This walk takes us round the periphery of Elvaston Country Park before reaching out towards the River Derwent and its Heritage Way. Returning via hay meadows and two rural villages only a stone’s throw from Derby, gives the opportunity of a quiet drink at the Harrington Arms in Thulston before reaching Elvaston Castle once more. When Derby Borough Council as it then was, together with Derbyshire County Council decided to take over responsibility for Elvaston Castle in 1966, little did the planners appreciate how much it would cost to run the place. Currently costing over half a million pounds a year simply to keep it ticking over, it is estimated that it will need around £6.42 millions for essential repairs. Now in a very run down condition, attempts to sell the place to developers have come to nothing and even then the worry is how any future owner will continue to run the freely accessible amenities of what was the first Country Park in England. The architecture of the castle as seen today dates from the early 1800s, but its foundations go back as far as the 11th century. Owned by many families over the centuries, its final titled owners were the Stanhopes whose ancestor Sir Thomas Stanhope received it as a gift from Queen Mary Ist. With the elevation to the earldom, the family took on the title of Harrington and it was the third earl who commissioned Wyatt to design the Victorian gothic façades that still adorn the castle walls. The fourth earl fancied himself as a bit of a buck, scandalously marrying a Covent Garden actress seventeen years his junior when well into his fifties. Even though the union was a love match, he didn’t want to share her with anyone else and the poor woman was not allowed to travel beyond the confines of the park; neither was anyone allowed inside the grounds. The earl commissioned a relatively unknown garden designer, William Barron to landscape the park and its gardens. Much of his work in the park although badly neglected, can still be traced, from the lake and tufa grottos to matured trees, but it is the Grade 11 listed parterre garden facing the castle’s south front which is Barron’s lasting memorial. The very private estate remained under the ownership of the Harringtons until the Second World War when it was taken over as a ladies’ college until 1947. Remaining empty for the next twenty years it was then bought jointly by the then Derby Borough Council and Derbyshire County Council. High running costs and the effective closure of the castle’s interior as a visitor attraction, give the place a melancholic air, with the result that it is now officially listed as a ‘Building at Risk’. In fact the only people who seem to be attempting to do anything positive in regards the uphill battle to secure its future are the Friends of Elvaston Castle. Derbyshire’s County Show is held annually each year on the show ground at the Borrowash end of the Country Park.
5½ miles (8.8 km) of easy, level walking through woodland bordering parkland, followed by riverside tracks and hay meadows. Two Derby commuter villages linked by quiet lanes lead back to the tree-lined drive approaching the castle. Access is via the B5010 from Borrowash or by public transport. Car parking (Pay and Display) inside the Country Park just off the Borrowash/Thulston road. Recommended map: Ordnance Survey Explorer 1:25,000 scale – sheet 259: Derby, Uttoxeter, Ashbourne & Cheadle. Refreshments at the castle and Harrington Arms en-route through Thulston.
• From the car park, follow the broad multi-use signposted track, northwards beneath mature trees and beside the County Show Ground field. Do not take any of the side tracks and continue forwards after crossing the bridge over a narrow section of the lake. • Turn right on reaching the stable block to follow another drive out beneath woodland. The now closed stables and the old church together with the gothic castle once echoed to the everyday sounds of a busy titled estate. Nowadays only strollers and horse riders enjoy what was once the thriving seat of the Earls of Harrington. • As the drive begins to bear left, turn right to follow a waymarked track out through fields and beneath the power lines carrying electricity from Spondon Power Station on the other side of the River Derwent. Look out for a four-way finger post and turn right as directed ‘to the river’. • Reaching an embankment above the Derwent and with British Celanese factory and the Power Station across the river, turn right to follow the pleasant riverside track. • At the road turn left as far as the lights controlling traffic across the narrow bridge. Cross with care and go over a stile and down steps to continue along the riverside embankment • Look out for a flight of wooden steps to the right away from the river and indicated by a waymark disk. Go down them and out through meadows along a narrow path across four fields until you reach the road end at Ambaston. Turn right to walk past modern houses and converted farm buildings. • At the ‘T’ junction turn right to follow the normally quiet lane. Keep to the right facing traffic. • Bear left at the fork, past a converted farm house and then left again on reaching the busier road through Thulston. Cross over on to the far side of the road. • Where the main road swings left, turn right down a side road, past the Harrington Arms, as far as a group of modern houses. • Bear left at the top of the road and then almost into the cul-de-sac, turn right on to a footpath between the houses. • The path gives out on to the tree-lined drive which is followed to the right, as far as ornamental gates in the wall surrounding the castle gardens. The magnificent ornamental gates once adorned a Spanish palace and were probably brought back by one of the younger Harringtons on his fashionable Grand Tour of Europe. • Go through the gates and past ornamental yew arches, then down to the manicured low box hedges of the Grade II listed parterre garden. • The castle is in front and if a cup of tea is high on the agenda, turn left and follow the castle wall into the courtyard. • Go to the right away from the castle, downhill towards the lake and back to the car park The Lake and nearby tufa grottos together with mature but neglected specimen trees give an indication of what the once magnificent parkland once looked like.