There is industry, old and new along the Erewash Valley, but strange as it may seem, parts of the valley are so free of industrial overtones, that they have become a series of nature reserves. Safe from the noise and bustle of traffic along the cross-valley roads, water fowl and semi-rare plants have made their homes in places abandoned by mankind.
Much of the wildlife can be found along the length of the Nottingham and Erewash canals, and in the marshy valley bottom. Before the coming of the railway network and road transport, the only way for heavy goods to be moved around the country was by canal. Each of the canals used on this walk spring from a junction near Langley Mill, where the long abandoned Cromford Canal made its way through Codnor’s Golden Valley. The Nottingham followed a contour hugging route, winding its way below one-time colliery villages, that would have been familiar to D.H. Lawrence in his youth. The other took a more direct line down the Erewash Valley, but needed water and time-consuming locks to reach the Trent and Mersey Canal at Trent Lock. This stretch of canal, the Erewash, is navigable all the way up to Langley Mill.
Two railways used the valley, one following an east-west route now lies abandoned, but the other, the north-south route is still in operation all the way from Long Eaton to Chesterfield. Its route follows the valley close by Ilkeston, a town where Doctor Beeching in his wisdom decided had no need for a station. This oversight now looks like being put right, with a brand new station on the outskirts of the town.
One of my ambitions when I decided to do this walk, was to get up close to the Meccano-like structure of the Bennerley Viaduct, a Grade II* listed structure. Built in the 1870s, it carried the Great Northern Railway between Nottingham and Derby across the Erewash Valley. The reason it was built on wrought iron latticed columns was because the ground was too marshy to support traditional brick or stone columns. I had planned to get up close and perhaps take a picture of this unique structure, but although I kept getting tantalising glimpses of it from time to time, the only access was either across swampy ground, overgrown with dense undergrowth, or by trespassing. There is an obvious path climbing up an embankment where a second bridge crossed the Erewash Canal, but a notice made it annoyingly clear that the way was strictly private. As a result all I could do was look at the weird structure from afar, more’s the pity.
The walk is easy to follow, with only one or two very slight climbs. The ground, for most of the way while being muddy in places, is reasonable firm as an all-weather walk. There is opportunity for refreshment along the walk, but unfortunately, the handy canal-side Gallows Inn at the beginning and end of the walk, was still looking for new landlords when I checked this walk. There is a greasy spoon café on the industrial estate beyond the pub, but I cannot vouch for its quality. What there is though, is a pub half way along the walk; the Bridge Inn at Cotmanhay still offers all-day refreshment to canal users either coming by boat or on foot.
7 miles (11.25km) of easy to follow well-surfaced paths. Small area of muddy ground where the route crosses the Erewash Valley.
Recommended Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer 1:25,000 scale Explorer Map Sheet 260, Nottingham & Vale of Belvoir.
Public Transport – regular buses on the route between Ilkeston and Nottingham areas.
Parking (free) next to the Ilkeston Rugby club sports field. (Public toilets on the corner where the access lane leaves the main road. N.B. This is the Stapleford/Nottingham road from Ilkeston.
Refreshments: Café on the Gallows industrial estate near the start of the walk.
- Walk away from the car park towards the canal and turn right along the tow path.
- Go under the road bridge and climb the steps below the lock.
- Turn right at the top of the steps. Go past the Gallows Inn and turn left on the footpath beside the main road.
The pub takes its macabre name from the nearby district – Gallows. Apparently a gallows stood here in the 17th Century, marking the old boundary of Ilkeston. The pub has another friendlier name, the Horse and Jockey.
- Follow the road until it begins to bear right (n.b. there is no footpath for the last few yards so take great care).
- Turn left away from the road and follow a signposted footpath.
- Cross the footbridge over the railway and continue forwards, over a private road and climb up to the tree-lined Nottingham Canal towpath.
- Turn left beside the overgrown canal and follow the wide track along the old canal embankment.
- Go past two small car parks and continue to follow the now water-filled section of canal.
- Continue round the wide contouring bend and then forwards with the canal as it enters one of the sections of the Erewash Nature Reserve.
Roughly at the top of the bend, a short arm to your right, and known as the Robinettes Arm winds its way for a short distance, still able to serve the long abandoned coal mines further on. The pretty village of Cossall stands on top of the hilltop in front of where you are standing. This stretch of canal has waterlilies and abundant wildlife.
- Follow the canal, over a narrow side road and then walk beside an attractive pine wood.
- With an industrial estate below and to your left, climb up to a side road and cross.
- The canal seems to disappear beyond the side road and was in fact filled in when the Awsworth by-pass was built. Follow finger- posts indicating the way to various sections of the Nature Reserve.
- Using pedestrian controlled traffic lights, cross the by-pass.
- Again use signposts to follow the path, now beside the busy road that is fortunately screened by bushes and young trees.
- Where the path joins what appears to be an abandoned road, walk forwards across it and towards more Nature Reserve finger-posts.
- Take the direction of the furthest post and turn sharp left and begin to go downhill into the valley of the Erewash.
- Cross a footbridge at the bottom of the slope and bear sharp left on its far side.
- Aim towards a three-bladed wind turbine and then at yet another finger-post plus a more useful cycleway direction, walk on towards the railway line.
Over to your left before reaching the railway is the first tantalising glimpse of the Bennerley Viaduct, standing lonely against the skyline and without any connecting tracks from the Great Northern line.
- Go under the railway and bear left with the footpath as it climbs up to the Erewash Canal. Turn left along the tow-path.
The Bridge Inn is opposite advertising all day refreshments. Unlike the Nottingham Canal which kept a level contour-hugging route, the Erewash took a more direct line which necessitated the use of locks.
- The way now follows the canal, past well maintained locks where waterfowl, especially swans manage to congregate.
- Go under two busy roads and eventually beside the linear industrial estate, to reach the main road beside the Gallows Inn.
- Continue forwards with the canal, under the bridge and as far as the sports ground car park which will be on your left.