Life is often likened to a race. Hebrews 12:1 TNIV talks about running the race marked out for us. Paul talks about running in such a way as to get a prize and not running aimlessly (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 TNIV). He writes to the Galatians about running a good race (Galatians 5:7 TNIV).

If I’m honest, I don’t much like this analogy of life as a race, for I don’t like running. However, I do like walking. I don’t walk quickly, but I don’t mind walking for long distances, especially if the scenery is worth looking at and the company is congenial. I find it easy to pray outdoors when I’m gazing at the wonders of creation and it’s easy to appreciate the grandeur of God that way.

Garry and I recently walked along the High Peak trail from Cromford Canal to Middleton Top. The trail follows the trackbed of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway, which was completed in 1831 to carry minerals and goods between the Cromford Canal wharf at High Peak Junction and the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge. Cromford is a fascinating village, home of Sir Richard Arkwright who was a leading entrepreneur during the early Industrial Revolution who invented the water frame (a machine that produced a strong twist for warps, substituting wooden and metal cylinders for human fingers) and patented a rotary carding engine that transformed raw cotton into cotton lap. In Cromford, you can visit the Arkwright Mills:

The Industrial Revolution also saw the development of railways and Arkwright developed both the canal and the Cromford and High Peak railway as a means of transporting the textiles he was manufacturing. Undaunted by the undulations of the Peak District, engineers such as Josias Jessop built a railway which could transport goods. Towering a thousand feet above the southern trans-shipment point at Cromford Wharf was the limestone barrier of the High Peak. With a canal across the moors impractical, an early ‘iron railway’ was proposed which, to reach its northern terminus at Whaley Bridge, would have to climb the hill and then descend it. It was a triumph of ingenuity, featuring nine steep inclines and, at Gotham, an 80 degree curve which was the tightest on the railway network – just 55 yards radius. This railway track is now disused, but the High Peak trail allows walkers and cyclists miles of access to the beautiful countryside.

Starting at High Peak Junction:

Going through tunnels (and grateful there’s always light at the end of a tunnel!):

Each incline was equipped with a stationary steam engine – to haul and lower the wagons – whilst horses did the donkey work on the flatter intermediate sections.

We walked as far as Middletop Top, which houses the restored steam engine house built in 1829 by the Butterley Company to haul wagons up the Middleton incline and also has a visitor centre.

Obviously, by following the railway route, there are some steep inclines on the walk. These are given as 1 in 8 gradients and certainly keep you warm even in the cold November weather! But I was particularly struck by this sign at Middleton Top:

We had just walked up a 1 in 8 hill to reach the top with the visitor centre and lovely views over the hills. The rest of the walk was 1 in 1056, apparently. In other words, not very steep at all! I felt there was a parable in that. Life sometimes seems extremely hard work, rather like walking up a steep hill. Your heart knows it’s working! You breathe more deeply; sometimes you feel out of breath by the time you reach the top of the hill. Often, you want to give up and what keeps you going on those steep inclines is the knowledge that it won’t always be like that; there is an end to the climb with scenery worth seeing at the top! But sometimes life is not quite that difficult; it’s more like walking on the flat, not as demanding or challenging. Each kind of terrain is part of life’s scenery. Interestingly, whilst it is difficult walking up a hill, walking down is also not without problems; there was a ‘crash pit’ at one point in the walk where wagons were allowed to crash into a pit rather than run on to the bottom of the hill and destroy things at the junction! Cyclists were constantly advised to dismount when descending the hills and walkers needed to be careful not to trip or slip on leaves. Life can be equally fraught with dangers (the ‘many dangers, toils and snares’ mentioned in Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’), but Habakkuk 3:19 TNIV reminds us ‘The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.’ May we know His strength whether we are on a steep incline or walking on the flat; may He enable us to reach the heights!