Monday, 5 September 2016

Surrounded by history

This is just part of the huge complex withHarry in the distance
Around us tonight are the remains of a lost world, ruins of stone buildings and wharves so out of time with the modern world that they could be part of the ancient Roman empire.
We are at the remarkable Bugsworth Basin complex, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and all that remains of a once massive limestone processing and transport hub.
The model gives an idea of the extent of the site
Lime was a substance in huge demand in the early 19th century, used in everything from agricultural fertiliser to building mortar to textile manufacture. And a prime source of lime was the limestone hills of the Peak District.
So Bugsworth came into existence as a basin where limestone could be brought down from the surrounding hills by tramway, crushed or burned in huge kilns to produce quicklime and then transported away by the newly built Peak Forest Canal.
Another arm leads to even more parts of the site
Over the next half century it expanded to become one of the largest inland ports in England, handling over 600 tons of limestone a day. And then along came the railways. Bugsworth's importance declined rapidly and it closed in 1927. Amazingly, this vast place with its kilns, warehouses, railway tracks, offices decayed into an unrecognisable jungle as stonework was taken for other uses, undergrowth claimed the rest and the canal ceased working.
And beyond the bridge is yet another element
In 1968 volunteers began the monumental job of reclaiming it all from the undergrowth and getting the waterways fit for boats again: it took 30 years and even then had to be closed again for more work, only opening finally in 2005. (The work partly funded by the EU we'll soon be leving, incidentally). You can read more here.
It's a great place to be – like living in the centre of an archaeological site. All the same, it's worth remembering that in its working life this site was noisy, smelly, full of smoking chimneys and men worked physically hard in dangerous conditions for long hours at poor wages. It's all too easy to romanticise the past.
The remains of some of the lime burning kilns here
I must admit I feared the worst about getting here – we'd been through a lot of shallow, sludged up stretches. Yet this final seven miles, excavated with uncanny skill 200 years ago along the side of a sheer hill, proved a doddle. Yes, there were odd shallows and slow, silty moments but nothing to raise the pulse – indeed it's probably improved since we were last here in our previous boat. The sweet smell of Love Hearts and Parma Violets from the Swizzels factory at New Mills is unchanged though!

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