In my recent winter warmer walk I mentioned about being puzzled by the strange tower-like pit head of Brittain Pit near Midland Railway’s Swanwick Junction. As there is winding machinery apparently attached to the tower, it seemed an odd way to access the mine workings beneath. I mentioned this to a friend who readily explained it to me – the tower was not for access but a means of both providing an emergency exit, and also mainly to act as a funnel, drawing air through the mine; quite understandable when it is explained by an expert.
In passing, my friend told me about a walk leaflet produced by Amber Valley Borough Council – Walk Number 4. Unfortunately the leaflet and others in the series is out of print, but having got hold of an old copy, I found that due to footpath alterations following open-cast mining some years back, the leaflet now has a number of inaccuracies. Despite the inaccuracies, the walk does have a degree of waymarking. Yellow number 4s are placed with what appears to be random selection around the start of the walk and towards the end. But a word of caution; do not rely upon them entirely because while they might be thick on the ground at the more obvious parts of the walk, they are non-existent on the more awkward sections. As most of the un-waymarked section is in woodland beyond the Sheffield/ Nottingham railway, the best suggestion I can make is to use the sound of the frequent trains as a guide – keeping the sound always on your left will keep you on course.
Attracted by the idea of having a second look at the strange surface remains of Brittain Pit, I decided to try and follow Walk 4, but went prepared to adapt it to the revamped footpaths. This was quite a successful plan with the result that I ‘found’ a new walk in that delightful rural belt almost lost between the industries of Alfreton and Ripley.
My version of the walk starts from the car park in the centre of Codnor before wandering out into fields and woodlands growing on restored open-cast mines. Codnor Castle is visited before crossing the mainline by a convenient footbridge and the abandoned line of Cromford Canal is then followed all the way into that delightfully named spot, Golden Valley. Beyond Alfreton Road, the walk uses a concessionary footpath through Midland Railway’s nature reserve, all the way to Swanwick Junction where a series of south-pointing footpaths wander towards Codnor Industrial Estate without actually entering it. A right turn on to Alfreton Road will take you back to the car park.
6 miles (9.5km) of moderate walking through undulating fields and woodlands. Little or no climbing, but mud can be expected in the woods on the far side of the railway line.
Recommended Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer Sheet 269, Chesterfield & Alfreton.
Public Transport. Frequent services between Ripley and Ilkeston and surrounding towns.
Car Parking: Codnor town centre car park is free.
Refreshments: Pubs in Codnor and the lakeside caravan beside Codnor Park Reservoir is open Wednesday to Sunday inclusive.
- From the car park turn left on to Alfreton Road. Cross over and follow it for about 45 yards.
- Look out for a signpost pointing to Codnor Castle and follow it along a short access lane serving a group of cottages.
- Go through a kissing gate and follow a footpath over several fields eventually bordering Codnor Golf Course.
- Reaching a hedge, keep it on your left and go slightly uphill until the path reaches Castle Lane.
- Turn right along the macadamed lane and follow it until it turns sharp right.
- Do not continue round the bend but go forwards beyond a gate and on to a rough-surfaced track.
While the walk does not exactly reach Codnor Castle on your right, two side gates lead into the field leading up to the castle. Built in the 12th century, it was owned by the Lords Grey who were related to the tragic nine-day Queen, Lady Jane Grey. Bess of Hardwick lived there briefly as a child and it was perhaps during her time that a valuable Tudor coin was lost, only to be found during one of Sir Tony Robinson’s ‘Time Team’ digs. Despite not being involved for one side or another, it was destroyed by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War, preventing it from falling into the hands of King Charles’ Royalist forces. About half a mile over to the left and on a slight rise, the tall stone tower commemorates the life of William Jessop (1783-1863), canal builder and co-founder of Butterley Ironworks.
- Carry on down the rough lane and skirting the edge of Foxhole Plantation cross the field on the far side of the trees.
- Where the track turns left towards distant Kennel Farm, continue forwards and into another wood.
- Try to ignore side paths and continue towards the railway, crossing it by an iron footbridge.
- Beyond the bridge, turn left into scrubby woodland to follow the line of a towpath along an abandoned section of the Cromford Canal. As the woods are a favourite strolling area for people living in the surrounding villages, there is a plethora of side paths. To avoid going off route, keep to the raised path (the old tow path) and use the sound of trains to walk parallel to the railway track.
- Continue along this route as far as a bridge carrying the railway over the abandoned canal.
- Go under the bridge in order to reach canal-side cottages and a line of abandoned locks.
On this part of the walk you will be passing the highest point on the 14¾ mile long water way built in 1794 and running from Cromford to the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. It was in use until the 1920s when the collapse of Butterley Tunnel spelt its demise.
- Carry on towards Codnor Park Reservoir (refreshments available Wednesday to Sunday), and follow the waterside path as far as Alfreton Road.
- Taking care with the busy traffic, cross the road by first turning right and then left to follow the sunken footpath past the old pub now under restoration.
- Look out for a signpost beside the footpath and turn right on to the final stretch of canal just before it enters Butterley Tunnel. Climb to the right, away from the canal and into woodland.
The 2,978 yard long tunnel was closed in 1904 after a series of roof falls, but the rest of the canal on either side was still used until 1944.
- Reaching the terminus of a narrow-gauge railway, follow the woodland path, to the right then left around the end of the line.
- Ignoring side paths both right and left, continue along the main path until it reaches the outskirts of Swanwick Junction display area.
- Cross the narrow-gauge track (the main standard gauge track is to your right through the trees), and climb up to a rough surfaced car park.
- Look out for a flight of wooden steps to your left on reaching the car park. Climb them to reach a path that eventually follows a mesh fence beside the ventilation tower of Brittain Colliery and its well preserved headstock.
- Follow the path now overshadowed by thorn bushes out into the access drive to Swanwick Junction.
- Go past a factory and cross the lane to join a signposted footpath through a belt of trees.
- Beyond the trees follow the line of a hedge to reach another lane, known locally as the Coach Road.
- Turn left along the lane as far as Butterley Farm.
The low circular stone shaft near the farm was built to ventilate the canal tunnel running roughly parallel to the Coach Road.
- Turn right between the farmhouse and a new building. Follow the track out into open fields.
- Where the track bears sharp left, follow it for about 100 yards to a gate beside woodland.
- Do not cross the gate, but turn sharp right and follow a hedge as far as woodland surrounding Codnor Industrial Estate.
- Turn left and follow the estate’s boundary fence for about a quarter of a mile until it reaches the estate access road. (Keep the fence in sight on your right, in order to keep on the correct path).
- Turn right at the access road and then right again on joining Alfreton Road. The car park is at the top of the hill about half a mile further on.