Derwent Valley Walk - Belper

Boats for hire on the Derwent

Boats for hire on the Derwent - Credit: Archant

The Derwent, Derbyshire’s longest and deepest river, was for centuries the life force of the county. Harnessed for its energy to power a succession of mills, a 15-mile stretch has now been deemed by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site. Sally Mosley explores a length of the valley on a circular walk from Belper

Distance: 6.25 miles

Parking: Free long stay car parks on Derwent Street and The Coppice

Terrain: There are seven stiles, three gates, several sets of steps as well as uneven terrain. Some sections of road and lane walking are without pavements. Keep to the path through riverside meadows. There may be livestock in fields.

Refreshments: The Hollybush Inn, Makeney

Weir and sluce gates beside North Mill

Weir and sluce gates beside North Mill - Credit: Archant

Toilets: Belper River Gardens & Strutt Street next to Co-op

Map OS: Explorer 259 – Derby

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Walk highlight: Row after row of quaint millworkers cottages

Description: The Derwent Valley is encapsulated in a patchwork landscape of lush green pasture amid swathes of ancient woodland, woven into the Derbyshire hills. This walk wanders through riverside meadows, ambles along quiet lanes and ascends an old path rewarded with aerial views across the valley. Along the way see how the river has been shaped and is swollen by a succession of weirs and sluices, and marvel at the old mills, early industrial factories and housing, often sympathetically preserved alongside modern counterparts.

1 Begin your walk at Bridge Street beside the towering landmark feature of East Mill, constructed in 1912 using Accrington red bricks for the English Sewing Cotton Company. You may wish to extend your experience of Belper with a tour of North Mill ( close to Belper’s colourful and well maintained River Gardens. Cotton was first spun on this site in 1776 when Jedediah Strutt, a former partner of Richard Arkwright at Cromford, set up his factory, powered by the River Derwent. It is generally open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 4pm. There are also free Heritage Trail leaflets to pick up or download for an in-depth tour of this fascinating and historic town, part of the 15-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching from Matlock Bath to Derby.

2 Cross over the road bridge and admire the panoramic views of river and woodland, a glorious backdrop to the late 18th century Horseshoe Weir and sluice gates, said to be one of the finest in the UK. Turn left on a riverside path through fields and stiles for just over a mile. Along the way you will pass an attractive part-timber clad ‘arts and crafts’ house on your left built in 1895. Continue straight ahead through meadows, keeping to the way-marked route and away from the water’s edge. In summer the river banks are a riot of wild flowers, whilst in autumn this whole valley takes on a golden glow with a palette of amber hues.

3 Follow the footpath to the left of a treatment works, then head up the drive which leads to Chevin Road, a name which is thought to have Celtic origins indicating an old way up to a ridge or high ground.

4 Turn left and follow this quiet lane to Milford named after the river crossing on an ancient route heading north from Derby. Notice the entrance to Milford tunnel on your right where trains disappear deep into the hillside and emerge at Duffield. Built in 1840 for the North Midland Railway it is 855 yards long. For hundreds of years the river has powered mills here, the first being corn and fulling mills. In 1781 Jedediah Strutt set up a cotton spinning mill which later expanded to include a bleaching works, dyeing mills, foundries, joiner’s workshops and gas works. Much of the early mill complex has been demolished but associated housing and the village school have survived.

5 Walk down Chevin Alley with the Community Garden on your right and cross back over the Derwent using the main road bridge. Turn right at the King William, to the side of which is the former Ebenezer Chapel of 1859 and walk along the road past Forge Hill as far as the entrance to Makeney Hall, home of George Herbert Strutt between 1876 and 1916.

6 Turn left and walk up the narrow lane into the village where you can find the Hollybush Inn, a family- run pub renowned for its character and selection of real ales. This 17th century former coaching inn was reputedly frequented by the highwayman Dick Turpin in between his raids. From the pub car park follow Dark Lane, an old holloway, which shortly becomes a deep dark arboreal tunnel lined with holly bushes and wizened old trees. If very muddy, there is an alternative footpath a little downhill from the lane which crosses fields and stiles.

7 Follow Dark Lane to the junction with Shaw Lane and turn left. Walk down the road until it descends steeply into a wood and then go up steps on the right to follow a stretch of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way back to Belper. This 55-mile, long distance route, is from Ladybower Reservoir to Shardlow.

8 From this elevated path there are far-reaching views of the Derwent Valley as well as skyline landmarks to look out for such as the masts atop Alport Heights. See also the rotating blades of wind turbines recently erected on Carsington Pasture which can appear like fast moving fingers on an eccentric clock.

9 Use the purple signs with arrows to guide you on your return to Belper, at one point following the drive away from Wildersley Farm. Turn right on reaching Holbrook Road and then left at the corner with Bargate Road as indicated by a fingerpost which guides you to Belper Park.

10 Make your way down to Coppice Brook and cross over a footbridge with ornate and colourful sides. Walk straight ahead to Coppice car park beyond which is Belper’s Market Place. The town is packed with rows of quaint cottages, individual shops as well as high street stores. Look around at the vast array of buildings, many being architectural gems. There are also tucked away treasures that ooze historic charm and character, so you may choose to end your walk with a wander around the backstreets and byways before returning to your car.