After last month’s features on semaphore signalling along the wonderful Furness and Cumbrian Coast Lines, it is now time to take a trip to another significant outpost of mechanical signalling in North-West England, with a two-part look at the Buxton and Hope Valley lines.
For those unfamiliar with this corner of England, there is some dramatic scenery and old industrial towns to appreciate, with a fairly regular flow of passenger traffic along the Hope Valley route, substantial leisure patronage of the Buxton line and the remarkable oft-photographed quarry backdrop at Peak Forest.
My photos were from two separate rail visits I made to this charming part of the country, firstly a trip down the Buxton line on 3 June 2017, including a walk to Peak Forest South and Great Rocks Junction then, on 29 July 2017, a trip as far as Grindleford on the Hope Valley Line, which will feature in part 2.
Alighting at Stockport off my Virgin Pendolino from Euston on the first Saturday of June in 2017, there was time to appreciate one of its magnificent signal boxes (No.2 box above) before taking one of the hourly services towards Buxton, formed of two Class 150 units to cater for the large number of weekend leisure travellers.
Before getting to the terminus and then making a couple of stops on my return journey, I had worked out that the way I could get to a place I had long wanted to visit, Peak Forest South, was by alighting at Dove Holes station and taking a pleasant 1½ mile walk south from there along Dale Road.
Travelling on the Buxton line, my train had crossed and re-crossed the double-track freight route from Chinley on the Hope Valley to the quarries at Peak Forest and Tunstead, which enters Dove Holes Tunnel near Chapel-en-le-Frith and only emerges 1.7 miles (2,984 yards) later, just north of the quarry at Peak Forest.
Along with Bakewell and other intermediate stations on the route south, Peak Forest station had closed on 6 March 1967, but the station building remains as offices for DB Schenker, and from an overbridge on Batham Gate Road, there is a great view to the south of the signal box, semaphores and Class 66/60 locos awaiting their next duties.
Another great view is the one looking north (pictured above), with the quarry on the right and the double track route sweeping left towards Dove Holes Tunnel. But there is no signalling interest looking in this direction and, I discovered, no locomotive action to savour on a sunny Saturday afternoon!
Walking along the road away from the line towards Buxton brings you to a left turn called School Road in the village of Peak Dale. Heading down here for about a mile and a left turn onto Waterswallows Road will bring you to more semaphores, close to Tarmac’s Tunstead Quarry.
From the road over-bridge here another signal box, Great Rocks Junction is visible immediately in front of you, with sidings and access to Tunstead Quarry, and the southern end of the double track. Photographing the box was difficult, but there was a great view looking north back towards Peak Forest, as seen below.
From Great Rocks, a hazardous three-mile walk along Waterswallows Road (no pavement!) brings you into Buxton, where an attractive 1894 LNWR signal box stands 300 yards north of the station. It controls access to the terminus, as well as freight lines south to Briggs Sidings and the eastward loop round to Great Rocks Junction.
It was possible to get a closer view of the box from between the three rail bridges spanning Lightwood Road to the north of the station, but there does not seem to be any better vantage point than from the end of platform 2 at Buxton station.
Ten minutes after leaving Buxton by train comes the first of three locations with semaphores on the route north towards Manchester. Chapel-en-Le-Frith is a delightfully remote spot, with its station standing above, and some distance from, the town it serves and holding a tragic place in railway history.
On 9 February 1957 its original LNWR signal box was destroyed when a freight train suffered a brake failure and crashed into it, killing the driver of 8F locomotive 48188, John Axon, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery.
A plaque commemorating the bravery of Axon and his guard that day is on the station wall, and a new BR London Midland Region type 15 box was opened in March 1957 as replacement for the original. This remains in use, although it was ‘switched out’ on the Saturday afternoon of my visit.
Ten minutes on from the splendid isolation of Chapel-en-Le-Frith comes the next semaphore outpost at Furness Vale, a pleasant spot where an 1887-vintage LNWR signal box controls a level crossing immediately north of the station platforms and has a total of six semaphores.
Home and starter signals can be seen in each direction, with the station footbridge making a good vantage point, but sadly neither of its working distant signals is in view from the station area.
Alongside the down platform a pub called The Crossings makes a pleasant port of call, and has a number of items of railway memorabilia on display.
One final area of semaphore interest on this route, though not readily accessible to the rail-borne traveller, is Norbury Crossing, a small gate-box on the north side of the line between Middlewood and Hazel Grove stations. Its most noteworthy signal is a down semaphore distant standing at the south end of Middlewood station
Look out for Part 2 on 22 May 2020, featuring semaphore signals along the busy Hope Valley Line. My book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is available from publishers Pen & Sword, and from many online retailers.