Photo Walks

High Tor & Matlock Bath

This is another article in a series illustrating our favourite photography walks. Note that these articles are not intended as walking guides, but are merely an indicator as to areas we find photographically interesting.

id165 1High Tor is a very prominent feature of the Matlocks, its huge limestone face visible in some directions for many miles. The Tor divides Matlock from the more popular Matlock Bath and provides beautiful vistas along Matlock Dale and 360 degree views across the surrounding hills. We walk here very frequently, and from a photographic point of view, prefer autumn and winter months. Not only are there less visitors, but the area is beautifully transformed by autumn colours or a dusting of snow. Due to their close proximity with each other, we walk High Tor and Matlock Bath together as they offer contrasting photo opportunities. From sweeping landscapes to Victorian architecture and the quiet backwaters of the Derwent, a walk through this part of Derbyshire offers it all in just a few miles. Paths are easy going in the summer but more care must be taken in icy conditions, particularly around High Tor’s ‘Giddy Edge’ where a slip in the wrong direction could lead to serious injury.

As we live in Matlock our walk always starts from here, although the area can be just as easily explored from Matlock Bath. Car parking is plentiful in both towns but things do get very busy in the summer months, particularly at weekends. From Hall Leys Park in Matlock (which is also great for photography), we head for the older part of town and Starkholmes which leads to the northern entrance of High Tor grounds. From the rusting arch marking the entrance, a path winds its way to the summit. Time (and care) should be taken to explore the views over the cliff edges that run parallel to the path. As height is gained the A6 is reduced to a ribbon winding its way through the dale, making for some interesting arial photography. Good images of the highest part of the Tor can  be made while walking up to it. It is particularly impressive after an afternoon of squally rain…the wet limestone reflects so much sunlight it looks metallic.

id165 2The summit of High Tor is impressive, not only because of its views but due to its geological and historic significance. A long vein (The Great Rake) of Galena, Spar and lesser minerals once cut across the Tor and continued onto the adjacent hillside above Matlock Bath. It was mined in antiquity by a simple method of digging from the surface down and following the vein until it was exhausted. Known since Victorian times as the ‘Fern and Roman Caves’, all that remains today are the crevasse like excavations made by generations of early miners. These open cast workings are now closed to the public but, between me and the rest of the internet, a keen photographer can easily descend into them and grab some very interesting pictures. Not that I condone this kind of activity you understand…

The area around the old workings and the steep walk down from the ‘summit’ to Matlock Bath cable car station is stunning in autumn, as the hillside is littered with mature copper beech trees. Consequently my image library is equally littered with images of them. For those with an interest in macrophotography, look out for the many species of mushroom and fungi also present at this time of year. Bird life is also in abundance (at any time of year)…I recall one particular session where Ethan spent an hour photographing the tamest Robin I have ever seen. The results were impressive as the little birdie was just a couple of feet from the end of his lens.

A path leads from the Cable Car Station to the railway station. It is possible to walk along a road after passing under a railway bridge, but the path is better as it provides good opportunities to photograph the swiss-like architecture of the Victorian station. Crossing the railway line allows more up close and personal views of the building before continuing on to Matlock Bath.

Made popular in the Victorian era not only by its picture postcard scenery, but also due to the abundance of thermal springs running out from under Masson hillside…their healing properties were seen as a benevolent part of many a Victorians visit. Most of the buildings housing thermal pools have long vanished, but a glimpse of them can still be seen in the Aquarium’s main pool’ now home to many species of Carp. Other thermal pools still exist such as the fishpond outside of the Grand Pavilion. Another is near the car park above the Fishpond Hotel and a couple more exist along the Derwent gardens. All of these look great on a cold winters day as the steam rising off them creates atmospheric studies. I lived in the village for two years during my childhood and these ponds were an endless source of fascination to a boy obsessed with geology and geothermal activity.

id165 3Our walk usually takes us along the Derwent Gardens as they provide many photographic opportunities…again made that little bit special in autumn or during very cold periods. The gardens lead to the ‘new bridge’ which gives access to the opposite side of the river and a series of cliff top walks known as ‘Lovers Walk’. Strenuous in some parts, it is really worth spending time exploring these as they offer fabulous views. Whether walking these trails or following the riverside path, you should head upstream as they eventually lead you to the Jubilee Bridge…a far more attractive crossing point than the previous one. Walking over this brings you back to the bustle of the village. If visiting in late September or early October, illuminated boats ply the river on Saturday evenings, as they have done for more than a century. A good tripod and high ISO allows the photographer to capture some unique images of this tradition.

We sometimes take this opportunity to grab a bite to eat from one of the many cafes before heading up either Waterloo or Holme road to explore the architecture further, usually retuning via Temple Walk. If you still have the energy (and the time), a strenuous hike or trip on the cable car to the Heights of Abraham gives spectacular views (especially from the top of the Victoria Tower) of the areas walked. It is really worth the effort after a fall of snow as High Tor from this aspect is the stuff of postcards.

Having lived and walked this area for many years, I still find new photographic opportunities and cannot resist the urge to re-shoot old favourites. Each trip I make is rewarding. For me, Matlock Bath is a nostalgic place to explore - it has always been part of my life; even before living here we used to regularly visit an Aunt and Uncle who lived on the hillside. It offered a complete escape from the urbanity of our Birmingham home and was a world far closer to nature than I could find in the suburbs. Consequently my photo sorties here are also an excuse to recall my childhood, which I guess is why it retains a special place somewhere in my psyche.