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A walk along the Cromford Canal

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John Holmes examines the history and character of the mostly derelict Cromford Canal

The abandoned Cromford Canal used to run more than 14 miles from Cromford to join the Erewash Canal, with a branch to Pinxton. It had four tunnels and 14 locks.

Now a World Heritage Site, the canal dates back to the late 18th Century and was originally proposed as an extension the Erewash Canal by those who wanted to encourage coal mining further north.

It also attracted the support of some powerful figures such as Philip Gell (of Hopton Hall) and Sir Richard Arkwright.

Originally, the canal boats would have carried coal up to Cromford, with lead, limestone and cotton being transported on the return journey.

It was last used as a working waterway in 1944 and most of it fell into disrepair. But some of the features along the canal have been preserved and restored.

Leawood Pumping Station
The Leawood Pump replenishes the Cromford Canal with water from the Derwent

These include the Leawood Pumping Station from 1849. It is essentially a static steam engine but it revolutionised the use of the Cromford Canal as it allowed the levels to be topped up on demand - previously, it could only have been done on a Sunday as the nearby mills needed the water from the river to power their own machinery and the flow could not be disrupted.

Other parts of the route are now blocked by more modern buildings, roads and other obstructions, including the Butterley Tunnel, which collapsed in 1900. Originally, this tunnel was the third longest in the world at 1.75 miles.

The derelict tunnel is one of the major obstacles to getting the canal re-opened - an enormous task being undertaken by The Friends of Cromford Canal.

Much of the canal still provides vital wildlife habitats and has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its entire length.

The route between Whatstandwell and Ambergate is also a Nature Reserve, managed by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

Water Vole on the Cronford Canal

The waterway is home to dragonflies, damselflies, ducks, moorhens and little grebes.

Water voles, which have been struggling in Derbyshire, are also found along the canal as well as grass snakes.

Both of these are priority Biodiversity Action Plan species.

See more of John Holmes's canal walks, produced by the Inside Out team in the East Midlands, Tuesday evenings on BBC East Midlands Today at 18.30.




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