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Derbyshire is a county built on stone. The Romans built arrow-straight roads across the newly-won region in limestone and its enduring gritstone - the same gritstone that would found its millwheel industry. Magnificent Norman castles and stately homes and churches rose from the landscape, and its mineral wealth was exploited in many ways through the centuries. The canal builders, and the railway engineers who immediately followed them, benefitted also. Modern limestone extraction has fed the needs of the highway builders for hundreds of miles around (whilst scarring the landscape with quarries) as well as the specialist requirements of the steel industry in nearby Sheffield.

The county is home to attractions suitable for the most demanding of tourists, but few are as significant (or as less well-known) as the National Stone Centre in Middleton-by-Wirksworth. This is located in a small village, which is itself about a mile outside the town of Wirksworth, situated in the Derbyshire Dales and on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Since Derbyshire has an abundance of geological riches, it is singularly appropriate that a 50 acre site be adopted as the National Stone Centre.  Within the boundaries of the site are six disused limestone quarries, lime kilns and numerous shafts associated with lead mining (lead has been mined in the Peak District since Roman times). This area had already been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England, the successor to the Nature Conservancy, an agency of  Her Majesty’s Government, due to the presence of an extremely rich deposit of Carboniferous Era fossils, especially early sharks. Both self-guided and guided tours of the site, and its geological delights are available to visitors.

The National Stone Centre has displays and exhibitions, both indoor and outdoor. The Discovery Centre on site contains a major exhibition, 'The Story of Stone' which tells the story of 'every aspect of stone from molten rock to through the current environmental debate'. Artists, in many media, participate in workshops or display their work (especially during the Wirksworth Arts Festival), and the photograph shows one of three stone towers on the site designed by local artist Dennis O’Connor, and constructed by Jason and Gordon Wilton; it also shows just how shallow the soil covering is in this part of the world!

On May Bank Holiday, 2000, 150 members of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, from 19 different areas, descended on the National Stone Centre, bringing with them at least 10 tons of stone from their own region. In the space of just one day, they constructed a continuous, 114 meter-long wall, in 19 sections. Each section represented at least one, sometimes two, differing venacular styles of dry stone wall, including the 'Single Boulder Dyke' (Lake District), 'Galloway Dyke' (Scotland), 'Stone-faced Bank' (Angelsey, Wales). The regions involved were:- West Yorkshire, Cotswolds, South Yorkshire, South East Scotland, Derbyshire, South Wales, Caithness, West of Scotland, South West Scotland, Central Scotland, Isle of Skye, Cumbria, Northumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire, Sutherland, Cumbria (slate), and North Wales

The resulting structure was dedicated as the Millenium Wall.

I would just like to point out that there is no charge for admission to this fascinating place. Bucket list, ladies and gentlemen!

Originally posted to shortfinals on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 08:00 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Derbyshire and The Peak District.

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