Wednesday 16 June 2010

Derby To Leek 12th to 14 June 2010

This 3 day walk was designed to link the outskirts of Derby with the outskirts of Leek, making use of the transport options offered by the two and passing through a mix of rural south Derbyshire countryside, classic limestone dale scenery and lonely, dark Staffordshire moorland.

As well as a self-contained walk, I intended it as research into a possible longer route circumnavigating the Peak District, taking in a variety of destinations important to me personally and highlighting the blend of natural beauty, wildlife, history and industrial heritage that makes this National Park unique.

Saturday 12th June 2010

Day 1: Mickleover to Ashbourne – approx 14.75 miles


OS Explorer 259 Derby


Mickleover – Black Wood – Radbourne – Bonnie Prince Charlie Walk – Dalbury Lees – Long Lane – Over Burrows – Brailsford – Centenery Way – Ednaston – Shirley – BPCW – Osmaston – Ashbourne


Pubs: Lees, Brailsford, Shirley, Osmaston and Ashbourne
Cafés & Kiosks: Ashbourne
Shops: Brailsford, Ashbourne
Transport: Derby, Brailsford, Ashbourne
Accommodation: Derby, Brailsford, Ashbourne


A bright, sunny morning, slightly cool early on, with patchy cloud becoming warm in the afternoon.

I set off from my overnight stop on the western fringes of Derby at just after 9.00am, looking forward to the prospect of three very different day’s walking to come. Although still cool for the time of year, there was plenty of blue sky showing between bright white clouds and it felt good to have the sun on my face again after a week hidden away in the office. I felt slightly self-conscious plodding through the leafy suburbs sporting hiking boots and a sizeable rucksack, but I soon forgot about that as the streets brought back happy memories of friends and events from thirty or so years previously when I was growing up in the area.

Soon, I crossed the disused Derby to Burton railway line and, reaching the fields proper, left suburbia behind. Already wildlife was abundant and birdsong filled the air. As I passed into the parkland surrounding Radbourne Hall a fat Grey Squirrel shinned up a fence post and disappeared noisily into the trees, and butterflies flitted past at regular intervals. The 18th Century hall is renowned as the home of the Chandos-Pole family and, briefly, of Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather) - physician, philosopher, naturalist, poet, inventor and member of the Lunar Society - who married into the family in 1781. Approaching the village I spotted a Jay and watched Swifts swooping after insects overhead.

From the village I picked up the well-established Bonnie Prince Charlie Walk (BPCW) formed to commemorate the route Charles Edward Stuart marched between Ashbourne and Derby in 1745. This leads easily across the fields to the attractive village of Lees where, from the green outside the Black Cow pub, I followed the road north to meet Long Lane (a Roman road that linked Derby with Rocester in Staffordshire and beyond) at the brow of the hill. Crossing this ancient thoroughfare I threaded a line northwards towards Brailsford. A couple of Buzzards circled up on the thermals. Meeting the lane near the unlovely agri-business farm of Over Burrows, I turned left and dropped down into Brailsford, taking the path over the golf course to reach the village centre.

For the next stage I picked up the Centenary Way (CW) westwards. Having forced my way through fields of Oilseed Rape - almost 6ft high in places - on the way to Brailsford Church (located some half a mile outside the village) I skirted Ednaston and took my lunch, undisturbed, sitting in a field just beyond. It was by now a very pleasant afternoon, so I pushed on to Shirley and had a drink at the Saracens Head: a little food-y but nicely situated with tables out front in the sunshine.

I continued on my way again, once more following the BPCW. Along Park Lane, I passed the cricket field and paused to watch a couple of overs. Soon, the lane gave way to a shaded track running through Osmaston Park, dropping down to pass Shirley Mill and the lakes before rising again to Osmaston village. The usually quiet village was very busy; not only was the local school’s summer fair in full swing, but there was also a country show underway as well. A row of parked cars some third-of-a-mile long hugged the south side of the road forcing me to walk down the middle of the lane and battle with the oncoming traffic for right of way.

So I pressed on, taking the BPCW out of the village and back into the fields. I was by now nearing Ashbourne and the path began showing the signs, passing through a large caravan site and crossing the by-pass before winding through a quiet housing estate. The drudgery of this last mile was relieved slightly when the route cut across a last field and dropped down steps behind the houses, affording some pleasant views over the town to the hills beyond and hinting at what was to come tomorrow.

In the end, I felt that the majority of this walk was really good although the beginning and end were necessarily through housing estates and the section between Long Lane and Over Burrows was slightly scruffy in places. However, any such route (across farmland and well outside the National Park) is likely to encounter one or two places where the quality of the scenery drops a notch or two and, as an experiment, it seemed to work out well enough. Although I might consider other options in future such as a line further north through Kedleston and Hulland, I ended the day supping my cup of tea with a contented smile on my face, so mission accomplished.

Sunday 13th June 2010

Day 2: Ashbourne to Hartington – approx 13.25 miles


OS Explorer 259 Derby
OS Explorer OL24 Peak District (White Peak Area)


Ashbourne – Tissington Trail – Thorpe – Thorpe Cloud – Stepping Stones – Dovedale – Milldale – Alstonefield – Gipsy Bank – Coldeaton Bridge – Wolfscote Dale – Biggin Dale – Dale End – Highfield Lane – Hartington


Pubs: Ashbourne, Thorpe, Alstonefield and Hartington
Cafés & Kiosks: Ashbourne, Tissington, Milldale, Alstonefield and Hartington
Shops: Ashbourne and Hartington
Transport: Ashbourne, Thorpe, Alstonefield and Hartington
Accommodation: Ashbourne, Thorpe, Alstonefield and Hartington


A bright, sunny morning, slightly cool early on, with patchy cloud becoming showery in the afternoon. Heavy rain in late afternoon and evening.

It was a little later than the previous morning that I set off from Ashbourne for day two of this walk. Once again, the weather was fine early on, but once again, showers were forecast, and it was already clouding over: today they would be making an appearance.

I wandered up through the market place and turned left keeping on the road towards Mapleton to reach the start of the Tissington Trail on the north west edge of town. The Tissington Trail, formed from the former the Ashbourne to Buxton railway line, is a 13 mile cycle and walking path running between Ashbourne and Parsley Hay. Most summer weekends, cyclists dominate and walking can be tricky, but early in the day it provides a quick route into the dales.

Near Thorpe, I left the Trail behind and cut across fields to the road where, directly opposite, a narrow lane led into the village. A few squally raindrops blew by - a foretaste of things to come. I rested for a few minutes on a handy bench and, as I did so, visitors began to pour in. I was heading for one of the busiest parts of the Peak District on a Summer Sunday, so I knew peace and quiet would be at a premium. As they were busy adjusting laces and walking poles, I hurried away ahead of them.

My next objective was the distinctive mini-mountain of Thorpe Cloud, a steep-sided but modest peak situated at the gateway to Dovedale that I had not climbed it since I was a teenager. But today it seemed like a good idea so I clambered up it and found myself there surprisingly alone. Despite clocking in at less than 300m, the views from its rocky summit are excellent and give a wonderful “birds-eye” view of the gorge that is Dovedale.

After a few moments in quiet contemplation of the scene spread out below me, I left my airy perch and took the obvious path northwards down to the stepping stones where I joined the main path through Dovedale. Needless to say, it was very busy. I stopped for a few moments at Lover’s Leap waiting for a break in the procession before carrying on. There was plenty of wildlife to be seen, and evidence that although it is technically Summer, nature considers it to be late Spring. Both Mallard and Moorhen were to be seen with chicks in tow, and, in the slower-moving, deeper stretches, Trout broke the surface searching for insects.

Despite the huge numbers of people flocking through, Dovedale is a beautiful - even spectacular - steep-sided gorge, justifiably feted both now and in history. A series of pictures showing artistic scenes of the dale accompanied by literary excerpts had been fixed to trees at regular intervals, highlighting the draw this place has had on visitors over the years. I approve of illustrating the art and literature inspired by the dale, but I’m not sure I found the method to my taste. Soon afterwards, I passed the caves at Dove Holes from where it was a short walk to Viators Bridge, the old packhorse bridge made famous by Izaak Walton in his book “The Compleat Angler”, and into Milldale in time for lunch.

After lunch, I took a detour from the dale and climbed the hill to Alstonefield. Taking the bridle path northeast past the Youth Hostel. As I wandered through the fields I heard a Skylark and a Curlew and moments later saw both.

I dropped down into Wolfscote Dale at Coldeaton Bridge via Gipsy Bank. It began to rain, but the trees afforded some shelter and the gentle patter of raindrops on the water brought an odd calm. During this quiet I spotted a Grey Heron, a Grey Wagtail and a Dipper.

I ambled northwards, turning right into Biggin Dale, another fine example of the Limestone dales of this area. The rain continued to fall steadily as I worked my way towards Dale End and picked up Highfield Lane, one of a network of farm tracks that criss-cross the high ground hereabouts, providing far-reaching views for the final mile before bringing me into Hartington by the Youth Hostel, my lodgings for the evening.

Today’s walk was very enjoyable. Despite being busy, the wonderful variety and beauty of the scenery makes it worthwhile even so. There are very many options on this route, all of which would be equally enjoyable, but I am happy with the route I took and would recommend it thoroughly. Hartington is a good place for an overnight stop with pubs, shops, B&Bs and the Youth Hostel all to be found, and walkers are well catered fro, especially those looking for a couple of pints of real ale and a hearty meal – a fine end to a fine day.

Monday 14th June 2010

Day 3: Hartington to Upper Hulme – approx 12.75 miles


OS Explorer OL24 Peak District (White Peak Area)


Hartington – Beresford Dale – Narrowdale – Gateham Grange – Back of Ecton – Sugarloaf – Wetton Mill – Hoo Brook – Butterton – Hayes Farm – Lane – Mermaid Inn - Hurdlow – Upper Hulme


Pubs: Hartington, Butterton, Mermaid Inn and Upper Hulme
Cafés & Kiosks: Hartington and Wetton Mill
Shops: Hartington
Transport: Hartington, Butterton and Upper Hulme


A beautiful, bright morning, with blue sky and fluffy white cloud, cooling and clouding over in the afternoon with rain in the air.

Today, I awoke to a beautiful morning. More Spring-like than Summery, fluffy white clouds drifted across a bright blue sky. I wanted to make good use of the good weather, so I slipped out of the Hostel at just after 8.00am and picked up a few supplies on my way through the village.

I headed south into Beresford Dale across meadows sprinkled with wild flowers. Recent refurbishment has upgraded this path from the muddy mess it used to be. Soon, I reached the woods and followed the riverside path as it wound through the grotto-like dale. The heavy rain of the previous night was still dripping through the trees and, brushing past the dense foliage, it was difficult not to get a soaking.

By a small wooden bridge over the river, the dale opens out to reveal water meadows covered in wild flowers. I remember these meadows well: I used to visit them as a kid and in winter, when the river overflowed, they would be frozen over in one vast sheet of ice.

From Beresford Lane, I followed a cycle track southwards through a scene of bucolic perfection as the dale dropped away to my left. Beyond a gate, as the cycle path forked left, I carried straight on reaching a farm at Narrowdale. I contoured around Narrowdale Hill on the metalled lane, went straight over at the crossroads and took a westward-bound path, rough with tussocky grass, from below Gateham Grange towards Back of Ecton. From here, I wound my way up on to the ridge before picking up the path that runs past Sugarloaf and drops down through a scruffy farm towards Wetton Mill.

I stopped for a rest and a cup of tea and something to eat. By now the sky had clouded over and the remainder of the day looked set to be grey. Break over, I chose the bridle path along side Hoo Brook and made for Butterton. The nature of the underlying Geology had changed: instead of limestone of earlier I was now heading towards the darker moorlands of Staffordshire. Underfoot, the paths were slick with dark mud and the ground more easily churned by cattle. At the footbridge, my route aimed for Butterton, taking a rising path through meadows to reach the village: a tumble of houses divided by the brook that spills onto the main street.

So far, today’s walk had been very different from yesterdays. Just as I knew that walking the popular areas on a nice Sunday was likely to be busy, I guessed that these less-favoured parts on a cloudy Monday would be much quieter, and so it proved. Truth be told, I was hoping for a bit of peace and quiet and, since leaving Hartington, I had seen less than a handful of people; most of those being at Wetton Mill. The next stage was likely to be quieter still for I planned a traverse of the rising moorland northwest of Butterton as far as the Mermaid Inn, using a mixture of field paths, tracks and lanes and skirting the villages of Lower Elkstone and Upper Elkstone along the way. On the high ground beyond Hayes Farm a brusque shower swept in giving me just enough warning to put on my waterproof jacket in time. This area somehow manages to exude a loneliness far greater that its actual remoteness would suggest.

I plodded on. Farming hereabouts must be a precarious existence and almost on the edge of what is practicable, but it never ceases to amaze me how untidy some of them can be. Rusting farm implements, broken down cars, plies of old tyres, rolls of wire fencing, plastic cans, buckets and sheeting; all must have had some value at one time but have been simply left to rot, and I can’t see the benefit of it.

So, to avoid these unlovely farmyards, I stuck to the lane, reaching the Mermaid Inn in the early afternoon. I tried the door, but it was shut. I wasn’t unduly concerned as I had expected it might be closed anyway – out of the way pubs sometimes are on weekday lunchtime. I sat on a bench outside just to rest for five minutes and get my breath back when the landlord stuck his head around the door. “We’re not open”, he grunted in an unfriendly manner. I stared at him for a moment, and phrased my reply to suggest he perhaps didn’t mind if I sat there for a couple of minutes. He looked decidedly less than chuffed but went back inside. I am always happy to try to support rural businesses and would have bought a drink if they were open. But, from his attitude, I assume he, like the farmers hereabouts, can afford to let money go to waste since I will be telling all who will listen to try other hostelries.

I shouldered my pack and set off for the last leg of my walk. One of the upsides of this route is the great view of The Roaches, Hen Cloud and Ramshaw Rocks. These were spread out in front of me as I began my descent to Upper Hulme. A well-marked path makes an almost direct line for the village; first over tussocky fell, then by farm track and field path.

Although only mid-afternoon, and with The Roaches beckoning, I had to end my trip here as I had to connect with transport and make my way home. It had been a very enjoyable and varied three days incorporating a huge diversity of terrain, changeable weather, seething honey-pots and lonely moors, but I am pretty content with the route I chose and am looking forward to continuing on later in the year when I will get that Roaches traverse done. And with that to start the next leg, who could resist?


  1. Hi Jules,

    I was interested to see this walk, as I have done a couple of similar ones: Matlock to Macclesfield and Congleton to Sheffield.

    I enjoyed them so much they are written up in I'll do more in the Peaks, and will think obout this one!

    With best wishes, Jeremy Polmear

    1. Hi Jeremy

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for dropping by.

      I've had a brief look at your website (and have bookmarked it for further reading in due course!) and can see why my 3-dayer caught your eye - I sense a similar philosophy at work.

      By the looks of it there are some obvious similarities in the types of itineraries we like, and I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures soon.