Scrub woodland and lush grazing along a hillside climbing above the Derwent Valley was once part of a thousand acre hunting and pleasure ground used only by royalty.
Established in the 13th century for King Henry III’s son the Earl of Leicester who was also called Edmund Crouchback, it became known as Beaurepaire, ‘a beautiful retreat’, a name which eventually changed into Belper, the main town at its heart. With Crich Chase as its northern boundary and Duffield Castle to the south, with Belper in between, all the land on either side of the Derwent was the preserve of the aristocracy and woe betide anyone else found taking his lord and master’s game.
Due to the constraints of the narrow valley, the A6 road, canal and railway all crowd together within the space of a hundred yards or so in this section below the chase, with canal and railway perched above a high stone wall between Whatstandwell and Ambergate. It is here that they run below the wooded lower reaches of Crich Chase. At the top of the hill beyond the natural woodland, the almost alpine village of Crich makes a breezy welcome to travellers. Field paths skirting the northern limits of Crich lead to two unexpected features. Standing proud on top of the highest point around the village, Crich Stand, the memorial to those who gave their lives for the nation in two world wars and beyond, is in the shape of a lighthouse. Probably the furthest lighthouse in the country from the sea, the view from the tower is said to encompass all the Midland counties. On a clear day it is claimed that it is possible to see the Humber Bridge and Lincoln Cathedral.
Below the memorial tower and in a section of an abandoned quarry, trams running on a short length of track would once have graced the streets in places as far apart as Portugal’s Lisbon, or Blackpool promenade. Restored shops and public buildings sit alongside modern workshops where vintage trams are restored in full working order.
On the return leg of the walk, steep field paths drop down through Duke’s Wood and its naturalised gritstone quarries, to the Cromford Canal. Although barges no longer travel along this one-time link between the Trent and links to the industrial North West, the canal and its wooded surrounds have become an important nature reserve. Here the walk follows the tow path back to Ambergate.
The Walk with Rambler
From Ambergate station walk down to the road and turn left. Cross over to turn right along the main A6 road.
Follow the road, past the Chinese Restaurant and then a row of semi-detached houses as far as a side road called Chase Road.
Turn right up Chase Road and follow it as it passes beneath the railway line. Continue uphill to a canal bridge.
Turn left at the bridge and go down to the tow path, following it for a couple of hundred yards, as far as the next bridge.
Go to the right, over the bridge and follow a waymarked woodland footpath, winding fairly steeply uphill over rocky and occasionally muddy ground. This is Crich Chase.
Continue in and out of clearings until the path reaches a wall leading towards the top of the wood.
Turn right on crossing a stile and walk steadily uphill, across two fields to reach Chadwick Nick Lane.
Turn right for about 300yds along the lane in order to gain a short flight of steps leading to a stile. Go up and over these and, still climbing, cross a series of fields by way of their gates and stiles.
At the top of the climb, the path skirts the top of a rocky escarpment known as The Tors. Follow this until the path begins to descend towards Sandy Lane which in turn leads into Crich Market Square.
Turn left in the square and walk along the road, then bear right, continuing past the village hall and health centre.
Where the road veers right, go to the left along Coasthill.
Continue forwards where Coasthill loses its surface, and then along a field path behind modern houses until it reaches Carr Lane. Turn right here.
Walk up the lane, past Cliff Inn and the entrance to the National Tramway Museum.
Bear left at the road junction and where the road makes a sharp right hand turn, go to the left along the approach road climbing to Crich Stand (small entry fee if you want to climb the tower– pay at the cottage).
Look out for a signpost pointing to Wakebridge and Plaistow near the tower. Go right with it and then left through bramble and scrubby bushes.
Descend by a steadily improving path around the top of Cliff Quarry and go down to the tram track close to its terminus.
Continue down the hillside, past Wakebridge Farm and a small caravan site, as far as the road.
Turn right along the road for just over 100yds and go to the left on to a signposted footpath that winds down through a couple of fields in order to reach the edge of woods surrounding Duke’s Quarry.
Walk through the old quarry and cross the minor road and then walk down to the canal.
Turn left along the tow path for an easy two mile stroll back into Ambergate, passing on the way a road running down to Whatstandwell bridge, and the Family Tree café. (Return to the bridge in order to continue the walk beside the canal).