The historic market town of Wirksworth is a fascinating place to explore, with its narrow streets and maze of interesting alleyways. At the centre the ancient market place is surrounded by a remarkably large number of handsome buildings, which combine to make an impressive town centre. Little has changed over the last 150 years, apart from the construction of Harrison Drive, in 1940, to ease the flow of quarry traffic through the town.
Standing as it does virtually at the centre of Derbyshire, about two miles to the south of the Peak District National Park boundary, Wirksworth was the centre of the English lead mining industry when it was at its height. Lead was the basis of Wirksworth’s past prosperity and lead mining in the area goes back to at least Roman times.
As lead mining declined, the limestone quarries provided work for people who lived in the area. The arrival of the railway in Wirksworth, in 1867, which linked the town with Derby and the rapidly expanding railway network beyond, opened the way for the easy distribution of limestone which was in great demand. The situation was improved still further 12 years later when a railway tunnel was built below the town centre linking Dale Quarry, known locally as the ‘Big Hole’ with the station.
The railway contributed to the local economy for over 100 years, transporting stone and agricultural products. It started carrying passengers on the 1st October, 1867 and was used for passengers and freight until 1989, when it closed. After that the railway was neglected and the line became overgrown. Wirksworth Railway Station Yard also became very untidy, which detracted from the carefully restored town centre only a short distance away.
A determined band of volunteers and professionals are now restoring the line from Wirksworth to Duffield, a section at a time. The first section to be opened for passengers on the line, runs from Wirksworth to Gorsey Bank, one kilometre in length. A further section of line which heads northwards from Wirksworth to Ravenstor, was opened during the summer of 2005.
The line to Ravenstor from Wirksworth Station runs up a near constant gradient of 1:30, and is known as the Incline Line and is used to access the High Peak Trail and the National Stone Centre. In the other direction the line passes through the beautiful Ecclesbourne Valley to Duffield, where eventually an interchange will be made with main line services. The long term plan is to run commuter trains during the week and heritage trains at the weekend.
Since the successful share launch, Wyvern Rail have made considerable progress in establishing the Ecclesbourne Railway. It now plays an important role in the East Midlands railway community by providing industry-testing and training facilities. Regular events are held and every effort is made to ensure visitors feel welcome and to encourage them to explore the whole of the site.
The appearance of the station buildings, platforms and surrounds at Wirksworth, have seen an amazing transformation, from what was until recently a place people avoided, to a most impressive visitor attraction. The station yard has been tidied and car parking areas have been allocated, ready for what will undoubtedly become a major tourist attraction in Derbyshire, as new sections of the line are opened.
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WIRKSWORTH RAILWAY STATION
Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, is based at the immaculately re-furbished Wirksworth Railway Station.
There is an attractive visitor centre and shop, where refreshments are available. The centre also provides information on the project to re-open the line to Duffield, together with other facilities. Normally open every day from 10am to 4pm. (Tel. 01629 823076).
Outstanding views and fascinating places to visit, this walk reveals much of the heritage of the area and the industrial landscape.
PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Wirksworth Heritage Centre: (Tel. 01629 825225) where the ‘Wirksworth Story’ is told taking you on a fascinating journey through time on three floors of the centre. The special displays are excellent and if you want something different you can always try a computer game. For further information see the special feature
The National Stone Centre: (Tel. 01629 824833) tells the story of stone, its geological and industrial history. The exhibition inside shows how advanced technology makes use of stone in an incredible number of ways. Outside the visitor centre, the quarry trail takes you back over three hundred million years. Open all year seven days a week.
Steeple Grange Light Railway: (Tel. 01246 205542 during running times 07769 802587) is an 18 inch gauge line built on the trackbed of the CHPR now the High Peak Trail, it provides a scenic ride of approximately 20 minutes. The surrounding area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Normally open from late March to October on Sundays and Bank Holidays from 12-5pm. Also open on Saturdays during July and August. Special events are held regularly, please telephone for precise details. Also see special feature.
The small town of Wirksworth does not perhaps make much impact on the busy traveller driving through. All those visitors, however, with time to explore the narrow streets and maze of interesting alleyways, to admire the old buildings and lovely views, to visit the ancient church and the cathedral–like close, will soon find themselves falling in love with this fascinating old town.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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