(Photo 7 © Lee Pogson, photos 8-11 © Wilf Oven collection,
photos 12 & 13 © Peter Green/ courtesy Railway Correspondence & Travel Society (RCTS))
30th May 1863 saw the opening of an exceptional section of railway, eventually forming part of a main line link between London and Manchester. Built by the Midland, it cut a route through the limestone landscape of Derbyshire's Wye Valley between Hassop and Buxton, demanding eight tunnels totalling 2,426 yards, two major viaducts and a number of smaller ones in the space of just 11 miles. But the audacity and investment did not live long. Barely a century after it opened, most of the route became an unlikely victim of the Beeching-era cuts, officially closing on 1st July 1968.
The most westerly of those two viaducts is adjacent to Millers Dale Station, crossing the Wye at a height of around 80 feet. Elegant in design, it comprises two parts: three 30-foot masonry arches at its west end and a longer section to the east involving wrought iron segmental arches of 95 feet, three in number. Each of these consists of five offset ribs with lattice work struts filling the spandrels between the arch members and deck. Rock-faced limestone and gritstone dressings were used for the abutments and piers, the latter being hexagonal in plan and skewed to align with the river. The parapets incorporate iron railings.
A second viaduct was built on the north side - opening in August 1905 - to provide additional capacity, forming part of a 683-yard loop used by traffic on the Fast lines. The new viaduct also has a masonry section - this time of four spans, with the arches themselves in Staffordshire blue brick - whilst three longer steel spans cross the valley involving pairs of braced Pratt trusses. Above is a trough-section deck with latticework railings. The piers and abutments are in gritstone. Contracted to build the viaduct were Whitaker Bros of Leeds, with the steelwork erected by the Butterley Company. They took a little under three years.
In 1981, the Peak District National Park Authority concluded lengthy negotiations with British Rail to secure the trackbed. Along it was laid the Monsal Trail - a nine-mile path linking Blackwell Mill Junction, east of Buxton, with a bridge over Coombs Road on the Matlock side of Bakewell. This crosses the original viaduct. Since the summer of 2011, four of the tunnels - which had previously been closed for safety reasons - have been opened up for walkers, cyclists and horse riders to use, creating an easy linear connection between the Trail’s two ends.
The North viaduct still languishes in redundancy but receives an annual inspection by its owner, the Highways Agency Historical Railways Estate.