An oasis of charm and quirkiness, Sally Mosley finds that Elvaston Castle Country Park offers a maze of paths to explore. Add on a section of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way through riverside meadows for an interesting and easy winter wander

Distance: 6 miles

Parking: Elvaston Castle Country Park DE72 3EP (pay & display – gates close 5pm in winter)

Terrain: There are four stiles, three gates and several sets of steps. This is an easy-going hike mainly following good paths with some field and stile walking. A section of quiet road is without a pavement. There may be livestock grazing in fields. The riverside path is close to deep water and low-lying areas may be prone to flooding or mud.

Refreshments: Harrington tea rooms in the Castle (closed Mondays in winter)

Great British Life: Elvaston walk map by Kate Ridout @earlybird graphicsElvaston walk map by Kate Ridout @earlybird graphics (Image: kate ridout)

Toilets: In the car park and Castle courtyard

Map: O.S. Explorer 259 – Derby

Walk highlight: The amazing manicured topiary

Description: Elvaston is a fairytale Castle with a history of romance and tragedy. Currently owned by Derbyshire County Council it faces an uncertain future, but thankfully the building is in the throes of essential restoration and repair work. Surrounded by 200 acres of woodlands, parkland and beautifully kept formal gardens, Elvaston Castle Country Park is a paradise for the public to enjoy.

1. Leave the car park by going passed the children’s play area. Cross over a little bridge and then follow the sign for the ‘Park Centre and Castle’, taking you behind the quaint boathouse and quirky pump house. The estate contains some wonderful trees including Cedar of Lebanon, Mistletoe Lime and Giant Redwood but the highlight must surely be the shaped box and yew, especially the Parterre Garden and Crown Arch.

2. Cross the lawns to the front of the Castle to access the cobbled courtyard at the rear. Until the 16th century the estate here was held by Shelford Priory but following the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was sold by the Crown in 1538 to Sir Michael Stanhope. A manor house was built in 1633, part of which can still be seen. However, in the early 19th century the architect James Wyatt was commissioned by Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Harrington to remodel and extend the house in a Gothic revival style.

3. Charles Stanhope, 4th Earl of Harrington caused a scandal by marrying an actress 17 years his junior. In order to woo the woman of his dreams away from the bright lights, glitz and glamour of stage life he decorated and furnished the interior in an ornate style and outside created charming and secluded gardens containing romantic follies, rock structures and enchanting walks where the couple could enjoy their privacy. They were once described as being ‘inseparable and besotted’. However, following the death of their only son, aged 4, the couple isolated themselves at Elvaston, never leaving the grounds and allowing few visitors, desolate in their grief. After the death of the 4th Earl his brother acquired the estate and opened up the gardens for the public to enjoy as a gothic paradise. This continued when in 1969 the 11th Earl sold Elvaston Castle and its estate to Derbyshire County Council.

4. Leave the courtyard to the rear of the Castle, passing through the arch and walking beyond the stable block on the left and the unusual Springthorpe’s Cottage on the right. Follow the footway beside the road leading around a corner and up to a junction with a triangle of trees.

5. Turn right at the sign for the National Cycle Network and walk along the road past a dressage arena. Continue straight ahead and on reaching a band of trees turn right following the sign for the riverside path. As well as areas of carefully managed woodland, the country park has reed beds and water meadows providing the perfect habitat for small mammals, insects and an assortment of birds whose songs create a musical symphony in spring.

6. On reaching the river by a powerful weir, turn right to walk along a stretch of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. This long distance path of 55 miles follows Derbyshire’s main river from Ladybower Reservoir in the north to its marriage with the Trent downstream of Shardlow. This section of path is also on the route of the National Cycle Network and you will come to an interesting and ornate metal milepost funded by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Follow the path all the way to the B5010 road.

7. Turn left and walk to traffic lights at Borrowash Bridge. With extreme care cross over the road and go down steps to access the riverside path, following the fingerpost for Alvaston. Look back and admire the bridge which is the last over the Derwent before it unites with the Trent. Prior to its construction in 1898 the only way for villagers to get across the river between Borrowash and Elvaston was by means of a rickety old wooden bridge at Borrowash Mill. The Cavendish Bridge Trust funded the construction of a new bridge and the Duke of Devonshire was invited to open it with a plaque inscribed to commemorate the event. However, it is reputed that the Duke was indisposed in Harrogate at the time, recovering from the pressures of his parliamentary duties and the deed was actually undertaken on his behalf by his nephew Victor Cavendish. Walk along the riverside path for almost a mile, passing through meadows and away from the water’s edge.

8. On a sweeping bend where the south-flowing river snakes around to the east be sure not to miss a short set of steps leading down through trees on the right with the distinctive sign for the DVHW, being a yellow arrow on a circular purple background. Follow the path through fields and stiles to Ambaston, arriving at this small hamlet by a large green metal outbuilding to the side of a modern red brick house. Together with Thurlston and Elvaston, Ambaston combine to create the parish of St Bartholomew’s Church at Elvaston.

9. Having walked down the main street with its characterful properties, turn right along Ambaston Lane which is generally quiet but is without a footway or pavement. Continue beyond Ambaston Lane Farm and turn right at the junction to the village of Elvaston, arriving at Ball Lane.

10. Carefully cross over the road and head right past the war memorial, following the pavement by the side of the main road until a junction and sign for Elvaston Cricket Club.

11. Turn left and walk past the attractive red brick village hall and continue until you come to the impressive Golden Gates, being the original main entrance to Elvaston Castle. Restored in 2009, these ornate gates, fencing and attached walls topped with stone figures are listed Grade II. Nikolaus Pevsner describes them as being of Spanish origin.

12. Before returning to your car by walking down the drive and over the lawns, be sure to explore and discover the Moorish Temple and St. Bartholomew’s Church or to wander beside the Lake to watch ducks, geese and swans dabbling about beside the island.