• Start: Darley Abbey
  • End: Darley Abbey
  • Country: England
  • County: Derbyshire
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub:
  • Ordnance Survey: NULL
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ashley Franklin reaches the city of Derby and its suburbs on his series of walks from the source of the River Derwent

Walk 16: Darley Abbey, Cathedral Green and Chester Green 3 miles

Walk devised by Mike Warner

Terrain: A flat walk through parkland and riverside paths with short stretches of road walking.

Parking: Car Park, Darley Abbey at the junction of Darley Street and New Road DE22 1DX / GR351383

Overview: A short walk to Derby, taking in the Silk Mill, Little Chester and Darley Abbey

Ihave two favourite greeting cards close to my desk, one is a thank you card which I love for the Turkish proverb: No road is long with good company. I think about that on these walks when my feet invariably get sore in the final few miles, though ironically my experienced walk partner Mike is, by this time, striding purposefully ahead as if he had just started the walk. I hate this guy sometimes. The further irony comes when I decide to be brave and cross the pain threshold to catch him up because, when I do, Im too out of breath to talk.

Thus, I was delighted to have two other companions on this walk: my wife Francine and Mikes wife Jane. However, as they hadnt seen each other for six months, and Francine has had 32 years to say what she needs to me, I was doubtful of being engaged in any of their conversations. Francine and Jane had deigned to join us because Mike had offered to pay for lunch, and it was more than a round of sandwiches. Also, this was going to be the shortest of the 18 walks along the Way, which meant lunch was only 3 miles away.

Incidentally, my other favourite greeting card simply bears the words: So what if the Hokey Cokey really is what its all about? It never fails to elicit a smile, even though the question is actually quite disturbing.

Francine made me smile when she started packing her little rucksack. In went the bottle of water but it nearly had to come out as she found herself struggling to fit in her hairbrush and make-up bag. I asked her if she was planning to have an affair part way through our walk and she replied: One has to look ones best. I took that as a maybe. I started to worry about our marriage when she told me her favourite line from the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was when Penelope Wiltons character said to her husband: If I want your opinion, Ill give it to you. The husband left her soon after.

I was careful not to give Francines opinion when, after opening the boot of our car, she let out a yelp. Her pink knitted cardigan was perfect for this walk dont ask but when she opened the bag containing her walking shoes, she realised she had packed orange boot socks. Orange and pink?!! She was all for returning home, so I promised to use all my Photoshop skills to hide this fashion faux pas.

As it was, she soon got over it. Francine isnt one for stressing, declaring that whatever worries beset her, she is fine because there is always some part of her brain thinking about shoes or Johnny Depp.

As we entered the 80-acre Darley Park, I started thinking about the Evans family who created the village and donated the park to the people of Derby in 1929. Two years later, the Duke of Kent officially opened the park on the same day he opened Markeaton Park. Youre probably aware that Derby holds the proud record of opening the first and oldest surviving public park in England, the Arboretum, but what you might not appreciate is that the city houses over 300 parks and open spaces. Derby is either bigger or greener than we think, or both.

This year, Darley Park marks a 50th anniversary, though its nothing to celebrate, especially if your name is Maxwell Craven. In his book The Derbyshire Country House, Maxwell railed against Derby City Council for knocking down the essentially sound Darley Hall in 1962, describing it as an act of municipal vandalism. Only one room was left, now the most architectonic ice cream parlour in the region, remarks Maxwell. More than mere ice cream parlour, the Caf in the Park, run for the last 15 years by Ken and Jill Gee, serves up a wide selection of freshly prepared hot and cold food including, some say, the best bacon buttie in Derbyshire.

They also had one of the finest displays of wisteria to be found for miles around until the cafs courtyard was renovated recently. The wisteria may be gone but the nearby hydrangeas are in abundance. Darley Park has the largest collection of this flower species in Britain some 400 types and the third largest in the world. There are 30 different tree species, too, including Purple Japanese Maple and Tibetan Cherry.

Its only a brief walk from the quiet idyll of Darley Park to the city, where we passed under the grand late 18th century St Marys Bridge with its 15th century chapel and then the not so grand road bridge, made even worse by unsightly graffiti. At least one can credit the artist for carefully spacing out his words IMAGINE WAKING UP TOMORROW AND ALL MUSIC HAS DISAPPEARED so that they span the complete length of the concrete. Thats where credit ends. This feeble phrase is a mantra concocted by conceptual artist and musician Bill Drummond as the basis of one of his projects The 17 which formed part of the opening of Derbys QUAD in 2008.

I recall at the time someone from QUAD asking if I would like to be one of a choir of 17 photographers who would participate. 17? A choir? Of photographers? I was told that groups of people, from punks to taxi drivers, artists to office cleaners, would sing one note together for five minutes and all the sounds would be mixed together to create one huge slab of music. It all sounded a bit arty-farty to me and then I remembered that Bill Drummond was the member of the KLF rock band who ritually burnt a million pounds as a media stunt, so I politely declined the offer.

I remained intrigued, though, so after the performance of this so-called choral work, I popped in to QUAD to ask at reception if I could hear it. No, sorry, it was deleted straightaway, I was told. In the spurious name of art, I suppose. I cant help but harbour the suspicion that conceptual art is a haven for frauds, and few practitioners raise my ire more than Hamish Fulton, who describes himself as a walking artist. Fulton believes that putting one foot in front of the other is itself a work of art, a performance even. If I told Mike that, he would have every right to knock me senseless with a Tate brick.

Perhaps Fulton himself hit his head on a brick once because here is a man who walked backwards blindfold for 10 kms and called it fantastic. The trouble is, hes laughing as he walks all the way to the bank: some of his work sells for tens of thousands of pounds. Many of his exhibits consist of nothing more than text, sometimes just a few words on a huge board. His experience of walking across Spain and Portugal produced three words: WARM DEAD BIRD. Believe me, I am not making this up.

The Cathedral Green Bridge is more a work of art than anything Hamish Fulton produces. We all stood and admired the needle-shaped mast the needle is thematically linked to the adjacent Silk Mill and the whole form of the bridge is derived from tailors shears or scissors. I also learnt that it has been designed to swing to one side when water levels are high and it only needs one person to operate the swing mechanism.

It took 300 people working at fixed hours to drive production at the Silk Mill, Britains first factory. The great 18th century diarist 5th Viscount Torrington wrote that Derbyshires mills reminded him of a man-of-war ship, and when they are lighted up on a dark night, look most luminously beautiful. He did, however, frown on the heat, stinks and noise of the Silk Mill.

A story that has been spun long after the silk is the one about John Lombe, a leading name behind the pioneering success of the mill, who carried out arguably the first case of industrial espionage by covertly acquiring the secrets of the superior Italian spinning machines. Legend has it that in revenge the King of Sardinia despatched a female assassin to Derby to poison Lombe... slowly. According to a biographer of the time, William Hutton, who worked at the mill, this artful woman seduced Lombe and administered the poison, after which he lingered two to three years in agonies and departed, aged only 29. Lets hope we dont linger too long waiting for the Silk Mill to re-open as a newly constituted industrial museum.

Our walk route took us over the bridge and I paused to take in the panoramic view of the Cathedral Green bridge, the Cathedral itself and the Silk Mill, a photographic image I captured a few months previously following a commission by Derby Cathedral Quarter. To get all three edifices in, I had to take three separate images and digitally stitch them together. The moment when Photoshop magically works out which pixels match and displays the result on the computer screen made me gasp. The process is called Photomerge. Try it: your mouth will remain open for the rest of the day. The daytime image worked so well that I was asked to capture the same scene at night. They are now my two favourite images of Derby.

Little Chester is just about my favourite Derby suburb. Its closer to the city than any other yet hardly feels suburban as one walks through the expansive, tree-lined Chester Green. Sadly, all that remains of the Roman settlement here are two wells.

We all agreed that Darley Abbey is one of our favourite Derbyshire villages, and the Abbey pub one of the countys finest. This village is hemmed in by urbanism but you wouldnt know it. One villager told me how extraordinary it feels to live so close to the city yet we can be lulled to sleep by the sound of the river and awoken by the dawn chorus. Its no wonder Arthur Mee in his Kings England: Derbyshire called Darley Abbey too good to be true.

The same could be said of Darleys Restaurant where Mike treated us to a wonderful meal in classy and comfortable surroundings. Owners John and Kathryn Hobson told me how they fell in love with this place the moment we saw it back in 2003, and who wouldnt when you consider the view, the history, the character and location?

As we gazed out from our window table overlooking the sweep of the weir on this blue sky day, I called up a similar moment for Roy Christian when he wrote in these pages: It could have been the sea down there, and the tightly packed squares of colour-washed or long, brick cottages could have been the homes of fishing families in one of those exquisite harbour villages north of Whitby.

They were, in fact, the homes of mill families. Two hundred cottages, still standing, along with the mills, school, cathedral-like parish church, and even the sewage system, were all built by Thomas Evans and successive family generations. There are three excellent information boards about Darley Abbeys rich heritage produced by the enthusiastic Historical Group, chaired by Roy Hartle who will be conducting village tours during Discovery Days at the end of October.

You will discover that the closure of the mills in 1969 didnt lead to deterioration and decay. English Heritage describes Darley Abbey Mills as the most complete surviving cotton complex in the Derwent Valley, and its heartening to see businesses thriving in there coupled with the news that further regeneration, to the tune of nearly 1 million, is set to increase business, tourism and cultural activity.

One surprising legacy, still in operation, is the toll booth by the bridge. The sign that reads Toll 1 is there for a reason: if you take this shortcut during rush hour, thats the charge.

Although rush hours point up our overcrowded nation, the beauty of these walks are that they also remind us of its rurality and quietude. A short walk from the toll booth is one of 1,500 official local nature reserves in Britain, the 25-acre Darley and Nutwood Nature Reserve with over 260 species of plant including the rare bee-orchid, and around 90 bird species.

I was amused by the website entry that notes the extraordinary fact that the grey wagtail is yellow, the yellow wagtail is green and the white wagtail is grey. Its just as extraordinary to think that a walk that started in a park and ends in a nature reserve has a city in between.

Walk description

From the car park, walk past the Abbey pub up the hill for 300 yards before turning left at a T junction taking you to Darley Park. Pass the caf and proceed 250 yards uphill through ornate iron gates.

Once through, turn left, with a wall on your left, and follow another wide drive gently downhill for a quarter of a mile. At a cross track, continue ahead for a third of a mile until reaching the road at North Parade at a set of ornate metal railings. Here, turn left and half back on yourself on the cycleway indicating Chester Green, Little Eaton and City Centre.

After a further 100 yards, do not go over the river bridge but turn right on the cycleway marked City Centre and go down steps. We now join another cycle track indicating City Centre, Borrowash and Melbourne. Proceed ahead, with the Derwent on your left, for a quarter of a mile, passing under two road bridges in quick succession. This brings us to the Silk Mill.

Cross the river by turning left on to the Cathedral Green Bridge and then turn left into Stuart Street. Follow this for 100 yards as it bends around to the right to meet Phoenix Street.

Use the traffic refuge to cross over and then turn left through the underpass in front of you. Once through, bear right up some steps into Nottingham Road where we then turn right for 100 yards to reach a pelican crossing just after the Bridge Inn, which is passed on our left. Cross the road via the pelican crossing and then turn right for 30 yards before forking left into City Road.

Follow City Road, ignoring all right and left hand turn offs until passing the end of the old Aida factory, opposite Chester Green. Here turn sharp left slightly back on yourself with a car park over on your right for 100 yards to pick up the sign again for the Little Eaton cycle track number 54.

Turn right as indicated passing a football pitch on the right with the River Derwent on the left. We then enter a short area of woodland. Once through, we pass what looks like an old allotment, then a bowling green, after which we carry on past tennis courts and then a large area of playing fields to reach, after a quarter of a mile, a Millennium cycle way sign at a path junction.

Turn left for 200 yards before chicaning left and right over a bridge over a tributary of the Derwent. We are then on Folly Road, which is followed until its junction with Haslams Lane. Here we leave cycle way number 54 and turn left along the lane to pass through the impressive jungle of mill buildings at Darley Abbey.

We soon pass the old toll booth on our right, Darleys Restaurant on our left, and then cross the bridge over the River Derwent. You can either turn right to take in Darley & Nutwood Nature Reserve or turn left, passing a pleasant seating area overlooking the weir. Continue ahead through Darley Street, soon passing the Abbey public house on our right and then back to the car park.

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