Derbyshire walk - Whitworth Park and Oaker Hill
PUBLISHED: 10:26 12 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:28 24 October 2020
From manicured park to the high point of Oaker Hill, this walk is packed with commercial, industrial and social history, folklore and legends. Sally Mosley explores.
1. Walk down through Whitworth Park passing the obelisk in memory of Sir Joseph Whitworth, 1st Baronet (1803-1887). He was an engineer, entrepreneur, inventor and philanthropist, inventing the Whitworth rifle and devising the Standard Whitworth system for gauges and screw threads.
Born in Stockport, Sir Joesph moved to Stancliffe Hall, Darley Dale in 1872. The Whitworth Institute, Baths and nearby cottage hospital were erected after his death by the trustees of his estate. Exit the park through a metal gate on the left by the lake.
2. Just before the level crossing, turn left to follow a footpath which passes to the rear of a former railway cottage which was designed by Joseph Paxton, of Chatsworth fame.
Walk along the narrow path with the railway line to your right. On your left will be a large DFS site. Notice the old stone house beyond the modern saleroom complex. In the 1950s, Warney House was the home of Herbert Hardy who diversified from farming to sell furniture business Direct Furniture Supplies. He evidently got around the strict Sunday trading laws by selling a very expensive pound of carrots and giving away a 3-piece suite for nothing.
The furniture was made by Norther Upholtery in Doncaster, established by Graham Kirkham. However, by 1983 the Darley Dale store was in financial crisis so Kirkham bought the business and shortened its name to DFS, making this the first store of the now famous sofa retailer which has become a household name and the UK's leading furniture manufacturer.
3. Eventually arriving at Old Road, carefully cross over and walk past the entrance to Red House Stables and Carriage Museum. Established in 1946, it contains a unique collection of vehicles and accessories started by William Smith and continued by his daughter Caroline Dale-Leech, who has spent all her life with horses and carriage driving. Continue past Red House (painted white and with a date stone of 1891).
Beyond Red House Cottages go through an impressive stile of locally quarried and dressed gritstone, one of several on this walk.
4. Head down to the walled footpath and then carefully walk over the railway crossing of the Peak Rail heritage line (the trains do not travel at high speed and will whistle when approaching).
Continue straight ahead through fields and stiles on a footpath to Darley Bridge. at an ancient and important crossing point of the River Derwent, it is possible to see the gothic pointed arches from the original narrow packhorse bridge and rounded arches from when the bridge was widened in the latter part of the 18th century when this became part of the Chesterfield to Newhaven turnpike road.
5. Turn left after the bridge and follow the road to Wenslees. Continue when the road becomes gated, following the purple sign with arrow for the Derwent Valley Heritage Way, a long distance walk beside Derbyshire's main river.
6. Arriving at Oker, walk up the road past select bungalows, houses and characterful cottages. Approximately 50 yards beyond a 'no through road' on the right, go through a small gate in the hedge by a footpath sign. Head steeply uphill bearing slightly right where a path through trees leads to a flight of steps and a wooden stile where you will see a small walled well known as Grace's Well.
This may possibly date from an ancient fort that is said to have been built by Roman legions which had ousted the Britons who previously lived here. The fort was given the name of Occirsus of 'hill of conflict', Oker or Oaker is said to be a corruption of this.
7. Just beyond the well, turn left and walk up a grassy bank to a permissive path which provides access to the famous lone tree. Two trees were originally planted to commemorate the parting of the two brothers who decided to go their separate ways in life, one to seek his fortune abroad, the other staying locally.
One of the trees was felled in a storm and the tradition of the lone tree began, inspiring Wordsworth to write a sonnet 1838. Shored upon each flank of the hill by young sycamore siblings, their future protected by fence or railings, the lone tree is a well-known landmark.
The sonnet begins:
'Tis said that to the brow of yon fair hill
Two brothers clomb and turning face from face
Nor one look more exchanging, grief to still
Or feed, each planted on that lofty place
A chosen tree...'
8. Follow the ridge path down a slight dip to cross a stile and then head over to the third sycamore. From the trig point beyond, descend the steep grassy bank with extreme care. Noticein the distance ahead is a tall narrow chimney emerging from trees.
This marks the location of HJ Enthoven & Sons lead recycling plant on the site of the former Millclose Mine, one of the last lead mines to be worked in Derbyshire.
9. Arriving at a gate, walk straight ahead on the road to your left which leads to houses at Cross Green.
Turn left at the sign for Wesley and Winster and head to St Mary the Virgin's Church built in 1845.
10. Walk up towards Wensley but opposite the junction with Oker Road go over a stile on the right and follow the public footpath sign for Millclose. The rough gravel track will become a grassy path and head downhill. At a sweeping bend and junction bear right on a clearly defined wide grassy path to continue downhill.
Keep a lookout for deer. Not red, doe or sika, the deer that haunt these woods are rare and feral melanic black coated fallow deer, descendants from a herd introduced by the Stanton Hall estate. Elusive and evasive they live mainly in woodland all around Stanton Moor.
11. Arriving at a crossroads of paths down in the bottom of the woods by a stream, turn right and follow the little watercourse on a permissive path to a stile beside a gate onto the road. Turn right and walk to Darley Bridge, turning left at the junction with the Three Stags Heads inn opposite.
12. Recross Darley Bridge and follow the roadside pavement back to Whitworth Park. If it is an operating day, you may wish to visit Darley Dale Station which contains railway memorabilia and information.
Watch as the nostalgic Peak Rail steam train passes through, sometimes helped at the other end by an old diesel.
Distance: 5 miles
Parking: The Whitworth Centre and Park (donation to park), Darley Dale, DE4 2EQ, Grid Ref: 275629
Terrain: 10+ stiles and gates. Moderate walk mainly along paths and tracks with some field and stile walking.
Steep ascent and descent from trig point on Oaker Hill. Quiet country lanes and gated road without pavement. Livestock grazing. Close proximity to river and deep water. Railway crossing without barriers (heritage line). Areas prone to mud in wet weather.
Refreshments: Square and Compass and the Three Stags public houses, Darley Bridge. Terrace Cafe and Barringtons Hotel, Whitworth Park.
Toilets: Whitworth Centre
Map: OS Explorer OL24 - White Peak
Walk Highlight: The semi-urban sprawl of Darley Dale is packed with interest, from visitor attractions to scenic long distance walks and cycle paths. This walk crosses the Derwent by an ancient bridge and ascends a sugar loaf hill for scenic views and the chance to sit beneath the boughs of Will Shore's lone tree, immortalised in a sonnet by Wordsworth.