Feel the joys of spring on this jolly jaunt visiting some of Derbyshire’s finest follies – from the star disc of Wirksworth to the Hunting Tower of Chatsworth, via Birchover’s Druid Caves!

Great British Life: The Star DiscThe Star Disc (Image: as supp)

‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,/The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,/And bathed every veyne in swich licóur/Of which vertú engendred is the flour…’ quoth Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, ‘So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,/Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,/And palmeres forto seken straunge strondes,/ To ferne halwes, kowthe insondry londes…’

Well, you may not be a pilgrim, scallop-shell in hat and staff in hand, but if blood pulses in your veins it’s hard not to feel a certain restless stirring at this time of year – the quickening of spring, I call it. One wants to be outside, and perhaps setting off on an adventure – or at least a breezy cycle ride over the rolling landscape of the southern Peak District in search of follies.

What better way to welcome in the spring with daffodils out and the hedgerows bustling with lusty birdsong?

We start our folly tour with the Wirksworth Star Disc. With a diameter of 40 feet, the Star Disc is a celestial amphitheatre and stone circle created by Aidan Shingler.It was unveiled by Pete Lawrence, BBC The Sky at Night presenter, on 10th September 2011. Whether he was any relation to DH Lawrence, who lived for a while close by at Mountain Cottage, Middleton Top, with his German wife Frieda, who can say?

Great British Life: On the road towards Edensor and Chatsworth HouseOn the road towards Edensor and Chatsworth House (Image: as supp)

After visiting the stars, travel down to Earth, and visit the charming Wirksworth Heritage Centre, where you can find out about the town’s historic past. Highlights include an exhibition of the Victorian realist novelist, George Eliot (1819–1889). Mary Ann Evans, as the writer was christened, stayed with an aunt in Wirksworth, and much of her first novel Adam Bede (1859), was inspired by characters and landmarks of the area – not least her own aunt, Elizabeth Evans, who is fictionalised as ‘Dinah Morris’ in the book (the eagle-eyed will spot her plaque in St John Street and memorial in the church).

Before you leave the Heritage Centre pay your respects to T’Owd Man – a primitive Medieval relief carving, from nearby Bonsall, but now incorporated into an internal wall of the south transept of Wirksworth St Mary’s Church. The image – estimated to be at least 800 years old – depicts a lead-miner with his pick and workman’s basket known as a ‘kibble’. Some experts have even declared him ‘the world’s earliest-known depiction of a miner’; others that he is an ancient genius loci – a guardian Lord of the Mines (such as inspired JRR Tolkien at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire).

Perhaps such a figure lived in The Hermit’s Cave, at Cratcliffe Rocks near Birchover, further up the road, although these days you’ll find a mysterious Christ figure – suitably for an Eastertide pilgrimage. Perhaps medieval pilgrims stopped here to pray or to take shelter from Chaucer’s ‘Aprille shoures’? If you prefer a different route, visit Birchover itself and explore Rowtor Rocks with its strange gritstone caves, rooms, stone steps, stone armchair and rock basins sculpted by local parson Thomas Eyre in the late 18th century. He was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids (formed in 1781) that met at the Druid Inn below the rocks.

For now, time to roll back the stone and push on to the magnificent country estate of Chatsworth. Above, in Stand Woods, you’ll find The Hunting Tower, apparently the first folly in the county. Whether it actually is ‘first among follies’, or not, it is worth trekking up the hill to enjoy the view. There are several other splendid follies within the grounds of Chatsworth – and it is worth paying the full entrance fee to see its many treasures. But you are welcome to enjoy the lovely park, which is free to walk around. It is a perfect place to end your April folly run, before decamping to the nearby tea rooms – for hot cross buns of course!

Great British Life: Rowtor Rocks Photo: Gary WallisRowtor Rocks Photo: Gary Wallis (Image: gary wallis)

The Route:

From Market Place, in the centre of Wirksworth, head Northwest up the hill (Dale End onto Green Hill, until you come to the Star Disc). Then retreat your steps Southeast back to the centre.

From Market Place head North-northeast on Harrison Drive (B5023).

Great British Life: Looking toward Cratcliffe Rocks and the Hermit's Cave Photo: Gary WallisLooking toward Cratcliffe Rocks and the Hermit's Cave Photo: Gary Wallis (Image: gary wallis)

Leaving Wirksworth, continue on B5023 past Middleton, until the lane joins A5012 on the left.

Follow A5012 until Grangemill, then turn right at The Hollybush Inn onto the B5056. Continue down the B5056 with Cratcliffe Rocks on your left where you’ll find the Hermit’s Cave. (If you want to visit Birchover and Rowtor Rocks instead, turn right briefly onto the Elton Rd, then left onto Birchover Lane. Continue on to Birchover. From Birchover, turn left along High Street to the Druid Inn. From here you can follow signs to the ‘hidden druid caves’ of Rowtor Rocks. Return to the Druid Inn, and push up The Mires northwards to rejoin the B5056 below Cratcliffe Rocks.)

After a couple of miles on this B-road turn right onto the A6. Follow down into Rowsley.

Turn left onto Chatsworth Road via Beeley (B6012).

Push on past Beeley – following the Derwent until (up a steep drive) Chatsworth hoves into view. Head down past the main car park for access to Stand Wood.

Follow footpath to The Hunting Tower, then descend to explore the main house or the delightful Edensor tearooms (on the other side of Paine’s Bridge) – or both!

NB. Bicycles are only allowed on the public road (B6012) through the park, on the bridlepath from Calton Lees to Edensor and on tarmac roads on the estate.


Distance: 15.5 miles

Level: Moderate (1,099 ft up; 1,161 ft down).

Parking: Wirksworth town centre (pay and display).

Refreshments: Wirksworth Heritage Centre; The Hollybush Inn, Grangemill; The Devonshire Arms, Beeley; Chatsworth House; Edensor Tea Rooms.

Toilets: Wirksworth; Chatsworth.

Travel links: Buses to Wirksworth and Chatsworth.

Other resources

Wirksworth Heritage Centre: www.wirksworthheritage.co.uk

Chatsworth House: www.chatsworth.org

Maps: Stand Wood Walk to Hunting Tower: www.chatsworth.org/media/9436/park-stand-wood-walks-map.pdf

More Folly & fun:

You can be a Guinness World Record holder by taking part in Wirksworth’s 2020 attempt to gather the largest number of people dressed as Harry Potter in one place. Wirksworth Wizarding Day’s world record attempt is raising funds for Aquabox. It takes place on 5th July 2020. Sign up at wizardingday.com