Exploring the countryside on the outskirts of Derby
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 August 2020
Our county’s only city may be a flourishing urban hub, but rural pleasures are never far away.
The wild countryside that is synonymous with the Derbyshire name is easily forgotten with all the main driving routes, traffic lights, and motorways surrounding Derby.
Approaching the city centre, while stylistic, modern, vibrant and well maintained, it does little to evoke the same green lands that spiral on for miles in more rural surroundings.
But that’s part of Derby’s secret. While it is a contemporary, urban area with all the expected commodities, equally, it still has a prominent connection to its rural attachments.
Derby manages to achieve that balance of countryside and city life running a close parallel to each other, as long as you know where to look.
Alvaston Park is an eighty-five-acre park, just two miles from the centre of Derby and a ten-minute walk from Pride Park Stadium. So close, in fact, that when walking through the park on game day it is possible to hear the football chants from the arena. Alvaston Park is free to enter and has achieved the Green Flag Award for the past five years, the National Standard for quality green space requirements. It features a lake, with model boating, football pitches, tennis courts, BMX track, a playground and a café. It lies a short distance from the Wilmorton (City Point) estate and local to the shopping area in Alvaston.
There are fields of grassy terrain which families often use for picnics or dog walking after their children have been on the park or BMX track. Equally, there are paved path routes around the park, or down alongside the River Derwent through to Derby city centre or, in the other direction, through to Elvaston.
These are mostly paved paths, with regular runners, cyclists and dog-walkers, which create a sense of security in these public places. Equally, the large, flat, wide paths allow for significant space between people.
While I used to appreciate the wide paths and the physical distance between people passing me while walking, this space is now a necessity with regards to social distancing for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the walks are predominantly on mostly flat and smooth ground which makes them far more accessible for anyone with mobility issues.
Part of the appeal of the walks is the range of wildlife. Although a fairly busy park, I always see so much wildlife, willing to share the walk with you.
In spring, the ducklings on the pond make for the most stunning photographs and there are always wild rabbits, freely nibbling away at foliage. This is in addition to the squirrels, other birds, swans, ducks and – turtles! While shy, the turtles are often seen on the small island in the middle of the lake and have been regularly photographed - images can be found on Alvaston Park Friends’ Facebook page.
Alvaston Park’s extensive history has also been documented on Derby’s official website (www.visitderby.co.uk/things-to-do/parks-outdoors/alvaston-park) where it states that the park was used as a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. The land was split between Germans and Italians. While the Germans worked at the ordinance depot on Sinfin Lane, the Italians operated in the fields, supporting local farmers.
While similar in name, and closely situated at a fifteen-minute drive away, both landscapes are different. Elvaston Castle is a Gothic Revival Castle which is surrounded by an estate of over 320 acres of open parkland that, according to The National Trust, receives 35,000 visitors per year (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/elvaston-castle).
Entry is free, but parking fees apply, not including Blue Badge holders. In the war, the castle functioned as a college and the site was used to conduct teacher training.
While the castle still stands as a stunning centrepiece of the grounds, it has fallen into disrepair and is no longer accessible for public viewings. However, Derby Borough Council bought the estate in 1969, opening the grounds in 1970, and they have remained open for the public to visit ever since. The Elvaston Estate houses impressive gardens, stables and a nature reserve, providing many interesting sites to visit.
There are different walks available at Elvaston, depending on your capabilities and interest in walking. There are some flat and accessible routes which lead through the park and riverside walks along the same River Derwent, as shared by Alvaston Park. There are bridleways and footpaths that take you through reed bed belts, large wildflower meadows and wet woodland.
The majority of these walks tap into the rural aspects of Derbyshire countryside, providing both accessible routes and more challenging walks too for those more experienced hikers; while cyclists also have space in which to explore the grounds in the form of National Cycle Network Route 6, which runs across the land.
‘Tramper’ or scooter hire is available on site at Elvaston too via Derbyshire County Council Tramper Hire (01629 533870).
Due to its grand landscape, nature is the spectacle and probably the primary reason for your visit to Elvaston Castle. Elvaston grounds has achieved the Green Flag Award for the sixth year running. Many of my favourite experiences at Elvaston have been through spontaneous interactions with nature, such as gnarled trees full of character and the smell of wildflowers.
Although a quiet, scenic environment, there are occasional events held on castle grounds. I have attended an arts and crafts fayre on the courtyard of Elvaston Castle which showcased a range of unique, handmade gifts. With the surrounding landscape adding to the atmosphere, it is easy to create a whole day’s outing here. In the castle building, there is also a visitor centre, gift shop and tea room to grab a drink and a bite to eat to refuel for the next phase of the walk.
Both sites provide extensive countryside that allow for a variety of walks, for a range of purposes, and for people of varying abilities and interests. These little secrets spots within the modern city provide a stark reminder of Derbyshire’s origins and history; providing much needed rural escapes from the occasional chaos of everyday life in the city.
Regarding the current Covid-19 climate, it would be worthwhile mentioning the importance of upholding social distancing rules in protecting those most vulnerable, bringing your own water/drink and also taking rubbish home with you as, according to the council, the routine site bin collections are occurring less than normal.