Michael Portillo helps to repair the ancient peat landscape of the Peak District and travels on the historic steam railway to Rowsley.
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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.
His name was George Bradshaw,
and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.
Stop by stop, he told them where to travel, what to see, and where to stay.
Now, 170 years later, I'm making four long journeys across the length
and breadth of the country to see what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
My first journey this week begins
in the gorgeous open spaces of Derbyshire, the Peak District,
and the wonderful town of Buxton.
Before long I'll be penetrating
the heart of Britain's Industrial Revolution -
Burton, Derby, Birmingham - and thinking about trains that carried
coal and minerals as well as passengers,
before going on to the Home Counties,
and eventually to the nation's capital - ending up in London.
'Along the way, I'll be exploring some hidden architectural gems.'
It is huge.
-Are we talking St Peter's Cathedral in Rome?
Finding out how the landscape of the Peak District has changed since Bradshaw's time.
The Industrial Revolution - the coal-fired industries - basically destroyed the bog surface.
And taking a nostalgic trip back into my childhood.
From the moment I arrived on this platform, I got that scent of railway engine.
I'm old enough to remember trains pulled by steam engines
and it just took me straight back to my childhood.
All this week, I'm travelling from Buxton along one of the
earliest railway routes in England, first built to transport freight from north to south.
Each day, I'll be stopping at towns and cities recommended
by Bradshaw's guide, until I reach the end of the line in London.
Today, I'll be covering the first 40 miles, to Holme Moss
then on through the Peak District via Millers Dale to Matlock Bath.
My first stop is at England's highest market town, Buxton.
Buxton sprang to life as an upmarket resort in the 18th century, on the back of its famous spa.
The well-to-do visitors came for the curative effects of the famous local spring water.
As Bradshaw tells me, I will find a fountain which gives us the Buxton waters.
He says the water is clear and tasteless.
It's also warm.
And, says Bradshaw, has a stimulating effect.
I must watch out for that.
The water was said to be especially good for gout and rheumatism.
Today, the fountain, known as St Ann's Well, still attracts people looking for a cure.
I see you're really going for it, you're filling up...
four litres of water?
Does it do you good?
I'll give you a story. We had a dachshund and it went off its legs.
The vet said we couldn't do anything for it.
Somebody said that it's good for rheumatism.
We thought, we'll get some of this for the dog. The dog's legs mended, and he walked,
and he lived for another five years.
That's fantastic. I'd better have some more, I think.
-Thank you very much.
Many of the Regency buildings from Buxton's 18th-century heyday
as a spa town are still in place, giving Buxton a stately and graceful feel.
Bradshaw is enthusiastic about Buxton.
"Situated in the midst of one of the most picturesque parts of Derbyshire,
"the Crescent is the principal building at Buxton."
"It was erected by the late Duke Of Devonshire and has three storeys, and extends for 257 feet."
Built in the early 1780s, the Crescent was a direct copy of the one in Bath, by architect John Wood.
It housed a ballroom, assembly rooms,
shops and fashionable hotels,
as well as a house for the Duke.
After Buxton had had a Regency heyday,
it then had a Victorian revival, with a lovely municipal park,
botanical gardens and an opera house.
This is a small town we're talking about, and it has an opera house.
I've been to the opera house in Buxton twice, once years ago
for a Mozart opera, and once to make a speech.
When the railways reached Buxton in 1863,
this northern spa town boomed for the second time.
To cater for the trainloads of new visitors, The Duke of Devonshire led the building of new attractions.
Over the next 40 years, the opera house, the Pavilion Gardens
and the huge Palace Hotel all sprang up,
funded by the citizens of Buxton themselves.
These Victorian attractions look pretty much as they did
in Bradshaw's time, and still bring tourists to Buxton all year round.
Another landmark built by the Duke dominates Buxton's skyline - his extraordinary stables.
This is one of Buxton's most magnificent buildings, and
Bradshaw says, "These are the large stables of the Duke of Devonshire."
He loves to give figures. "Built at a cost of £120,000."
Bradshaw is quite shocked by that.
£5 million in today's money, for stables, that is quite something.
And a fantastic dome, which Bradshaw doesn't mention.
This is really beautiful.
I hadn't expected this lovely colonnade, all the way around.
I hadn't expected so much light, because the top of the dome
is completely glass, and light enters all the way around the dome. Oh!
And I've got an echo.
Today, the building is a university campus and Adrian Brown is a former student.
I can't believe this huge building was a stable, and I can't believe that a stable has a dome.
In fact, it didn't. The original building, as a stables, was created in 1790.
People can be a little surprised to learn that it was nearly a century later before the building acquires
the dome, thanks to the efforts of the 7th Duke and his architect, Robert Rippon Duke.
Just as he was creating this dome, the Tay Bridge disaster happened.
76 people died during the storm in later December of 1879.
The Tay Bridge disaster was to have a huge impact on the building of the dome.
One night during a violent winter storm, the railway bridge across the Tay to Dundee suddenly collapsed.
It was less than two years old.
Engineers discovered that the bridge had failed because the rivets weren't
lined up properly with the holes and had sheared off in high winds.
Fearing that the same methods were being used to build the dome,
Architect Robert Rippon Duke immediately halted work.
What Robert Rippon Duke was concerned about was the fact
that the construction of the dome was very similar
to that of the Tay Bridge, in that it was a cast-iron construction,
bolted and riveted to a stone base.
I can see the bolts and rivets.
The way in which the Victorians would have bolted a structure together like this,
it was made to tight tolerances, but nevertheless, the bolt holes didn't necessarily coincide.
In that case, the bolt had to be forced, or as the Victorians called it, drifting in the bolt.
The bolts in some cases were heated up to almost red heat, so they
became molten, almost plastic in their nature, before they were then hammered into place.
Robert Rippon Duke came rushing back to the building and stopped work.
He had all the bolts taken out, the holes re-drilled where necessary.
Then the whole thing was put back together again,
with the effect that 130-odd years on, the building is extremely sound.
So thank goodness - potentially, a second disaster was averted.
The lessons learned changed the way the Victorians built,
and helped them achieve some incredible feats of engineering.
The dome weighs 560 tonnes,
and spans 145 feet.
It is huge. What are we talking, St Paul's Cathedral in London?
-St Peter's Cathedral in Rome?
I still have that sort of sense of wonder, and also great pride,
that Buxton has got one of the largest domes in the world,
and architecturally, one of the most attractive domes in the world.
It is truly, I think, the gem in the middle of the Buxton architectural crown.
-Well placed pride.
Bradshaw didn't just recommend local architectural landmarks in his guides -
he also suggests visiting some of nature's most attractive sites.
-Does this go to New Mills New Town?
-Thank you very much.
I'm now leaving Buxton to travel on into the heart of the Peak District National Park, to Holme Moss.
Bradshaw is at his most lyrical about the Peak District.
He says, "We have the peculiar scenery of Derbyshire before us.
"The tourists will seldom see such glorious landscape from the window of a railway carriage."
"Whilst at one moment the bold hills
"rise up before us, behind us and on either side, at the next a winding valley
"shows us a charming picture stretching away for miles."
In 1951, this area became Britain's first National Park.
I'm going to the Dark Peak, named after the peat landscape.
I've never lived in the country and have never wanted to.
I love cities, and love London, where I live.
But you see the Peak District
on a day like today,
sunny and bright and open, and beautiful,
To get out on the moors, I now need to leave the railways and take a taxi.
Are you for Michael Portillo? ..Thank you.
-Is this one of the prettiest roads?
-It is, because you've got the reservoirs down here on
your right-hand side, all the way up to Ladybower, going up to Sheffield.
You have some absolute beautiful views.
This area is now the second most visited national park in the world,
after Mount Fuji in Japan.
Over 20 million visitors come here each year to enjoy the scenery.
It's quite a contrast to Bradshaw's day, when the peaks were surrounded
by some of Britain's busiest industrial towns.
The views are still stunning, just as Bradshaw describes.
'But the moors are currently under threat.'
-Are you Chris?
-Please to meet you, I am, yes.
-Good to see you.
Park ranger Chris Dean is heading up a group of volunteers trying to save the precious peat bog.
The problem here is that we're on one of the iconic hills
of the Peak District, Holme Moss,
and it is one of the places that is suffering
from erosion to the peat.
Where I'm seeing these ridges of dark matter - that's the peat?
-And the stuff in between is where the peat's disappeared?
-The peat has largely disappeared.
If we drew a line across the top of these peat hags, all the material
underneath is what we've lost.
The reason for that is that the soil was quite badly acidified
by the atmospheric pollution from the textile industry.
-Going all the way back to the 19th century?
You are talking about heritage railway journeys, which were all powered by coal-fired trains.
At that time, there was a massive industry, all powered by coal.
The Industrial Revolution basically destroyed the bog surface,
because a lot of those plants are quite delicate.
While there are plants that grow in an acidic environment,
if it gets too acidic, as here, it just wipes them out completely.
So, that is effectively acid rain, and then that stops these grasses growing back on the peat again?
It is basically down to the pH, the acidity of lemon juice,
so it is extremely acidic, so we have to do something about that,
so we can get vegetation back on these areas.
The soil is so badly damaged that the vegetation can't grow back.
The peat lies exposed to the elements and is gradually eroded away.
Once the soil has been treated to reduce acidity,
Chris and the volunteers are aiming to plant 500,000 plug plants, such as cotton grass.
The work will continue until 35 square kilometres are covered.
It should protect the peat from erosion and encourage more of it to be produced.
-A hive of activity.
-It is, it is.
You've got quite a lot of volunteers out here today.
We like to involve young people, because they are
the ones who are eventually going to benefit from this, in the long term.
Chris aims is to complete the first phase of work by 2015,
using hundreds of people, including volunteers.
-What are you using?
-These are dibbers
and we have got to push them in the ground and make a hole.
-Shall I have a go?
-You've given me a nice dirty one.
-Should be all right.
Sometimes it's quite hard so you've got to push quite hard.
Oh, you're not kidding.
And it's hard to get it out, so you might want to wiggle it a bit
before you take it out.
A good wiggle...
I'm not meant to make a big hole like that, am I?
Right, should it go in there?
I can see why the work could take a while, but it's important.
As the peat erodes, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
As each plant takes root, it will help to lock the CO2 in the soil again.
Well done, thank you very much indeed. Oh, here's your...
-what was it called?
-A dirty dibber!
Every generation lives with the legacy of its ancestors.
We are dealing with pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution
in previous centuries, living with consequences that were unforeseeable.
But at least the damage is now being repaired.
And the Peak District is still hauntingly beautiful, much as it was in Bradshaw's day.
There is another big change that's affecting my journey.
In the 19th century, train lines snaked across the moors carrying people and freight.
Bradshaw could have caught the train from Buxton to Matlock, but the line is now closed.
It's become a cycle and walking trail used by thousands of people every year.
Bradshaw described the route, passing through Millers Dale along
the River Wye, as, "One of the most stupendous valleys in Derbyshire,
"which contains a succession of some of the most remarkable tors and wild picturesque views imaginable."
"It is, in fact, a magnificent ride,
"sublimely grand at all seasons."
Though that moor was very beautiful,
it was cold and it was windy,
and I am hungry and I'm tired. Luckily, Bradshaw always recommends hotels,
and there's one here today that he recommends, founded in 1802.
It looks pretty grand, exactly the place for a steak and a comfortable bed.
Hello, good evening, sir.
Michael Portillo, checking in.
Welcome to the New Bath Hotel.
Thank you very much indeed.
The hotel was originally for well-to-do visitors coming to Matlock Bath to enjoy the spa waters.
There is even an old Victorian spa bath in the basement.
Let's hope the rest of the plumbing's been updated.
-Ah, and the room is good.
Lovely four poster bed. Thank you very much indeed.
I'm going to kick off my boots and then come down to dinner. Thank you.
And there, indeed, is the gorge.
Matlock Bath, like Buxton, originally attracted visitors to its thermal springs.
But when the railways arrived in 1840, it began to model itself
on the bigger seaside resorts like Blackpool and Southport.
It opened funfairs and fish and chip shops, and even developed
its own annual illuminations.
Matlock Bath is still a popular destination for day-trippers
with hundreds of thousands arriving every year, and perhaps Bradshaw can explain why.
Bradshaw is poetic about Matlock Bath.
"Unquestionably the sweetest and most charming of the Derbyshire spas, it's at the bottom of Matlock Dale."
"A narrow defile, the rocky limestone sides of which are piled up in the manner of the Undercliff
in the Isle of Wight, but covered with a profusion of pine, fir, yew, box and other hardy trees."
"The scenes through Matlock Bath are exquisitely beautiful
"and may be compared to Switzerland in a nutshell."
A little over the top, perhaps?
Although it may seem odd now, the Victorians were prone to describing
steeply wooded natural scenery as "Swiss".
It became a well-used term in travel literature for tourists, something the locals seem to know all about.
I'm following a 19th-century guidebook which says this is like Switzerland in a nutshell.
Byron named it that, Little Switzerland.
Byron named it that as well, did he?
-Yes, he did, yeah.
-I'm following a 19th-century guidebook, it says it's like Switzerland in a nutshell.
-Would you agree with that?
-It is, is it?
-Don't you think so?
Well, it's beautiful green slopes, isn't it? And the cable car.
-What's interesting about this place, it's got a seaside atmosphere, even though we are inland.
-Very much so.
So, a little taste of Switzerland by the sea, even though we're 90 miles from the coast.
Matlock Bath does have the feel of a seaside resort,
and whenever I'm at the seaside, I do like to have an ice cream.
-Good morning. How are you?
Very well, could I have an ice cream please?
-Certainly, which cone would you like?
-A rum and raisin, please.
Do you like Matlock Bath?
Yes, I love it. I have lived here nearly 30 years.
My husband and I have travelled extensively in Italy
and I still don't think there's anywhere as nice as this area.
It's funny you should mention Italy, because I'm following
a 19th-century guidebook and it compares Matlock Bath to Switzerland.
Yes. I'm not sure if that was Lord Byron that did that.
Our family, we call it a seaside without sea.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-OK, thank you.
Although the railways brought tourism to the area, they had a more important role in the 19th century -
to transport freight from here to the rest of the country.
I'm now leaving the very tiny resort of Matlock Bath, which was always about tourism,
for the much bigger Matlock, which was a city of industry.
For the last leg of my journey I'm heading just six miles away to Rowsley, changing trains at Matlock.
From the moment I arrived on this platform,
I got that scent of railway engine,
that special stench that goes right up inside your nostrils.
I am old enough to remember trains pulled by steam engines, and it just took me straight back
to my childhood.
The other thing that's really bringing back the memories is this sort of corridor train,
which was so typical in the '60s, and long before that.
The line passes through some of the prettiest scenery in the Peak District.
According to Bradshaw,
in Derbyshire, "The exquisitely beautiful prevails.
"The lofty rocks and bold crags, richly wooded, the magnificent uplands and rounded knolls.
"The sweet valleys intersected with silver streams such as the Derwent, the Wye, the Dove,
"are comprised in one beautiful picture."
In the 19th century, this line was part of the busy Midland Railway route from London to Manchester.
Today, it's the only part of the line still open,
and carries day-trippers and those who love steam trains, like driver Roger Hallett.
-Pleased to meet you.
-Roger, Michael Portillo, how do you do?
-Not so bad.
How long have you been driving the engines?
-About 15 years, now.
-You're just a volunteer, are you?
-Yeah, just a volunteer.
-And you really love it, I bet.
Yeah, absolutely, it's brilliant.
I often said to my father, if I had been slightly older, I would have gone straight onto the railways.
-That's what we always wanted to do when we were kids.
-Wonderful. Thank you very much for the ride, by the way.
Thank you, very smooth. Bye-bye.
Roger's dropped me off at Rowsley, near Stanton Moor, in the heart of the White Peak.
It takes its name from the local stone.
In this area which is famous for its stone from quarries,
in the days of water transport, this stuff had to be manhandled onto carts and then on to barges,
which is incredibly expensive, so it could only be used locally.
But with the railways, the stone from the quarries could be taken
to Liverpool, to London, all over Britain.
The stone here has been mined and worked for over 2,000 years,
but the quarries expanded rapidly in the 19th century, when the railway arrived.
Suddenly, Derbyshire stone could travel anywhere.
As the Industrial Revolution brought wealth, the towns grew, needing more and more Derbyshire stone.
It found its way into some of the grandest buildings in London,
including Nelson's Column and Trafalgar Square.
Near Rowsley, the 12th-century manor Haddon Hall was built
with Derbyshire stone, which was also used in its recent restoration.
Limestone, sandstone and gritstone are all still quarried here.
As well as being used in new buildings, they're also carved
into perpetual memorials.
-Are you Mark?
-Michael, how are you? I am.
-Good to see you.
'Stonemason Mark Eaton has been working with Derbyshire stone for over 30 years.'
Tell me, Mark, what do you do here? What is all this about?
I bring in the raw block
from local quarries, suited for the particular job I'm working on.
My main focus is on restoration work.
What makes Derbyshire stone special?
It's the durability of it. It's a very good stone for construction, for building purposes.
It ages well, it wears well, and it does last a good long time.
Although new technology is used to quarry the stone,
many of the techniques used to work it are as they were in Bradshaw's day 150 years ago.
Got a piece of stone over here.
-What do I do?
-Right, I've set a line around here to work upon.
Just to form
the leading edge.
-Would you like to have a go at that?
-Yeah, let me have a go at that.
OK. Quite a low angle, try not to take too much off.
It would take an apprentice at least three years to learn to carve an intricate stone memorial.
It's highly specialised work, and would certainly take me much longer.
I'm being quite cautious.
That's OK. That's it. A little bit steeper again.
You must need unbelievable powers of concentration on this.
You're not sending text messages while you are doing this, are you?
No, not at all.
Thank you, I really enjoyed that. A real privilege to do it, actually.
I realise how much has changed here since Bradshaw's day -
steam engines no longer chug across the countryside, and ravaged landscapes are slowly being repaired.
But all around me, in industries like Derbyshire stone, the massive changes introduced here
almost two centuries ago can be traced right up to the present day.
These smoking railway engines brought the Industrial Revolution
to even the remotest parts, including the Peak District.
They brought pollution to the hills but they brought opportunities, too,
to the stone quarries of Derbyshire.
Now the steam engines are just nostalgia.
Next time, I'll be visiting the oldest working factory in the world.
-Made in England.
-Made in England.
-Does that make you proud?
-Oh, yes, that's what we like to see.
I'll be finding escape from busy city life.
We think it's Britain's first public park, laid out in 1840.
And I'll be discovering why Burton's beer is said to be the best.
Two weeks conditioning in the cask, a week in the pub.
-And ten minutes to drink.
-You're a slow drinker.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. In a series of four epic journeys, he travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.
His journey takes him from Buxton along one of the first railway routes south to the capital, London. This time, Michael visits an architectural wonder, the Duke of Devonshire's stables in Buxton, helps to repair the ancient peat landscape of the Peak District and travels on the historic steam railway to Rowsley.