Thornhill Trail: ‘Tin Town’ & The Forgotten Bamford and Howden Railway

bamford-and-howden-railway (Image: Derwent Digital Imaging)

The Derbyshire Peak District in northern England is home to a number of abandoned Victorian railways that have since become walking and cycle paths. Chief among them are the former mainline routes of the Midland Railway (now the Monsal Trail) and the Woodhead Line (Longdendale Trail). Plying the White Peak area, meanwhile, was the Cromford and High Peak Railway, a former mineral line now known as the High Peak Trail, and the Ashbourne Line, now the Tissington Trail.

During their heyday competition was fierce, as competing railway companies sought to connect the city of Manchester and its surrounding towns to the Midlands and ultimately London. Today, with the exception of several freight routes, only the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Manchester survives. And it’s this route that once fed into another, less well known single track branch line, the remnants of which can still be seen today.

thornhill-trail-peak-district-derbyshire (Image: Urban Ghosts)

The Bamford and Howden Railway

The Thornhill Trail, as it’s now known, dates to the turn of the 20th century when a seven mile standard gauge railway was laid from a junction on the mainline near Bamford Station to aid in the building of the massive Derwent and Howden dams. The line was completed in 1903, after which thousands of tons of stone were transported from a quarry at Bole Hill near Grindleford to the construction sites further up the Derwent Valley.

bole-hill-quarry-grindleford-railway (Image: via NE2 3PN)

The route, known as the Derwent Branchline or Bamford and Howden Railway, was short-lived. But during its decade or so of operation it transported more than a million tons of stone from the quarry to the work site. Stone trucks were hauled by a series of small steam locomotives, one of them named Togo, owned by the Derwent Valley Water Board.

Then, in 1916, two years after the closure of Bole Hill quarry (above), the Derwent Reservoir was completed and the track was lifted.

Tin Town at Birchinlee


tin-town-birchinlee-2 (Images: Derwent Digital Imaging)

The railway, however, wasn’t the only impressive temporary infrastructure to have been built in the valley. An entire village, known as ‘Tin Town’, was constructed at Birchinlee for the navvies and their families.

bamford-and-howden-railway-6 (Image: via Urban Ghosts)

Boasting a hospital, school, post office, pub, shops and railway station (above), Tin Town was a fully formed community. But once the dams had been completed, the settlement was dismantled.

bamford-and-howden-railway-3 (Image: via Public Transport Experience)

The story of the Bamford and Howden Railway, however, didn’t end with the line’s removal in 1916. The construction of a third and final dam, Ladybower, in the Upper Derwent Valley between 1935 and 1943 called for the reinstating of the track between Bamford and Yorkshire Bridge. When the railway was once again abandoned in 1946, this section of the line became known as the Thornhill Trail.

The Thornhill Trail & Bole Hill Quarry Today

thornhill-trail-peak-district-derbyshire-2 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

Today, the trail makes for a historically interesting railway walk. Known localled as ‘the Route’, it remains less conspicuous than other abandoned Peak District lines that serve as part of the National Cycle Network. Overgrown in places, the Thornhill Trail comes to an abrupt end in the shadow of Ladybower Reservoir’s massive dam wall.

bamford-and-howden-railway-5 (Image: via Urban Ghosts)

Its divisive story, which saw the flooding of two centuries-old villages to make way for the reservoirs, is part of the very fabric of the Upper Derwent Valley. The viaduct over the River Ashop (above) is now deep underwater, while the trestle-style bridge and prefabricated nature of Tin Town bring the feel of an Old West gold rush town to this corner of the Peak District National Park.

howden-dam-wall (Image: T Chalcraft, cc-sa-4.0; above: Howden dam wall)

Beyond Ladybower, skirting the edge of Derwent Reservoir, the abandoned branch line continues onward towards Howden. Tin Town and the flooded villages of Derwent and Ashopton are now long gone. But when the water level drops, their eerie foundations and the broken stone supports of the demolished Ouzeldon Viaduct once again make their presence known, sunken echoes of a recent chapter in the valley’s history.

bamford-and-howden-railway-4 (Image: via Public Transport Experience)

The nearby Derwent Valley Museum tells the story of Tin Town, its railway and the villages which were swept aside to make way for the reservoirs. Also commemorated is the daring story of Operation Chastise flown by No. 617 Squadron “the Dambusters”, which famously trained on the towers of the Derwent dam in their bid to cripple the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany during World War Two.

bamford-and-howden-railway-7 (Image: via Urban Ghosts)

Above Grindleford, meanwhile, the disused Bole Hill quarry has become a lush wilderness, dominated by silver birch trees and popular with rock climbers during summer months. But the relics of railway operations from a century ago can still be seen, notably the gunpowder store (below) and ruined winding station that helped pull trains up the steep incline to the quarry.

bole-hill-quarry-grindleford-railway-2 (Image: Graham Hogg, cc-sa-4.0)

Today, the best place to access the Thornhill Trail is from Carr Lane on the opposite side of the valley to Yorkshire Bridge. The route is punctuated by a variety of landmarks and other oddities, from centuries-old gate posts to modern rural sculptures.

thornhill-trail-peak-district-derbyshire-3 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

The Bamford and Howden Railway may not have been built on the grand scale of the Peak District’s other disused lines, but it nevertheless played a crucial role in an epic construction effort that changed the face of the landscape forever.

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