A steep sided valley comprises the area, the west side being heavily wooded and including a landscape which depicts an undulating pastoral scene.
Meandering through this valley are the linear features of Lea Road, The Cromford Canal, the River Derwent and the Cromford and High Peak Railway, all which link together the strong industrial heritage of the area.
Castle Top is a high grit-stone outcrop, on which stands Castle Top Farm, the former birthplace of the children's author Alison Uttley. Bow Wood, formed from semi-natural ancient woodland played an important role in early industrial activity as coppice wood was dyed in 'Q' shaped pits to form 'white coal' used in lead smelting.
The connections with Lea Bridge were in relation to sources of water power, initially to serve local corn mills but later used in lead smelting at Lea. A notable local family - the Nightingales - were also associated with this area, initially in lead mining and latterly in their associations with the Arkwright family.
High Peak Junction is one of the earliest surviving railway and canal interchanges and was used primarily for the transhipment of goods. The Cromford Canal (1792-4) was constructed to serve the mid-Derbyshire coalfield but was used by local industrialists for transporting local materials. Leawood Pumphouse was constructed in 1849 to pump water from the River Derwent to the Canal.
The Cromford and High Peak Railway opened in 1830 and was one of the earliest railways in Britain and a major feat of engineering, originating as a 'dry' canal using rails rather than water. It closed in the 1960s but is still used as the High Peak Trail. Despite distinct differences between the character and appearance of the early vernacular buildings of Castle Top and Bow Wood, alongside the formal and utilitarian appearance of the industrial structures, the prevalent use of mill-stone grit as a construction material ties the buildings to their wider landscape.
The Castle Top, Lea Bridge and High Peak Junction Conservation Area is a rural area, with only a handful of buildings set within a dramatic landscape. Castle Top lies to the north-east of Lea Road, between Cromford and Lea Bridge. The Conservation Area boundary follows the route of this road and includes two farms and associated ancillary buildings and cottages at Castle Top Farm and Bow Wood Farm.
The Conservation Area then includes a stretch of ancient woodland called Bow Wood, the land between this and Lea Road and a number of buildings at Lea Bridge that are just within the administrative boundary of Derbyshire Dales where it abuts the border with Amber Valley. The Conservation Area also includes the terminus of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, which meets the Cromford Canal at High Peak Junction and a section of the Cromford Canal running between the River Derwent, at the foot of Lea Wood and High Peak Junction.
The original designation of Castle Top, Lea Bridge and High Peak Junction Conservation Area was in November 1990. It was further amended and subsequently approved, following a review in the Conservation Area Character Appraisal in December 2006. It currently comprises 73.5 hectares.
Within Castle Top, Lea Bridge and High Peak Junction Conservation Area there are 27 buildings, of which 3 are listed entries. These are High Peak Pumphouse (Grade II*), the Loco and Agents House on Derby Road (Grade II) and Numbers 1,2 and 3 Lea Cottages Lea Bridge (Grade II).
There are also 2 Scheduled Monuments in the Conservation Area. These are High Peak Pumphouse & Aqueduct, and the Workshop, Offices, Terminus, Weighbridge and Wharf Transhipment Shed at High Peak Junction.
Part of the conservation area is within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and the remainder is within the 'buffer' zone.
Castle Top, Lea Bridge & High Peak Junction Conservation Area Character Appraisal
In December 2006 a comprehensive Conservation Area Character Appraisal was approved, which assessed the special qualities of the character and appearance of Castle Top, Lea Bridge and High Peak Junction Conservation Area, both in terms of its buildings and the relationship of its spaces alongside those buildings. It assessed the archaeology; origins and development of the area, the architectural and historic quality; the setting and landscape of the area; an analysis of the character and considered the negative and neutral factors which impact on the Conservation Area. Coupled with this the document made reference to planning policies and strategies that work to enhance and preserve the special character and appearance of the town. As part of the Appraisal, alterations to the boundary were proposed and subsequently approved.
Buildings at Risk
One of the listed entries within the Castle Top, Lea Bridge and High Peak Junction Conservation Area is recognised by the District Council as being 'at risk' – Numbers 1, 2 and 3 Lea Cottages at Lea Bridge (Grade II).
Article 4 Direction
There are no additional planning controls, via an Article 4 Direction, on properties in Castle Top, Lea Bridge and High Peak Junction Conservation Area.