DISTANCE: Approximately 6 miles
DESCRIPTION: Darley Dale is a lengthy village without a true centre, made up of several parts including Churchtown, Northwood and Darley Hillside. This walk discovers Darley Dale’s historic and scenic areas away from the busy A6 which cuts straight through the heart of Darley Dale.
1. Park your car in the picnic area next to the cricket ground close to the ancient river crossing at Darley Bridge, which has been the only crossing point of the Derwent between Rowsley and Matlock for centuries. Walk past Darley Dale cricket ground whose claim to fame was in 1975 when it was the venue for the John Player County match. Follow the footpath as indicated which crosses a field and then passes over a ditch and across another field to the left of a boarding kennels, to emerge at the corner near the Church.
2. Churchtown is the oldest part of Darley Dale, its earliest feature probably being the ancient yew tree in the churchyard of St. Helen’s Church. References can be found to the yew tree being more than 2,000 years old, but it is far more likely to be about 1,000! Even so, this massive tree with a girth of some thirty three feet near its base probably saw the construction of the original church that was founded in the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924), parts of which remain. The tree possibly saw the Roman’s who are also thought to have disposed of their dead on this site. Around the base of the tree are tablets of stone erected to commemorate some outstanding actions in the Second World War. In 1863 the upper branches of the tree were lopped off, this created uproar resulting in a strange letter being published in The Times newspaper, written in such a way that the tree was the author. Quote: “I am a helpless and much ill-used individual ……”
3. Head past the Church and at the junction go straight ahead. Go down a private drive and past a lodge then behind Abbey House with its unusual architecture. The valley here is comprised of shale mixed with alluvium formed by constant flooding that has resulted in rich pastureland. There are also many varieties of wild flowers to be found which smother the river bank and provide colour and texture in late summer.
4. Follow the easily defined riverside path as it crosses meadows and stiles. Just before a red brick building, you can possibly make out a flow of water entering the river on the opposite bank. This is from the Hillcarr Sough whose adit is hidden in the trees. The sough was begun in 1766 and completed 21 years later at a cost of £20,000, but with the loss of six lives due to firedamp explosions. The sough was originally constructed to drain lead mines in the Alport area but it was then extended towards Mawstone below Youlgreave. Boring initially followed the shale, but hit upon reef limestone which was difficult and expensive to excavate so the path of the sough was diverted, taking it directly under Stanton Moor. Whilst excavating, boys were employed to turn fans to increase the air ventilation whilst boats were used for transportation. Overtime was plentiful and boring continued 7 days a week. This however was not popular with the miners who at one point took strike action against the long working hours. In 1787 the sough was finally completed and is the Peak District’s longest sough being nearly four and a half miles in length.
5. Continue along the riverbank until the end of the fields and then walk along a path which emerges on the old railway line where you can cross to go up to the A6, emerging almost opposite the turning for Northwood Lane at the top end of Darley Dale.
6. Cross the main road with extreme care and head up the footpath at the start of Northwood Lane. Where the path emerges at a junction head straight up the steep hill until you eventually come to a cluster of old houses at the top which form the original settlement of Northwood. Centuries ago the valley bottom was a flooded marshy bog for most of the year which was avoided by travellers at all cost. The main Derby to Manchester road, having passed over Matlock Bridge followed the top part of the hillside through Darley Dale and Two Dales before passing through Northwood and Tinkersley before descending to Rowsley from Rowsley Bar. In the Turnpike Act of 1759 the road acquired toll cottages such as that at Rowsley. Although the main road was later constructed down in the bottom of the valley after the land had been drained, it was still frequently flooded until the damming of the Derwent up near its source. Since then the water level has dropped considerably but the river still manages to burst its banks occasionally after spells of heavy rain.
7. Follow the road around the right-hand bend. As it levels out there is a most convenient seat on the left. The views from here are superb and extend northwards towards Fin Cop with Over Haddon on the hillside to the west. In the foreground is the weird sugarloaf hill of Peak Tor appearing like a hedgehog with its covering of beech and sycamore. Directly across the valley is Stanton Woodhouse.
8. Continue along the relatively flat road but on reaching a junction turn left up Bent Lane and head slightly uphill. This narrow road is quiet and peaceful and passes below Newtonlot Plantation, eventually leading up onto Beeley Moor. See an old trough on your left opposite which is an interesting cottage with the points of the compass on the chimney stack. At a further junction at Foggs Hill go straight on but almost immediately head down a drive towards ‘Hillcrest’. Just after the house go down a steep path which crosses a road and then continue going downhill. You should emerge onto a further road beside a large water trough set in the wall. Turn right and head towards a junction.
9. In front of you are the grounds of Stancliffe Hall which was built in the 17th century. In 1791 its owner was Herbert Greensmith-Beard who arranged with the Turnpike Trust to have a new road cut on his western boundary. In 1823 the new owner by the name of Heathcote Heathcote arranged for this to be extended. In 1872 and 1879 enlargements were made to the Hall by Sir Joseph Whitworth who had acquired it by that time. This mechanical engineer and armament manufacturer was born at Stockport but ended his days at Darley Dale. He acquired his fortune through his invention of the Whitworth rifle, the Whitworth gauge and the Whitworth screw thread. Sir Joseph Whitworth shared his fortune with his community, the Whitworth Memorial Institute, Baths and Hospital being erected shortly after his death by the Trustees of his estate at a cost of £105,000. In the woods below Stancliffe Hall are the remains of Stancliffe Quarry whose stone graces some of our most important constructions including the Spurn Head Lighthouse, the Thames Embankment, parts of the Albert Memorial and Lime Street Station at Liverpool.
10. Turn left and follow the road for about 100 yards before heading down a path on your left between houses. This is a short cut to the A6 where you should emerge at a pelican crossing. Cross over and continue down Crowstones Road. At a one-way sign go right and follow the road around and then head towards a signal box on the reconstructed stretch of line completed by Peak Rail. Follow the path to the side of the railway line which passes modern houses and then continues to the bottom of the Whitworth Instituted grounds, eventually emerging at the old Darley Dale Station which was constructed in 1860 in a gothic style.
11. On meeting Station Road turn right over the level crossing. Walk down the road which was laid as the Toadhole turnpike from Chesterfield. At the crossroads or Four Lane Ends as it is locally known, continue straight ahead to return to the car park.
12. One last little snippet of information – the road from the crossroads to Churchtown is known as Church Lane but it was also recorded as being called Ghost Lane way back in 1635 following the murder and robbery of a Scottish pedlar!