Review of ‘The Cromford Canal’, by Hugh Potter

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 20th October 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Hugh Potter
ISBN 0-7524-2802-0 (2003)

By coincidence this book landed on my desk within days of a rather disheartening walk along the further reaches of this beautiful-in-parts waterway. Admittedly the OS map shows stretches of the Cromford Canal as 'disused' but it was sad to see its condition beyond Ironville. It was a far cry from one of our favourite family strolls between High Peak Junction and Whatstandwell, passing the ruins of a cottage pictured in more idyllic times on the cover of this new book from Tempus.

Author Hugh Potter brings out the same mixed emotions; sadness for what has been lost but appreciation for what has been preserved and restored, largely by the Cromford Canal Society and more recently by Friends of the Cromford Canal (FCC), of which Hugh - who lives beside the canal - is the archivist. Many readers will remember school boat journeys on the horsedrawn John Gray in the 1970s/80s, alas no longer in use.

Front Cover

Cromford Canal once linked the Derwent and Upper Erewash valleys to the main central canal system of England. Collieries, ironworks, mills, limestone and gritstone quarries all flourished along its route. Hugh Potter has been collecting photographs and historical information on the canal for many years and this book is packed full of more than 200 captivating and rare illustrations, whether an ice-breaker boat, a Sunday School outing in a scrubbed-out coal boat or a canalside pigsty used as a reading room. One evocative panorama shows where river (the Derwent), road (the A6), railway (now a single-track branch to Matlock) and canal squeeze together through the valley, a steam express train heading towards the camera. The ill-fated Butterley Tunnel is photographed inside and out. It was the collapse of this challenging tunnel, 'a problem from the very beginning', which closed Cromford Canal as a through route.

Informative captions produce strange words and stranger facts, with talk of Starvehimvalley Bridge, trapdoors in the canal bed and dredging with a spoon.

Today the top section of this historically important canal lies within the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The FCC aims ultimately to restore and maintain this waterway for the benefit of all, after all Cromford Canal towpath was, and still is, a public right of way. The Cromford Canal by Hugh Potter is the essential explorer's companion.

Review by Julie Bunting

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