There’s a dramatic change of atmosphere here, as the former railway line slices through a small spur of the hill. At this point we are literally walking through a cross section of the very material of the White Peak: Carboniferous limestone.
Run your hand over the surface of the rock. It can be highly variable across the White Peak but this is tough, top grade building material. Almost certainly the spoil from this cutting was used in one or both of the huge embankments on our route. The builders may indeed have deliberately carved through here to get at the high quality rock rather than take a diversion.
It is mind-boggling to think that this great mass of rock was formed from the remains of tiny sea creatures, which lived in a tropical sea here around 340 million years ago. At that time coral reefs and small sea creatures flourished. As these creatures died, their shells and hard bony parts built up in layers on the sea bed. Over millions of years these layers were compressed to become hard limestone rock.
The first part of the rocks’ name is another link to the bygone age of steam. ‘Carboniferous’ means ‘carbon-bearing’ – in other words, coal. This kind of limestone is associated with coal measures. Coal was the essential fuel of the Industrial Revolution, which was at its height when this line was first running.
Coal was not found here, but not far to the east in the Derbyshire coalfields. This ‘black gold’ would have been one of the line’s most important cargoes, as well as providing power for the steam engines. Let’s steam ahead a very short way – more of a shunt, really…
Continue a few metres further on to the old crane beside the path.
This trail was originally developed by Simon Corble for the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain.
Simon Corble is a theatre director, playwright and actor based in Derbyshire’s Peak District, is passionate about the countryside and discovering the hidden secrets of the natural world.
Thanks are also due to Ben Brooksbank and David A Hull for photographs reproduced under Creative Commons Licenses