This is not intended as a walk guide.
For this issue I decided we would dawdle with the Derwent on a ramble around Shining Cliff Woods where a paradise of bluebells awaited us. This was to be an exploration of paths a plenty, sometimes taking the wrong one! However, thanks to my O.S. map as well as a smart phone app, there was no chance of us actually getting lost.
This ancient oak woodland has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is owned by several groups including the Grith Pioneers, Woodland Trust, National Trust and the Forestry Commission.
Thankfully there was still a space in the roadside parking area just over the long river bridge from the A6. Its many arches span both a mill stream and the freshly united waters of the rivers Amber and Derwent.
For the first half a mile or so we walked along Beggarswell Lane, before popping down a pathway to an assortment of commercial buildings both new and old with some very derelict. These former wire works are an industrial heritage site as well as a place of regeneration, restoration and creativity. It contains some modern day manufacturing and commercial businesses as well as an art studio, vintage car attraction and the White Peak Distillery that produces Wire Works Whisky and Shining Cliff Gin.
The track continued ahead on an undulating course, staying mainly in the bottom of the valley. We passed through spectacular woodland where sunlight shone like laser beams through a canopy of fresh green leaves that lit up aquamarine pools of beautiful bluebells.
The Derwent Valley contains vast swathes of woodland, some being remnants of the medieval hunting forest of Duffield Frith consisting mainly of ancient oak and birch. We were able to wander along for almost two miles listening to birdsong, the occasional hammering of woodpeckers and a drone from traffic on the A6 across the river.
Arriving at a gate and sign for private property just before Mill House, we had to retrace our steps to a bend where we then headed up an old stone paved pathway taking us to the edge of Alderwasley Park at Hay Top.
A Forestry Commission sign indicated left to a footpath across Alderwasley Park so we followed the very high wall intended at one time to keep deer in the park. However, we ignored the stile and continued along the woodland path until this eventually brought us to the remote former Youth Hostel, now Shining Cliff Centre C.I.C, an independently run hostel that can accommodate 20 people in 5 bedrooms. Along the way we passed lots of old quarries and even a discarded mill stone embedded into the ground. At times there were warning signs for sheer drops.
What I missed seeing was the now scant remains of the Betty Kenny tree. Evidently she lived in this huge ancient yew tree with her charcoal burner husband Luke during the late 1700's. Their home was formed within the tree where they raised 8 children, said to have been placed in a hollowed-out bough used as a cradle. Local legend suggests that this is the origin of the nursery rhyme "Rock-a-bye-Baby".
Our woodland adventure continued as we now descended a path leading to a large deep pond surrounded by trees that reflected in a mirror image on the surface of the water.
This part of the woods belongs to the Grith Pioneers, a group established as the Grith Fyrd or Citizens Peace Army in the early 1930’s. During a time of economic depression and social deprivation amongst the working classes, unemployed young men came to stay in the woods to enjoy the natural environment and live as sustainably as possible.
To end our walk Nellie and I headed up to the bridleway that then brought us down past remote houses. At one point a gap in the trees meant that I could look across the valley toward Crich Chase and see the huge grey hangar style construction of Ambergate Reservoir near Fritchley, a 4-year project undertaken by Severn Trent Water at a cost of £40m.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: It was my birthday last week when I became 4-years old. Mum took me out for a special walk and I got all dressed up in my new pink collar. We even had a birthday meal together, although it wasn’t that exciting a celebration if truth be told. Mum bought a sausage sandwich and saved a bit of crust and the end of a sausage for me after she had wolfed down the rest all by herself. I didn’t even get a present because she couldn’t think of anything I needed – I’m very low maintenance don’t you know! However, I did get extra cuddles from both mum and dad and a few treats with my tea so I’m not complaining. Nellie x