Lumsdale Falls, Nr Tansley, Matlock, England
17 minute read
I like waterfalls. Actually, scratch that statement. I LOVE waterfalls! And so when the name of Lumsdale Falls was first brought to my attention, I’ll admit that I got just a wee bit excited.
This place isn’t found on all maps, there are no road signs for tourists to follow, and it appears that to have any knowledge of its existence is something that comes from word-of-mouth. As a matter of fact, most local people that I spoke to had never even heard of it, and so the veil of mystery under which the place is hidden added a true element of intrigue to discovering it.
When I woke up and prepared my backpack on this hot and sunny Saturday morning in July, I felt like I was setting off on a mini-adventure. But in direct contrast to my solo trip to Castleton and Mam Tor, this time I was going to take the trip out to Matlock with my friend, Kev, and at just after 9.00am there was a knock on my door.
I opened the door to find Kev stood on my doorstep, grinning from ear-to-ear, and looking equally as excited as myself about the day that lay ahead of us.
“Morning dude!” He boomed.
“Alright mate!” I enthused.
“Let’s get this show on the road!”
And on that note I stepped outside, locked the door, and then we climbed into his car and drove off into the beautiful summer morning.
Now it is at this stage where I would like to send out a couple of thank you messages.
First of all, I’m putting out a massive thank you to Viddy. In the Castleton and Mam Tor article I asked readers for any recommendations of places that I could visit and potentially write about. Viddy left a really great comment at the bottom of the article and recommended this place to me. So thank you my friend, because this article would never have happened without you.
Secondly, thank you to my friends Mick and Mark who both helped me to pinpoint the waterfalls on a map. Yes okay, I could’ve probably found the information on Google, but where’s the fun in that? Between us we kept it old school and created an improvised map, and so as I set off in search of Lumsdale Falls I felt like The Goonies heading off in search of One-Eyed Willie’s treasure armed with just a treasure map, a doubloon, and a cone-headed strongman name Sloth. All we needed now was a truffle-shuffle.
The valley opened up to our right as we drove along the A615 towards Matlock. Looking across at how green and hilly the area was, I started to imagine myself basking in the cool and refreshing rock pools at the bottom of the waterfall. I felt like I was a child on his first trip to the seaside, and the point at which I saw this valley was like the moment when you first spot the sea on the horizon.
Are we nearly there yet?
To begin with we did take a couple of turns which led us to places in which the car couldn’t go any further and so we were forced to turn back. But eventually we decided to park the car on Lumsdale Road, just a short stroll from Smuse Lane. As we turned the engine off and the air-conditioning stopped blowing icy-fresh air around us, the heat of the morning was immediately apparent. It was only 10.00am yet it was clear that it was going to be a scorcher.
I opened the car door and stepped out to find a crew of elderly walkers preparing their backpacks and walking poles, and so I held my hand up and greeted them with an enthusiastic hello.
One man responded.
I smiled at this one man, took a single step closer, and by way of starting a conversation I decided to break the very first commandment that is found in the ancient rule-book of men; I asked for directions. Okay, I know, I’m sorry, and I know it’s not the manly thing to do, but heck, it got the man talking. However his response didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
He looked up at me, glanced across to his friend, his friend then looked up at me, and then he walked away. The first man then looked back at me, then at the floor, and then returned his eyes to mine once again and said.
“Lumsdale Falls? Erm, yes, I know where it is. It’s, erm, interesting.”
“Yeah, erm, do you see that lady over there?” He said, pointing to an older lady across the road.
“Yes, I see her.”
“Go and speak to her. She’ll help you.”
I glanced back over at the older lady, and then turned back to the man to say thank you, only to find that he had already walked off and left me. Kev and I both looked at each other.
“What did he mean by interesting?”
“I have no idea mate.” Kev responded.
Wandering over towards the older lady I held my hand in the air, flashed her my ultimate Saturday morning smile, and blurted out.
“Good morning! I understand you’re the lady to speak to about finding Lumsdale Falls?”
The small group that the lady was with all turned to look at each other, and then they all dispersed, in complete silence, leaving the lady alone with us. The lady looked up at me apprehensively.
“You want to go to Lumsdale Falls?”
“Erm, yes. If you could just point me in the right direction I’d be grateful.”
And at that she lifted up her hand and outstretched a finger towards the hills. But this confused me even more because the finger that she used to point with looked like it had been broken in about three different places and was anything but straight. In fact I didn’t actually understand where it was meant to be pointing, but I pretended to understand.
“Ah okay, that’s great, thank you so much.”
She returned her hand to her pocket, and then looked up at me again.
“Lumsdale Falls are, erm, interesting.”
Kev and I looked at each other once again and then we thanked her, turned around, and started walking away towards Smuse Lane. The group of walkers set off in completely the opposite direction.
“What the hell was that all about?” Kev asked.
“I have no idea, but just keep walking.”
As we slowly ascended the hills of Lumsdale, I tried not to let our strange encounter with the elderly walkers bother me. Although I admit that their odd behaviour, bent fingers, and the over-use of the word ‘interesting’ did suddenly fill me with terrifying thoughts of banjo players and ‘squealing like a piggy’. However my initial fears soon dissipated as I took in the beauty of my surroundings.
The walk up was nothing short of beautiful. The narrow roadway was surrounded by huge trees and there was a blanket of greenery all around us. The morning sun found its way through the leaves and the birds were singing in the trees. Old stone buildings were in ruins and were slowly being consumed by nature. It reminded me in some ways of Angkor in Cambodia, although on a MUCH smaller scale, and with less snakes.
Finding our way through an old wrought iron gate, the start of the building ruins of Lumsdale were found in their full glory. And this is where things got interesting, because these ruins turned out to be those of an old cotton-bleaching works that dated back to the late 18th century. This area had been home to a number of mills which were powered by water from the Bentley Brook, and this first building, known as Garton’s Mill (or the Lower Bleach Works) used the technology that Richard Arkwright had pioneered in his factories at Cromford, and harnesses the power of water for industrial use.
It’s a fascinating site, and if you take a step back for a moment and allow your imagination to go crazy, you can begin to imagine how the area may have looked during its prime. The site has been preserved without there ever being any intention to restore any of the buildings. Instead it was decided to leave the place accessible to the public, and for its decay to blend in with nature. I was amazed that this place could be found less than an hour away from my own front door, and I felt inspired. I felt truly inspired.
I could now hear the sound of running water, and just a short distance on from the lower bleach works, and after ascending a few old stone steps, I was all of a sudden blown away as I encountered the waterfall.
It was beautiful.
The white stream cascaded over several different levels, while huge limestone rocks poked out of the hillside and towered over the pools below. A dense host of ferns, ivy, foliage and moss clung to the rocks, and for a moment I really did feel like I was venturing through the jungle like Indiana Jones.
After steadily making our way down the embankment and over the slippery rocks, we both reached out into the water and looked up around us in total awe of our surroundings.
To the left of this first waterfall was an old doorway which was accessible only after navigating your way over some slippery old rocks. The doorway opened up into a high but narrow room with a floor that was found some half a dozen feet or so below. Was it a doorway? Was it a window? Was it one of the old bleach tanks? I have no idea what this particular area was once used for, but it was now the home of adventure and intrigue.
Removing our socks and shoes we made our way down into the pools, and as I sat on a rock at the side of the stream I felt the cool waters of Bentley Brook make its way over my feet and through my toes. I was a very happy man in this moment, feeling so close to nature and like I was thousands of miles away from home. How inspiring; this ability to find such beauty and escapism so close to where you lay your head each night. This day was turning into something truly remarkable.
After drying off our feet we ascended yet more steps which took us up to the next level of the ruins of the mill. And just a short walk on from this we found the upper tier of the waterfall, which was like a sweet little cherry on top of a much bigger and more beautiful cake. This upper tier had a bigger pool in which I could quite easily imagine the Timotei lady shampooing her hair (that reference really is showing my age), but it wasn’t as impressive as that first section of the falls which was much more dramatic in both its scale and its beauty.
Moving further upwards we ventured on to the wonderfully picturesque Lower Pond. This 4m deep pond was constructed in the 1850’s and was used as a holding pond to ensure a continuous supply of water was available to drive the water powered machinery of the mill. The water would cascade down the stepped dam walls and back down the brook to what was probably a grinding mill or saw mill.
Kev and I both stood at the top of the dam wall looking out over the area we’d just ascended. We didn’t really need to say much, but there’s no doubt that we were both feeling the same way. With midday approaching, the sun was now baking hot and we both stood there, talking rubbish and just shooting-the-shit, as men do. Nothing else existed; it was like there was no tomorrow, like yesterday never happened, and all that there was in this world was right now. We’d escaped the world for a little while, and we’d found adventure instead.
A number of cottages surround the pond and are still inhabited by some very lucky people. This beautiful part of Lumsdale is host to a variety of wildlife, and one of the information boards in this area boasts the following…
The restored Middle and Lower Ponds provide pond and wetland ecosystems for insects, invertebrates, fish, frogs and toads. The open water attracts coots, mallards and moorhens and you may also see herons, dippers and kingfishers. Badgers and foxes also visit. Standing dead wood encourages bats, invertebrates and woodpeckers. Bats and swallows feed and drink over the ponds in the summer.
Once again we moved further on and past a row of pretty cottages and this time found our way to the Middle Pond. This pond, constructed in the 1780’s, was so incredibly peaceful when we arrived. We just stood at the edge, leaning on the railings, and looked out over the pond where the reflection of the sun was shimmering on the almost perfectly still water.
We were both starting to feel a little hungry now and so we decided to make our way up to the woodlands at the top of the hill to eat lunch. As we left the Middle Pond behind us we saw a young couple playing on a tyre swing above the stream and we waved and said hello. And then I turned to Kev and told him that I’d be having a go on that swing on the way back down.
After half an hour or so of exploring the woodlands we finally found a perfect area to eat at the very top. In amongst the pine trees were a number of boulders that seemed to be scattered sporadically around this open area. The different shapes and sizes of the boulders made for a whole range of natural furniture; some were ideal for sitting on, whereas others were shaped perfectly for the length of your torso. After eating a lunch of spring rolls and salad, I lay back on one particular rock and looked up into the blue skies through the tops of the pine trees. The only sounds I could hear was the gentle breeze and the birds singing their afternoon songs.
“Yes mate?” He responded.
I took a relaxing sigh and then said. “This is amazing.”
“I know. I don’t want to go home.”
For the next half hour we didn’t speak a single word or make a sound, because this was one of those moments that just had to be savoured. And in this modern world these times can be hard to find, certainly in day-to-day life. Each and every day seems to be filled with noise, and haste, and distraction; it’s like mind-pollution. To find true peace and relaxation gets harder and harder, and this is exactly why nature and the great outdoors are so important.
But even when we’ve managed to escape there can still be distractions, and I’m talking about mobile phones. Now I have a bitter sweet relationship with my phone, and these past months I’ve grown more and more conscious about what it is that I love and loathe about them. You don’t need me to state what is so wonderful about the smart phone, but what I’ve truly come to hate about them is just how dependable we have become on them. I mean they’re almost like another limb now and in fact we may as well just have a touch screen keypad embedded permanently into our forearm just like the dreadlocked extraterrestrial in Predator.
We’re constantly bombarded with emails, SMS from friends, SMS from marketing (how the hell do they get your details), Facebook notifications (why am I being told that somebody is thinking of attending an event, do I really care if somebody is attending an event, please don’t notify me of this shit), recommendations for who I should follow on Twitter (if I wanted to follow them, I’d already be following them), BBC News Alerts (more bad news has happened somewhere), phone calls about PPI (please stop), phone calls about claiming for an accident I never even had but which apparently wasn’t my fault (I said stop), phone calls asking me if I’d like to complete a survey (I said fucking stop), and finally, a friend has invited you to play Candy Crush Saga (don’t even get me started on this).
And as such my new stance is this. When I’m at home, I turn my phone to silent and I check my phone only when I want to check my phone; not whenever it beeps and distracts me from whatever I’m doing. And when I’m out and in amongst nature, I turn my phone off completely. That’s right! I don’t switch it to silent, I switch it OFF. Sounds drastic doesn’t it! But hey, I was lucky enough to grow up in a time before mobile phones even existed, and so I already know that the world won’t come to an end just because I’ve fallen off the map for a few hours.
The difference it’s made is incredible and I now feel that I control my phone rather than my phone controlling me.
As I lay on this boulder looking up into the blue skies and watching the tops of the pine trees bend steadily in the afternoon breeze, I felt a complete calmness and was at total ease.
I closed my eyes and began to doze off.
Like with anything though, after a little while of being truly immersed in something you get that sudden feeling of needing to move on. And so just like when you bring yourself back out of a meditation, I now found myself sitting up and gathering my things, and then just a couple of moments later we were both heading back down towards the ponds.
Upon reaching the bottom of the hill we came across the tyre swing once again, and this time nobody was there. We both stood looking at the swing, then at each other, and despite the fact that I am 38 and Kev is 42, we both suddenly charged at the swing like we were a couple of kids.
I decided to go first, but to mount the tyre wasn’t actually all that easy. It jutted out from the embankment in quite an awkward position, and although it was only a shallow stream and was at a low level, the embankment was steep and it was very muddy and slippery too. I really didn’t fancy going arse-over-tit and face-planting into the water, so I devised a game plan. I would shimmy down the embankment, push the tyre out gently to begin a swinging momentum, and then I’d jump out with my legs open and land on the tyre. Once on the tyre I could then begin to get that bad boy swinging! Yes, this could work! And so I took my position, and Kev decided to film the whole thing.
And you guessed right. It ended in disaster, a broken phone, and just three seconds of film. Check it out.
But after watching that video I’m sure you were expecting to see me missing the tyre and to go flying headfirst into the stream, right? Wrong! What actually happened was that I managed to make the jump and landed on the tyre, but as soon as I’d done that Kev took one step forward too many and slipped on the muddy embankment. This resulted in Kev screaming like a girl and falling down the embankment while his mobile phone flew through the air and down towards the stream.
I clambered off the tyre, steadied myself onto a couple of rocks, and then scrambled to try to help Kev; all while doing my best to act concerned, despite the fact that I was almost crying from laughing so hard. However, as I then started to mount the embankment, I then lost my footing and slipped, which then resulted in me also screaming like a girl and falling face first into the mud. My nice clean white t-shirt was now no longer clean, or white. At this time Kev was now laughing his head off as he scrambled through the mud towards his phone, and as he reached it and then got to his feet, he turned to face me and then started laughing even harder at the sight of me lying down in the mud.
But to his credit Kev then started to steadily edge his way towards me to help but just as he was about two feet away, he once again slipped and ended up back down on his arse. We were both now laughing hysterically and I don’t know what hurt most; my pride, or my belly from laughing so hard. We both scrambled our way back up the embankment and out on to the footpath, and for a moment we just stayed there; two fully grown men, down on hands and knees, both covered in mud, and laughing uncontrollably.
And right at that moment, just to rub salt into our already muddy wounds, an elderly couple came walking around the corner and caught sight of us. Their conversation suddenly stopped and their expression was one of extreme confusion.
I held up my muddy hand and smiled. “Good afternoon.”
“Afternoon.” They replied.
“Nice weather isn’t it?” I continued.
They kept walking.
Back down on Lumsdale Road, we put our backpacks into the boot of the car and prepared to set off back towards home. We were still chuckling to ourselves.
“Oh man, what a day.” I said.
“Mate, it’s been brilliant!”
“Fancy a drink?”
“Yeah, why not.”
And so we got in the car and started driving away from Lumsdale, following the beautiful roads of the Derbyshire countryside. A short while later and despite our muddy attire, we found ourselves in the beer garden of a great little country pub.
“Cheers dude!” Kev said, holding his glass up.
“Cheers buddy. Awesome day.” I replied, raising my glass in response.
It had been one of those days that had given so much. We’d been able to discover a new place that was just a stones-throw from home, there’d been the great outdoors, beauty and history, peace and silence; and most importantly, it had been one hell of a laugh.
I knew that I’d have to write about this day, and I knew that I’d have to share Lumsdale Falls, but there’s a part of me that likes the idea of this place retaining its elusiveness. Even as I write this article, two weeks after the visit, I still cannot forget how I felt in that split second when I first saw that bottom tier of the waterfall. It was a true gem, and as I stood barefoot in the water, looking up at the multiple tiers of cascading wader, I would have believed I was in another country, far from home.
In my opinion, England is a country of subtlety and imagination. We don’t have things on a grand scale. There is no Grand Canyon to be found here, there is no Angel Falls, no temples of Angkor, no Petra of Jordan, and there’s no Ha Long Bay, Everest, or Split Pinnacle. But we do have beauty, we have history, and we have a thousand places like Lumsdale Falls that are waiting to be discovered. Yet we never seem to boast too much about the things that we have, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. This is where the imagination part comes into all that. If we cannot do ‘grand scale’ to the eye, then we can certainly do ‘grand scale’ in our perceptions.
I’ve written many times before that travel, to me, is not so much about what you see, but about how you feel when you see it. And it’s about the people you meet, and the memories that you create. Think about it another way. Imagine you’ve just bought your dream car; whatever that may be. Imagine that car is sat on your driveway, sparkling clean, and looking beautiful; you feel proud huh? But now imagine being out in that car, driving along a country road on a beautiful summer’s day with your closest friends/family sat next to you and in the back seat. You’re chatting, you’re laughing, and you’re having an incredible day.
Which of those two scenarios make you happiest?
It’s not about what we have. It’s about what we do with the things that we have.
There are now a few words that come to mind whenever I think about Lumsdale Falls. Beautiful is one of them, inspiring is a second, but another word I would also use to describe the place is interesting.
Hang on! Interesting?
Before you know it I’ll have a crooked finger too!
Total duration (including driving time and stopping off for a drink): 6 hours
Total spend: £3.00 drink, plus petrol
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