Parsley Hay is a tiny cluster of houses which evolved with the laying of the Cromford and High Peak railway line in 1825. At 1150 feet above sea level, Parsley Hay station was amongst the highest in England. The railway line which opened in 1830 ran from Cromford to Whaley Bridge and was used mainly to transport heavy minerals from the Cromford Canal to the Peak Forest Canal. It was thought of as an extension to the water form of transport, so much so, that the stations including Parsley Hay were known as wharves, and the nine inclines along the route were the equivalent of locks. At Cromford the line started at a height of 277 feet and ascended to 1264 feet on the limestone uplands before then descending to 517 feet at Whaley Bridge. The line finally closed in 1967.
About one mile east of Parsley Hay is one of the country’s most important prehistoric sites. Arbor Low is often described as the Stonehenge of the Midlands. At a height of 1230 feet, it commands a hilltop setting and must surely have been an impressive sight when newly constructed. There is a circular platform some 160 feet in diameter with entrances to the north and south. Surrounded by a ditch and bank, there is a circle comprising of approximately 40 large stones, the longest being 13 feet. These may once have been erect. Arbor Low could well date from 4,000 years ago at a time when Neolithic man inhabited the area. Could it be that nearby Gib Hill, thought to be the county’s largest tumuli, also dates from that period?
Heading south from Parsley Hay on the High Peak Trail you will come to a short tunnel which is rather more like a wide bridge and carries the A515 road above. There are two plaques at either end, one of which shows a wagon and the Latin motto ‘Divina Palladis Arte’ (by the diving skill of Pallas or Minerva, the Greek God of engineering). There is also an inscription to the Cromford and High Peak Railway Company incorporated in 1825 and reference to Josias Jessop the lines engineer and Wm Brittlebank the company solicitor.
The Tissington Trail ends just a few hundred yards south of Parsley Hay. This was formerly the Ashbourne to Buxton railway line constructed around 1880-1890. It was used mainly to carry away limestone and milk from the upland areas. A passenger service also operated and for a while this formed a through route from London to Manchester. There were four stations on the 13-mile section of line including Hartington, Alsop-en-le-Dale, Tissington and Thorpe Cloud. Services ceased in 1954 and the line was partly closed in 1963 with the Hartington to Parsley Hay section closing in 1967. The track was bought by the Peak Park Planning Board in 1968 from British Rail for the princely sum of £1, and the Tissington Trail opened in 1971.
Parsley Hay has a Visitor Centre and Bike Hire facility serviced and operated by the Peak District National Park Authority. At weekends in the winter and all week during the summer it is also possible to purchase light refreshments here. Hiring bikes and riding along either the High Peak Trail or the Tissington Trail is a wonderful way to see far reaching views of Peak District countryside whilst enjoying riding along a quiet trail free from traffic – great for kids!