Visiting the Derbyshire Dales can be a little like stepping back in time to a more peaceful, rural way of life. With Peak Rail you can take that one step further, experiencing the bygone age of travel by trundling through on a steam train.

This four-mile stretch of railway used to form part of the Midland Railway Line between Manchester and London St Pancras up until 1968. These days the preserved line, which extends from Matlock to Rowsley South via Darley Dale, plays host to visitors and tourists looking to recapture something of the golden age of transport. During my visit, it was a fascinating hive of wartime nostalgia, as a 1940s weekend
was in full swing.

A golden age

Boarding the steam train at Matlock, alongside parents trying to rein in their excited children, I became buoyed with anticipation myself. There’s something undeniably exciting about walking down the narrow corridors of a steam train, glimpsing worn wood, politely worded notices, well-used luggage racks and old-fashioned mirrors. I was thrilled to find an empty compartment, and threw myself into the deep springy seats ready for the adventure to begin, with scenes from Brief Encounter and Murder on the Orient Express not far from my mind.

Ten minutes later, once the train had gathered steam, I was being gently baked by the huge window as sunlight poured into the carriage and we chugged through the Derbyshire countryside. Fields, trees and hedgerows that would normally whizz past could be seen properly and enjoyed – they soon became the topic of conversation, as the family who joined me chatted amiably about Yorkshire rhubarb farming, in response to my comments about the enormous dock leaves growing alongside the track.

It seemed that the train’s slow pace lent itself to a kinder sort of communication. With no rushing, passengers were taking the time to talk to each other, and enjoying the experience of the journey – and even making eye contact. The train’s careful progress soon made me realise that it is impossible to feel het up while travelling by steam, and an overwhelming feeling of relaxation set in as we took in the views of meadows and farmland that crept past. The train takes you through Darley Dale; a picturesque Gothic station home to a railway museum – and further down the line until you arrive at Rowsley South.

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As we reached our destination, I felt sorry for the train guard, who was obviously finding it tough work in the heat of the carriage in his heavy uniform. “You could do with a fan in here,” my friend suggested cheerfully, only to receive a swift reply from the man, put out at the mere thought of such a thing: “It’s not the Jet Age, you know!”, which summed up the ethos of the day.

Taking the driving seat

If you’re already a familiar passenger on steam trains and want something more hands-on, you could book in for a Steam Experience Course. For £115 per hour, or £200 for two hours, you can fulfil that childhood ambition of driving a steam train. Revel in the power of these hugely impressive machines as you’re shown the ropes, getting your hands on the regulator and learning how to drive and fire an 0-6-OST engine. Tuition is on a one-to-one basis for anyone aged between 18 and 70. As I found, booking well in advance is necessary though..

Useful Information


By car, from M1 Junction 28, 29 or 30 follow signs to Matlock, then take the A6

to Darley Dale. From Stockport, Manchester or Derby take the A6. Or, take the A52 from Stoke-on-Trent to Ashbourne then B5035 to Matlock. By rail, change at Derby for Matlock.


Peak Rail

Matlock DE4 3NA

01629 580381

£10 for entry to the 1940s weekend included unlimited travel on the steam trains during the day. Steam trains run during weekends throughout October. Day fares are: adults £7.50, senior citizens £6, family £23.


Palatine Restaurant Car

Rowsley South station

01629 580381

Enjoy a Sunday lunch or cream tea on board your steam train while gazing out at the passing countryside.


Olde Gate Inn

Well St, Brassington


01629 540448


This atmospheric inn, built in 1616, serves regional dishes such as Derbyshire fidgit pie.


East Lodge Country House Hotel

East Lodge, Rowsley, Matlock DE4 2EF

01629 734474

This 5-star hotel has beautiful landscaped gardens and award-winning food.


Chatsworth House

Bakewell, Derbyshire. DE45 1PP

01246 565300


Make like the Mitfords and explore the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.