Home Walks A search for Betty Kenny’s Tree

A search for Betty Kenny’s Tree

A search for Betty Kenny’s Tree

Looking for a single tree in Shining Woods might seem a fool’s errand, something akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. This tree, though is rather special, or, to be truthful, its scant remains are historically special.

The tree in question was, in its younger days, a 2000 year-old yew, the pride of the forest.  What makes it special is that in the late 1700’s a charcoal burner by the name of Luke Kenyon and his wife Kate (aka Betty Kenny), managed to bring up eight children in a hovel built in and around the tree’s bole.  Local legend has it that in infancy the children were cradled in a hollowed-out bough of the tree.  The legend also suggests that this unusual method of caring for a child became the origin of the nursery rhyme ‘rock-a-bye-baby’.

At one time what became Shining Cliff Woods was part of the Royal Hunting Forest of Duffield Frith.  It was owned by the de Ferrers family based on their stronghold in Duffield Castle, but following the squabble between Henry III and his barons, the castle was destroyed and the lands handed to the king’s son, Edmund Longshanks.  Another legend says that a local man gave Edmund a magnificent white stallion and in return was awarded the ownership of Shining Cliff Woods.  In later years, from 1690 and until a few years after World War 1, the woods were owned by the Hurts of Alderwasley Hall.  Nowadays the bulk of the woodland is owned by the National trust, with a wilder more natural section surrounding Peat Pits Brook owned by the Grith Pioneers, an organisation calling itself the Grith Fyrd, or Citizens’ Peace Army.  They came here during the 1930s to help unemployed young men from the London area, learn self-sufficiency. Today the whole woodland is watched over by The Friends of Shining Cliff Woods, a locally based organisation.

This is a good time to walk in Shining Cliff Woods, especially when the deciduous trees are in full leaf, although spring is the best time to see the woodland flowers such as anemones and bluebells for which the woods are famous. To cope with the slight problem of navigating through the maze of footpaths wandering here and there throughout the woods, the path leading to Betty Kenny’s tree is waymarked with a white stripe and the number 12 on prominent poles.BS-Walk-Setty-Kenny-1-Aug16


4 miles (6.8km) of moderate woodland walking.  Several steep climbs and muddy sections, even in mid-summer.

Recommended Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Outdoor Leisure Sheet 24, The White Peak Area.

Public Transport.  By rail from Derby to Ambergate.  Buses from Derby and via Ripley.

Refreshments Hurt Arms on the A6 opposite the junction with the A610 Ripley/A38 road.

Car Parking.  Roadside at The Birches on the minor road to Belper or Wirksworth at the start of the walk.

A walk through Shining Cliff Woods

  • If travelling by public transport make your way to the A6 and the Hurt Arms.  Follow the road in the direction of Belper as far as Holly Lane and turn right along the lane and over Ha’penny Bridge.  Otherwise:
  • From the grassy layby at the side of the road near the section of woodland known as ‘The Scotches’, cross over and walk along the single track road until it reaches a YHA sign and the first of the white Walk 12 waymarks beside a line of rocks (put there to deter motorists and trail bikers).
  • Bear right on to the path and follow it through the old wireworks
  • At the far end of the factory, ignore YHA signs pointing left and walk ahead into woodland.

Shining Cliff Woods are a popular place to enjoy and ramble freely on the complex arrangement of footpaths, some are indicated on the OS map and others not.  If lost remember that by walking downhill you will invariably come to the valley bottom path.

The woods are filled with a mixture of wild trees plus a number of pines planted decades ago by the Forestry Commission.  There are plenty of birds to fill any birdwatcher’s day and wild flowers such as bluebells, wood anemones bloom in spring before the trees come into leaf and create areas of deep shade. Foxes and badgers have made their homes in tunnels dug beneath outcropping rocks and boulders.  Shining Cliff Woods is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

  • Continue along the path, following the occasional Walk 12 white striped waymarks.  Ignore any side paths on your left, even the right of way path signposted to Alderwasley.   
  • In about half a mile after leaving the wireworks area, bear left at a path junction and still following the waymarks, begin to climb up the wooded hillside.
  • After about 150 yards look for a path crossing and turn right to follow the waymarks up to Betty Kenny’s tree.

The ‘tree’ might be a disappointment, because all that is left of it are two gnarled remnants, but this is where the Kenyon’s made their home and brought up eight children.  No doubt the venerable yew as it would have been even in the 1700s, had a massive spread of lower branches beneath which the couple created a home. If you look carefully at the taller of the two stumps you will see that it was hollowed out.  The tree that once echoed to the sound of children’s voices now looks more like something out of the set for the ‘witches scene’ in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The Kenyon’s were favourites of the Hurt family from Alderwasley Hall who had the couple’s portraits painted by Royal Academian James Ward.

  • Follow the waymarks away from the tree as far as the stone boundary wall and turn left.
  • Go over the scanty boardwalk (this is a notoriously muddy section) and, ignoring a path going right to a stone stile, walk ahead, steadily climbing all the way.
  • With wide ranging views over the Derwent valley on your left, wind in and out of woodland clearings and begin to go downhill.
  • Where your path joins a wider track, bear left with it and away from the hostel glimpsed above and to your right.

The hostel was once a popular hide-away run mostly by volunteers, but the YHA in its wisdom relinquished ownership and it is now run as an independent hostel by a Hope Valley-based organisation.

  • Go down to a ‘T’ junction of paths and turn left to walk downhill as far as the path beside the old wireworks.
  • Turn right on to the path used at the beginning of the walk and follow it back to the Scotches and the road.


  1. Have tried this week to access the tree from both ends of the wood without success. The Whatstandwell end is pretty unwelcoming – lots of ‘Private’ signs, TBF there aren’t any public footpaths marked on the map. From Ambergate you have to be prepared to tolerate a lengthy stretch of graffiti strewn ex-factory architecture. I didn’t really set out early enough in the day on either occasion and was pushed for light. Worth parking up at the Ambergate end to save time I’d say (I walked from Whatstandwell along the canal, which is a pleasant enough walk, but left me worrying about the light.) Shame its such an unpleasant approach. You may of course be luckier 🙂


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