This short walk visits the monastic heritage of Dale Abbey. Within sight of Kirk Hallam and Ilkeston, it crosses open fields in order to reach rare natural woodland. This is where a 12th century hermit built a cave in the soft sandstone which can still be explored. Beyond it is a unique church that shares its roof with a house and then, a few yards further on the mutely soaring arch of a great window speaks of the glory of a long abandoned abbey. The Carpenters’ Arms is conveniently halfway round the walk. Coal, sand, clay and ironstone that fuelled industries like the Stanton Ironworks travelled from shallow pits along a narrow gauge railway whose route can still be traced by the line of overgrown embankments and cuttings. A pond that is now the haunt of patient anglers once provided water power for the bellows of a simple iron foundry.
3¼ miles (5.23km) of easy walking along mostly flat, undulating field paths which can be muddy in wet weather. Waymarks with the figure ‘1’ denote the route of this Erewash Valley Country Walk. Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Pathfinder series – Nottingham south & west. Sheet SK43/53 Free car parking at Pioneer Meadows Recreation Ground. Public transport via Ilkeston to Kirk Hallam Refreshments: Carpenters’ Arms at Dale Abbey offers cooked food as well as sandwiches. Good selection of real ales.
• From Pioneer Meadows take the central of three surfaced footpaths beside bushes and trees out to a wooden footbridge over Sow Brook. Pioneer Meadows is an area of public open space. In summer it is filled with wildflowers growing in grassy spaces between woodland and even has a small fish pond.
• Bear right after crossing the footbridge and walk alongside the bottom edge of a ploughed field.
• Enter the second field and about two thirds of the way across bear left, slightly uphill towards a line of electricity pylons. Cross a stile and head to the right of the pylons, walking towards a line of bushes beside a stream…
• Do not cross the stream, but turn right beside it and then cross the trackbed of a former light railway. The old railway once linked Stanton Ironworks with two collieries around Arbour Hill near Dale Abbey and also local clay pits and a sand quarry.
• Follow the line of a hedge next to the trackbed and then bear left across the next field to its far corner.
•Go right through a gateway to follow a track towards a group of cottages and farm buildings. Bear left away from them, towards Furnace Pond. The now naturalised pond, a favourite spot for modern anglers, was dug in the 18th century to create a head of water providing power to work bellows for blast furnaces on the site of the nearby farm cottages.
• From the pond, follow the farm lane up to its junction with Hixon’s Lane. Turn right and facing traffic follow Dale Road About half way along the road, look over the hedge on your right. Standing on the distant ridge top, the Cat & Fiddle white-painted four-sailed windmill is a major feature in the area. Privately owned it is opened occasionally on advertised days.
• At the junction at the end of Dale Road, cross over the delightful named Potato Pit Lane and go through a bridle gate opposite into a field.
• Bear slightly right, gently uphill towards woodland, entering it at the far corner of the field. The wood is called Hermit’s Wood and is an ancient relic of the dense forest covering the surrounding area in medieval times. Almost totally natural, it is a mix of magnificent specimens of beech, oak, ash and lime. In spring the woodland floor is carpeted with bluebells, wood anemones, yellow archangel and ramsons (wild garlic).
• Following the bridleway into the wood, almost immediately look out for a flight of steps climbing up to your left. Follow them up to the hermit’s cave dug out of an outcrop of soft sandstone. The cave must have been a snug hideaway in its time for not only did it have windows and a door, but also a wood framed lean-to extension that would have kept the cold and rain away from its occupant. He was a Derby baker who in 1130 AD following a vision of the Virgin Mary, hid himself away in this then remote spot, in order to pray. Later he achieved popularity as a preacher, which in time led to the founding of the nearby abbey. His well is a little further down the slope and at one time it was considered to have curative powers.
• Go down a continuation of the steps, away from the hermit’s cave and turn left on reaching the bridleway once more.
• At a path junction within sight of Church Farm, turn left, uphill to follow a newly created path around the farm and as far as the entrance drive to both farm and All Saints’ Church. Turn left at the drive and then immediately right into the graveyard in front of the church. The building, a ‘hotchpotch’ of styles, is a rare example of church and house (and until the 19th century, a pub) sharing the same roof. Part of the church dates from around 1150 AD; originally it was probably built as an infirmary or leper colony. When it is open, it is worth going inside if only to see the unusual features such as the medieval font and 17th century pulpit.
• Leave the church by way of its lower gate and walk along the road for a few yards, then out towards the houses of Dale Abbey village. The magnificent arch of the abbey’s east window is one of the few tangible remains of this once important foundation. If short of time and in order to view the window from a public footpath, go through the stile almost immediately on your right on reaching the road, returning to this point to rejoin the walk. If time allows, ask for permission at the cottage built around the chimney of the abbey’s kitchens and walk out on to the excavated remains of the abbey. A large green painted hut to your right on entering the site contains many of the artefacts unearthed during archaeological digs.
• Bear right with the village street and walk as far as its junction with Moor Lane directly opposite the Carpenters’ Arms. • With your back to the pub, follow the road to the left, past the old school and enter the next field beyond the playing field.
• Cross the field, bearing right towards and slightly to the right of a group of stables.
• Cross a footbridge with a waymark ‘1’ on its face and go straight ahead alongside a hedge (do not bear right towards the wood).
• Bear left under power lines, go over the next stile and turn right alongside a hedge. The path follows the line of an abandoned narrow gauge section of the Stanton to Dale tramway.
• After two more fields, cross a footbridge over a deep gully. Climb steeply out on to the field and follow the path to the left of Ladywood Farm.
• Continue with the path along the brow of the broad hill and go through a small recreation ground to enter Kirk Hallam by way of Wirksworth Road.
• Pioneer Meadows is to the right, downhill, along Wirksworth Road.