The Derwent Valley Heritage Way is a 55 mile route tracing the course of the River Derwent from Heatherdene to Derwent Mouth. The river begins up at Swaines Greave near Bleaklow and then flows down in to the chain of reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley. It flows in to Howden, Derwent and then Ladybower before emerging to meander south towards Derby. The route itself was devised to celebrate the industrial history that has shaped the Derwent Valley over the last 300 years. Names like Sir Richard Arkwright & Jedediah Strutt helped give birth to the industrial revolution right here in the heart of Derbyshire.
The route can be tackled from both direction, I have walked the DVHW once before and decided that I would walk from South to North again to retrace my steps. I walked the way back in 2012 and documented my journey in Audio form but it was time to return to make a video for my YouTube Channel.
The River Derwent Ends at Derwent Mouth near the ancient inland port of Shardlow. It flows gently in to the River Trent which then heads towards Nottingham, the Trent And Mersey Canal also intersects at the confluence of these two great rivers. Our Journey begins here, looking across from the southern bank towards the mouth of the river.
The first section of the walk follows the towpath passed the Derwent Mouth Lock as we head back towards Shardlow. The canal is very picturesque and was lined with many colourful boats that made me rather envious of those who live on the water. Shardlow was a thriving area back in the late 1800s due to the business boom bought by the canal and it became a significant inland port.
The walk leaves the canal behind and follows the road through Shardlow towards Ambaston as we head back towards the River Derwent. Once through Ambaston you are back at the waters edge as we follow the Derwent through Borrowash and along a cycle trail to the outskirts of Derby. The next place we pass is the Pride Park industrial estate which is home to Derby County.
Once in Derby we pass the weir near the council buildings before arriving at the southern end of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site (DVMWHS). The mills have been awarded the UNESCO statue for their industrial importance, I mentioned earlier in the post that Derbyshire is where the industrial revolution was born.
The first and one of the most fascinating buildings of interest we pass on the way is Derby Silk Mill. Built by George Sorocold for the Lombe brothers John and Thomas in 1721 it was the worlds first factory. The story goes that John ‘acquired’ the plans for the spinning machines during his travels in Italy where he saw Silk being spun. They then built the mill to ‘Double’ silk on industrial scale and did so very successfully. John Lombe however died in suspicious circumstances and it is thought that he was poisoned by an Italian assassin. The mill has burned down and been rebuilt numerous times since the 1780s so sadly the structure we see today isn’t the same as the original.
Today however the Silk Mill is a museum which showcases Derby’s industrial past and present. It houses artefact from those early days of Silk and Cotton spinning up to the present day engineering masterpieces from Rolls Royce who build aircraft engines in the city. In recent months the Silk Mill was home to the touring Poppies which were originally at the Tower of London. The poppies have a link to the city as they were designed by Derby ceramic artist Paul Cummins. The museum is currently having a refit and sadly won’t be open again until 2020.
After leaving the Silk Mill we head towards Darley Abbey and the next historic site along the DVMWHS. The collection of Mills at Darley Abbey were built by the Evans family, they also built many houses for their workers which we pass on the way. There were 4 mills at Darley Abbey. The West Mill, the Long Mill, the Middle Mill and the East Mill. Sadly you are unable to access them without permission as they have been converted in to business premisses.
After the Darley Mills we head towards Little Eaton through the turf growing facility on the banks of the Derwent. We pass underneath the A38 dual carriage way, then climb up to walk along side it to cross the railway line. We then walk in to the Village of Little Eaton before climbing over the hill towards the Peckwash Mill.
Peckwash Mill chimney can be seen as we approach the Mill built by Thomas Tempest. The mill was originally a corn mill but in the mid 19th century became the only paper mill in the world with four paper-making machines in operation.
After Peckwash Mill we head for Mackney before climbing over towards Belper. Although the way doesn’t run through Millford there are more sites of historic interest down there in the valley built by Jedediah Strutt.
Once in Belper I met with my friend Andy and we walked towards Long Row which is a very picturesque street. It was built for the workers in Jedediah Strutt’s Mills around the corner on the banks of the Derwent. The mills at Belper were once the largest complex of mills under single ownership but sadly parts have been demolished in recent years. The North Mill is now home to a museum, ‘Strutt’s North Mill’, which tells of the story of Strutt and the cotton industry.
Heading northwards from Belper you climb up the valley side before dropping back down into the village of Ambergate. It is here that the River Amber joins the River Derwent and we pick up the Cromford Canal.
The Cromford Canal was built by William Jessop and Benjamin Outram. It was completed in 1794 and once flowed all the way from Cromford to Langley Mill where it joined the Erewash and Nottingham Canals. All that is left today is the section we will walk from Cromford to Ambergate and then various small but largely hidden parts on the way to Langley Mill. I have walked the original length and made a video if you wish to find out more about the canal (Cromford Canal – Cromford to Langley Mill – History Walks). There are lots of hidden gems along the way and I learned a lot when researching it’s past for a local history project.
From Ambergate the Heritage Way follows the canal towpath to Whatstandwell and then on to Cromford. We made a quick stop for a bite to eat at the Family Tree cafe as I was ready to refuel after walking almost 25 miles.
From Whatstandwell we continued along the canal and through the Gregory Tunnel to the Leawood Pumping Station. The pump at Leawood was used for keeping the canal water levels topped up by pumping water from the River Derwent below. The pump is still functional today and there are numerous days of the year where you can go and witness it in action. If you head to the preservation groups website you can find out more details. http://www.middleton-leawood.org.uk.
The next place we pass is the High Peak Junction where water met rail. It is here the Heritage way intersects the High Peak Trail which is an excellent cycle and walking route across the roof of the White Peak towards Buxton. The High Peak junction was where freight like coal and limestone could be loaded on to boats or in to railway carriages. There is a series of rather large inclines leading up from the Junction and there is still a working example of one of the old winding machines. Up at Middleton Top you will find the old winding engine designed by the Butterly Company which used to haul the carriages up the Middleton incline. That is also a working piece of history and can be seen in action on various days of the year, find out more details at http://www.middleton-leawood.org.uk.
The final section of my walk today along the Derwent Valley Heritage Way was the remaining part of the Cromford Canal to Cromford itself, the home of the Mill built by the legendary Sir Richard Arkwright. As bad weather had been forecast I decided to treat myself and stay in a hotel that has a historic link to the DVMWHS.
Willersley Castle is a Grade II listed building that sits above the River Derwent at Cromford, it was designed for Sir Richard Arkwright but he sadly died before it’s completion. It was however home to the Arkwright family up until 1922 and it is now owned by the Christian Guild Hotel Group. I’ve seen the castle many times from afar while cycling along the High Peak Trail and while walking at Black Rocks so I couldn’t pass up on the chance to have a look inside and tick off another link to the Derwent Valley’s industrial past. I’d walked a total of 28 miles today so I was more than ready for a shower and a good nights sleep. The hotel has lots of amenities including a swimming pool but I was shattered so settled in for an early night.
The following morning I awoke to the sound of heavy rain on the window of my room in the hotel. I got up, showered, dressed and went for breakfast armed with my camera to take some pictures of the castle. It’s a nice looking building and I must say I was very impressed with the hotel for the price it cost to stay there, £35 for a single room including breakfast. I repacked my bag, checked out and then headed off in to the rain.
The first stop today was Cromford Mill which was built by Sir Richard Arkwright in 1771 and it was here that the industrial age really began. Arkwright’s patented water frame used the Cromford Sough together with Bonsall Brook to power the Cotton Mill. The mill started with 200 employees that worked two 12 hour shifts day and night…Sir Richard Arkwright is widely regarded as the father of the factory system and it all began on a big scale here in Cromford. The structure is now classified as a Grade I listed building and has a wealth of things to see and learn about the industry and the legendary father himself.
I have visited Cromford Mill many times over the years on school trips and on visits while doing local history projects in my adult life. It has lots to offer but sadly I had no time to stop today as we had miles to cover on the DVHW.
After leaving the Mill we pass the bottom of Cromford Hill where you can see many buildings that were built by Arkwright, some to house mill workers and various other structures including the Greyhound Hotel which was built in 1778. It’s a nice place to stop for lunch or perhaps a pint of ale if you have time.
The next stop on the way is Masson Mill which was built in 1783 and is another one of Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mills. I think this is my favourite Mill along the DWMWHS due to the museum which has working spinning and doubling machines. You can really get a sense of what the cotton industry was like, the machines are a lot more modern than those used in the 1780’s but the process is very similar. I have visited the museum numerous times in the past and it is absolutely fascinating. The staff in the museum are very knowledgeable and there is even a hoop where Arkwright himself used to tether his horse. Although the museum for me is the most interesting part the majority of Masson Mill is now a shopping centre. There is also a great cafe in the lower level of the shopping complex which overlooks the River Derwent.
Masson Mill sits at the top end of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and after passing it I walked in to Matlock Bath. There is lots to see and do in Matlock Bath, perhaps the most famous thing is the Heights of Abraham where you can ride the cable car to the top and explore caves or just enjoy the views.
I’m only around 10 minutes away by car from Matlock Bath so I’ve spent lots of time here over the years in my childhood and adult life. It’s the number one place in the area to come for Fish & Chips a wander by the river, it’s like the seaside but without the sea. It’s also a mecca for bikers as on a nice day or at a weekend the main strip is packed with motorcycles.
From Matlock Bath the Heritage Way heads up High Tor and it’s a great opportunity to stretch the legs and you are rewarded with nice views from the summit. After 28 miles of relatively flat terrain yesterday I welcomed the chance to do a bit of climbing as my hips suffered through lack of varied movement. I’m not a fan of flat walking, give me some climbing over walking flat stuff any day of the week.
The view was great today even if it was raining but on a clear / dry day you could tackle Giddy Edge. It’s not for the faint hearted as it’s a one way trail that passes below the summit and there is a hand rail to stop you falling down the limestone cliff face below.
After High Tor I began the descent to Matlock and rejoined the River Derwent once again. I then passed through Hall Leys park where there is a boating lake and a miniture railway. I only stopped for a caffeine fix in Matlock before moving on but there is lots to see and do including the Peak Railway line. The current national rail services from Derby stop at Matlock Station but you can hop on the Peak Rail steam engine that travels north from Matlock to Rowsley.
The Derwent Valley Heritage Way crosses the River Derwent and then heads north to Rowsley via Darley Bridge. The rain was pretty heavy along this section so once I arrived in Rowsley I took shelter in a bus stop to have some food. Passengers on a bus laughed as they must have though I looked rather amusing, head to toe in water proofs, mud up to my knees and making lunch on my stove.
At Rowsley is the Peak Village Shopping Centre if you feel that way inclined or perhaps in need of any outdoor supplies. More interestingly there is Cauldwells Mill just around the corner. Caudwells Mill is a Grade II listed historic flour mill. It is Powered by water from the river Wye which joins the Derwent at Rowsley. There has been a mill on the site for around 400 years and the current mill was built in 1874 by John Caudwell. There is also the excellent Caudwells Crafts and Cafe which serves great vegetarian and vegan food.
After leaving Rowsley by walking up the side of the Peacock Pub the route travels across fields towards the Chatsworth Estate. The first section as you pass underneath the old railway line was ankle deep in cow slurry so I can now consider my new Salomon Speed Cross 4 trail shoes fully christened 🙂 The old railway line above was a continuation of the line from Matlock which now stops further back at Peak Rail’s Rowsley South Station. The line was once part of the famous route built by the Midland Railway that has become the Monsal Trail further along towards Bakewell. The line once connected Matlock with Buxton and ash this point today the line only exists in patches on the ground as the course is broken by roads and fields. To the west is the Haddon Tunnel which the railway used to pass through in order to hide it from view of the Haddon Hall Estate. A little further west the Monsal Trail begins and it is an absolutely fantastic cycling / walking route which passes through numerous tunnels and over the Headstone Viaduct at Monsal…. Anyway, back to the DVHW.
From Rowsley It rained pretty much none stop all the way to Chatsworth. The trail heads down to the River Derwent again through the lush green meadows before you get to Chatsworth House. The house is home to the Duke of Devonshire and it has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. If you aren’t caked in mud like I was i’d highly recommend a walk around the house and gardens, during the Festive Season the house is usually decked out in different themes too.
Chatsworth is home to numerous markets and country shows, one of which had just finished so the footpath had been diverted ever so slightly while the stalls were packed away. Not to worry though as the diversion just meant we followed the River Derwent closely for a few hundred metres which was rather enjoyable. I must admit I did sit down for 30 minutes on a few hay bales and almost fell asleep, during my time sat there I made a plan for the evening and decided that I would finish today’s walk at Calver and stay at Eyam YHA.
I made my way through Chatsworth to Baslow and the Heritage Way then weaves around the village streets before crossing to the western side of the Derwent near the church. It then crosses fields up to Calver where I met up with my girlfriend and daughter who took me out for dinner… We drove back to Baslow for a quick bite to eat at the Wheatsheaf and then they dropped me off at Eyam YHA where I’d booked a room for the night.
I hadn’t stayed at a YHA for around 12 years but I must say I was very impressed, my last night in a YHA (SYHA) was at Glen Nevis near Fort William in Scotland. I had a great nights sleep and the breakfast in the morning hit the spot nicely. I’ll definitely make a point of visiting more YHA in the future. In order to save my legs I got the bus from the market place in Eyam back to Calver before continuing my journey along the Heritage Way. The sun was shining, the legs were refreshed and there was more history to discover.
After leaving the road in Calver you pass the old Cotton Mill which was home to cotton spinning machines that were under licence from Sir Richard Arkwright. The mill ceased operating in the 1920s and has since been converted in to apartments. The Heritage Way passes by the locked gates at the entrance but for future reference you can get a better glimpse of the mill from the path that runs along the opposite side of the river. We also walk along the mill stream which once channeled water to power the mill.
Further up the trail is the recently restored Calver Weir which has undergone an extensive restoration. The Calver Weir Restoration Project which is a registered charity set about restoring the weir and the job was completed in 2010. The path then follows the river through a small patch of woodland to Frogatt, the village lends it’s name to part of the gritstone edge in to east. The way then cuts through farmland to another patch of ancient woodland called Frogatt Wood which is owned by the National Trust.
We then arrive in Grindleford where we cross the road to rejoin the river, this section of the trail is very enjoyable. The Derwent is meandering slowly and the path follows the waters edge through lush green fields before entering Coppice Wood which is part of the Longshaw Estate owned by the National Trust.
The rain had really set in by the time I got to the B6001 just south of Hathersage, I crossed the river and picked up the footpath that runs on the western side of the river. This one of the last meandering sections along the Derwent before we climb out of the valley and even though it was raining it was very enjoyable. The path clings to the edge of the river bank as it rises and falls.
Thankfully the rain had stopped for a moment when I reached the stepping stones so it was time for a break. My daughter and I crossed the stepping stones a few months ago while walking the White to Dark Peak route and they were extreme slippery 🙂
After lunch I continued on, crossed the road and then joined the Thornhill Trail. The Heritage Way slowly gains elevation as you walk along this old railway line, it was completed in 1903 to aid the construction of the Derwent and Howden Reservoirs. The rain was falling heavily again but in no time at all I arrived at the Ladybower Reservoir.
The Ladybower dam wall is the final landmark on the way to Heatherdene. The water level was very low but if you are lucky you can sometimes catch the plug holes in full flow after periods of heavy rainfall. They are a fascinating sight to behold and when viewed from above they are even more spectacular. I flew my drone above them in early 2017 and the resulting video footage is rather hypnotic.
After crossing the dam wall all that was left was to cross the road and to walk the short stretch of trail to the end of the Heritage Way at Heatherdene. Most online resources and maps tend to write about the route from north to south but I really enjoyed following the river up stream. The elevation gain is only 1,060 metres according to my GPS so it’s hardly noticeable over the 55 miles. Even though Shardlow is very nice and the Trent and Mersey canal is picturesque I still feel that finishing in the Peak District is the best bet.
Making a video of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way had been high on my list for a long time and i’m so glad I went back again to do it. Last time I walked it I suffered a catastrophic phone and battery failure so I have hardly any pictures so I never wrote a full blog post. I feel I have now remedied that so thank you very much for taking the time to read, watch or listen to all the content from this trip. Why not check out the Heritage Way page on the Derwent Valley Mills website to find out more and plan your own adventure