Celebrating 20 years of the Heritage Way in Derbyshire

The view of the outskirts of Matlock Bath seen from the ascent of High Tor

The view of the outskirts of Matlock Bath seen from the ascent of High Tor - Credit: Lucy Stephens

From Ladybower in the north to Shardlow in the south, this 55-mile stretch shows off Derbyshire in all its glory

Derbyshire is rightly famous the world over for its rugged beauty.  

But away from the drama of Kinder Scout and Stanage Edge there is lovely walking to be had in softer, gentler countryside, where you can simply don a pair of wellies rather than your full hiking gear.  

This year the Heritage Way, which goes from Ladybower Reservoir to Shardlow, marks its 20th anniversary. 

It’s an intriguing trail which celebrates Derbyshire’s rich industrial past. So keen are the people of our county to protect it that a call-out for volunteers ended up being oversubscribed. 

There can be few more tranquil spots on a sunny morning than the path alongside Cromford Canal. 

Park up at Whatstandwell and in either direction the canal gives you a serene backdrop to wander beside, cycle along, or simply sit and watch the ducks and moorhens. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a shy vole or two.  

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What you might not know is that this is also part of the Heritage Way, a 55-mile walking trail set up in 2002 by the Derwent Valley Trust.  

A map of the Heritage Way

A map of the Heritage Way - Credit: Penguin PR

With its distinctive purple and yellow signs guiding ramblers, the walk follows the river Derwent from Ladybower down to its mouth in the heritage inland port of Shardlow.  

Along the way, among many impressive sights, it takes in part of the Chatsworth estate, the pretty village of Froggatt and St Helen’s Church in Darley Dale, home to a famous yew tree believed to be 2,000 years old, and passes through the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site between Matlock Bath and Derby.  

There are even the stunning ascents of Pic and High Tor at Matlock Bath to enjoy – although the Heritage Way guidebook is keen to point out these are optional extras! 

Over the past two years, since Covid rocked the world, the Heritage Way has seen greater wear and tear than in the past - a result of social distancing restrictions seeing many more people flock into the Derbyshire countryside to enjoy the simple pleasure of a walk in the fresh air.  

That’s why the Derwent Valley Trust this year launched an appeal for volunteer rangers to help look after their much-loved walking trail so it could be maintained for people to enjoy over years to come. 

And it’s perhaps a sign of many people’s new-found enthusiasm for the outdoors that the trust found itself literally swamped with inquiries – so much so that some people even had to be put on a waiting list. 

Derek Latham, chair of the Derwent Valley Trust, pictured at Quarrymen’s Bridge, Eaton Bank

Derek Latham, chair of the Derwent Valley Trust, pictured at Quarrymen’s Bridge, Eaton Bank - Credit: Derek Latham

Trust chairman Derek Latham is keen to promote the Heritage Way as an interesting alternative to other, more celebrated walking routes. 

‘The route has become so popular,’ he says. ‘The feedback we are getting from people who have walked the route is that they have really enjoyed it.  

‘Between Covid lockdowns a friend and I decided to walk the whole way as a tourist might. We stayed in hotels and B&Bs all the way down. 

‘It was the most amazing experience, not only because the walk was so good, but the hospitality was fantastic also.  

‘We felt very safe, everybody was very welcoming and the quality of the food was excellent; we never had a bad meal throughout our entire journey - some of it was up to ‘Cordon Bleu’ standard. 

‘We realised what a fantastic overall experience traversing the Heritage Way is. You tend to think you have to go abroad to get these experiences and yet it’s here in our very own county.’ 

The start of the Heritage Way at Ladybower Reservoir

The start of the Heritage Way at Ladybower Reservoir - Credit: Lucy Stephens

The beauty of the Heritage Way stems as much from the influence of man-made structures on the landscape, from the spectacular engineering at Ladybower Reservoir, to the stern façade of Masson Mills, and even the calm waters of the Cromford Canal - originally built in the 18th century to encourage coal mining - as it does stunning natural features like the sheer face of High Tor, looming over the outskirts of Matlock Bath like some towering ancient gateway.  

But all long walking trails need upkeep. Step forward a group of 26 rangers who have volunteered their time to help maintain different sections of the walk, of which there are ten in total.  

The role of the volunteers is regularly to walk their section, ensuring it is passable by clipping back any overgrown vegetation, add walking markers in any areas where they are no longer visible, and guide any tourists who have lost their way.  

There may be larger issues, too, with recent severe flooding in the Derwent Valley possibly requiring the need to repair whole sections of pathway in some areas.  

So why are people so keen to give their time to the project? For many, it’s simply a way of giving back – and a very pleasurable one, too.  

(L-R) Jill Hodgshon and Claire and Tim Hollingshurst with dogs Rogue and Raven

(L-R) Jill Hodgshon and Claire and Tim Hollingshurst with dogs Rogue and Raven - Credit: Lucy Stephens

Claire and Tim Hollingshurst, who both work at Derbyshire company Lubrizol – from which, impressively, more than half the volunteers have come – say they love getting out into the outdoors and want to ensure many others can, too.  

‘I love walking,’ says Claire. ‘I get out walking all the time with the dogs. We have been on many long-distance walks that aren’t easy to access, and you’ve suddenly got to turn around and go all the way back because the through route has been blocked.’ 

‘Because of the pandemic, I’ve seen that there are a lot of people walking and lots more footpaths are damaged,’ reveals Matt Young, an English teacher from Chellaston in Derby. ‘I thought instead of getting irritated by it, I should probably help!’ 

Others who have volunteered their time would like to do their bit to promote the beauty of Derbyshire to the wider world.  

For Bob Revie, of Derby, the stunning scenery on our doorstep is something to be celebrated as much as possible.  

‘The Peak District changed my life,’ he says, simply. ‘I used to live in Northamptonshire and I came on a school trip to the Peak District to Castleton.  

A ribbon of houses looking like toys pictured from the ascent of High Tor

A ribbon of houses looking like toys pictured from the ascent of High Tor - Credit: Lucy Stephens

‘I just think there’s an opportunity here. I don’t think enough people know about it. Everyone who comes here, relatives and visitors, are just amazed that this landscape is available for people to walk in. It needs to be sung from the rafters.’ 

It’s a sentiment echoed by fellow volunteer Jill Hodgshon, of Belper, who will be checking over section six of the Heritage Way, a five-and-a-half-mile stretch running from Whatstandwell to Belper. 

‘Everybody associates Derbyshire with the Peak District, but the Amber Valley is an under-used resource,’ she says. ‘I think the whole heritage corridor could reach even greater heights with more promotion.’ 

There is no denying, too, the huge mental health benefits that can be gained from going for a walk – and if it’s in some pretty glorious countryside, so much the better.    

Dani Phillips, who also works at Lubrizol, loves to walk in the Derbyshire countryside with her partner Will and his children Freddie, 17, and Emily, 13.  

A Heritage Way sign near Borrowash Bridge

A Heritage Way sign near Borrowash Bridge - Credit: Lucy Stephens

‘We thought volunteering as rangers was a really good idea,’ she says.  

‘We realised we have probably done 80% of this route anyway. But there’s another reason we wanted to get involved. I think we take for granted sometimes what’s on our doorstep.  

‘Walking is great for mindfulness too. When I’m walking, I just think about putting one foot in front of the other.’ 

For more on the Derwent Valley Trust and the Heritage Way, see www.derwentvalleytrust.org.uk.