This is probably the shortest walk I have taken. Although only 2½ miles or thereabouts it is full of historical interest and if, like me you do a bit of exploring, then it can become an all- day walk.
Directly from the start, the walk enters the realms of Wirksworth’s lead mining history. The stubby remains of a chimney and a capped shaft to one side of Black Rocks car park are the tangible relics of a once prosperous lead mine. Its ore would have been smelted close to the satellite hamlet of Bolehill whose very name records the fact that a ‘bole’, or smelter stood nearby on the windy slopes. Miners and operatives at the smelter lived in the still recognisable jumble of cottages lining the maze of back alleys and side lanes. There were a number of lead mines nearby and at least one of them has the drive of a modern house built over its capped winding shaft.
Moving downhill by way of Nan Gell’s Lane (the Gells were the local landowners who had extensive lead mining interests), the walk passes many of the attractive old cottages before crossing nearby fields on its way towards Wirksworth. At the bottom of the slope, the path now a wide track, crosses a substantial railway bridge overlooking the extensive marshalling yard of Ecclesbourne Valley Railway. This volunteer run line has restored the rail link to Duffield, with steam and diesel hauled trains passing through some of the prettiest countryside near Derby on advertised days.
When the way reaches the main road beside the local junior school, the walk officially turns right, but if like us, you want to spend time exploring this ancient town, then turn left. As Michelin Guides put it, it is ‘well worth a diversion’. Passing the old lock-up, now a comfortable B&B, Chapel Lane to your left, is where the ancient Mote Hall stands. This curious single storied building is where one of the oldest courts in the land still meets. The Bamote Court as it is called, now meets only once a year, but still has jurisdiction over the remains of the lead mining industry in the Peak District. Reputed to have been ancient in King Henry VIII’s time it officially still has the right to condemn anyone caught stealing lead ore to be suspended in the mine shaft by a dagger stuck through his hand! Luckily there is no modern record of this ever happening.
Moving on into the market place, you will pass the Red Lion, an old coaching house, just one of the interesting pubs in and around the town; there are also a scattering of well-run small cafes and up-market restaurants nearby.
Another old established business is Payne’s double bow-fronted chemist’s shop on the left-hand side of the market. Probably one of the oldest still working dispensaries in the country, it is just one of the interesting old shops and houses dotted around the town centre. Down an alley, or ‘jitty’ as they are called locally, close to the Black Boy Inn, the Heritage Centre is almost hidden in Crown Yard, but covers much of Wirksworth’s history from pre-historic to the hey-day of its lead mining industry. If you have time to spare, by continuing uphill you will come to the maze of back lanes and jitties known locally as Puzzle Gardens. A nightmare to postmen and anyone attempting to deliver anything bulky, the cottages were once lived in by the families of quarrymen working in the aptly name Deep Hole quarry that once blighted this attractive town.
Across the way from the market place and down yet another narrow jitty, you will come to St Mary’s, the almost cathedral-like parish church where the annual ‘clypping’ takes place. This ancient ceremony is when the parishioners form a circle around the perimeter of the churchyard. Inside the church is an elaborately carved 8th century stone coffin lid and on the wall across the nave is the carving of a Saxon lead miner, or ‘t’owd man as he is affectionately known in the Peak. This carving incidentally, came from Bonsall many years ago and so the inhabitants of that village must now make do with a copy.
Wirksworth was called Snowfield in Adam Bede, the novel written by the locally born Victorian novelist Elizabeth Evans who wrote under her nom-de-plume George Eliot.
Returning to the junior school in order to pick up the rest of the walk, the way is along the main road for a short distance and then left to climb aptly named Old Lane. This tree-shaded track climbs up to an old limestone quarry. This place where stone was once hewn, is now the site of the National Stone Centre, and is where the prehistoric remains of a coral reef comes easily to mind along with other fossilised relics. To one side is the Millennium Wall a linked collection of dry stone walls representing designs from all over the country.
Further on, the walk climbs up to the High Peak Trail where at one time steam trains were hauled on cableways and ran along high level tracks that connected the Cromford Canal to the High Peak Canal at Whaley Bridge. A right turn here follows the trail, back to Black Rocks and the car park. On its way it passes the terminus of Steeple Grange narrow gauge railway, which uses the track-bed of a long abandoned side line to a quarry higher up the hillside. The railway uses restored mine locomotives and rolling stock; it runs most weekends and holidays throughout the summer.
- From the car park walk down to the side road and turn left. Go under the old railway bridge.
- Bear half left to follow the road gently uphill for about a quarter of a mile.
- Turn right down Nan Gell’s Lane for another quarter mile.
- At a footpath fingerpost follow the side lane on your right as far as a converted holiday barn.
- Go through a stile beside the barn. N.B do not use the wooden style on your left towards the bottom of the lane before the barn as it is private.
- Continue out on to a narrow field path.
- Continue with the path as it bears right, through a line of trees and then over a railway bridge.
- Follow the now surfaced side road up to the main road beside a school. Turn left here if intending to explore Wirksworth, otherwise turn right or return to this point in order to continue the walk.
- Continue along the road for a little over a quarter of a mile, past the turning for Middleton marked by the Limekiln pub.
- Cross the road and turn left on to Old Lane and follow its gravel surface uphill beneath the shade of overhanging trees. Do not take any of the side paths however tempting they may seem.
- With the lane bearing right, follow it into the National Stone Centre quarry.
- Follow the track through the quarry uphill past the visitor centre (refreshments available) and up to the railway bridge.
- Do not go under the bridge, but turn right at its side and climb up to the High Peak Trail.
- Turn right and follow the trail past the Steeple Grange Narrow Gauge Railway and so back to the car park at Black Rocks. If travelling by public transport, the bus stop is on the corner of the road to Middleton.
2½miles (4km) of easy paths, tracks and quiet roads. One descent and one ascent.
Recommended Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Series. Buxton, Matlock & Dovedale.
Public Transport. Trent Barton 6·1 bus to Black Rocks from Derby, Duffield or Cromford.
Car Parking. Black Rocks car park (pay & display).
Refreshments: Pubs and cafes in Wirksworth or the Rising Sun at Middleton. There is also a small refreshment kiosk to one side of black Rocks car park.