A geological report on deteriorating limestone cliff faces in Matlock Bath has forced the closure of an historic footpath 60 metres below.
Including a children's play area, a section of Lovers' Walks - dating back to the mid-18th century and situated between New Bridge in Derwent Gardens and the recently renovated Jubilee Bridge on North Parade - has been fenced off by Derbyshire Dales District Council pending further investigations. Hillside walks in the area are also out of bounds and the cliffs are closed to climbers.
View the report [PDF 5.3MB].
The cliff survey is also casting a shadow over one of the region's largest autumn festivals - Matlock Bath Illuminations - organised by the District Council. The riverside footpath between the two foot bridges in the village is an emergency evacuation route for an event that attracts thousands of visitors every weekend in September and October.
A District Council spokesperson said:
"The sudden closure of this section of Lovers' Walks and the play area on the left bank of the river has understandably caused some consternation among local people and visitors to Matlock Bath, including climbers, anglers and canoeists, but once we received the specialist geotechnical appraisal we had no choice but to put the safety of the public first.
"The report, which we commissioned after what we hoped was an isolated incident of a number of loose rocks rolling down onto the footpath, is clear in its recommendation that public access to areas below the cliff face should be closed off immediately.
"An area spanning 175 metres long above Lovers' Walks was inspected, covering five high angle limestone buttresses above steep heavily wooded slopes, and most of these buttresses were found to contain loose blocks, some of which we are told could represent a considerable risk to the footpath.
"Potentially this could be an extremely expensive matter to put right, but it's too early to speculate on the actual cost. What we are doing with immediate effect is commissioning further survey works, while also talking to event management specialists to look at any emergency evacuation options that will enable the Illuminations to go ahead without that section of Lovers' Walks as an exit route. We are also seeking the views of Natural England.
"Until the results of those surveys and conversations are known there is nothing more we can say, other than to apologise for the inconvenience and to assure local people and visitors to Matlock Bath that we have not taken this decision lightly."
- The geotechnical appraisal, prepared by Tideswell company Rock Solutions Ltd, notes that blocks of limestone loosened by surface weathering vary in size from 100mm x 500mm up to 1500mm x 2500mm.
- The Lovers' Walks are a series of footpaths both along the riverside and up and over the precipitous and spectacular cliffs.
- Woodland still covers all but the paths of Lovers' Walks and is classified along with the High Tor woodlands as ancient, and has been designated as 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' by English Nature.
- These woodlands also have wider recognition as they form part of the Peak District Dales Woodlands 'Special Area for Conservation' as they contain habitat which is rare or threatened within a European context and are considered to be one of the best UK examples of 'Tilio-Acerion forests of slopes and ravines'.
- The Lovers' Walks are connected to Derwent Gardens on the opposite side of the River Derwent by a river bridge built in 1969. Derwent Gardens hosts the District Council's annual Matlock Bath Illuminations spectacular every autumn.
- The original Lovers' Walks was created sometime before 1742 and is believed to be the oldest surviving example of a public pleasure ground and has been in continuous use since the 1740s.