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Panoramic Monsal Dale forms part of the Wye Valley in the Peak District National Park.
The Headstone Viaduct towers above the dale, the viaduct was constructed by the Midland Railway over the River Wye in 1863 and measures 300 feet (91 metres) long, with five 50-foot (15 metres) span arches, some forty feet high at the centre. Although considered an elegant structure today and now a listed building, the Victorian social thinker, critic and philanthropist John Ruskin, objected in the strongest terms to its construction at the time:-
'There was a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, divine as the Vale of Tempe... You Enterprised a Railroad through the valley - you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere'.
The viaduct is now part of the Monsal Trail, a popular 8.5 miles (13.7 km) long distance trail for walkers and cycyclists. The trail follows the path of the former Midland Railway starting at the Topley Pike junction in Wye Dale it runs through superb scenery to to Coombs viaduct, 1 mile to the south-east of the town of Bakewell. For most of its length the trail follows the path of the River Wye. Headstone Tunnel, at the southern end of the viaduct, was re-opened to the public in May 2011, along with nearby Cressbrook and Litton Tunnels.
The justly famous beauty spot of Monsal Head commands superb views down Monsal Dale and up the Wye Valley, with the lush wooded slopes of Fin Cop and the rocky outcrops of Hobbs House. Situated at a spot where the River Wye turns sharply southwards and arguably one of the most magnificent views in the Peak District, it has been the scene for numerous film locations. There are visitor facilities at Monsal Head, with car parks, toilets, guest houses, hotel, pub, cafes and gift shop.
Image courtesy of Rob Bendall
A walk through Monsal Dale from Ashford in the Water
Distance- 5.5 miles
Duration- about 3 hours 30 minutes
*Commencing at the Court Lane car park in the village of Ashford in the Water, then right along Vicarage Lane. Take the footpath on the left, signposted 'Monsal Dale'.
*Cross a a stile the path to enter a field and proceed to a further stile at the the top left corner of the field, cross a another stile to enter Pennyunk Lane.
*At the end of the lane, follow the signpost directing you along a field edge. After around 400yds join another track, heading north to arrive at the car park at Monsal Head.
*After taking in the superb views, take the path marked Monsal Trail here. On the other side go through a gate on the left and descend in a south westerly direction via the path down into the valley.
*Cross the A6 and go through the White Lodge car park on the other side to a stile, to take the path (numbered 3) back to Ashford in the Water. After crossing another stile, ake the left fork at the path junction, which veers left across fields.
*Ignore the next path into Deepdale and turn left into Great Shacklow Wood, on reaching another footpath sign turn left and follow the treack to Ashford and Sheldon.
* Keep straight ahead to reach the river and join a minor road, turn left along the road, to reach the A6 then turn right to Ashford in the Water.. Leave the road to cross the Sheepwash Bridge. Turn right along Church Street, then left along Court Lane to return to the car park.