Ambergate (1840) is the second station in Derbyshire mentioned in the song and by coincidence it is located on the same line as the first: Millers Dale. Unlike Millers Dale, it was saved from closure and it is the fifth station in the lyrics currently open to passengers.
Ambergate was first opened by the North Midland Railway as a halt on their line from Leeds to Derby. Later, when the line to Manchester through Matlock and Millers Dale was added it became a triangular junction. Trains could come off the Manchester line and go north to Sheffield and Leeds or south to Derby and London. Sheffield to London trains passed through on the third side of the triangle.
Although the station never closed, only one side of the triangle survived to serve the singled and truncated Manchester line which now extends only to Matlock.
Services: Past, Present & Future?
Back in 1962 the station still hosted 4 daily trains to/from Chesterfield (25 minutes) on the main line as well as an irregular, but basically two-hourly, service towards Matlock, Bakewell and Chinley. To the south, Derby was reached in 25 minutes.
There are no longer any trains linking Ambergate with the North, but there is an hourly service to Derby (18 minutes) which extends to Newark via Nottingham. In the opposite direction trains go as far as Matlock (16 minutes) before turning around.
In 2018/19 Ambergate served about 42,000 passengers and its future seems to be assured.
The Station Today
There was a pay and display car park at Ambergate. We bought a £2:50 “all day” ticket, put it on the dashboard and wandered over to the platform.
The station was unmanned but it seemed very well kept. I noticed that the ticket vending machine inside the little shelter was already in displaying the logo of “new” operator: East Midland Railway or EMR for short.
The platform next to the single track was on a tight curve. There were several benches positioned along it and they were brightly painted in the bright blue colour of the former operator: East Midland Trains or EMT for short. In a rather nice touch, there were also little boxes filled with flowers hanging off the fence.
Ambergate certainly seemed like a very nice place to catch a train. Although catching a train from there was not actually part of our plan. We had decided we would walk first and return by train later.
There was no shortage of information on where to walk; several posters introduced various hikes in the vicinity of the line. The whole of the Derby-to-Matlock railway was marketed as the “Derwent Valley line” and it obviously had a very active community rail partnership who had produced all this helpful stuff.
There was also a lot of historical information displayed as well; fascinating little vinaigrettes about the station’s past illustrated with old photographs, tickets, and advertising bills.
We left the station, went under the railway bridge, and turned on to the A6 opposite the attractive-looking Hurt Arms Pub. We went along the main road for a short distance but soon turned off and headed up towards the Cromford Canal. Ambergate was not much more than a small village (population around 5,000) and soon we had left it behind.
We had decided to walk along the canal towpath for about 5 miles to Cromford. The canal itself was “in water” here but it was not actually navigable. A variety of birds seemed to be making the most of the fact there were no boats; in fact, the section was listed as a nature reserve.
The canal was first opened in 1794 and it carried coal to Cromford, which was then fast industrialising. The mills at Cromford provided it with more traffic in the shape of finished goods. Today, the towpath seemed like a very popular walking route and cycling path; as we walked along, we met people every few minutes.
The railway from Ambergate followed the canal quite closely as far as the next halt at Whatstandwell. We took a break from the towpath and went to inspect the little station. Like Ambergate it seemed it had been quite lovingly restored; as well as an old Midland Railway footbridge, there was some old signs in amongst the flower beds.
Back on the canal we continued walking and soon came to Gregory tunnel which takes the waterway under a small ridge. The towpath continued through it; it was not particularly long but considering it had been constructed back in the 18th century, we found it impressive.
There was more magnificent old technology to see just a few miles later where the canal passed over the River Derwent on an aqueduct. A beam engine (the Leawood Pump) was built to pump water up from the river. The whole pumping station has been restored to full working order.
After we had crossed the Derwent, we came to the old freight interchange with the Cromford and High Peak Railway. This early line used cable-driven inclined planes and horses to traverse the plateau of the Peak District towards the north west. It is now preserved as a cycle track.
After a total of just over five miles, our waterside journey came to an abrupt halt at the terminus of the Cromford Canal. There was a little wharf at the end where materials for the nearby mill must once have been unloaded and where finished goods would have been placed on barges for the return journey.
Cromford Mill was directly opposite the terminus. It was the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill. It was started by entrepreneur Richard Arkwright in 1771 and it is claimed to be the world’s first factory. The structure is a Grade I listed building and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We wandered between the old, preserved mill buildings before doubling back along the riverbank. From there we walked up towards Cromford railway station less than a mile away, passing St. Mary’s Church, where Arkwright is buried, on the way.
When we arrived at the little station, we saw that the next train back to Ambergate was not due for 40 minutes. Almost as soon as we had sat down to wait, a train heading in the opposite direction drew in. The guard suggested that instead of waiting we would be welcome to jump on board and ride up to the Matlock terminus and back; it was a nice gesture, and we took him up on it.
We clattered through a few tunnels, stopped at Matlock Bath, and then terminated at Matlock a few minutes later. We stayed on the train and chatted to a lad from Nottingham who had also been doing some walking in the area.
After a wait of around ten minutes, we set off again and sixteen minutes later we were back at Ambergate. We got off and before returning to the car we watched the train leave the platform as it headed off to join the main line to Derby just a few hundred yards to the south.
It was difficult to imagine this sleepy little single-track branch ever being part of the busy main line from St Pancras to Manchester Central. It was even harder to think of Ambergate as ever having more than a single platform, let alone being the triangular station it once was. Yet, although it may have been much reduced in scale, at least it has survived!