Most people heading for the Peak District aim for the dramatic scenery of the higher moors of the Dark Peak or the sheltered Dales, but this walk, easily accessible from Sheffield or Chesterfield, is just as lovely and makes a change from the tourist hot-spots. Not that it isn’t popular; any fine Sunday throughout the year will find families enjoying a stroll through the woodland near the main Linacre car park, but this walk sets out from a less obvious starting point.
Our walk begins in the village of Old Brampton, a picturesque village with old stone houses and a quaint church. The walk is approximately 4.5 - 5 miles and whilst a lot of it is on the level, there are a couple of minor climbs and one longer one up to the well-named Wigley. Some of the paths can get very muddy in wet weather, so come prepared.
Parking can be a bit of an issue in the village, but if you park in the church car park at the Chesterfield end of the village, (more or less opposite the Dragon’s Foot restaurant) you can justify the parking by visiting the church and leaving a donation. (And no one is going to tow your car away, when all is said and done!)
The church of St Peter & St Paul, with origins back to Norman times, is well worth the visit. As well as being a beautiful building, mostly dating from the fourteenth century, it has a couple of interesting features:- The oak doors which were taken from the chapel of Derwent Hall before it was submerged by Ladybower Reservoir - one of the Peak District’s more famous reservoirs - and the Jubilee clock - look carefully; it has 63 minutes! Inside, the cover of a tomb dating from the twelfth century - only discovered in the graveyard during the eighteenth - is just one of many interesting carvings.
From the church, exit by the West gate and continue a few yards up the road where you will see a track on the right. This will lead you gently down to the lowest of Linacre’s three reservoirs; keep right when the track curves at right-angles in order to reach the far end of the water and the dam.
Originally constructed between 1855 and 1904 to provide drinking water for Chesterfield, the reservoirs today provide a shelter for wildlife and are the ideal place for bird-watchers to view winter visitors, or migratory birds in the spring. As you cross the dam to reach the far side - where the information board and loos are situated - pause to see what is on the water; you might discover something different swimming alongside the mallards. On the day we visited, two pairs of goosanders, (saw-billed diving ducks) were taking their winter holidays from Northern parts.
Once over the dam, and having climbed as far as the information boards and ranger station, turn left and simply keep to the lowest public path, with water on your left hand side, in order to enjoy the best views (and to stay on our route). This will entail leaving the sometimes busy pedestrian highway behind, which you may think is no bad thing.
Our walk now meanders past the lower reservoir and then passes the larger middle one and there are obvious, well-walked paths through the oak and beech woodland, which in spring will be carpeted with bluebells. Again, in the winter time, the far shore is home to many varieties of water birds, such as the colourful mandarin duck, tufted ducks and dainty goldeneye, as well as the year-round resident mallards, coots and moorhens. The woods are hung with bat boxes and bird boxes to attract tits and Pied Flycatchers – a summer speciality of Peak District woodlands such as these.
Keeping on the path to the end of this reservoir, you will find a short sharp climb to reach the edge of the next one - the largest of the three. At this point, you will realise that most of the casual visitors will have turned back to the car park, leaving you to enjoy the tranquillity of the surrounding Birley wood, which you pass through until you reach the end of the reservoir where Birley Brook feeds into it. The next section of the walk follows the brook closely, first through to the end of the wood, then over some stepping stones into open farmland. There are other paths leading off, but keep to the lower one through some flat fields edged with gorse, then take the second of two footbridges over the brook, which leads through a wooded clough to a track, on the left. This track will take you all the way up to the small village of Wigley. It is a pleasant, though longish climb and can be very muddy at certain times of year.
Nearing the summit you will pass behind Wigley Hall Farm with its obviously ancient buildings in various states of dilapidation and repair. On meeting the metalled road, head in the same direction past Wigley Farm on your right to meet the “main” road – which is the same road as Old Brampton’s main street.
At this junction, you have two choices if you fancy some refreshment; a short distance away and clearly visible to the right is the Fox & Goose, a free house with a wide variety of options, or you can turn left and follow the road down for a quarter of a mile to reach the friendly Royal Oak. Both are popular with Sunday diners, so if a pint is all you require you might find yourself on the picnic tables outside… (Real ale fans will be disappointed at the Royal Oak, however, though the homemade food looks appetising enough).
Almost opposite The Royal Oak is the track to take you homeward. (Note the ancient but now completely illegible milestone just by the junction). Crossing the road from the pub you will discover it is an easy route on a partly tarmaced bridleway, taking you past two farms, first Bagshaw then The Birches. Don’t be confused by the monumental stone sign reading “CHARLES HANCOCK” at Bagshaw Farm – that is presumably the name of the owner? On a clear day, look out for a distant prospect of Chesterfield ahead, with the twisted spire easily made out above more modern rooftops.
You can, if you wish, take a short cut through the farmyard at The Birches back to Old Brampton, following the Derbyshire Ramblers’ markers. This will lead you down a another track back to the main road at a small car park, where you will turn right for the village, (there is a decent pavement all the way from here).
If you choose the slightly longer, off-road route, then continue past The Birches farm entrance, heading to your right a little, along to Frith Hall, passing through the farmyard and down to the river. When you reach the river, cross the bridge and keep on the winding track to Westwick Lane, where you turn left. As you approach Broomhall farm, take the track on your left, descending to the river again and follow this all the way back up to Old Brampton, where you will emerge a little way below the church and former George & Dragon pub, (the re-named The Dragon’s Foot).