Leaving the pretty village of Ticknall, it is possible to follow a series of field paths meandering through the ancient parkland of Calke Abbey to Melbourne Hall and back by field and woodland tracks. The walk passes the tranquil waters of Staunton Harold Reservoir, and into the attractive late Georgian market town of Melbourne. We followed this walk recently in early spring when the meadows were a yellow wash of cowslips, and the woods full of the azure mist of bluebells.
Two great houses feature as the starting and turning points of the walk, the first is Calke Abbey. Now a National Trust property, it was once the home of the reclusive Harper Crewe family who kept the house and its park strictly private, hidden away from public gaze. It was when the property was handed to the National Trust in 1985 that it became obvious that most members of the Harper Crewe family were hoarders, people who rarely, if ever, threw anything away. When the Trust took over the estate they found room after room cluttered with what was often just junk – nothing was ever thrown away, but simply dumped in un-used rooms which when full, had the doors slammed shut and, with the passage of time, the sun bleached the turkey-red patterned carpets. Damp rot, dry rot, death watch beetle and woodworm, all took their toll, leaving a building that was almost in danger of collapse.
Rather than restore Calke, the Trust decided to keep the building as an example of a grand house in decline. Many of the rooms are still piled high with things ranging from stuffed birds, to rusty hot water jugs. Where it was necessary to remove paintwork or wallpaper, it was replaced by cleverly matching faded coverings. Structural damage has been stopped in its tracks without detracting from the overall suggestion that here is a building that unless it was taken in hand, would one day fall down. Outside and into the surrounding park, where it is now possible to walk freely, old trees, their timber long past its usefulness, also tell the story of neglect. Along with Calke’s herd of roe deer, the trees make an attractive background to this walk back in time.
At the turning point of the walk, Melbourne Hall, is still lived in by Lord Ralph Kerr, the direct descendant of John Coke who made Melbourne his home in 1692. Originally a Tudor mansion, it was refashioned in the late sixteenth century, by Francis Smith of Warwick and later by his son William, who added an elegant new front to the house in 1744. The garden dates from around that time and is laid out in a series of terraces and lawns surrounded by mature limes, cedars, and pines, lead fountains and statues. Robert Bakewell, the great Derby ironsmith created the hammered-iron summerhouse that looks not unlike an overgrown birdcage. Yew has been used to create hedges and a tunnel featuring stone urns, and the memorial to Thomas Coke, who first designed the garden.
Both houses need time for their visit, so plan the walk with plenty in hand, ideally making a visit to them on a separate occasion. Opening times are as follows:
Park: Open all year 7:30am – 7:30pm
House: Open 4 Mar-31 Oct daily 11:00am-5:00pm. Note that entry to the house is by timed tickets.
House open from August and gardens open Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, April/October 1:30-5:30pm.
Dogs strictly on leads only, are allowed in pool area, not the garden.
From the car park in Ticknall, turn right to walk down to the main road and turn left.
Prior to the old tramway bridge, turn right to leave the main road and follow the avenue of mature lime trees leading to Calke Abbey.
The bridge once carried a horse-drawn tramway between Calke Abbey lime and brickworks and the canal at Willesley.
Where the drive turns left for Calke Abbey car park, carry on, following a grassy track, slightly uphill as far as a white gate. Fork left here and begin to go downhill towards a view of the abbey which appears below.
If you want to visit the hall on this occasion or at any other, it will be necessary to book a timed ticket obtainable in the old stable block.
Cross the car park and go down a flight of wooden steps to reach the narrow waters of Mere Pond. Turn right and follow the path as far as the pond’s dam.
Turn left to cross the dam and climb the slight rise on the other side, walking between ancient woodland and a high deer-fence.
At the top of the woodland rise and at a ‘T’ junction of paths, turn left for a couple of yards and go to the right through a narrow gate and then almost immediately, over a stile in the hedge opposite.
Cross the field, aiming towards but not visiting the large house over to your left.
Cross a side track leading away from the house and enter the next field. Follow the path as far as a large ash tree standing by itself.
Turn right at the tree and go down to a stream. Cross by a narrow wooden bridge.
Climb up to a gate next to a narrow lane.
Turn right and go down the lane as far as a ‘T’ junction. Turn left here and follow the narrow track above Staunton Harold Reservoir.
At the Visitor Centre (refreshments), follow its access lane down to the B587 and turn left.
Follow the road to its junction with the Ticknall road, then continue, half right, past the site of the now closed Melbourne Arms and into the village. Melbourne Hall is to the right beyond the parish church. Spend time exploring the hidden byways and attractive houses of the town.
As it was lunchtime, we called in at the walker and well behaved dog-friendly Blue Bell pub on Church Street, just before the turning to Melbourne Hall.
After wandering round the old Georgian market town, return to the B587 and turn right to follow the Ticknall road as far as the main road.
Cross over and follow a track, on the right of a specialist building supplier’s yard.
Go down the bridleway track, past freshly planted trees (part of the National Forest), and then uphill to St Bride’s Farm.
St Bride was an Irish missionary. The farm stands on the site of a monastic hospice which catered for travellers on the pilgrim road between Derby and Coventry.
At the farm cross the right angle turning of its access drive and go through the field gate directly in front. (Do not follow the hedge-lined track to its left).
Follow the field path alongside the wood on your left.
When the path reaches the Ticknall/Stanon road, cross and go over a slight rise marked by an Ordnance Survey trig pillar.
Where the track enters a wood, turn sharp left at a four-way path junction.
Follow this path, through woodland and over a farm access track.
Walk forwards to reach a path junction on the outskirts of Ticknall.
Follow the path as far as a road end. Turn right here to follow this side road back to the village car park.