Photo Walks

This is the second 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. Lumsdale is an area of woodland, waterfalls and ruined mills a mile or so to the east of Matlock. Served by a couple of very narrow roads and a network of footpaths, it remained one of Matlock’s best kept secrets until recent years. However, encroaching housing developments have seen increased footfall as it was slowly discovered by dog walkers and those living nearby who enjoy the romantic atmosphere offered by cascading waterfalls, ivy clad ruins and still ponds.

id156 1Now managed by the Arkwright Society who have stabilised and made safe once dangerous ruins, the area is stunningly photographic at any time of the year and rewards those photographers who return in all seasons. It is particularly photogenic in autumn when the local beech tree population shed their leaves in arboreal fiery splendour.

As a boy Lumsdale was one of my playgrounds where, with friends, I spent what seemed like endless days climbing waterfalls, swimming in the millpond and catching Brook Trout. Transient dens were built in the shadow of ancient gable ends, their industrious din long since lost to the sound of birdsong and babbling brook. We made fires from damp kindling that, once lit, were heavy with smoke which penetrated our wet clothes and memories - memories that reverberate inside me to this very day.

And I think it is partly the memories that draw me back regularly with my camera and tripod, in the hope of capturing a fleeting echo from one of those childhood days that faded unnoticed into adulthood.

Due to its location, Lumsdale is not served by large car parks - the best and closest is a lay-by opposite Highfields Upper school. But even this can be busy, particularly during term time. From here, actual walking distance is no more than a mile each way and for those who wish to make more of it, the area can be taken in as part of a larger walk around Matlock or Tansley, both of which have better parking facilities. As I live in Matlock, I usually set off on foot from home.

id156 2Assuming the starting point is from the above mentioned lay-by, it is an easy walk down a narrow lane, passing silted up mill ponds hidden away on the left, their presence given away by moss clad retaining walls claimed back by nature decades ago. Although there are no proper paths, it is worth deviating from the lane and exploring this area a little as I have found that these uninspiring remains can be photogenic, given the correct light and a monochrome treatment. I also found a macro lens to be useful here particularly in the Autumn when fungi and mushrooms make their appearance.

Continuing along the lane with Bentley Brook on the left, a row of cottages is soon reached, their origins being a smithy and two lead cupolas. Sometime in the 1930’s they fell into disuse and the shell of the original building was converted into cottages seen today. Occasionally it is possible to capture a romantic image of them, but this depends on whether any cars and/or bins are parked outside to shatter the illusion. Walking on by, the largest and best maintained mill pond comes into view, crossed at one end by an ancient stone bridge, itself worthy of a few pictures. As children we launched many rafts from a muddy area next to the bridge out onto the pond, and languished upon them under a warm sun, looking for fish in the murky depths.

A far dryer and much safer option is to follow the edge of the pond until a steep retaining wall is reached that offers excellent views into the heart of Lumsdale. Here the water cascades over the wall and forms a torrent that rushes between gritstone maws, forcing the stream into a series of energetic waterfalls and rapids. But before heading down into the exciting stuff, turn around and see if the light is kind enough to allow the tranquility of the millpond and cottages to be captured. On cold wintery days, it is not uncommon for the pond to be frozen over. Add a dusting of snow to its banks and the cottage roofs, and a timeless scene waits for the shutter to be released.

id156 3Access to the waterfalls and mill ruins can be gained from a  couple of places, the easiest being a stile located at the side of the retaining pond wall, or via another stile a little further down the lane, away from the pond and cottages. Both lead to the same area and many paths weave around tumbled walls ultimately heading to the brook and mills. As it is a relatively small area, I recommend exploring all paths as each offer something different. For example, one leads back towards the foot of the pond wall over which cascades the brook into a lovely rock pool that can be beautifully lit depending on the time of day. During spells of freezing weather, icicles adorn the rocks around the falls transforming it into a mesmerising work of natural art.

Further downstream one of the largest ruined mills comes into view. it consisted of a couple of stories that, many years ago, were a death trap to anyone unfamiliar with the area. There was a real risk of walking into the mill and falling fifty feet into the void that once housed its huge water wheel. Today, it has been sanitised with fences to protect unsuspecting walkers and their dogs.  Twentieth century fences aside, it is still possible to capture nostalgic images from several angles that preclude any trace of modernity. 

One of the most spectacular waterfalls is to the rear of this mill where Bentley Brook tumbles off a gritstone shelf and pounds its way steeply down a rocky gorge for several meters. Access to it is via a well defined path and steps that lead past the mill and follow the brook downstream. After descending the first few steps the waterfall comes into view and can be approached by leaving the steps a little way and standing on a grassy knoll. There is plenty of room to set up a tripod here, and I strongly recommend doing so as the view is too good to miss. It is great fun capturing those cliched shots of motion blurred water against a sharply focussed landscape. Take pictures here at any time of the year - they will not disappoint. With a little care, it is possible to climb down to the waters edge and grab some interesting shots looking back up to the top of the falls. Equally as interesting is the view from the opposite side of the brook, as this reveals a different aspect of the old mill.

Back on the path, the walk leads further down into the valley which provides plenty of photo opportunities. Eventually the path leads onto a narrow road which can be followed uphill to return the the lay-by, or downhill to follow the brook past some better preserved mills that now serve as industrial units. While not as romantic as their ruined cousins, it is still possible to grab interesting architectural shots that provide a very contrasting view of what was once a thriving industry.

I strongly recommend researching Lumsdale before visiting. Photography aside, it’s history is fascinating and a little reading will reveal hidden gems that can be easily missed. The following links provide useful information;