Headstone Tunnel Monsal Head
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Headstone Tunnel Monsal Head

The Headstone Tunnel is located at Monsal Head, in the Peak District National Park. The tunnel is one of six that lie on the Monsal Trail between Wye Vale and just south of Bakewell.

The Monsal Trail was created from the long disused Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway. The Headstone Tunnel is just under half a kilometre long and is the longest of the tunnels on the trail.

The Story Behind The Image

After days of rain and mist the sun finally came out, and all of a sudden the desire to go out and take some shots overtook me. Thumbing through the guidebook to the Peak District I decided to take a shot inside the Headstone Tunnel at Monsal Head.

Down and Up and Down again...The Headstone Tunnel

It always amazes me just how much difference sunlight makes to my mood, and I was optimistic that I could get some great shots of the famous tunnel. There was also the advantage that if the weather turned bad again at least I would be inside, and if it was still sunny maybe I could get a shot of the viaduct too.

Jumping in the car I headed out to Bakewell and then on to Monsal Head. Following my previous adventurous disasters this time I was pretty prepared. Proper walking boots had replaced my trainers, I had picked up some waterproof trousers from a sale in Blacks that actually repelled water, my new rucksack was excellent and I had even purchased an OS map. What more could I need?

The Pudding Place

I have never been to Bakewell before but it was packed with people. Probably all coming out from the protection of their holiday cottages as the rain held off. The throng of bleary eyed tourists poking in and out of mountain and outdoor clothing shops truly was a sight to behold. Plus, of course, café after café stocked up to the ceilings with Bakewell Puddings.

I soon arrived at Monsal Head. What a view....and a great ice cream van too. It was a shame that it was so cold, despite the sun, otherwise I would have tucked in to a double cone with a flake. The view across the valley is one that you must see if you visit the Peak District.


From the little car park there were some paths leading down from the viewpoint. Picking left I headed deep down into the Monsal Valley. I was very glad of my new boots as I squelched through the oozing mud. The path was quite steep and had a sharp drop to the right. My main focus at this point was not to fall down the valley side. That would be a bit embarrassing and painful. The Daily Mail headline of 'Photographer snaps on trip down the valley' was one to be avoided.

After only about twenty minutes I arrived at the valley floor and the River Wye. The tunnel was nowhere to be seen. Above me was the viaduct, and no doubt the tunnel was at the same level as the viaduct upstream on my right.

The viaduct was not welcomed by everyone when it was built in the 1860's. In fact the poet, John Ruskin, at the time wrote "The valley is gone – and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton."

Rather than climb straight back up the path and find the tunnel I thought I would spend a little while looking for a great shot here on the valley floor. There was the loud sound of water crashing over rocks, and as I made my way down I could see, hear and even feel the power of the weir.

I set about looking for a composition. No matter what angle I took it just was not working for me. I headed down stream to get a better view and came across a narrow footbridge. The other side of the river was much clearer and I found a good shot. It would mean standing in the water on one of the slippery rocks, but hey I had my new boots on!

Just as I was getting set up I heard voices

Maybe these were some of those people from Buxton that Ruskin was so concerned about all those years ago!

It was two boys and their pit-bull terrier

None of them looked friendly and the boys were a little too interested in my camera bag for me to feel comfortable.

Quickly setting up I looked back to see that the pit-bull was standing on the bank watching me.

I was sure I could see it licking its lips

The river was pretty full, and the water was moving very quickly. Standing with each foot on a slippery rock, just under the water, and with my tripod balanced partly on some rubble, I carefully lined up my image.

The pitbull was still waiting for me

Trying really hard not to look like a large bone and more like a scary human I calmed myself and took my shot and then waited. I did not have to wait long as the boys called to 'Rage' and the pitbull disappeared.

With the coast clear I clambered back out onto the bank

Looking over the bank into the field I could see that the boys had been collecting stones and throwing them at anything that moved.

Rage noticed me straightaway.

Deciding that I could head for cover by going back over the footbridge I quickly returned to the muddy path. Something shot past me. I would like to think it was just a bird or mouse or something. I did not wait to see if another missile would wing its way in my direction.

Ok, I had survived the boys and Rage, now to get to the tunnel. I was going to have to head up the valley and then down again.


Despite having a portion of my lungs not working my general stamina is building up. I need to keep pushing myself. It would be too easy to sit about worrying about my heart and lungs giving up. I suppose some people would say I am sort of in denial.

Initially I made very good progress

Then my breathing got difficult and I had to stop every few steps. Other walkers were heading down now, and to hide my slow progress I pretended to be looking at the view, or the new buds appearing on the branches around me. One elderly couple managed to make it down and then passed me again going up.

Once I got back to Monsal Head I noted that the ice cream van was closed.

Down Again

Triumphant, but exhausted, I made my way down again to the right this time.

This path was much more used and was created from a series of nicely laid steps. Halfway down there was a stone laid as a memorial to somebody called Peter. I studied the stone as a very elderly man whooshed past me up the path.

Finally reaching the viaduct I made my way into the tunnel

The tunnel that once allowed the trains to pass through the hills now carries the Monsal Trail. This is a walking and cycling path that is a very popular attraction in this part of the Peak District.

So that cyclists and walkers can make full use of the trail I set up my tripod on the side up against the wet tunnel wall.

It always surprises me what people do when they see someone with a camera on a tripod. One couple, coming through the tunnel towards me, decided to stop and wait, standing right in the middle of my shot! Perhaps they were celebrities and naturally thought that I was paparazzi capturing the latest shot of them.

I waved them past

One teenager parked his bike about 10 feet in front of my camera and played with his iPhone. I smiled to myself, I was enjoying being out and about and his behaviour would not bother me. After about 10 minutes it was so obvious that he was just trying to be annoying and it was not working that even he gave up and moved on.

Eventually I snapped the shot I wanted. There is a figure of a person in the tunnel if you look hard enough. It works for me.

Up At Last

As I made my way to climb the path again I was done in. I stopped for some time at Peter's memorial stone half way up. I wondered would anyone leave a stone for me if I never made it back? A group of elderly hikers watched me as I took each step up the last rise one at a time. I half expected a round of applause once I reached the top. My adventure was over for another day.

Get Your Own Limited Edition Print

You can have your own exclusive Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 'Headstone Tunnel' signed by Peter and posted directly to your door!

Location: Headstone Tunnel, Monsal Head, DE45 1NW.

Keywords: Derbyshire (13), England (28), Peak District (17).

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