Friday, 20 February 2015

The Five Pits Trail

From Derby, the best way to reach the start is to take your bike by train to Chesterfield, since there are frequent services taking only about 20 minutes, and the cost can be as low as £2.65 using a railcard and searching the Internet to find the cheapest fare.

Before the ride, take a few minutes to view a couple of Chesterfield's sights, namely the statue of George Stephenson outside the station, and the famous Crooked Spire.
Click on pictures to enlarge them.

Here George stands holding aloft a model of the of the famous "Rocket" which kick started the railway revolution, whilst steadying his precarious balance on a wheel with a pair of engineer's dividers. Presumably they are set to 4feet 8 and 1/2 inches which became the standard gauge for railway tracks.  Isumbard Kingdom Brunel was livid, as he wanted it to be 6 feet.

Stephenson was not the archetypal " local lad done good" as he was born in Northumberland, spending only the last ten years of his life in Chesterfield at Tapton House, where he died in 1848.

However Chesterfield is proud to claim him as a local as he lived there during the construction of the Derby to Leeds railway route.

PS June 2015
On a more recent visit to Chesterfield I checked the span of George Stephenson's dividers and find that they are not set to 4f t 8.5 ins after all, but about 3ft.
Artist's license I suppose!

You cannot miss the 13th century Church of St. Mary and All Saints (better known as the Crooked Spire) which stands 228ft.high above the town, it's deformed finger still pointing heavenwards in spite of the twist caused by the use of un-seasoned timber in the construction.  The 32 tons of lead with which it is clad did not help. Some say that the Devil and some unspecified virgins had a hand in the deformation, but who knows?  Virgins in Chesterfield?  Come on  .................!.

One can but imagine the looks on the faces of those who funded the building as the spire took up it's (un)natural shape and wonder what happened to the builders. 
Did they receive full payment, or were they hounded out of town?
At least they could claim some credit for the integrity of the structure, since it did not fall down and has survived for 650 years.  The twist puts it out of true by over 9 feet and   presumably will not get any worse now.

But on with the ride, which takes us Southwards, through Grassmoor Country Park, after negotiating some busy roads and roundabouts. A short stretch of the A617 road turning off onto the Hasland Road B6033, through Hasland, making for Corbriggs where there is the entrance to Grassmoor Country Park.

                                                             And this is it.

Ignore the road to the right and pass through the gate on the left, following the winding path uphill. .

                         On the brow we see one of the many freshwater pools alongside the path.
There are also lots of seats where you can pause to rest, watch the wildlife or to admire the view.

Ignore all side paths and eventually you arrive at this brick bridge and this is the Northern end of the Five Pits Trail, which runs on for some seven miles.
From the undulating nature of the ground you would not think that this is a former railway route, in fact opened in 1892 to serve the coal mines at Tibshelf, Pilsley, Holmewood, Williamthorpe and Grassmoor.  As the mines closed around 1970, the railway became redundant and was subsequently taken over by Derbyshire County Council for conversion to this very fine Greenway.
The path surface varies and suitable for most bikes but not those with fragile frames, high gearing or flimsy tyres.

A typical view of the Five Pits Trail, going through open fields, with a gradient and imperfect but adequate surfacing.

The landscape of these former coal mining areas has undergone a remarkable transformation over the years with the removal of slag heaps and mining detritus, but there is now another threat from the prospect of industry in the form of fracking to extract oil and gas from the subterranean depths.  Test drilling in progress alongside the path.

                                    But there remain some more fine freshwater pools alongside.
                            Horses, dogs and presumably humans, are prohibited from entering the water.

 There are several road crossings on the Five Pits Trail, some of which would have been level crossings in the days of the railway and some of which would have been bridges, since demolished.

But in most cases, the trail continues on the opposite side of the road.

              Nice open pasture land with some farm animals, borders the path for much of it's length.

                        And some great views of the surrounding countryside from the many seats.

Looking back down one of the gradients as we come near to Tibshelf, better known for it's motorway service area, fortunately not in evidence here.

                                         The path narrows here as we wend our way to Tibshelf village...............

..........where we find a dedicated cycle crossing adjacent to a pedestrian crossing.

After the road crossing is this rather generous barrier (allowing through all but the widest handlebars and the fattest people) and we are approaching the most southerly end of the Five Pits Trail.

And this is the junction of the Five Pits Trail and the newer Silverhill Trail which is Route 67 of the National Cycle Network.  In this view the Five Pits Trail is on the left.  So turn right at the gate following sign to Alfreton.

The Silverhill Trail has been built to the newer standard of Derbyshire County Council with a good 3 metre wide path.
At the western end of the Silverhill Trail a small bridleway leads onto the road at Westhouses and hence, following signs, to Alfreton, where there are plenty of places for refreshment.
From here to Derby is mostly on road that being the A61 which is not so bad for cycling as it has marked cycle lanes for much of it's length and the nearby A38 trunk road takes most of the motorised traffic.
The relatively short Ripley Greenway and a nice cycle path in Little Eaton bring us back to join NCN Route 54 which, although not one of the better NCN routes, does at least get us across the busy A38. and by way of Haslam's Lane, takes us into Darley Fields and along the Riverside Path into Derby City centre at Exeter Bridge, the meeting point of most of Derby's NCN routes.