Cressbrook Tunnel

Cressbrook Tunnel

30th May 1863 saw the opening of an exceptional section of railway, eventually forming part of a main line link between London and Manchester. Built by the Midland, it cut a route through the limestone landscape of Derbyshire’s Wye Valley between Hassop and Buxton, demanding eight tunnels totalling 2,426 yards, two major viaducts and a number of smaller ones in the space of just 11 miles. But the audacity and investment did not live long. Barely a century after it opened, most of the route became an unlikely victim of the Beeching-era cuts, officially closing on 1st July 1968.

In 1981, the Peak District National Park Authority concluded lengthy negotiations with British Rail to secure the trackbed. Along it was laid the Monsal Trail – a nine-mile path linking Blackwell Mill Junction, east of Buxton, with a bridge over Coombs Road on the Matlock side of Bakewell. Since the summer of 2011, four of the tunnels – which had previously been closed for safety reasons – have been opened up for walkers, cyclists and horse riders to use, creating an easy linear connection between the Trail’s two ends.

Cressbrook Tunnel, structure number 68, follows an S-shaped alignment, extending for 471 yards. Neither approach cutting is long thanks to the steeply rising hillside although, in both cases, the south side features an impressive near-vertical rock face.

Westbound trains encountered a curve to the south of 40 chains radius for the first 250 yards before a short straight section and then a northerly curve, also of 40 chains radius. The gradient throughout rises at 1:100. The predominant lining material is engineering brick although patch repairs – some of them extensive – have been carried out in both red brick and masonry. The tunnel’s segmental roof arch is supported on limestone walls which curve inwards slightly.

Refuges of inconsistent sizes are provided at both sides. The installation of a 12″ concrete-encased water main, located at the foot of the south wall, was authorised in 1979. Whilst generally dry, small deposits of calcite are found in places. The route’s 157¼ milepost was located within the tunnel, close to the western entrance.

Cressbrook Tunnel signal box was opened in 1882.

June 2012