Derbyshire Walk - Hardwick Park
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 May 2014 | UPDATED: 15:56 03 May 2020
In a scenic landscape of regal standing, Bess of Hardwick built a palace with as many windows as possible. From this elevated position she could admire her kingdom and glorious panoramic views. Hardwick is now in the ownership of the National Trust and on the 400th anniversary of the death of its architect, Robert Smythson, we can all enjoy what Bess created. Sally Mosley follows in her footsteps...
DISTANCE 6 miles
PARKING Hardwick Park Centre car park (lower park) near Miller’s Pond (SK454640). S44 5QJ is the post code for Hardwick Park. Gates close at 6pm
TERRAIN There are five stiles, seven gates, several sets of steps and sections of boardwalk down by the ponds. Some paths have uneven terrain and are prone to mud. There are sections of road and lane walking without pavements. Parts of the walk are close to ponds and areas of open water.
REFRESHMENTS Great Barn Restaurant, Hardwick Hall; The Hardwick Inn
TOILETS Hardwick Park Centre car park; Hardwick Hall (between the shop and restaurant)
MAP OS Explorer 269
WALK HIGHLIGHT The sun glinting off Hardwick Hall – more glass than wall!
DESCRIPTION The walk follows mainly footpaths and tracks within the Hardwick Estate, with a detour to Ault Hucknall. The route incorporates paths through woodland of majestic and mature trees, a couple of waterside wanders and through arable fields which may be planted with crops. You will soon leave behind the hustle and bustle of the busy M1 which runs close to the car park, and ascend parkland to the smallest village in England, set amongst rural peace and tranquillity.
1. The Hardwick Park Centre contains fascinating visitor information and advice on what to look out for whilst walking in the grounds and estate. In the 12th century it was part of Sherwood Forest and some of the surviving trees are said to be 400 years old. Head across from the Centre for a walk around Millers Pond. As well as ducks and geese look out for some not so common water birds, including crested grebe, goosander and pochard.
2. Returning to the main path, turn left and head past a disused quarry which provided stone for some estate buildings but not the house itself. You will pass an interesting stone sculpture incorporating a long handled lump hammer. This is a way marker on the Sculpture Trail, one of several walk guides which the National Trust has compiled for visitors to the estate.
3. On reaching a combination of gates go through the smaller gate on the left with high metal handle designed to be opened by horse riders without having to dismount. Follow the bridlepath as it ascends through parkland where livestock may be grazing. Cross over a road and continue straight ahead to The Grange which is a characterful cottage with unusual brick chimneys and an eroded carved stone on its gable end.
4. Follow the drive ahead to Ault Hucknall which comprises of only a handful of houses and a Saxon church – having a church defines it as a village rather than a hamlet. This was the Parish Church for Bess of Hardwick, and her descendant the Duke of Devonshire is still the patron. The Cavendish Chapel within contains a mediaeval stained glass window, whilst on the exterior walls of St John the Baptist’s are some fascinating carved stones believed to be of Saxon origin. See if you can find the attractive zig-zag lintel over a narrow arch-shaped window and what could be a carving of Saint George and the dragon in the blocked doorway beneath. The great philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is buried here.
5. Walk past Ault Hucknall Farm to the side of the church and follow the lane out of the village to a footpath sign. Take the path on the right and cross fields to a wooden stile leading onto a lane.
6. Turn right and follow the lane around the corner and continue to a car park for the Rowthorne Trail. This is part of the Phoenix Greenways, a network of trails through Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that have been reclaimed from the railway lines once used by coal mines in the area. At one time an industrial site between collieries, this lovely path leads between hedgerows where birds nest and wild flowers grow, forming the perfect habitat for insects and small wild mammals. Head out of the back of the car park on the main path leading through a metal barrier to restrict access.
7. Follow the trail to where a footpath crosses over. Turn right and follow the fingerpost (Norwood 200 metres). Go over a field and then a footbridge to enter woodland rich with wild flowers, and continue on the footpath to Norwood Lodge. Now looking over a vast expanse of arable farmland, the view from these houses used to be towards Silverhill Colliery which was established in 1867 when John and George Crompton sunk the first shaft. It closed in the 1990s and the area has since been landscaped.
8. Turn right and walk along the lane until you come to a drive leading down to Dovedale Farm. Go through a gate on the right to descend steps and a path through Lady Spencer’s Wood which will lead you to Hardwick Hall. Over 200 years ago this is where the ladies from the Hall would have exercised. In spring the ground is carpeted with wild garlic, wood violets and wild daffodils beneath towering ancient beech trees. In autumn look out for fungi.
9. Hardwick Hall was built in the late 1500s by Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth Talbot Countess of Shrewsbury). By the time of its construction she had been married four times, acquiring more wealth with each marriage until she was considered to be the second most powerful woman in the land after Queen Elizabeth I. This magnificent house was deliberately designed to showcase her affluence and position, created by Robert Smythson who she chose as architect. During 2014 the National Trust are marking the 400th anniversary of his work with a series of celebrations including workshops, tours and talks. Further details including opening times and visitor information for Hardwick can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardwick.
10. Enter the yard complex with shop, restaurant, toilets etc and leave at the far end by passing through the stable yard gate. Turn left to walk past the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall. This was where Bess was born in a modest medieval manor house which she later went on to remodel into a huge Elizabethan mansion, four storeys high, before building her even more impressive new home next door. Growing up as an impoverished landowner’s daughter Bess became an astute businesswoman, demanding the highest quality of workmanship at all times. She had her own army of builders, craftsmen and embroiderers who worked exclusively for her, some of them their whole life long. You might be lucky and catch sight of Bess during your visit as every so often volunteers at Hardwick dress in period costume for ‘Living the History’ events.
11. Follow the drive down from the Old Hall, passing the Stone Centre which contains interesting displays on stonemasonry, architecture and details on how Hardwick Hall was built. Walk down towards the Hardwick Inn but at a gate turn right to follow the side of the wood, passing another stone sculpture.
12. Follow a lovely footpath through the wood which leads to the left of the Great Pond where swans glide gracefully and herons can often be seen high up in the trees. Watch for water voles and kingfishers as you make your way back to the car park.