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Crich Rocks! A Walk Through Time

Crich Quarry
Map of Crich Rocks walk
pdf of map at the bottom of this article

By Dr Andy Smith

This circular walk is a step back into history, not just since the start of the Industrial Revolution, but also a much older geological history some 330-315 million years ago.

From the Market Place in Crich go through the recreation ground, turn right and onto Jeffries Lane, below the former Jovial Dutchman pub. Opposite you’ll see your first ‘outcrop’ of carboniferous  limestone. (1).

This is the Eyam limestone, formed as part of a tropical reef made up of fragments of corals (lithostrotian) and shells, some intact, ‘Spirifer’ and ‘Productus’ (Brachiopods). Also note the
dark grey glassy chert nodules, similar to flints found in the cretaceous chalk. 

Continue up Cromford Road to Wheatsheaf Lane. Take the arched passageway through the Wheatsheaf Cottages. Passing over the bridge note the ‘cave’ to your right in the limestone rockface. This is the old mineral railway access into Church Quarry, a spur off George Stephenson’s mineral railway that linked the lime kilns at Ambergate and Cliffe quarry, between 1841 and 1957.

Follow the path, on to Dowie Way. Dowie and Hodder were the names of the last 2 engines working on the mineral line. Follow the road down and around passing over the low bridge over the course of Stephenson’s mineral railway. On reaching the old well base (2) indicates you have now left the limestone and are walking on shale and sandstones. 

Crich Quarry

Turn right and head towards the Stand and Crich Tramway Museum. Turn right and past the Museum entrance onto Plaistow Green Road, then up the driveway to the Crich Stand.Just past the Warden’s cottage, take a moment to look at the gate posts.

These are Limestone (cream and grey) and are full of crinoids (sea lily stems) that look a little like an unwrapped packet of polo mints, or as the miners used to call it ‘screw stone’ or ‘nuts and bolts stone’. Magnificent views to the east and south, as well as into Cliffe quarry and the Derwent Valley, can be seen from the tower and the trig point (3).

Take the footpath below the Memorial and follow around the perimeter of Cliffe quarry. The quarry was in operation until 2010. In Stephenson’s day the quarry occupied the site of the car park for the Tramway Museum, and supplied limestone via the mineral railway to the lime kilns at Ambergate. Latterly the extension of the quarry workings to the northwest was used mainly for roadstone, including the M1 and A38. 

There are limited viewpoints back into the quarry, but the double gate close to the end of the tramway line is probably the best (4). Here you can see the Stand and the characteristic domed bedding of the Monsal Dale limestone in the quarry face. By the tram tracks, on the left there is a short path to Glory Mine Picnic site. This is one of the many mines shafts that pepper the limestone in and around Crich. The 810ft (250m) deep shaft bottoms out at sea level! The miners were after the mineral veins formed by mineral rich hot waters that filled the cracks in the limestone, depositing minerals such as lead ore (galena), fluorspar and barytes, which have been worked for centuries.

Continue to Wakebridge, site of 4 further mine shafts. Ruins of the pump house at Wakebridge can still be seen, the shaft here dropping some 650ft (200m), some 250ft (75m) below the river Derwent. The old steam pump was used to lift ore out of the mine as well as dewatering the lower levels. Cross the road (Leashaw) and follow the valley down into Oxhay woods and the Duke’s quarries. In the first field, note the lush grass here and the tufts of cotton grass, a sign that the geology below your feet has changed from limestone to shale and clays. 

By around 315 million years ago an encroaching mass of river systems forming a delta (similar to the Mississippi Delta today), approaching from the north, brought with it sediments that engulfed the shallow seas, turning them into the swamps that formed the UK’s main coal deposits. Limestones are replaced by clays, silts, shales and sandstones. 

minerals in rock

Once in Oxhay woods follow the main quarry track down through this magnificent woodland and over the bridge. What you see all around you is essentially man-made, small sandstone quarries and the resultant ‘spoil’ that was liberally discarded in the valley. This thick sandstone, the Ashover grit (5), has been used as building stone throughout the UK, including Waterloo Bridge, Derby and Leicester  gaols.

The oldest of the quarries Old Quarry opened in the late 1700s and supplied stone for the Whatstandwell Bridge (1795) and the Lea Aquaduct (1792) on the Cromford Canal. Originally there were 4 quarries, North or Winson Quarry, made up of four main cuts, Middle Hole (still intermittently active), Bridge Quarry and Old Quarry. Old Quarry was abandoned and subsequently backfilled with waste from Bridge Quarry.

Cross over Robin Hood Road and down to the Cromford Canal. Just before the bridge over the canal, a path down to the canal brings you to the remains of the wharf, with a post stone that was the base for the wooden crane structure where the stone was loaded onto the canal barges. Stay on the quarry track as you start the long climb back up into Crich, crossing over Robin Hood Road again and up into Bridge Quarry. 

Here the quarry face exhibits a thin clay/ shale band halfway up, where harts tongue ferns can be seen taking advantage of the wetter conditions. The path winds its way up and past the allotments. As you look up hill, the relatively gentle slope is made up of the marsden shales, but above Top Lane there’s an outcrop of the Chatsworth grit. 

At Hinderstitch Lane turn left, then take the right fork, onto The Green and Glen Rd, eventually climbing up and out onto Top Lane. Turn right and take the flight of steep steps up towards Benthill Farm. This sudden change in slope means you are now climbing up through the Chatsworth grit sandstone unit, capping the hilltop between Crich and Crich Carr.

Continue into the fields above Benthill Farm, heading towards the telephone masts and covered reservoir. Here the lane takes you back down into Crich via Stones Lane and Coasthill to the Market Place. Opposite the Vicarage, on Coasthill, note the sandstone arched bridge, another of the remnants of Stephenson’s mineral railway.