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June 29th 2021
Published: June 30th 2021
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The original purpose of this blog was to record our adventures on our travels, as we set off for South Africa just over 15 years ago. It was daunting, even though we had already had the first mid life drop out some 3 years earlier and taken off for Australia and New Zealand. The focus of our trip was the Ashes tour of Australia, but it was motivated as a means to mark a landmark wedding anniversary. We always try to mark the 5 year cycle with something a bit more out the ordinary, although I doubt if one will ever get close to staring into the eyes of that rhino in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park on a sunny June day outside St Lucia, Natal. The pandemic meant the ambition was somewhat muted this year and with escalating rates yet again in the UK, it meant staying close to home was probably the best option. We are both double jabbed, but the only guarantee that seems to give is that you won't see the inside of an intensive care hospital ward. The consensus of opinion is still on the side of you can catch COVID, even with the vaccine inside you. Caution is the watchword. We set off for a daytrip into deepest Derbyshire. We had no thoughts of seeing a rhino!

Derbyshire is much maligned in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, but that is largely motivated by the influence of football. It is truly a scenic County to have almost on your doorstep, although the scenic beauty serves to mask the industrial heritage. The first port of call was Wirksworth. Today, it comes across as a small town, ideal for commuters from Derby with a taste for the countryside. The reality is that Wirksworth has been around since Doomsday Book times and was once a centre for lead mining. Henry VIII granted a charter allowing mining basically anywhere except in the roadways, gardens or the churchyard. Lead mines proliferated and a miner's court was established to govern the local trade. The penalty for stealing from a mine or claim was to have your hand nailed to a winch - effectively giving you the option of ripping your hand trying to get free or to starve to death. The town grew rich on the proceeds of the mines and that is reflected in the Town Hall. A fine gothic building, somehow grander than you think you would find locally, it now acts as the Heritage Centre. We parked up and wandered through the gates, that separated the main street from the church complex. The town rises high above into the surrounding hills and we ventured up one of the lanes for the view. The cottages pack in either side of the narrow road. Alleyways led off both sides, revealing more cottages. What struck us was the size of the front doors. The former homes of little people. A car came up the hill towards us. The engine sounded as though it was having a hard time. The next vehicle was a parcel delivery van. In a time of lockdowns and self isolation, the parcel delivery business has boomed. I felt for the guy on this round - there were no easy places to turn the van around up here. I bet he knew he had done a days work, after his 130 parcels. In the middle of summer, it was difficult enough with decent weather. I wonder what happens when you add a bit of snow into the mix! I started this blog with a tale of a rhino and it seems we were in rhino country in Wirksworth after all. I see bones from a woolly mammoth were found by lead miners in 1822. We were in the right place then - just a bit late. We had a very agreeable latte outdoors in the Market Place and retrieved the car.

We moved on to Back Rocks, a mere mile or so out of town towards Cromford. As it sounds, the Black Rocks is a large outcrop of dark rock on the escarpment overlooking Cromford. Black ... perhaps not, but certainly darker than the limestone country surrounding it. There was space on the road just outside the car park, so the ticket machines were going under employed. I didn't actually check, but the cash parking meter is a bit of a problem these days. Does anybody still carry cash or loose change? The demand for the car park must be good on other days, because a large extension was being constructed by the main road. We walked up the steep incline towards the summit. We passed the cafe and the old mine workings, before crossing over the old railway line that now acts as a walking trail. As with everywhere else round here, the area was mined for lead. The land is now partially industrial soil and explains the limited flora. A group of geography students were on some form of field trip just below the Rocks. They too now know, the Black Rocks is an outcrop of Ashover Grit. The view from the top is good and would be e en better on a good day. Cromford lay beneath us and in the distance large trucks and heavy machinery were burying deep into the hillside at a quarry. The only clue on the road down below, that this activity was happening was the movement of trucks. In some ways, it reminded of looking down on to the massive open cast gold mines in Western Australia.

We climbed down from our Black Rocks vantage point and drove the remaining mile or so into Cromford. Today, Cromford is a village set back off the main A6 towards the circus that is Matlock Bath. In history, Cromford goes down as one of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. A certain Richard Arkwright - otherwise known as the "Father of the Factory" - chose Cromford as the site for the world's first water powered cotton mill. The village pre-existed the Cromford Mill, but was expanded by Arkwright to meet the housing needs of his workers. The boom in cotton prompted Arkwright to leave his horse powered mill in Nottingham to expand his enterprise using the local water power. The year round supply was assisted by the drain from the lead mines in Wirksworth. The Mill opened in 1771 and was extended in 1785. At the height of production, a 1000 workers were employed. The watercourse still runs through the centre of the complex, but the wheel is long gone. The Cromford Canal was opened across the road in 1793 to assist in transporting the goods to cities across the Midlands and the North of England. The train eventually became the preferred choice to move goods and a Railway Station was opened at Cromford. It's most recent claim to fame was appearing on the 1995 Oasis cover sleeve for the single "Some Might Say". It is doubtful whether Liam would have enjoyed the discipline of the factory - the gates were closed at 6 am, so if you were late you lost a day's wages. The patent for the factory process was sold and copies established in Lancashire, Scotland, Germany and also in Rhode Island in the United States. The world moved on and the factory eventually became obsolete. It was used for the manufacturing of dyes, before closing in the mid 19th century. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and maintained by the Arkwright Society. The buildings house a cafe, antiques and craft shops and tours are available.

We had a stroll round the village on the othe side of the A6. The centrepiece is the Greyhound Hotel. The hotel was built by Arkwright to service the needs of visiting businessmen to his Mill nearby. The 1931 novel by John Hampson, Saturday Night at the Greyyhound, was naturally set in the bar at the hotel. It was a quiet weekday afternoon and not a Saturday night, so we opted not to venture inside. Cromford Pond sits directly behind. It offers a scenic view across towards the main village street behind. The business in the old water mill at the far end manufactures old fashioned wicker baskets and very competitive prices they appeared to be too. The post Office was closed for lunch. A queue was forming by the bench opposite waiting for them to re-open. There is an excellent bookshop just beyond - Scarthin Books. I arguably have too many books, so I kept walking. A "cat crossing" sign offered the perfect photo opportunity of a cat crossing. I was too slow. The relevant feline sat on the adjacent wall with a look to suggest he / she did that all the time to passing cameramen.

The finest examples of the Arkwright housing gor hix workers are to found in North Street up The Hill. There is no imagination required to ascertain why The Hill was so named. North Street isn't named after being at the "north" end of the village, but actually takes the title from Lord North, British Prime Minister at the time of the American War of Independence. The immaculate terrace properties are three storeys and the street leads towards the local Primary School. The Bell Inn was built on the corner. The properties were designed to attract skilled workers to join the Arkwright workforce and still look the part today. How many houses for industrial workers came with sash windows? The third floor was for the use of hand weaving to allow the workers to produce cloth for use in factories. The Primary School was added by Arkwright's son, who realised the value of an education for the workers'party children.

The rain started to fall steadily. Arkwright had been looking for a reliable water supply all those years ago. In this part of Derbyshire, it falls regularly from the sky. We headed home. It wasn't South Africa. There were no rhinos, but we had a wildlife encounter with the Cromford Cat.


Additional photos below
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4th July 2021
Cromford

Wow, pretty meower!
4th July 2021
Wirksworth

Great shot!
4th July 2021
Cromford

Are there that many cats there?
5th July 2021
Cromford

Derbyshire Blog
Many cats? Only saw the one... perhaps just fond of crossing the road.
5th July 2021
Cromford

Derbyshire Blog
Many cats? Only saw the one... perhaps just fond of crossing the road.
4th July 2021
Cromford Mills

Cromford Mill is the world's first water-powered cotton spinning mill
4th July 2021
Cromford

Willow baskets are a huge industry here ;o)

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