“And Monsal, thou mine of Arcadian treasure
Need we seek for Greek Islands and spice-laden gales
Whilst a temple like thine of enchantment and pleasure
May be found in our own native Derbyshire Dales?”
Written by Eliza Cook more than a hundred years ago, this stanza sums up perfectly the wonders of Monsal Dale. Why travel around the world when we have such beauty as Monsal Dale right on our doorstep?
Monsal Dale is a picture postcard valley in the heart of the White Peak of such stunning beauty and appeal that it must rank highly as one of the most attractive beauty spots in the Peak District National Park. To stand at Monsal Head on a clear day and look down into the deep gorge below, with the viaduct and Monsal Trail as feature landmarks is breathtaking.
Monsal Head is fortunately geared up for numerous visitors, having a large car park, a tiny cluster of hotel and guest houses, restaurant and tea rooms all within a stones throw of each other.
The viaduct in Monsal Dale was granted a preservation order in 1970 and has become an iconic feature which is famous around the world. Ironically though, when it was built there was a great deal of opposition to its construction. Ruskin was one of its strongest objectors referring to it as “this valley is now desecrated in order that a Buxton fool may be able to find himself at Bakewell in twelve minutes”. Having featured on several television programmes, it is probably crossed by more people now than ever it was in the days when it carried trains over the river as part of the Midland Railway line.
Monsal Dale station closed on 10th August 1959, and the line itself ceased to run just a few years later. However this section of disused track now forms part of the Monsal Trail which allows walkers to hike in peace and tranquillity on an elevated course through the heart of Monsal Dale.
Downstream of the viaduct is a fantastic semi-circular weir where a thick mist of spray rises up from the force of water when the river is in full flow. Further downstream and the meandering river winds its way beneath Shacklow Woods en route for the quaint and picturesque village of Ashford-in-the-Water.
Upstream from the viaduct is the little hamlet of Monsal Dale, made up of a cluster of cottages owned by the Chatsworth Estates. Cressbrook Mill dominates the landscape at the top end of Monsal Dale where a mill race and weir have created Water-Cum-Jolly; a fantastic broad sweep of river captured either side by overhanging rocks and steep sided hills of such sylvan beauty that it has been described as a miniature Switzerland.
Commanding a hilltop site of some 10 acres, Fin Cop which stands as a majestic landmark above Monsal Dale was a promontory fort in the Iron Age.
The Monsal Trail is not really suitable for cycling as there are closed tunnels along its course with alternative routes which are not suitable for pedal cycles. However walkers can certainly enjoy its convenience.
There are many paths and old tracks around Monsal Dale which fit in perfectly with a circular walk. Pennyunk Lane from Ashford is a safe and scenic alternative to walking up the main road to Monsal Head, whilst the old track from over to Brushfield affords wondrous views down into Monsal Dale.