The ultimate 5-day walk: Along the Derwent Valley Way

PUBLISHED: 11:18 28 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:52 28 October 2020

Ladybower, and the start of the journey - image Derek Latham

Ladybower, and the start of the journey - image Derek Latham

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From Ladybower to Derby - Derek Latham, Chair of the Derwent Valley Trust, explores the beautiful Derwent Valley on foot

The beautiful views of the Derwent Valley - image Derek LathamThe beautiful views of the Derwent Valley - image Derek Latham

The Derwent Valley Trust, instrumental in establishing the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, formed the Derwent Valley Heritage Way in 2003. As current Chair of the Trust, I wanted to experience it, as a tourist would, by walking the full length and staying at local establishments. Here’s our experience of walking from Ladybower to Shardlow.

Day Zero: Upper Derwent Visitor Centre to Ladybower Inn (four miles)

Late Sunday afternoon, we crossed below the majesty of the dam and climbed up to look north along the Derwent Reservoir - with wooded slopes, and bleak moorland beyond reminiscent of a Scottish estuary at high tide.

The gentle lane down the east of Ladybower Reservoir is traffic-free pleasant walking, listening to bird song as we went. Amongst grazing sheep, we were surprised to see a flock of Canada Geese also grazing the hillside, and the low water revealing the foundations of Derwent village.

Before the main road, we turned up Lead Hill on a track through the bracken to enjoy the magnificent view down the lake before descending to the Ladybower Inn.

Day One: Ladybower to Baslow (13 miles)

The Heritage Way officially starts along a woodland ride until, glimpsed through the trees, the drama of the dam, with water on one side and the valley far below on the other, comes suddenly into view. In 1999 a permissive path, now used by the Heritage Way, was created across the top of the dam.

Canoeing near the Derwent Mouth - image Derek LathamCanoeing near the Derwent Mouth - image Derek Latham

Over the dam we turned left down Thornhill Trail, on the railway track built to bring the construction stone, until at the bottom we saw inscribed ‘Derwent Valley Water Board’ on the former dour stone headquarters, now sheltered housing for Quakers.

Beyond Shatton Bridge the character changes, as we amble along the flood plain, crossing a rickety bridge before passing ancient steppingstones, downstream of which a gillie was teaching a lady flyfishing. Through Goose Neck Wood, a pasture led to the 18th century packhorse Leadmill Bridge, not widened until 1928, and to the popular Plough Inn for a varied cheese lunch with Abbeydale Ale.

After dodging large carved stones stranded by the track beyond the bridge, we traverse the steep slope of Coppice Wood, part of the National Trust’s Longshore Estate, before reaching Grindleford. We continue on the east bank over a boggy stretch into Horse Hay Coppice. The path is surfaced with gritstone sets weaving between moss covered boulders until beyond the trees, squeezing through a style, the stone track, almost covered by lush pasture, led us via Spooner Lane into the pretty stone village of Froggatt.

Over the stone bridge, we spied through the larch trees not coots in the water, but free swimmers emerging in their wetsuits! Beyond the alder, and the swamp at Stoke Brook we saw the ‘S’ shaped weir from New Bridge. 3.5 metres high, it supplies the Goit we walk alongside, which fed the millwheel at Calver. It passes a curious barn whose upper floor was used as a school house and chapel for the children of millworkers.

Pausing for cream tea at the Eating House, we donned our waterproofs and splashed down the valley along now muddy paths, with a downpour pattering on woodland leaves, to reach Bubnell, an unspoiled elongated hamlet leading to the bridge into Baslow, with its tiny watchman’s guardhouse, built in 1603 to prevent the entry of undesirables. Luckily for us, no longer manned!

Up Over End and down Never End we ended at the Devonshire Arms. Showered and dry, we were able to relax and partake of Welsh Rarebit Mushrooms followed by Osso Bucco.

Day Two: Baslow to Matlock Bath (12 miles)

Learning the art of fly fishing, near Castleton - image Derek LathamLearning the art of fly fishing, near Castleton - image Derek Latham

Past quaintly-thatched cottages we entered Chatsworth Park through the wheelchair-friendly kissing gate and along to Queen Mary’s Bower. The Way passes over the bridge and along the opposite bank, where the beautifully restored House front (including golden framed windows) can be seen in its original glory.

Past the garden centre and the pretty honey-coloured houses of Calton Lees, we descended onto pasture land, and a ‘boggy’ lane into Rowsley where, despite being muddy hikers, we were welcomed into The Peacock’s historic lounge for a coffee and homemade buttery shortbread.

Missing the attraction of Cauldwell’s Mill, we progressed past Peak Rail and into open fields with a vista crowned by Riber Castle, just as John Smedley had intended. Wandering on into the former Tarmac works at Cawdor Quarry we witnessed both the remaining dereliction, and the new housing replacing it.

After lunch at the Café in the Park, we ‘discovered’ the fine Edwardian Houses facing Knowlestone Park before ascending onto High Tor Pleasure Grounds. We took a wrong, narrow path along a precipice, in the pouring rain. But with no head for heights we retreated, and found the correct route further from the cliff, wending our way down from the summit through the kaleidoscope colours of autumn to the base station of the Heights of Abraham.

Matlock Bath has a Jeykill and Hyde character (calm regency during the week, manic resort at the weekend) presided over by a beautifully carved marble war memorial.

Our rooms in the New Bath Hotel overlooked the restored 1930s lido fed by thermal springs. A drink by the lounge fire was a perfect antidote to a wet day before our dinner of chicken liver, lamb shank, and toffee Eton Mess.

The mill village of Milford - image Derek LathamThe mill village of Milford - image Derek Latham

Day Three: Matlock Bath to Belper (ten miles)

After a dip in the lido - at 18 degrees, the clean silky water felt cold at first, but quite acceptable once swimming - we started by Arkwright’s Masson Mill. Round the bend we took a path, the old road opposite Willersley Castle, his home, toward St Mary’s church he built containing Alfred Octavius’s wall paintings.

We passed by the Mills, busy with visitors, to Cromford Wharf and along the canal towpath popular with walkers. The surviving workshops at High Peak Junction are among the world’s oldest, where cargo was transferred onto the inclined railway over the Peak District to Manchester.

Crossing with the canal over the river, the derelict Aqueduct Cottage came into view. Built by Nightingale at the junction with the Lea arm, there is now a crowdfunding campaign by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust to restore it as an interpretive centre.

The tranquil walk alongside the canal, past Florence Nightingales dispensary and through the nature reserve to Ambergate was rewarded by lunch at the Hurt Arms.

Across the old Halfpenny Toll Bridge, we climbed through the end of ancient Shining Cliff Woods, emerging onto Whitewells Lane and enjoyed good views before descending to Wyver Lane. This lovely route past the historic rifle range and another nature reserve has been partly resurfaced by DVT to create a safe family cycleway for the people of Belper - the Trust is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to resurface the remainder.

As Belper’s East Mill loomed, we admired the beautiful gardens of cottages lining the lane and then, across the Horseshow Wier, William Strutt’s ‘fireproof’ North Mill - a world first - using iron framed construction. We entered Belper under the archway that used to connect the mills and the comfortable Lion Hotel surprised us with a ‘special’ of chicken liver fig pate and pancetta-wrapped pheasant in port wine.

A quiet corner of Shardlow inland port - image Derek LathamA quiet corner of Shardlow inland port - image Derek Latham

Day Four: Belper to Derby (9.5 miles)

We returned to Long Row, which in 1792 was aligned up the hillside with a continuous sloping eaves rather than stepped roofs. Decades ago, they were down-at-heel, suffering myriad alterations until 1990 when the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust purchased the worst to rehabilitate, reinstalling original windows. Locals, surprised at the price it fetched, slowly followed suit, so the row now appears as it originally did. Round the corner are houses clustered in fours, each with a corner garden creating a charming sense of place, and an old nail workshop from Belper’s former industry.

Past the unitarian church in the Memorial Gardens we appreciated the new sculpture ‘Sacrifice’ in memory of soldiers returning from WW1. Through the stone slabbed Market Place and beyond The Coppice was a steeply sloping football pitch that must be very difficult to play on!

A packhorse route up Cowhill, by the 17th century Wildersey Farm to the edge of the valley, revealed dramatic views of Milford, before squeezing through stiles to Dark Lane and Makeney. Along Duffield Bank and past the Bridge Inn we amble across the meadows, lured by the chimney of Peckwash Mill, once one of the largest paper mills in England.

Wooded Eaton Bank, once a hive of industry which quarried stone to feed the Victorian construction boom, becomes apparent from the remnants of the old stone pathway, and quarryman’s bridge.

We lunched at Little Eaton’s Queen’s Head, opting for a savoury steak and ale pie, before continuing to Darley Abbey Mills via Talbot’s Turf Fields and Lord Harrington’s oxbow fishing lake. Through the mill village, by the 13th century Abbey pub, we walked onto Lombe’s Silk Mill, the world’s first factory, on the new multi-user path through Darley Park. At the beautifully-appointed Cathedral Quarter Hotel on St Mary’s Gate, we were welcomed by patron James Blick, and enjoyed a gourmet’s five course tasting menu.

Day Five: Derby to Derwent Mouth (10.5 miles)

The morning walk through Derby Market Place, by the current Covid-secure Alfresco dining experience, was, because of the pandemic, eerily quiet. The River Gardens, modified by new flood defence works, sport a copper-domed drum which supplies the council house with hydro-electricity.

The Way, along the river, also forms part of the Derwent Valley Cycleway, comfortably accommodating both cyclists and walkers. Under the railway near the station it enters Pride Park - a business park replacing Derby’s original railway manufacturing industry, which I masterplanned in 1997 with the strapline ‘Partnership for Regeneration, through Development and Enterprise’ – hence ‘PRIDE’.

Beyond Alvaston Park, the relaxed countryside Cycleway route ends at Borrowash Bridge. From here it is just across open fields to secluded Ambaston and down the lane to Shardlow. Along the drive opposite the church we glimpse Shardlow Hall, disturbed to see it in such poor condition.

The 1780 Clock Warehouse, straddling a boat loading dock, retains in bold lettering ‘Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey’. Now a pub, it was busy inside, but we were served lunch efficiently with draught ale and tasty lasagne.

A storyboard on the bridge explains the original nature of the numerous mills, stores and warehouses in the industrious inland port of 1777, but now a colourful melange of gentle leisure activity, continuing eastward along the canal. Some narrow boats with mini bankside gardens are clearly permanent homes. Walking on to Derwent Mouth, we pass a flotilla of canoes. Perhaps one day, canoes will paddle from Ladybower down to Derwent Mouth?

Reflecting upon the walk, we marvelled at its variety, every day a different character with interesting sights and welcoming hospitality.

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