Lathkill Dale, Derbyshire
A blistering hot day so we could think of no better place to walk than by a gentle flowing river that is embraced by cool woodland shade.
The River Lathkill is not a long river, about 8 miles in length. Once described by Izaak Walton (of Complete Angler Fame 1594-1683) as being the river with the purest of crystal clear waters. It has a humble start, a spring from a limestone cliff and flows down through a typical Derbyshire Limestone Dale….limestone being porous means that at times of low water it often disappears underground reappearing a little further along its course.
In this part of the Dale the river is wide and sweeping. It is here that angling over the centuries has left its mark as weirs have been created to cause the river to form Fish Ponds through which those crystal clear waters flow. The importance of Trout Fishing once had on the Lathkill is evident a little way upstream when you reach Lathkill Fishing Lodge.
It is here you will find a river crossing….a shallow ford and an old clapper bridge. But it is here that the waters were used to power a Corn Mill. The crumbling stone ruins are a further reminder of more prosperous times.
Beyond this point the character of the river and the dale changes dramatically.
The Limestone gorge becomes much narrower and the side much steeper, the trees and vegetation becomes much thicker and starts to encroach on the Lathkill that is now much narrower.
It is also in this part of the Dale that its Industrial Heritage can be found. Once this was one of the most important and prosperous Lead Mining areas. Along the pathway you will find traces of small mine entrances and evidence that the waters of the Lathkill were diverted for industrial energy. The Limestone may well have been rich in ore but Limestone also brought with it the inherent problem for miners underground, that is water ingress. It was a battle miners were constantly fighting, driving passages to take water away from working areas. More dramatic action was needed and at Mandale Mine a Cornish Tin Pump Engine was built, not sure how successful it was as the mine closed in 1851 not that long after the pump was completed. Search in the woodlands and you will find the ruins of that Engine House, now very slowly disappearing in to the undergrowth..
A little further on a search will also unearth Batemans House. This was the managers house for another of the many mines in the Dale. Here ore was assessed and stored overnight. But the house was also built over one of the main mine entrances securing entry to only the approved miners. Building over a mine entrance was not unusual here in Derbyshire, many mines were small scale but still of great value to their owner, often a farmer, so it made security easy if you lived on top of the mine…many old farm building still keep there secrets. But the value of Ore mined must have been very high as the house, though in ruins, indicated that for its time it was quite substantial…
I still find it hard to conceive just how busy Lathkill Dale once was, today it is a very peaceful National Nature Reserve, but historians tell us that Romans once prized the Lead ore from Derbyshire. I was also told that the population living in a 5 mile diameter circle round Mandale Mine was greater in the mid 1700’s than in the the important industrial town of Derby.
The River Lathkill may only have a short distance to travel, historically it has been of great importance to a once important mining community. It has also provide interest and sport for anglers over the centuries.
The Lathkill joins the River Bradford and a short while later join the Wye and then the Derbyshire River Derwent which in turn, after a long run south joins the River Trent and then into The Humber finally ending its journey in the North Sea…..along way for those crystal clear water to travel…
(C) David Oakes 2016