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Walk Derbyshire – Historic Deepdale – A walk back into history

Walk Derbyshire – Historic Deepdale – A walk back into history

Deepdale you may ask, for the name doesn’t appear on any Ordnance Survey map?  Now better known as Dale Abbey, the village was once called Depedale, then Deepdale and eventually the modern name, Dale Abbey in remembrance of the abbey that flourished here from 1162 until Henry VIII’s quarrel with Rome in 1536.

A lonely stone arch that once framed a glorious east widow, is all that is left of a Premonstratensian abbey taken over from Augustinian monks who came to this spot from Calke Abbey in 1162. They managed to begin building, but lack of funds led to the work being transferred in 1204 to an off-shoot of the wealthier Premonstratensian French foundation based in Lincolnshire.  

Small by monastic standards, their work led to the draining of surrounding boggy land and the expansion of farming began alongside iron production using raw materials dug from the local countryside.  All went well until the Dissolution when the governing abbot managed to stave off the abbey’s closure by payment of a fine.  Unfortunately this was wishful thinking and gradually the abbey fell into disuse.

Stones from the abandoned abbey found its way into the walls of surrounding cottages and local churches.  It is still possible to trace the use of these stones in some of Dale Abbey village’s older houses. The best example is in a cottage close to the village green.  Its foundations and the lower walls support attractive half-timbered main walls.  Apart from the lonely arch of the east window, a section of the abbey, in this case part of the kitchen, has been incorporated within a cottage close to the field containing the grassed over remains of the rest of the abbey.  

Unlike other and more extensive monastic relics, the abbey ruins stand on private land, but permission to get closer to the ruins is usually given by the owner of the nearby cottage.  Carved stones discovered by occasional excavations are stored in the shed situated in the bottom corner of the site.

A short distance along the road leading from the abbey, there stands what is probably one of, if not the most unique churches in the land. Tiny All Saints the Grade I Listed Parish Church is thought to be part of the abbey infirmary, where the local sick and infirm were cared for.   It is a strange combination of house and church all under the same roof.  The two-roomed half-timbered medieval house used by the verger, was improved in the nineteenth century, but the church is almost untouched. 

A mere twenty-six feet by twenty-five feet, inside it is a wonderful jumble of props and posts, all set at strange angles; the oak pulpit leans sideways due to the passage of over 300 years since it was made and the only space for worshippers is in one of the 17th century box-pews.  But the oddest seating arrangement is on the massive, uncomfortable-looking chair donated in 1824 by an Earl Stanhope who fell in love with the idiosyncratic church.  Despite its discomfort, it became known as the Bishop’ Chair, although it is doubtful if one ever sat there.

By strange chance the tiniest church in the land, produced one of the largest chalices.  Made in 1701, it measures 9 inches high and 15 inches round.  The 15th century font is here with worn carvings of the Madonna and Child and the Crucifixion; fragments of coloured glass rescued from the abbey and the remains of wall paintings reward a careful search.

A path winds away from the church around the back of a modern house, then on and into Hermit’s Wood.  It covers an escarpment composed of easily worked red sandstone.  This was used to full advantage by the man who built his home and hermit’s cell, and became known in myth and legend simply as ‘Thomas the hermit’ of Depedale. Before cutting himself off from society, he lived in Derby where in the early thirteenth century, he carried out his profession as a baker.  A kind hearted man, he frequently gave away his bread to many who were unable to pay for his produce.  One day he had a vision of setting himself apart from the rest of his fellow tradesmen.  

A few years before building work began on the nearby abbey, somehow or other he was drawn to the spot where easily worked red sandstone lined the edge of a wooded escarpment.  Here he carved out a series of rooms for himself and his animals, welcoming passers-by who knelt with him in prayer.  Even now it is easy to seek comfort in his hideaway.  As the rock was so easy to work he managed to fit a door and two windows to keep out the draft on cold days.  He even made a kind of lean-to conservatory, supported by planks set into post holes that still survive. Thomas the Hermit even had a benefactor, Ralph Fitz Geremund, who came across the hermit while out on a hunting trip. 

Industry developed over time, first mining ironstone and coal, industry that lead to the founding of the Stanton Ironworks.  Narrow gauge railways, some of which are covered on this walk, criss-cross the fields between Dale Abbey and Kirk Hallam.  There are also traces of small-scale foundries, such as at Furnace Pond Farm beyond Hermit’s Wood; it is likely the name comes from a nearby pond used to provide power for bellows used to melt iron ore in the production of iron.


From Pioneer Meadows car park, turn left along the curving road around the limits of Kirk Hallam, going past houses for about a quarter of a mile.  Look out for a footpath sign on your left pointing to Dale Abbey.

Follow field boundaries across four fields, passing well to the right of Ladywood Farm.

Cross a deep gulley by means of a footbridge and, bearing very slightly left, cross the field beyond the gulley.

In the far corner of this field, aim towards the woodland on your left.  Do not take the path along the woodland edge (part of the old narrow gauge Stanton to Dale tramway), but continue across the next field by aiming for stables ahead.

Walk diagonally half-left across the next three fields, using stiles and gates to keep to the right of way.

Join the road and turn right to follow it, past the old village school and then the Carpenters’ Arms and turn left at the cross roads.

Walk past the black and white house topping the stones once taken from the abbey and as far as the small village green with its single tree.

Turn left and walk down the lane, past the house giving access to the abbey’s site – the great east window stands as it did when abandonment followed the king’s Act of Dissolution.

Go down the road until a gate bars the way for cars, but it is available for walkers and horse riders.  The church is ahead at the top of a small graveyard.

After exploring the ancient church, walk up the rough track, around the private house uphill as far as a path junction.

Turn left, uphill, then down until a signpost points to a flight of steps leading to the hermit’s cave.  Return to this point after visiting the cave and turn right along the sandy woodland path.  Look to your left to see the Cat and Fiddle windmill on the far side of the broad valley.  

Passing the hermit’s well, continue along the level path until it reaches a road.  Cross over and continue by road for about a quarter of a mile to a cross roads.  Turn left down the track leading to Furnace Pond Farm.

Bear right and gently downhill, past the pond and aim for the left-hand corner of a small wood.

Keeping ahead at the wood, follow a field boundary hedge to the junction of four field boundaries.  Cross the track of an old mineral railway and bear half right, and then left beneath a power line to reach Scow Brook.

Turn right and follow a path leading to a footbridge giving access on to Pioneer Meadows wild life reserve.  This path leads directly to the car park.


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