Whatstandwell does not have an ancient history, unlike some of the Peak District Villages that have been around for centuries and were recorded in The Domesday Book. It is thought that Whatstandwell dates from the end of the 14th century when the important and impressive bridge over the River Derwent was constructed and reputedly named after Walter Stonewell who lived nearby. Wat is a common abbreviation of Walter and Watstonewell’s bridge was then corrupted to Whatstandwell.
However, events in later years have put Whatstandwell well and truly on the map including the construction of the Cromford Canal in the 1790’s, the arrival of the Midland Railway and station to Whatstandwell, but more recently, the worldwide fame of record-breaking yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur who was born and brought up here. It is hard to imagine that coming from such a land-locked location in the heart of England, Ellen would become such an adept yachtswoman and lover of the sea!
Whatstandwell lies in the parish of Crich and consists of a small station and cluster of houses; the all important bridge over the river and the Derwent Hotel (formerly a turnpike coaching inn known as The Bull’s Head, where the Champion horse-drawn coach would rest before tackling the steep hills out of the valley to either Crich or Wirksworth).
Thickly wooded slopes surround Whatstandwell which is situated on the banks of the River Derwent. There are numerous footpaths leading to Crich, Alderwasley and Holloway, but one of the best walks in the area is along the towpath of the Cromford Canal, parts of which are now designated as SSSI sites and a Nature Reserve. Even with the railway and main A6 fighting for competition in the bottom of the valley, the 5 ½-mile stretch of canal from Cromford, through Whatstandwell and on to Ambergate is sheer paradise.
The Derwent Valley Heritage Way, which is a long distance recognised route from Derwent Reservoir in the north of the county to Derby, passes through Whatstandwell. Upstream of Whatstandwell are the heritage sites of the Arkwright Mills at Masson and Cromford, whilst downstream will take you to Belper, home of Strutt’s North Mill and Museum.
Crich Tramway Village is a short drive up the hill from Whatstandwell and is a particularly interesting visitor attraction to the Peak District where you can walk around an amazing collection of trams and transport memorabilia as well as take a tram ride on a section of woodland track.
With roads heading north, south, east and west, Whatstandwell provides easy access in all directions to explore the southern end of the Peak District or to travel north up the main A6 into the White Peak and Dark Peak areas of the Peak District National Park.
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