While this is intended to be used along with a ride on the Midland Railway from Butterley Station, it also makes a reasonably all-weather walk along the delightfully rural corridor that separates the industrial areas of Ripley and Alfreton. Quite short, it is only three miles long and there are no steep climbs on either side of the restored railway, nevertheless, it makes an ideal way to work off the extra calories taken on board over the winter.
Starting from Butterley Station, the walk climbs gently up to but not into Derbyshire Police Headquarters, passing along the way their helicopter landing site and police dog training grounds. Beyond there it crosses the remains of the branch line that once linked Butterley Ironworks to Swanwick Junction. A short stretch of surfaced lane above the tunnel carrying the Cromford Canal and then a left turn alongside a hedge leads to the remarkably well preserved head-stock of Britain Pit.
From the wooded section of the walk, glimpses of Midland Railway’s complex at Swanwick Junction are next, then after passing beneath the tracks of both the restored railway and Swanwick Colliery branch line, the terrain is mostly through meadows usually grazed by docile cows. Here the way is beside four fields as far as the Hayes Conference Centre. Without going into the centre there is a sharp left turn which begins the homeward stretch and along the way you will pass, or so the notice says – the Amber Valley International Airport. If true it must host the last word in no-frills flying, simply a grass strip and a single wind sock: no hangars, no departure lounge, and no customs, not even somewhere to service aircraft!
3 miles (3.8km) of easy field paths, woodland walking and one quiet by-lane. Ascent and descent only 31 feet (10m)
Recommended Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Explorer Sheet 269 Chesterfield & Alfreton.
Public transport: Ripley/Alfreton services.
Car Parking Butterley Station off Derby Road between Ripley and Swanwick
- From the station walk up the access lane to Derby Road and turn left for a little under 200 yards.
- After crossing the railway bridge go over to the opposite side of the road and turn right through a gap at the side of a field gate.
- Bear right on entering the field and follow the line of a hedge as far as a stile. Go over this and follow a path down to a signal box.
- Turn right immediately beyond the signal box and go through wicket gates on either side of the railway track. (Take care and listen and look out for trains).
It will probably be necessary to walk round some of the rolling stock parked in what is the marshalling yard for Midland Railway. Keep to their right and then left as far as a toilet block.
- Turn sharp right at the toilets and climb up to a boundary hedge. Climb over a stile in the gap.
- Walk steadily uphill to a line of scrubby trees and bushes.
- Cross an abandoned railway line and move out on to a grass meadow.
The railway was the branch line to Butterley Ironworks. Now closed and the site of the works turned into a housing estate, the Butterley Company developed from the discovery of ironstone and coal found when a tunnel was built to take the Cromford Canal beneath the hill. Whilst boats can no longer cruise through the tunnel since it collapsed in the 1920s, Butterley Ironworks was famous in its time for constructing the girders supporting the massive span of St Pancras Station roof. In more recent times it made the ironwork for the innovative Falkirk Wheel that links two Scottish canals. All that is left of the works are the gritstone walls of the smelters and a roadside office where the Pentrich rebels attempted to steal guns.
- Heeding the warning signs, cross the field used as a landing ground for Derbyshire Police helicopters, as well as training police dogs.
- At the top of the field join a surfaced by-lane and turn left, following it past cottages for about a third of a mile.
The lane follows the line of the Cromford Canal tunnel and was probably laid out and the right of way created when the tunnel was being dug.
- A little over a hundred yards beyond a slight bend in the lane, look out for a footpath signpost in the corner of a field. Turn sharp left here and follow the line of a hedge.
- At the bottom of the field walk as far as a gate beside a factory building but do not go through it, instead turn right into a gap surrounded by bushes.
- Follow the scrub-lined path, soon opening out beside a high mesh fence on your left and Jubilee Wood (Nature Reserve) to your right.
- Walk past the remarkably well preserved head stock and other surface remains of Britain Pit
The tall circular brick built tower below the head stock of Britain Pit is something of an enigma. Most mine shafts start at ground level and are brick-lined all the way down to the coal face, so why does this one look as though it has been pushed up out of the ground? Maybe someone can answer this for me, please.
- Go down towards the railway line and pass under it and then turn sharp left along a farm track.
- Go under the branch line that once served Swanwick Colliery and bear right still on the farm track.
- Climb steadily alongside a hedge bordering four fields.
- At a gate at the top of the last field do not go over the stile, but turn sharp left and follow a rough path beside the boundary of The Hayes Conference Centre (Church of England).
- Using stiles to keep to the route, go downhill through three fields and head towards a farmhouse.
- Turn sharp right on reaching a wire fence and walk towards the left of the farm house.
Take note of the sign at the side of the fence where the path turns sharp right, for this is the perimeter of the so-called Amber Valley International Airport, or so it says.