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3 great walks for forest bathing in Derbyshire

Footbridge over the River Amber Photo: Helen Moat
Footbridge over the River Amber Photo: Helen Moat

Forest bathing – shinrin-yoku – is official Japanese government policy. Spending time in forests, scientists have discovered is good for our health.

It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, boosts the immune system, reduces stress levels and accelerates recovery from illness.

Combine with the calming sound of cascading water or the uplifting sparkle of the sun on rivers, streams and reservoir for a wonderful pick-me-up. Here are three walks that will restore the soul.

Great British Life: Imposing tree near Brackenfield Photo: Helen MoatImposing tree near Brackenfield Photo: Helen Moat

Ogston Water

Like many, I suffer from the winter blues, but walking in the coldest months is a superb pick-me-up.

The low light of winter and wrap-around fog emphasises the vivid reds of berries and striking charcoal outlines of tree trunks.

Wrapped in cloud, the landscape has an intimacy and softness that gives it a melancholy beauty. This five-mile walk is particularly quiet and peaceful in January after the noise and rush of Christmas. There are no cafés or pubs on this route so bring a flask and some nibbles.

Starting out from Ogston Water West Car Park, head south along Ogston New Road in the direction of Brackenfield.

After a short way, views of Ogston open out. Look for great crested grebes and ducks, including shovelers with their spatula-shaped beaks. You should see cormorants too, increasingly found inland in search of more bountiful feeding waters as sea fish stocks become increasingly depleted.

I love these birds, primeval in appearance, as they spread their great black wings, flapping and drying them in the air. The cormorant is the only waterbird that doesn’t have waterproof feathers – hence the need to spread its wings.

Soon you’ll reach the hamlet of Brackenfield with its Victorian Holy Trinity Church, the site donated by the squire of Ogston Hall, Gladwin Turbutt, also its benefactor.

Turn left at the church and head down Butterfield Lane. Follow the first public footpath on the left. It leads up a grassy farm track, then through fields to a wooden footbridge traversing the River Amber.

Cross the bridge and follow the well-trodden path between river and railway track. Eventually, you’ll meet a stone bridge, water cascading from the dam into the Amber.

Turn left to cross it and follow a narrow, paved lane (belonging to Ogston Hall estate). At its end, veer right to climb the hill, passing the water treatment works.

At the top of the rise, go left onto Hurst Lane, becoming South Hill Lane. At the end of the lane, turn left onto the much busier B6014. Take particular care as the road twists and turns, dipping and rising through darkening trees.

Views of Ogston Water open out in all their glory just before Quarry Lane. Pause to take in the reservoir with all its winter wildlife.

You’re not likely to see boats on the water in January, so return in spring or summer to enjoy the water sparkling in sunlight and yachtsmen and women tacking across the reservoir at speed on breezy days.

You’ll see birders, however, on the hunt for rarer winter waders and resident waterfowl. As you continue along the road back to the car park, you’ll pass handsome stone dwellings in this quiet but lovely part of the Amber Valley.

Great British Life: Sculpture at Lea Wood Photo: Helen MoatSculpture at Lea Wood Photo: Helen Moat

Cromford Canal and Lea Wood Nature Reserve

I recommend that, if you can, you do this 2.5-mile walk on Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday between 11am and 2pm, so you can visit the lovingly restored Aqueduct Cottage.

The volunteers will give you a big welcome (as they did me) and share their passion for this Beatrix Potter-esque cottage by the canal.

Starting from High Peak Junction Car Park, join the path that crosses the bridge to Cromford Canal and High Peak Junction with its railway carriages, workshops and shop. There’s lovely waterside seating if you’d like a coffee stop before heading southeast along the canal towpath.

You can choose to walk on the left or right bank of the waterway, passing the Pump House with its soaring chimney stack and waterside wharf until you reach the Aqueduct Cottage. Drop in (if open) and read the story of its history and restoration – and warm up by the wood burner.

Leaving the cottage, climb the steps behind the restored house, keeping left to follow the path along the upper edge of the forest. You’ll come to your first sculpted post, and shortly after, a four-way junction.

Below each wooden fingerpost, admire the intricate carvings of woodland wildlife, including a jay, badger, fox and hedgehog.

Turn right to follow the fingerpost to ‘Gregory’s Tunnel via Florence’s Seat’. The path cuts across woodland high above the canal. Here, you’ll find magnificent oaks and beeches along with the ubiquitous birch with an understory of holly, ivy and elder.

Soon you’ll reach Florence’s Seat. Florence, of course, is Florence Nightingale, whose great uncle Peter developed the Lea Bridge arm of the canal, creating the Lea smelting and spinning cotton mills.

At the end of the level path, peer over the fence at the imposing Lea Hurst, a fine country house and the family’s summer residence. Florence was actively engaged in educating local women in the importance of good sanitation, her exacting hygiene practices as a nurse in the Crimea War saving the lives of many soldiers.

Here, you can backtrack to a path on your left that drops down to the path at the lower end of the nature reserve. I chose to continue on, following the unofficial path that hugs the fenced perimeter of the old deer park.

If you choose to go this way, you do so at your own risk; it is quite steep and slippery in places. After a while, the narrow path drops down the side of a gully to meet the lower main path. Turn right. It’s muddy in winter, so wear suitable footwear.

You’ll find more beautifully sculpted posts along the way. As you climb up and over a rise, Cromford Canal comes into view with the River Derwent beyond.

The path levels out before climbing through a clearing in the woodland – cutting across to the four-way junction again, where you were earlier.

This time, follow the signpost for Lea Bridge, dropping to the left. The wide woodland pathway takes you past a couple more sculptures before it hits the valley floor.

Turn left and follow the track until you see a narrow path on your right. It takes you over a little brook beside a house. Turn right, then left onto Lea Road, and back to High Peak Junction Car Park.

Great British Life: The Longshaw Estate Photo: Helen MoatThe Longshaw Estate Photo: Helen Moat

Longshaw to Grindleford Station

This 3.7-mile walk takes the rambler through some of the most beautiful wood and water landscapes in the Peak, with the bonus of majestic moorland and gritstone tors opening out at different stages along the circular route.

Stepping out from the Longshaw National Trust Car Park (cost for non-members), drop down to the café and follow the path left below it until you reach a gate. Continue straight through a second gate. The path continues through moorland and mixed woodland.

Towards the end of the plantation take the path downhill through open land, leading to Oak’s Wood. Enjoy views of Higger Tor on Burbage Moor along with its rocky outcrops.

Take a right to enter the woodland, watching your step as you descend uneven ground beside a tumbling brook of small waterfalls – particularly impressive after a period of rain.

Continue downhill until you meet the B6521. Cross the road and follow the narrow footpath downhill towards Grindleford until you see a green public fingerpost on your right pointing to a gap in a stone wall just before a house.

Go through the gap, continuing downhill on a smoother path – welcome after the tricky descent of Oak’s Wood. The path emerges at Grindleford Café - the old railway station waiting room, a place full of character, if basic, where you can order comfort food to power you up to Longshaw again.

Leaving the café, turn right to cross the railway bridge where trains thunder through Totley Tunnel before emerging from countryside to the outskirts of Sheffield.

Take the first right after the bridge (just before the mill house) to climb through the atmospheric Yarncliff wood, a place of moss-covered stone, twisting oaks, birch and alder with Burbage Brook cascading through the ravine.

When the path hits the B6521 again, climb the steps in the wall and follow the road uphill a short distance to reach a white field gate on the other side. Go through and head up the broad grassy path through open land, sprinkled with broadleaves and pines.

Your path eventually meets Longshaw Pond. Pause to watch the waterfowl and take in the views of the magnificent Dark Peak moorlands punctuated with weather-carved gritstone tors.

Turn right to follow the gravel path through trees and rhododendrons, then back through the gate to pass beneath Longshaw Lodge, an unusually grand shooting lodge back in the day (King George V and the Duke of Wellington visited).

In WWI it became a convalescent home for injured soldiers, the lodge since converted into private flats/homes with outstanding views.

You have a choice at this stage: nip into Longshaw Café for a warming drink or follow the path at the top of the car park to Fox House for something stronger.



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