Review of ‘Wirksworth: A Town of Stone and Steam’, by Ecclesbourne Valley Railway Association

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th August 2006, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

THE MILK AND HONEY LINE

Last year the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway Association received a second Local Heritage Initiative grant of almost £25,000, enabling the Association to carry out several projects including a leaflet on the Duffield/Wirksworth branch, once known as the Milk and Honey line.

The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway follows the lovely route of the river from which it takes its name. Opened in 1867, the railway breathed life into the agricultural community and carried passengers for 80 years. With freight lines direct into local quarries it also transported enormous quantities of stone until 1989, when the track became dormant. The EVRA, a registered charity, is committed to restoring this working heritage railway and two kilometres are now open for passengers.

The grant has also funded a DVD, 'Wirksworth: A Town of Stone and Steam'. This will delight even the least committed railway buff but equally anyone who takes an interest in local history. It opens with the arrival of a steam train pulling into Wirksworth station and closes in a cloud of steam as it pulls away again. In between is a ride into history, following a beautifully scenic rail journey into 'stone country', steaming over a couple of level crossings, dipping below the A6 and chugging on towards Wash Green Bridge and Wirksworth station.

The trip is interspersed with reminiscences and yarns from former railway and quarry workers - 'no safety helmets then', says one. We hear about the milk train, weedkiller train and runaway trains, racing pigeons, and the explosive demise of a 19-arch viaduct. The footage occasionally pans at a rather too dizzying pace before slowing down for close-ups of rare historic photographs.

A second chapter concentrates on quarrying: one enormous 'ole' was so deep that it was used for testing electricity pylons. The camera lingers at visitor attractions across the area, plus a few creepy shots inside the dark and dripping rail tunnels which burrow below Wirksworth itself. Not so long ago, life here was a 'nightmare' of sirens and house-shuddering blasts, with everything coated in stone dust. But no more; today Wirksworth is quiet and clean, while nature is taking over the quarries. Only history will remember it as the Town of Stone and Steam with a Milk and Honey Line.

Priced £9.99, the DVD is available from Ecclesbourne Valley Railway at Wirksworth Station and other local outlets. The 12-page illustrated leaflet is also available from the station.

Review by Julie Bunting


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