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Monsal Trail Walk

Information sign on the Monsal Trail

Monsal Trail

The Monsal Trail is a walk through the Peak District and offers some spectacular scenery and interesting opportunities for photographers. The Monsal Trail follows the route of the disused Midland Railway from Bakewell through to Topley Pike. The history of this railway line is discussed in my post about the Peak Rail steam railway which tells how part of the disused line was reopened and is now operated as a steam railway. The railway closed in 1968 as part of the cuts following the ‘Beeching Report’ and the trackbed lay unused until being converted into a designated walk.

Monsal Trail Walkers Cyclists and Horse Riders

Trail Overview

In 1981 the disused railway line opened as the Monsal trail and allowed walkers, cyclists and horse riders access to the impressive Peak District scenery once reserved for train passengers only. Being a former railway line means the walking is not taxing in terms of steep climbs. The walkway is solid underfoot meaning those people who are ‘not so able’ can enjoy the Peak District scenery with relative ease. Even though the walking is level, you should always have good sturdy footwear. The trail is approximately 8.5 miles in length and includes 4 tunnels between 400 and 500 yards long to walk through in addition to a couple of impressive viaducts to walk over. Initially the tunnels remained closed and alternative routes around the tunnels were used. Work was undertaken to make the tunnels suitably safe and they were eventually opened to allow people a unique experience. The tunnels are lit during daylight hours and impressive to walk through, lets face it you don’t often get the chance to walk through railway tunnels! All I can say is they are impressive enough in their disused condition, let alone with a steam engine and coaches thundering through. That would have been a sight to see.

Monsal Trail Tunnels

At various points along the trail you will find public footpaths crossing the route. This gives you the opportunity to take a more adventurous walk across the peak district to some of the higher viewpoints if you so wish.

At the north end of Headstone Tunnel, you will find a trail leading up to Monsal Head. Please note, this is a steep climb. The effort is well rewarded with a view looking over the Wye valley. There is a cafe at the top which is a useful place to recharge your batteries. Just remember it doesnt open on Mondays.

It is important to remember to dress appropriately, especially in winter months as my visit did. The day started in brilliant sunshine, albeit with very cold temperatures and strong winds. Within a couple of hours the weather turned to heavy rain, and with the strong wind, made the walking bracing to say the least. Car parks and toilets can be found at Bakewell, Hassop, Monsal Head and Miller’s Dale.  If cycling is your thing and you don’t bring your own bikes then you will find bike hire at Bakewell, Hassop Station and Blackwell Mill.

Monsal Trail Photographic Opportunities

The Peak District is full of photographic opportunities and the fact that the railway cuts right through the countryside means the photographer can get some unique views. For a start, the tunnels provide pretty unique photographic opportunity in themselves. Although well lit for walkers and general walking, the tunnels are still pretty dark as you can imagine. A tripod will allow all sorts of creative opportunities. Something you need to bare in mind is the fact that the wind absolutely whistles through the tunnels regardless of the weather outside. A good tripod is recommended to compensate for this. Another thing to remember if you do use a tripod in the tunnels, is that the wind isnt the only thing zipping through the tunnels. Some of the cyclists absolutely fly through so make sure you dont get too distracted and become part of an accident in the dim light. Just north of the first tunnel, Headstone Tunnel, is Monsal Viaduct. If you are feeling energetic then take the steep path immediately to the right of the tunnel up to Monsal Head. At the top you get a great view down on to Monsal Viaduct and the River Wye as shown above. Another item of interest for photographers is walking through the platforms of the disued station at Great Longstone which served Thornbridge Hall. This main station is a private residence so creative opportunities are limited. Immediately next to this are the impressive facilities used by those going to and from Thornbridge Hall. A great illustration of the times and how society worked in those days. In addition to these railway specific features, the trail is littered with photographic opportunities including moss covered trees and drystone walls, stratified rock formations in the cuttings where the navvies literally blasted their way through the rock and rolling views of the Peak District. This report only covers the 2.5 mile section from Hassop Station through to Monsal Viaduct. Further north there is plenty to see and photograph. A report of these sections will follow later in the year.

Lasting Impression

The Monsal trail is a nice undemanding walk and is accessible to almost everybody. Cycle hire is readily available should you wish to bike the route. The section between Hassop and Monsal Viaduct starts off through gentle rolling hills and finishes as the countryside becomes noticeably more rugged. Several points of interest, both photographically and historically, are encountered to make the 2.5 miles enjoyable. Reports on the northernmost sections will follow in due course. Thanks for reading and I hope you find this report useful Cheers Gary

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