Thursday, 31 March 2016

Derwent Valley Heritage Way Section 5 Belper to Derby

Long Row
Alas my birthday walk this year was on a stubbornly grey day which was rather disappointing for we had booked another trip to Derbyshire to hopefully finish off our walk along the Derwent Valley Heritage Way.  We failed on that front too as we had pressing matters to attend to at home which would mean that we didn't have time for the second day either.  That I guess will have to wait for another time...

Belper Church Tower
It was strange seeing the area with bare trees as the first four sections of this walk were all completed in the late summer of 2015.  We parked in the free car park in Belper and retraced our steps back to the large mill at the northern end of the town.  From here we climbed up the street known as Long Row characterised by a rather eye-catching set of mill workers' houses.  This street has long since been gentrified and looks rather good for it.  I imagine that the houses are pretty sought after these days...

War Memorial Gardens
We wove our way through the streets of Belper and deduced that it was a most agreeable looking place and probably quite a popular place to live if you worked in nearby Derby.  At the far end of the residential area we came upon the main shopping street and were rather disappointed to note that our path did not enter the very attractive looking War Memorial Park opposite.  Although slightly devoid of flowers this early in the season it was pretty obvious that during the summer it is almost certainly a blaze of colour.  The garden looked very well manicured as well, which is good to see considering that it is a place of remembrance.

Market Square
Instead we headed up the hill to Market Square.  There is no doubting its heritage although I was surprised to learn that John Wesley once preached here in the early days.  It was paved in the late 1800s and once boasted 9 pubs around its perimeter although one was demolished to make way for a Salvation Army citadel.  I wonder if that move was responsible for some of the others going too?  From here to open countryside was a surprisingly short distance - just across the car park at the back of the square and suddenly there were no buildings!

Tracks Into The Distance
It was fair to say though that we hadn't quite left Belper behind for after negotiating an area of countryside that rather resembled a park and was clearly the haunt of dog walkers we ended up back in a housing estate at the southern end of Belper.  On the way past here we had an encounter with a rather intense looking game of football involving some 7-8 year old boys.  I got to briefly sharpen my skills when the ball landed at my feet and I kicked it back.  Wasn't too bad an effort either considering that I was wearing hiking boots!
Holly Bush Inn

After negotiating the last of the housing areas we set off down a long concrete track and past a small farm.  Views across the Derwent Valley were beginning to open up now although the day was still pretty gloomy and the weather forecast of sunny intervals definitely looked a bit optimistic.  Of particular note ahead was the view across the village of Milford.  This looked like another of the small mill settlements that have grown up along this stretch of the Derwent.  Sadly though this was the closest that we would get to see of the place from our lofty path as we kept going along our high level route.  The going was remarkably good and there was little sign of any mud along the way despite what we had expected.
Derwent Bridge Near Makeney

We eventually found our way to the hamlet of Makeney.  We got a nice surprise as we got here for there was a pub (the Holly Bush Inn) that wasn't marked on our map.  This proved to be just the tonic after a tricky start to the day.  Walking after a 200 mile drive is not an easy thing to do and we were grateful for the stop.  It turned out to be a lovely pub too - most agreeable and I welcomed the pint of Titanic that was served me!

Reaching For The Sky
Feeling fortified we headed on our way once again and this time we had some downhill walking to meet the river once again.  Sadly though it was along a surprisingly busy road.  We weren't expecting the level of traffic for an unclassified road and so the provided pavement was welcome.  At the bottom of the hill was the pub that we expected to be stopping at.  It was a large chain pub largely devoted to providing meals and so I was pleased we had already stopped.  We left the road just before it crossed the river and continued down the eastern bank.  We had flat walking for a while through some fields full of sheep.  We took care to give them a bit of a wide berth for it was lambing season and some of the ewes were already nursing their young 'uns.

Duffield Church
Our flat walk didn't last long though.  We soon found ourselves negotiating the grounds of a disused mill, although in this case all the decent buildings had been turned into living accommodation and the chimney still stood tall and proud above the skyline.  We climbed away from the valley floor once again and headed up through some woodland into the village of Little Eaton.  As we went through the woodland we passed an old quarry with a rather marvellous looking footbridge across it.  Apparently this quarry was used to get the stone to build Derby Cathedral , Birmingham Town Hall and Trent Bridge at Nottingham.  Now it looks like nature is reclaiming it as the trees are getting quite tall inside.

Entering Little Eaton
We passed by the church at Little Eaton, sadly not getting as good a look at it as we would have liked.  We crossed an old railway line, unusually at level although the crossing has been removed.  The guide book suggested that it still had tracks but the current condition suggests that this has not been the case for at least 10 years.  It was originally the branch line to Ripley although no passenger trains have called at Little Eaton since 1930.

Little Eaton Level Crossing
Our onward route was not very appealing.  For approximately a mile we had to walk along a main road through a largely residential area until we reached the roundabout with the A38.  If anything the weather had deteriorated too which wasn't very helpful.  At the A38 we had to negotiate a railway bridge which was unnecessarily complicated and eventually we were then able to leave the roads behind and head off across fields to Derby.

Darley Abbey Mills Weir
Initially we crossed a section of fields that were unusually uniform and we quickly realised that this was in fact a turf farm.  I think this is the first time I have ever encountered such a thing but clearly the stuff has to come from somewhere.  I had just never given much thought as to what that sort of place might look like.  The geese clearly enjoyed it as all the fields were thronged with grey lags and Canada geese.  Every so often a train would go thundering past - a reminder of how busy this line through the Derwent Valley is as it provides the main route between Derby and Sheffield.

Darley Abbey Mills
The river now starts meandering quite a lot and one particular loop seemed particularly tight - I rather think this might be by-passed in a few decades, leaving an ox-bow lake.  Rather a good example for my daughter who is learning about such things in Geography!  Eventually we came to a road and headed across the river via a toll road through Darley Abbey Mills.  This was perhaps the most interesting little corner of the day - the mills had a large weir just by the toll bridge.  It looked like most of the tolls were collected via an honesty box - the toll booth wasn't manned and I suspect isn't very often.  We stopped on the other side an enjoyed the view of the weir and the birds trying their best to swim against the flow of the water.
Derby Cathedral

From the mills we passed the remains of Darley Abbey.  I am not sure what I expected to see of this abbey given up to the dissolution in the 1540s but it probably wasn't a building that now functions as a pub!  This particular building is one of only two survivors of the destruction.  It was apparently the Abbot's residence.  The other survivor is also a house nearby.  There were no other ruins.  From here we entered the adjacent park - what a fabulous place this is.  Even on a fairly bleak looking March day there is no denying its beauty and cross the park was quite a pleasure.

Derwent at Derby
At the far end of the park we came upon another former railway bridge, this time the former Great Northern Railway line from Nottingham to Derby Friargate and long since closed and lifted.  In fact the bridge is a bit of an oddity since it seems not to be connected to much in the way of a trackbed.  Its survival appears to be related to its unusual bowstring construction style.  It certainly was an interesting way to mark the final mile or so of our walk along the riverbank through Derby City Centre.  This we rather rushed in an attempt to make it to the station to make it for the next train rather than wait another hour.  Remarkably after nearly 10 miles of walking the girls were really up for it and we just about made it with the whistle being blown as we climbed aboard!

Friday, 4 March 2016


Early Blossom
It's been a long winter with precious few opportunities for walking and perhaps that is why I haven't felt all that great over the last few weeks - a lack of fresh air!  We found a small window of opportunity on what turned out to be not the greatest day for walking.  As it has been so wet we again dived across the county boundary for what I thought might provide a drier opportunity.  No-one wanted to walk too far so thank goodness there are still a couple of short walks in Pathfinder Guide vol 65 Surrey Walks.  We picked number 5 at Westcott as there looked to be some interesting features along the way and at 4 miles it was a pretty modest length.

We parked by Westcott Church as luckily we were a couple of hours later than the church service.  Be aware that if you are tempted to park here on a Sunday morning you will have to attend the church service before going on your walk as parking is restricted to the congregation.  The village of Westcott just to the west of Dorking looks to be a most agreeable place but for this walk you don't get to see much of the village for the path skirts the edge of it where it meets the adjacent common land.  This did make for easy walking initially as there was no mud on this section.
Pooh sticks

The path along the back of the village soon turned into what can only be described as a back alley for some quite big houses.  The fences were so high we couldn't see into the gardens but it was apparent that the early stages of spring were underway for we could see buds and bits and pieces of blossom hanging over the fences.  There was also a hint of a view across to the North Downs but it was only glimpses through the fences and hedgerows that we could see.
Former School House

At the end of our fence lined path we eventually came out to a mill and a rather delightful looking estate road that looked like something from a fairy tale.  We crossed a small mill race and headed along the estate road that was bounded by some carefully trimmed hedges.  The mill race provided an opportunity for the girls to play pooh sticks - an opportunity that wasn't missed!

The onward estate screamed money - even the more modest houses had large vehicles parked in the driveways.  Eventually we left the road and the mud started.  This is the danger of this area.  Sandstone is interlocked with clay soils and the different between them is astonishing.  Off to our left was a very large fishing lake and a few lonely souls were whiling away the afternoon staring at their rods folornly hoping they might get a bite.  If the fish were sensible they would be too cold to engage in this kind of 'sport' on a cold afternoon in February.  The fishermen clearly like their privacy though - the path alongside the lake is screened pretty effectively with a six feet high beech hedge for most of its length.

Pig Encounter
It was on this section of walk though that we actually met other walkers.  Other brave souls that were probably as fed up as we were with the lack of opportunity lately.  They looked as if they had had trouble with the mud too and when we got into the next field we crossed what I can only describe as a swamp.  It was not at all pleasant.  We picked our way slowly across the field squelching as we went and when we started gaining some height things were a lot better.
Greensand Ridge View

At the corner of the field though where we were to enter another fence lined path things took a turn for the worse again.  All around the gate was a bog and it was pretty tough getting through.  The path itself was like a skating rink too it was so slippery.  However the sight of a group of snuffling pigs made everyone's day and they seemed very interested in us as we went by.  Pigs are not exactly the sort of animals you might stroke, especially this lot with their rather brown looks.  They were rather cute though in a porky kind of way.

Pink Blossom
At the top of the hill we came upon a nice track and that marked the end of the muddy section much to our relief.  We crossed another road and were very pleased to see our onward route was along a substantial track and not across yet another boggy looking field.  The track passed through the hamlet of Logmore Green; another of these tucked away places that Surrey seems to have kept rather hidden from the outside world.  I imagine living here would be delightful except if you were someone who liked an evening out.  Trying to negotiate these tracks on a dark evening to get back home probably isn't that much fun.

North Downs View
Our road eventually ran out as we reached a dovecote.  From here we had another hill to climb - this one much steeper than the last one although relatively speaking it was a pretty easy one.  As we climbed we looked back and the view was well worth the mudbath we had experienced earlier.  In fact I recognised it as the view shown on my edition of the Pathfinder Guide and is the section of Downs immediately east of Dorking including the famous Box Hill.  In my opinion it was worth doing this walk for this view alone.

Deep In Conversation
At the top of the hill we joined another substantial track skirting Sylvanous Wood.  This was a delightful stretch along the edge of beech woodland and again we had some lovely views out along the North Downs, this time in a westerly direction towards Guildford.  The track was pretty well rutted and some of the puddles looked like small lakes.  Luckily for us there were walking paths above the track and no off roaders came to spoil things for us.  It was a slow descent back towards Westcott and we soon left the main track and headed down a much narrower path that I vaguely remembered from when I walked the Greensand Way many moons ago.  

At the bottom of the slope we negotiated another lake that fed another watermill.  This seems to have been a pretty popular thing around here - probably a relic of the iron industry that once flourished in these parts but is now a long forgotten piece of history.  We joined another road for a short distance until we reached a splendid looking house that looked like it had been left to rack and ruin for a very long time.  It looked exactly the sort of house anyone would appreciate doing up although the sold board outside looked rather ominous.  Let's hope it has some tlc rather than a demolition ball.

Fixer Upper
From this house we turned away from the main road and headed up through a set of woods back to Westcott church.  It wasn't easy though as there are a plethora of paths leading through the woodland, mostly it has to be said a bunch of dog walker paths rather than true footpaths.  Luckily we found the right one and found our way into the churchyard and onwards back to the car.  We were pretty chilled by now so we didn't hang around in the churchyard for long.  I can report though that the view across to the North Downs from here is pretty pleasing.

Westcott Church
This was a pleasant walk although to be fair I think we didn't pick the right kind of day.  Maybe a summer's evening might make it that extra special?  The mud was rather worse than we could have expected and that rather spoiled things for me.