the names given to them with some local ones being Black Rakes, Welshmans Venture and Bondog Hole Mines as well as Merry Tom and the Thumper Sitch Levels.
Somewhere beneath my feet and Nellie’s paws lay the now disused Middleton Mine which was evidently humungous in size. It was said to be the largest underground limestone quarry in the world, comprising some 26 miles of tunnels across 3 working levels. A convoy of large lorries used to descend underground most days, to be loaded with Hopton Wood limestone, through an entrance near the crossroads in the village.
A sharp right turn just before the end of this lane and our path now passed through beds of frozen bracken and bramble as well as woodland where the trees were devoid of leaves, their branches coated with a hoar frost that had covered everything in sight. This path followed the north side of the hill that was still in the shade and it was lovely to be able to scrunch over rock hard mud and frozen leaf litter. On an old map dated 1957 this area was called Nimblejack, however the reference no longer appears on contemporary Ordnance Survey versions. Eventually we came to a quarry access drive which we followed down to the road.
Parts of Hopton Quarry are now a nature reserve managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. It contains a rich variety of wild flowers including the uncommon fly orchid and frog orchid.
There now followed a short stretch of roadside walking before we headed up a footpath through Arm Lees Farm, walking under a high stone archway and then over fields to Moor Farm. A map dated 1951 clearly shows a branch line from the Cromford & High Peak Railway running for over a mile through Hopton Quarry, used to take away stone. The main line was one of the first in the world to be laid.
Behind us some massive wind turbines came into view. They have a bit of a marmite reputation, meaning that you either love them or hate them. I have to say they looked magnificent against a backdrop of clear blue sky.
Beyond Moor Farm we accessed the High Peak Trail with the former Intake Quarry up to our left that was worked 1853-1968. Originally it was owned by the Gell family of Hopton before passing to the Key family in the 1920’s. Evidently in more recent years, after its closure, it was used by the police as a firearms practice range.
From this elevated trail we could look right down the Ecclesbourne Valley where early morning mist was rising to be burnt off by the sun.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: Readers probably think that I’m the perfect pooch and butter wouldn’t melt! However, don’t be fooled by my innocent looks as I have some very funny little ways. Every once in a while, especially after she has been watching certain programmes on TV about naughty dogs, Mum has another go at training me off my bad habits. She fills her pockets with treats and we play ‘nicey nicey’ games with yummy rewards in an attempt to bribe me. I’m a very intelligent dog though, don’t you know, and now I’ve worked out just what to do to get a tasty morsel. I should also point out that I’ve got selective taste buds and am something of a connoisseur when it comes to gravy bones etc. Anything inferior gets spat out! So who do you think is training who?