A quarry day out.

Armour to increase grip on loose surfaces along with handily avoiding punctures. These tyres cost a kings ransom to replace. All images: The author.

Set in the beautiful but often hidden, industrial Peak District, Hillhead, Buxton is host to the UK’s largest quarry, construction and recycling exhibition. With watchwords of sustainability, environmental technology and safety, alongside carbon and other kinds of footprints littering this hole in the ground, your correspondent became Charlie to Willy Wonka’s industrial might. Life sized Tonka toys on display or in operation. Tyres larger than an Escalade. Excavator buckets bigger than a house. Everything for sale.

In a world gone mad with rising prices, three words to strike joy into a Yorkshireman’s heart. A free show. Nothing of course is ever free but as I had no need to shell out for parking, entry fees or indeed lunch, the DTW coffers[1] remain intact. Journeying but an hour from home, the traffic flotilla increased as we got closer to the show ground, with around 8,500 like-minded folk in train; the event lasts three days. Marshalled into parking, one could wait for a white, yet dusty 22-plate Transit to van you closer to events but I preferred to employ Shanks’ Pony. Anyway, the cobalt blue skies boded well and perambulation offered a better sense of perspective, even if the grey stones and their dust coated every surface.

A pre-printed badge gains faster entry to an enormous tent where eager show goers are herded through a zigzag of smaller exhibitors who, even at this unholy hour of 08:30 look keen to tempt you in with a pen, business card and engaging smile. It is also here where corporate clothing takes over. Sometimes a polo shirt, festooned with graphics, more often a crisp, linen shirt emblazoned with embroidered logos, matched with denim strides and walking boots[2]. Baseball caps seem the preferred headwear. Neither ties nor rigger boots are in abundance whereas vaping and cigarette emissions are heavy, outside.

And outside to a stone covered area filled with equipment towering forty or more feet, crushing and grading machines that look acutely overbearing when pristine. Armed with a small printed show guide – meaningless to a spectacle-less observer – plough on, this way and that, using key colours or specific exhibits to determine covered ground. And then my first true interaction to foil that plan. An unexpected question regarding my badge. “What does DTW do?”, one exhibitor asks, to which I answer: “pertaining to the industry’s watchdog of smoother transition and clearer understanding,” my inquisitor offers a bemused look but follows up with, “enjoy the show.

Ten past nine in the morning may not be an ideal moment to consume a double ice-cream cone with flake but the later in the day queues helped me savour the early vanilla treat. And the flavour of goodwill continued throughout the day. Car shows can often come across as offhand and stuffy – not being in possession of the correct wristband can mean no entry to a particular stand – not here. One is practically encouraged in healthy discourse, then offered not just another pen or catalogue but also some excellent hospitality; “Would you like a cold water?” The mercury already rising and mouth dry, the offer was gladly accepted.

Suitably refreshed, onwards to the machinery. The big names had stands of differing sizes surrounded by their wildly varying sized wares; Doosan, Hyundai, Liebherr, Rokbak and Volvo. Perhaps less well known but with a growing presence in the UK are Liu Gong, a Chinese brand going some sixty years with ideas as large as they come, offering 19 machines. These surrounded by some six hundred companies involved in the industry, from air pipes to wheels, water spays (to dampen the dust) to algorithms to keep it all in tune. Akin to any form of exhibition, some stalls are bustling and thronged. Others, their keeper staring at either phone or into space, bereft of interest.

The show ground’s extremities reveal demonstration areas for recycling, rock processing, with the stars of the show being the live quarry face. Highly skilled operatives demonstrate their flair with such beasts. How can such a metallic monster handle so delicately? From their (necessarily) air conditioned cabins, what starts as an excavator changes with a wrist flex here, a button press there; different tools such as grabbers, scrapers or impactors can be utilised in seconds. One chap creates a stone cairn before dismantling it again with the care and dexterity shown by a bird of prey to its chick. The Case stand actually has an American Bald Eagle, too.

Naturally, rock processing is noisy. Large material in, crushed to preference, out. Wheeled loaders of many brands shift a pile or load one of the many huge ADT’S (articulated dump trucks), that pass by with alarming regularity. They too function with an air of blessed efficiency.


The limestone strata, blasted in readiness a few weeks previously, stands no chance against such oddly graceful mechanical efforts. Excavators of huge proportions ease away tons of rock with millimetre precision which make for an easy T-Rex comparison. These largest of dinosaurs still drink heavily from the diesel pool whereas this show introduced the use of electricity to power almost everything else. Where only recently, one would expect a diesel roar, many even large machines emit the whine as any Tesla or Volvo C40 Recharge does.

And as readers of this parish know, the adoration given toward the Iron Mark extends to their more colossal fruits. The UK’s first electric tipper lorry is explained in detail. Two tonnes of batteries ensure 80 miles of travel with compensation for extra payload[3]. Plans are also imminent for their long distance artic haulers. Electric consumption is about to grow.

A great deal of the fun at Hillhead involves clambering into cabs of anything from three to twelve feet above ground and visualising the rocky panorama, but I stop short at making engine noises; the bewildering phalanx of buttons, levers and settings enough to cause me a headache. Another amusing pastime being the detection of sales rep accents. A large contingent of Northern Irish[4] and Scottish but also many European nations, and one company from New Zealand.

Another mission was that of not filling the rucksack with a body weight of ephemera, which only ends up being thrown; sorry, recycled, yet I still ended up with about fifteen pens, two bottle openers and a writing pad. Handy for drunken note taking.

We won’t end on a bad note but the traffic and dust upon leaving was awful. Pedestrians wore a faint grey sheen, vehicles stirring up clouds. But the most important aspect of the day was being treated as a human. Despite having no intention of purchasing such plant, the openness was welcoming, informative and beneficial. Manners cost nothing. Enormous movers of earth do, however. And the market for them appears ever growing.

[1] The price being at least ten emails per day prior to the event and no doubt, afterwards. The lunch being a splendid coronation chicken and chips combo with flatbread. All “on the house”.

[2] Some of the more Rubenesque members struggling with available sizes.

[3] Government regulations allowing an extra tonne for engaging new technology. The truck is about to ply its trade in and around Blackpool.

[4] One Belfast based chap on the Michelin stand recognised my accent; he lived and worked in Sheffield some years ago.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

9 thoughts on “Hillhead”

  1. I visited a dumpsite somewhere in Midlands back in 2002.

    Diameter of each tyre on the Volvo dump truck is twice my height……

    On separate occasion, I visited an open pit quarrt. They were working some 300meters below our viewing position. Those Volvo dumpsters running around just look like Tonka toys before my eyes. That was fun.

    Next on my wish list is to be next to those gargantuan Liebherr crane…

    1. Driving one of those really must require some special skill, given the extreme ‘cab -forward’ driving position relative to the steered wheels.

  2. In the Nineties I once jad a consulting job at Demag Komatsu where they make large diggers and trucks.
    Their proving ground was weird fun with those large machines in action.

    The digger moves up to 60 cubic metres in one go and the truck takes three bucket loads.

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