Walking the Derwent Valley Heritage Way
PUBLISHED: 10:43 18 November 2013 | UPDATED: 13:40 04 December 2013
Ashley Franklin Photography
Ashley Franklin concludes his journey down the Derwent Valley with an 11.25 mile watery walk involving three canals and two rivers
I had it all planned for this final walk: Mike, along with Bob, Tony and George – who had joined me for several walks along The Way – would line up at the spot where the Derwent joins the Trent so that I could walk past, waving majestically, taking their back slaps and applause all the way back to Shardlow. The reality was somewhat different...
Rain on my Parade
Why on earth did I do this final walk in the rain? Well, I panicked. My book deadline was looming and I was afraid my publishing agent Chris would be pulling his hair out – or possibly mine – if I told him that far from writing about Walk 19, I hadn’t even gone on it. Trying to agree on a date with my walking pals had taken an inordinate amount of time. So as November threatened to turn into December, I gave up on the reunion idea and plumped for a day when Mike was free and the long-range forecast was fair. As the due day approached, however, fair gradually turned to foul. I clung to the hope that the rain would fall in showers and the sun would pierce the gloom to light the way home. Maya Angelou’s saying: ‘God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us can see a possibility of hope’ felt apposite, but I really should have been thinking of Benjamin Franklin’s quote: ‘He that lives upon hope will die fasting.’
The more I walked through this surly, spiteful, lashing rain, the more I thought of Alfred Wainwright’s remark: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather; only inappropriate clothing.’ My old raincoat was worse than inappropriate: it was, quite simply, useless. As only an occasional rambler, I’ve never invested in any hi-tec, high-price jacket with a ‘breathable membrane’ offering a ‘wicking performance.’ After only ten minutes, the rain had drenched my extremities and was seeping into the rest of my body by capillary action. Meanwhile Mike was striding purposefully on in a jacket complete with ‘moisture management’ – every ‘pore’ of its fabric many thousand times smaller than a drop of water but many hundred times larger than a molecule of water vapour, which prevents water getting in but allows water vapour (perspiration) to escape. Clever, but pricey.
St Chad’s and The Coffin Walk
I briefly let the camera out of the bag when we reached The Coffin Walk, also known, more grimly, as The Corpse Way. This is now a pleasant (unless it’s raining) circular five-mile walk. Until 1824, when the churchyard at St Michael’s of Breaston was consecrated, coffins were carried across the fields for two miles to St Chad’s in Church Wilne. Mike paused by the Coffin Stone where the pallbearers would place the coffin down for a rest – the thought of carrying a heavy coffin for two miles made me wonder if any pallbearer’s next journey was in a box!
Ironically, St Chad’s is now a church out on its own. It’s all that remains of this 18th century village, which was registered as ‘an abandoned village’ when all the inhabitants moved to Draycott to avoid the incessant flooding at some point in the past. More ironic still is that in 1984 the former open gravel pit opposite the church was deliberately flooded to become St Chad’s Water, a 12-acre nature reserve with an Orchid Wood and abundant birdlife.
As we squelched our way into Breaston, I cheered myself with the thought that I would soon be tucking into a bacon butty at eat@breaston. We emerged from the café fortified by bacon and coffee bean, though the rain didn’t take long to sap the spirit once more. Mike tried to revive me in a sort of ‘just-be-grateful-this-didn’t-happen-to-you’ sort of way as he told me of a 272-mile Pennine Way walk when it rained every day and was so boggy that walkers were almost sinking up to their knees. ‘It becomes a different kind of walking and a real challenge,’ says Mike. ‘OK, you can’t say you enjoy it at the time but you do have a massive sense of achievement when you finish.’ He had better be right.
Long Eaton & Erewash Canal
Having previously encountered the canal at Sandiacre and Long Eaton, I knew that I would have to return on a brighter blue-sky day to do photographic justice to a very pleasant walk. Once I saw the photo I snapped of Mike on the Erewash Canal with Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station dominating the distant horizon, I realised I couldn’t document the entire walk with pictures showing just how hard it rained.
As we walked down the canal, it was an increasing delight to see so many different kinds of boats lining the waterway. Amidst the standard narrowboats, one seemed to wish it was a submarine and there were ‘houseboats’ that wouldn’t look out of place on the Mississippi. It was also good to see canalside pubs – the Steamboat and Trent Lock – and the Lock House Tea Rooms.
Although the Erewash Canal was important to Long Eaton, it’s nothing compared with the significance of the Trent & Mersey Canal to Shardlow, once referred to as ‘Little Liverpool’. Today, Shardlow is Britain’s most complete surviving example of a canal village, much of it snuggled safely in a conservation area. It has over 50 Grade II listed buildings and an ample sufficiency of pubs, making it a busy, atmospheric and historic attraction.
The man who changed the face of Shardlow was James Brindley, a Derbyshire man who could neither read nor write confidently yet had a brilliant engineer’s mind. Hailed as ‘the father of the canals’, he was the first man to see the potential in linking the four great rivers of England: the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames. As we walked the towpath, it didn’t help to recall how James Brindley met his end: he was drenched in a downpour while inspecting a canal. Worryingly, he was two years younger than I am.
The Confluence and the Climax
As we neared Long Horse Bridge close to the confluence of the Derwent with the Trent, signalling the end of our walk – and the entire journey along the Heritage Way – my head was down and I was soaked... in misery. It felt as if I would never, ever, be dry and happy again – think Woody Guthrie after his house was hit by a cyclone and he was ‘as wet as any catfish in any creek ever was or ever will be.’
Then Mike, also wet after nearly 11 miles of sustained rain, tapped me on the back and said quietly: ‘This is it. You’ve done it. Well done.’ He raised his cap to me as we reached the far side of the bridge, and I began to feel better, especially as I was closer to a pint at the Malt Shovel, then home and a hot bath.
The ceremonial presentation of my certificate took place over the pint. It was a muted ceremony, frankly. Mike fished the certificate out of his bag, plopped it on the table, and took a picture of me holding it. When my mum sees the photo, she will kill me for not combing my hair.
An important photograph I did need to take that day was of the spot where the Derwent meets the Trent. As I prepared to press the shutter, a bird that had been preening itself on the branch of a partially submerged log, suddenly flew off. It was that kind of day. When I returned the following summer, there were three birds on the log: a gull, a tern and, best of all, a cormorant. This final photograph was definitely a bonus as the confluence in this Shardlow lowland is usually as anonymous as the Derwent’s source high up on Bleaklow Moor. Mind you, the sights and sensations between are unforgettable. I hope you agree. Enjoy the walks... and don’t set out in the rain. I don’t recommend it. n
By completing this walk, together with all the others published in Derbyshire Life over the last 7 years and in my book, you have walked the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. Congratulations, it’s been quite a journey! If you too would like a badge and certificate, send a cheque for £5, payable to The Derwent Valley Trust and Heritage Way, to Mike Warner, Derwent Valley Heritage Way Recorder, Redland House, Clifton, Ashbourne, DE6 2GJ. Derbyshire Ramblings Walking in Circles down the Derwent Valley is available in softback £14.95 via www.ashleyfranklin.co.uk or from Belper Book Shop, Outside in Hathersage, Scarthin Books in Cromford and Shop in the Yard at Cromford Mills.
1 From the Wharf car park, turn right, crossing the Trent and Mersey canal and 450 yards on arriving in Great Wilne. Walk through the village and then bear left with the road for a ¼mile. As the road begins to peter out, take the metal stile to the right of a gate into a field. Turn right as indicated by the waymarking disc across a field for just over ¼ mile and cross the footbridge over the Derwent. Turn left for 60 yards to reach a road.
2 Turn left on the road for 220 yards. As indicated by a public footpath sign, leave the road and turn half right across the field for 190 yards to reach a gap at the field edge, pass through. Continue ahead, following the right hand field edge for 120 yards to reach our road at a metal footpath sign.
3 Turn right for ¼mile, passing the parish church of St Chad on the right and then St Chad’s Water Nature Reserve on the left. On reaching a group of cottages on our right, follow the public bridleway sign to Breaston. Look out for the Coffin Stone.
4 After about 1½ miles, you reach a road in front of the Co-operative food store with St Michael’s Church, Breaston on the right. Cross the road using the pelican crossing outside the church, reaching a crossroads after 50 yards. Cross the road to the park in front, pass through the wooden squeezer stile and take the left-hand fork on a clear path to exit, via another wooden squeezer stile, on to a tarmac path. Follow this for 40 yards to the road ahead where we turn right for ¼mile until reaching the Give Way sign at a T junction.
5 On the left is the Navigation Inn, which means we’ve almost reached the old Derby Canal, accessed by turning left at the road junction and then right in 25 yards at a barrier to the left of a wooden gate. Keep ahead for the next mile as the line of the old canal passes first through an industrial complex and then fields towards the roar of the M1. This is reached at a metal public footpath sign when a road we have been following on our right eventually meets our path. Cross on to this road at a right-hand field corner via a stile and then turn left, passing under the M1, and then left again at a public bridleway sign by a road junction 100 yards away.
6 Keep ahead on our bridleway through trees for ¼mile (now with the M1 on our left) to emerge at a road with the Derby Canal path in front of us indicating that we have again reached the line of the old canal. Cross the road with care to re-join the canal line on a clear path, which we follow crossing Springfield Avenue after ½mile. Keep ahead for another third of a mile, passing through an old road bridge to finally join the Erewash canal at the next road bridge.
7 To access the Erewash Canal turn right by the bridge onto a signposted private road for 50 yards before crossing the canal at the Sandiacre lock buildings. Turn right along the canal and follow the towpath for three miles, until you reach Trent Lock.
8 On reaching the Lock House Tearooms, turn right over the bridge to join the towpath by the Trent. Turn right and follow the towpath for just over three-quarters of a mile. Pass under the railway bridge at Sawley Lock then immediately turn left over the Trent on the footbridge. Continue ahead through the lock and follow the Sawley Cut for three-quarters of a mile. Upon passing Sawley Marina, turn left over the road bridge and cross the road. Then pass to the left of a metal farm gate and keep ahead on the towpath on the opposite side of the bank to where you were.
9 After a third of a mile, pass under the M1 then half a mile later you reach the confluence of the Derwent and the Trent at Long Horse Bridge.
Over the bridge a wide track curves around to the left to re-join the Trent and Mersey Canal. Follow the canal towpath for one mile and on reaching a road bridge, climb up onto the road and re-trace your steps left to the car park.