Bonsall – Ember Farm – Heights Of Abraham – Limestone Way – Bonsall

DISTANCE: Approximately 3 ½ miles

Lead mining, caverns and caves are the predominant subject of this walk. Bonsall was chosen for the site of settlement centuries ago not only for its sheltered position but also because of its geological situation. Bonsall lies in the vicinity of an extinct volcano which had formed a sandwich of dolomite limestone between layers of volcanic toadstone. The dolomite was dissolved away and replaced by fluorspar with galena and barites. Underground water systems hollowed out the rock and formed caves and caverns, some of immense proportions, but left behind silt deposits which were later mined away to get at the lead.

It is known that the Nestus Mine complex at Matlock Bath was mined by the Romans as pigs of lead found locally have proved. However, the first recorded reference to lead mining was in 1470.

Bonsall is an extensive village, stretching from what was the Pig of Lead pub down by the main road which is known locally as the Via Gellia, for approximately two thirds of a mile to the top end of the village and a rise from 450 to 850 feet above sea level. Bonsall at one time boasted having 150 marble bridges – a stream ran down the main street and each house had its own bridge!

This walk visits the Heights of Abraham complex by the back door! Although not a long walk it is quite easy going but please keep to the paths as there are remains of mines, pit-holes and drops all over the place!

Start your walk at the public toilets and fountain by the junction at the bottom end of Bonsall and enter the playing fields opposite, then go up a flight of steps leading to the church of St James which dates from 1230 although it was much restored by Ewan Christian around 1863. The spire of Bonsall Church is decorated by two ornate bands and within is said to be a rood screen which serves as the Bonsall War Memorial. There are also a wall-mounted weeping putti and a bull ring which was formerly fixed into the ground in the Market Place near to Bonsall’s village cross. A former rector was so incensed by the cruel sport of bull baiting that he had the ring removed in 1815, twenty years before the official abolishment of this cruel practice.

Take the top exit from the churchyard. Cross the street and head up Ember Lane which is a narrow old track, lined by ancient trees and hedges. Where the road levels out and just after a building on your right you will see evidence of the aforementioned extinct volcano in the form of dark heat-formed rocks which make up the dry stone walls.

As you approach Ember Farm ignore the drive up to the house and go straight ahead and follow the signpost indicating a footpath and then take the higher of two paths. This will take you through the woods above Matlock Bath which lies hidden below.

On reaching the Heights of Abraham you go to the left of the No Admittance gate and follow the path around to a further gate. The Heights of Abraham was named after General Wolfe who was victorious against the French on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec in 1759 and secured Canada for Britain. Further over on Matlock Bath’s slopes are the not so famous Heights of Jacob. See also the Victoria Prospect Tower which was built in 1844, it is said by the unemployed as a form of work.

Within the Heights of Abraham complex is the Great Masson Hill Cave, a portion of which was mined by the Romans. Masson Cavern extends to nearly 300 feet in width and to 90 feet in height. The sides and roof are covered in fossil shells and encrusted with dog tooth crystals and fluorspar. There is also evidence of other minerals including lead and copper. Further down the hillside is the Rutland Cavern which was opened as a show cave in 1810 and named after the Duke who was a shareholder in the Nestus Mines. Here you can see rosasite and cinnabar among the mineral deposits. One gallery is known as the Roman Hall where evidence of Roman handiwork can still be seen. It is extremely large and could literally hold an army of men. The Nestus Mine was rich in lead and in 1671 the ore yielded was valued at £2,400 – a small fortune in those days.

From this high vantage point you will experience spectacular views. From the gateway to the Heights of Abraham head uphill on the laid out path which takes you to the exit of the show cave. Pass a marker which indicates the way being downhill and then go straight ahead and you will come to a track. Follow the track towards Masson Lees Farm. On your left are the remains of Gentlewomen’s Pipe – some of the Derbyshire lead mines have very strange and often humorous names including Perseverance Rake, Godbehere Mine, Tearbreeches Mine and Tailors Venture Vein!

You will come to a point where the Limestone Way path crosses the track. Here you should turn left and follow the footpath uphill and at a further track turn right and walk down to meet Salter Lane. For many centuries salt was of great importance for the preservation of meat. A Roman soldier’s pay was made up of a salt allowance or ‘salarium’; a derivative of which is the world ‘salary’. Packhorses laden with salt from the salt basins of Staffordshire and Cheshire followed regular routes to distance towns; parts of these routes often became named Salters Lane. This lane in question is on the salt route from Leek via Hartington to Matlock and Ashover.

Turn left on Salters Lane for about 100 yards and then if you wish and with EXTREME CARE you can detour to make a visit to Jug Holes Mine. Take a stile on your right and cross a field before entering the wood. Although there is a large chasm on your right, the impressive Jug Holes entrance is in fact further down the wood. Jug Holes was first recorded on a map of the Calf Tail Mine title drawn up in 1767. KEEP TO THE PATH!

Return to Salter Lane and go straight ahead on a footpath which crosses a field before joining up with the Limestone Way trail. Go straight ahead. From here to Bonsall are many paths and tracks laid out not only as packhorse routes, but also miners paths. When a miner found a new vein, he had to register it with the Barmaster at the Barmote Court, the nearest being in Wirksworth. He was then entitled to a right of access from the nearest highway for foot or horse only. The width of this access road was established by the Barmaster and two assistants by walking abreast with arms outstretched and fingers touching.

Across Bonsall Moor is a miners path to Wensley which was used until the early part of this century by miners commuting to Millclose Mine. Shifts were in force and it was said that the hillside was adorned at night with the flickering lamps of travelling miners going on and off shifts.

Follow the track to a junction of paths. If you bear right where a narrow tree-lined path heads downhill you will emerge at the top of Bonsall. Alternatively you can go straight on to follow a path which emerges near to Bonsall’s village cross. Close to the cross of 1671 which sits upon 13 circular steps is a building with continuous windows on the upper floor. This is a survivor from the days when Bonsall was a centre for framework knitting. The ‘stocking frame’ for the production of stocking and hosiery was invented in 1589 by the Rev. William Lee of Calverton near Nottingham. Ribbed socks and gloves could also be made on a modified machine patented by Jedediah Strutt in 1759. The machines would be rented from a hosier who supplied the raw material and then purchased back the finished product. The long widows on the upper floors of cottages signified a small workshop where several women and young girls congregated with their frames. In 1844 it was recorded that some 143 frames were in use in Bonsall.

Just up the village a short distance from the cross is the beautiful Manor House of 1670, whilst in the market place itself is the Kings Head Hotel built in 1677. It is dated and has the initials of the first landlord Anthony Abell.

To finish your walk you should now head down Yeoman Street. Bonsall was at one time linked with satanic practices and this area of cottages was known as the Witches Nest!