DISTANCE: Approximately 7 ¼ miles
Carsington is a pretty little backwater, now that the village has been bypassed by heavy traffic, and once again it is possible to stroll quietly down the main street. Some of the local houses ooze character and individuality, especially at nearby Hopton.
Although the name Carsington is now known to most people as being the vast expanse of water contained in the nearby reservoir, this walk does not follow the reservoir paths but you will be able to obtain some spectacular views from certain vantage points along the way.
The first two miles of this walk follow the High Peak Trail and include a tunnel and incline. However, the majority of the remainder is on paths through pastureland with only about a mile on roads. There is a very steep descent into Carsington.
1. Park your car at the Middleton Top Car Park which you will find by taking the Ashbourne road out of Middleton-by-Wirksworth and turning right at the top of the hill after passing under a bridge. Go left on the trail heading south-west. On your right is Intake Quarry, the slopes of which are covered with wild flowers in the spring. You will pass through the 113 yard long Hopton Tunnel which is a favourite with children to test their local chords for echoes! The Cromford and High Peak Railway line was constructed in the 19th century to connect the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal; its designer devised a series of inclines to take into account the climb onto the Derbyshire uplands. These inclines were based on the lock system found in canals, and stations nearby were consequently given the name ‘wharf’.
2. You will come to the Hopton Incline which has a gradient of 1 in 14. Trains were hauled up this stretch of the line by using a cable attached to a stationary engine located at the top. It was generally safe but in 1937 there was in fact a fatal accident here. With the onset of more powerful rolling stock, trains eventually managed the climb unassisted.
3. Just after a railway house on your right and opposite the remains of the redundant windmill, take a stile on your left which leads onto the road. Cross the road and go over a further stile then follow the path at the side of the wall around Carsington Pastures, passing the Kings Chair which is a natural stone formation. Carefully descend the wood side and go through a little gate and down the steps at the side of a cottage and then down the ginnel, passing some quaint cottages.
4. On reaching the road turn left. Walk slowly and glance around to admire some fine early buildings. On your left is St. Margaret’s Church. It contains 14th century work and there is a particularly early inscription on the woodwork of the balcony. See also the lovely wooden Noah’s Ark. On the south wall is a sundial with the inscription “re-edified 1648 W.I.”
5. Continue along the road towards Hopton. Just before the Hall you can see a boundary stone on your left which divides the two villages. Hopton Hall is a fine Elizabethan house but much altered in the 18th century. It had been the seat of the Gell family for over 600 years who fought to keep it in the family, only admitting defeat at the end of the 20th century.
Over the years Hopton Hall has passed by marriage into the hands of thee Eyre family of Highlow who assumed the surname Gell and the family arms, and then in the 19th century William Pole Thornhill of Stanton Hall acquired the house through his marriage to Isabella Gell but he also changed his name to William Chandos-Pole-Gell to preserve the Gell tradition. It is sad therefore that after such a long lineage Hopton Hall was sold in 1989 following the death of the widow of P.V.W. Gell who had died in 1970. By this time construction was well underway on Carsington Reservoir. Before her death Mrs Gell was said to have commented “the park never did have a good lake!”
Notice the unusually shaped boundary wall which is often described as ‘crinkle crankle’. The 30ft high building which divided it was in fact built as a windowless, floorless summerhouse. During its construction it is said that the resident Gell at the time instructed builders to continue upwards until he told them to stop. However, a business trip in London took longer than expected and resulted in this folly of a tower.
Within the house is said to be a table whose 6ft top of pure Blue John was at one time a mantelshelf before renovation work. This may well have been sold however following the break-up of the estate.
6. The Gells had held estates at Hopton since 1327, their wealth acquired from the inevitable lead resources. Around 1642 Sir John Gell sought a commission from Parliament and was made a Colonel of Dragoons. His guns and that of his army did considerable damage to Wingfield Manor and destroyed Eastwood Old Hall at Ashover. Around 1800 Philip Gell was responsible for the construction of the Via Gelia road which linked his lead mines at Carsington with the Cromford Canal. A mill in the valley produced a woollen fabric called Viyella that was an adaptation of the road name. Another of the Gell family claimed his ancestry to descend from the Romans, his theory based on the discovery in the grounds of Hopton Hall of a piece of pottery inscribed with the name of a Roman soldier named Gellius – fact or fiction could not be proved.
7. Continue along the road. Where Stone Dene Lane heads off in a northerly direction you will see a curious pile of stones nearby to a house which must surely have been a toll bar cottage. Keep on around the corner and you will see another house which extends to the road on your left. See the most unusual stone carvings on the roadside wall. These are though to depict George and the Dragon as it was at one time an inn of that name. This carving is extremely old as the house is very early but the carvings is thought to have been taken and reclaimed from an even earlier building, possibly of an ecclesiastical nature.
8. See afterwards the almshouses founded in 1719 by Sir Philip Gell. It is possible to read the detailed inscription which reads that these dwellings were a ‘hospital’ for 2 poor men and 2 poor women.
9. Further on you will see another interesting house on your left with a front gable of a strange design. Shortly afterwards there is a lime kiln set slightly back into the trees.
10. At the junction with the main road take a stile on your left and head diagonally across the field until after the wooded plantation behind 18th century Sycamore Farm. Cross a stile and head across the field passing between the grassy mounds which mark the inevitable ‘rake’ of lead ore. Cross straight over Tiremare Lane and head towards the rocky outcrops topped with trees. Go slightly to the right of the rocks and you will come to a stile. Cross a field to a further stile from where the path is relatively easy to follow as it leads towards a lane. Directly in front is Gallows Knoll as marked on an early OS map. Cross the lane slightly to the right and then head to a further stile. Go straight up the hill at the side of the rough disused quarry area and up to the railway building at the top where you can regain access to the Trail. Turn right to return to your car.