For a town that has seen industries come and go, Belper manages to retain its semi-rural appeal. With countryside coming right up to its oldest part, it is easy to escape the pressures of everyday living. Not only does Belper have this countryside on its doorstep, it has, for a town of its size, probably more open spaces and parks than its rivals. No less than five recreation grounds and wildlife areas are visited on this short walk; one of them within yards of the town’s main shopping street in an area known as The Parks, is so special that it is protected as a local nature reserve. How many towns can make the same claim?
The Parks local nature reserve where this walk starts and finishes is all that is left of a deer park created in the thirteenth century by Edmund Crouchback, the younger son of king Henry III. A wealthy and powerful overlord from an early age, he controlled the earldoms of three northern counties, Derby, Leicester and Lancaster. While the first two earldoms have lapsed, HM Queen Elizabeth II is still recognised as the Duke of Lancaster.
After the siege of Kenilworth during the rebellion of the nobles against King Henry III (1264-1267), Robert de Ferrers, one of its main leaders forfeited his northern lands and titles to the Crown. These in turn were given to Edmund Crouchback as reward for helping his father. At that time there was a major castle in the area, Duffield, but for some unknown reason it was demolished in 1270. As a result the three-times earl while based at Tutbury, his main castle, had to use smaller castles, such as at Horsley to the east of Duffield across the River Derwent beyond Duffield when hunting.
The section of Royal deer park Edmund created or more accurately, acquired, was based on land on both sides of the Derwent north of Derby and far south beyond Tutbury and the Trent Valley. The part covering Belper was in the Duffield Frith, an Anglo-Saxon name that still appears on some old maps. Any peasant living in the area that became the deer park was summarily thrown off his tiny farm and unless he was lucky enough to gain employment with his masters, then both he and his family simply starved. If anyone who in desperation tried to catch any game in order to feed his family was caught, he would either be permanently maimed or hanged as punishment.
While those whose lives had been turned upside down by the misfortune of living in or near the deer park, was unimaginably hard by modern standards, life for the privileged few who hunted there was idyllic. Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Derby, Leicester and Lancaster, love the place so much that he christened it Beaurepaire, his Lovely Retreat. With the passage of time Beaurepaire became Belper.
This walk starts from the Coppice car park just beyond the market place at the top of King Street. It then follows a tiny part culverted stream that once powered a long vanished mill, out towards Bargate whose houses are passed by a path along the bottom of a line of cottage gardens. Crossing the road, the way is through a play park and large recreation ground, down to Wildersley Farm. Here the walk can be extended into the valley, down towards Milford and the chance of refreshments. Returning along a section of the Derwent Valley Way, the main walk is re-joined at Wildersley Farm. From there an arrow straight farm lane leads back towards Belper, arriving by way of the western boundary of The Parks nature reserve.
From Coppice car park behind and to the right of the market place, go down wooden steps away from the cars and bearing left, aim for the footbridge crossing a little stream.
Over the bridge turn left and climb more wooden steps and enter the woods. Bear left (twice) on joining side paths. Continue through the woods.
Known as The Parks and classed as a nature reserve, this is the last remaining part of Edmund Crouchback’s medieval deer park, but if you want to see any deer you will have to go to Chatsworth, however there will be plenty of birds, butterflies and, if you are lucky, the odd fox or vole scurrying through the undergrowth.
Reaching a side road, cross over and turn left, downhill as far as the beginning of a sharp bend.
Turn right on to a footpath above a playpark and follow a part culverted brook, upstream.
The stream once powered a long-gone mill further downstream. Further along the path you will pass the outer fence of an old farm. Known locally as the Bath House, it provided baths at a time when indoor washing facilities were almost non-existent.
Ignore side paths and climb uphill beyond the Bath House and go past a small recreation ground in order to reach the road.
Turn left and walk down the road, past a row of houses.
At the last house, cross over and go down a short track to a stile next to a gate.
Turn sharp right beyond the gate and walk up a path between a hedge and the wire fence separating the path from a grassy field.
Approaching a large house, cross its access drive and continue along a grassy path as far as a stile at the angle of two boundaries.
Follow the path, along the backs of houses.
Cross a farm lane and continue past the gardens to reach a side lane.
Turn right and in a yard or two join the main road through Bargate.
Bearing right, cross the road and turn left at the road junction.
In a little under 100 yards, turn left into a playing field and follow the boundary wall on your left.
Go along a narrow grassy track and continue downhill where the path switches to the left of the next boundary wall. Continue down to the farm buildings below.
You may have noticed one or two standard-style waymarks pointing the way along Amber Valley Walk Number 11, but suddenly a whole rash of unusual waymarks become visible. Marking almost every pole along the way beyond the playing field, they show a pair of boots and what looks like a DVD disc. What they are supposed to represent, I do not know, maybe some keen-eyed reader can explain?
On reaching the farm (Wildersley), the main walk continues to the right, but the following extension will bring you back to it at the far side of the farm. (Extension – 2½ miles): on reaching the high wall surrounding the farm, turn sharp left away from the farm and walk up to the corner wall of an adjoining field. Do not enter, but continue through three more fields in order to reach the lane between Holbrook Moor and Milford.
Turn right and walk down the lane for about 150 yards and turn left along a farm drive.
Bear right to pass round the farm and then right again, downhill towards Mackeney. Unless seeking refreshment, do not go down to the road, but turn sharp right at a track junction (signposted as part of the Derwent Valley Way). Follow this, uphill as far as the lane crossed earlier.
Cross half-left over the lane and continue along a field path, soon along the edge of a wood.
Go through a hedge marked by a finger post and on joining the main walk, turn left past the perimeter wall and hedge of Wildersley Farm.
Follow the arrow straight lane down, then up to the outskirts of Belper.
Turn right at the road and, where it turns sharp right, go to your left along a surfaced path, following it into rough woodland of The Parks.