Derbyshire Walk - Lea and Dethick

Riber Castle - now roofed and with signs of the new properties being constructed within the walls

Riber Castle - now roofed and with signs of the new properties being constructed within the walls - Credit: Archant

A festival of wild flowers and the delight of far-reaching views are highlights of this walk led by Sally Mosley

DESCRIPTION: This walk is packed with woodland wanders, hilltop views, old walled paths and a succession of memorial seats along the way, each conveniently placed for you to rest awhile and perhaps partake of a rucksack snack.

DISTANCE: 8.5 miles

PARKING: Cromford Meadows (pay and display) DE4 3RP; SK300570

TERRAIN: 10+ stiles and 10+ gates. Strenuous hike with steep ascents and descents. Country lanes without pavements. Woodland paths with trip hazards. Livestock grazing. Areas prone to mud.

An attractive woodland path

An attractive woodland path - Credit: Archant

REFRESHMENTS: Lea Gardens tea room. Jug & Glass, Lea. Cromford Mill tearoom and Wheatcroft’s Wharf Café

TOILETS: Public toilets at Cromford Canal Wharf & Holloway

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MAP: O.S. Explorer OL24 (White Peak)

WALK HIGHLIGHT: Ocean of bluebells in Bow Wood 1 Exit the car park onto Mill Road and turn right to cross Cromford Bridge over the River Derwent. Notice the 18th century fishing temple where a water bailiff lived until 1914. Similar to the fishing temple in Beresford Dale made famous by Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton, this has a similar inscription above the door – Piscatoribus Sacrum which roughly translates as ‘Sacred to Fishermen’. Next to it is the ruin of a 15th century bridge chapel, one of few left in the country, whilst etched into a stone on the parapet of the bridge is ‘The leap of B H Mare June 1697’ which refers to when Benjamin Hayward of Bridge House and his horse leapt over the side of the bridge into the river far below and both survived.

2 Follow the road past the drive to Willersley Castle, built by Sir Richard Arkwright from the fortune he amassed by creating an empire of cotton spinning and textile mills. Unfortunately he died before it was completed so for a time it became home to his son – Richard Arkwright II. Continue along Lea Road which follows the course of the river, passing Bridge House which at one time was owned by Florence Nightingale’s Great Uncle Peter. After the approach to Cromford Station and approximately 50 yards beyond the railway bridge go up a steep stile on the left by a fingerpost sign and ascend steps to follow the footpath.

3 Arriving at a combination of stiles, turn right to enter woodland which in late spring is carpeted with bluebells. Emerging from the woods, follow the path through fields below Meadow Wood Farm for spectacular views over the valley. Arriving at a narrow lane head uphill until just before the drive to Castle Top, one-time home of Alison Uttley which is commemorated by a blue plaque at the side of the gate. Derbyshire’s equivalent to Beatrix Potter, Alison was best known for her children’s books about Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig. However, one of her most popular works is A Traveller in Time which was based on the Babington Plot involving Anthony Babington of Dethick. It is a romantic novel incorporating historical facts featuring a girl who is transported back in time to the 16th century where she becomes involved in the plot to free Mary, Queen of Scots.

4 Follow the footpath sign and walk along the path in front of Sunnybank leading you into Bow Wood which is managed in part by the Woodland Trust. As well as a carpet of bluebells, look for delicate white stitchwort, pink campion and yellow dead nettle also known as yellow archangel which does not sting and is actually a member of the mint family. Ignore paths heading uphill to the left and continue virtually straight ahead through this wonderful ancient woodland, finally descending to Lea Bridge where you will emerge close to the John Smedley factory.

5 Walk up past the Mill Shop and notice the monogram on an impressive overhead walkway which linked workshops on either side of the road. See the jay bird (J) entwined in a letter S which depicts the initials of John Smedley. Founded in 1784, this has claims to be the world’s longest-running factory, still specialising in the manufacture and production of fine quality designer knitwear. Continue up the road past the former mill pond on the left and then pass houses on either side of the road.

6 Opposite the entrance to Pear Tree Farm Guest House turn up a path on the right leading up to Church Street. Turn right and walk past the school and church and continue to the public toilet beyond the road sign for Holloway. You may wish to rest and admire the views from the shelter alongside, which was erected to the memory of George Futvoye Marsden-Smedley who fell in the Battle of the Somme aged just 19.

7 Follow the steep path at the side of the shelter which zig-zags up to a war memorial at the top of the neatly manicured woods that are also planted with flowering shrubs. Emerging onto Long Lane turn left and walk along to Lea Gardens which specialises in rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmias. The gardens were originally established in 1935 by John Marsden-Smedley following a visit to Bodnant and Exbury gardens where he fell in love with these plants, creating a two acre site for his own collection of some 350 varieties. The gardens have been owned by the Tye family since 1960.

8 Continue to Lea’s main road and turn right heading uphill past the entrance to Lea Green. Built in 1761, it was bought by John Marsden-Smedley in 1895 and then sold by the Smedley family in 1960 to Derbyshire County Council for £10,000. Now a centre for outdoor activities and residential accommodation, it is reputed that in 1965 the England World Cup winning team of 1966 stayed and trained here.

9 Beyond the Jug & Glass pub turn left at a fingerpost sign for Dethick and Tansley and pass through a kissing gate. Carefully descend steps to cross over Lea Brook and then follow the footpath to Dethick, arriving by the Church of St John the Baptist which dates back in part to 1229 when it was constructed as a private chapel for the Dethick family, later passing by marriage to the Babingtons. Babington Farm, The Manor Farmhouse and Church Farm together with the little church make up this tiny settlement. This was the birthplace of Anthony Babington, mentioned earlier. After the failure of his plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and put Mary Queen of Scots – who was held captive in various properties in the region – on the throne in her place, he fled to London but was caught at St John’s Wood. After being dragged through the streets of the capital, Anthony Babington was hung, drawn and quartered for his crime at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

10 Exiting Dethick by walking on the path from the church through the farms and to the road, turn left by the pond and follow the road to a bend beyond which a lovely walled bridleway known as Wood Lane leads off on the right.

11 Turn left on reaching Cunnery Lane and walk to the junction. Turn left onto Carr Lane and walk approximately 300 yards to a footpath on the right. Go through a stile and then walk up the wallside on your left. Cross fields and stiles to Riber, passing through Lowes Farm and following their walled drive up to the village to pass Riber Manor with its datestone of 1633. The Wolley family were lords of the manor of Riber and in St Giles Church in Matlock is a tablet to commemorate Adam and Grace Wolley who were married for 76 years. Adam died in 1657 aged 99 and Grace in 1669 aged 110!

12 Walk past Riber Hall which is said to date back in part to the 16th century, behind which is Riber Castle, a Victorian folly built by John Smedley from where he could oversee his famous hydro on Matlock Bank. At one time a fauna reserve and zoo, Riber Castle is painstakingly being transformed into luxury apartments.

13 Continue ahead along Riber Road and then turn left onto Hearthstone Lane, walking through the Hearthstone Farm complex and then bear right on yet another fabulous walled track, this time leading over Bilberry Knoll from where there are incredible far-reaching views stretching way down the Derwent Valley to the south of the county.

14 After descending for a quarter of a mile you will pass between two stone gate posts where the path becomes wider and levels out. Walk approximately 125 yards to where a footpath leads off on the left. Ignore this and continue ahead another 100 yards then turn right by a footpath post and descend a path beneath giant beech trees. After crossing a stile at the bottom of the wood, head steeply downhill to cross a high wall stile with yet another perfectly positioned seat beyond. Continue downhill to the combination of stiles first mentioned at the start of paragraph 3. From here retrace your steps to Lea Road and then turn right to head back to Cromford Bridge on your return to the car park.