Many years ago, more than I care to admit, an elderly walker who in his time held the record for the Colne (Lancs), to Rowsley Walk, advised me that a pint of beer should always be earned. It was with this in mind that I set off one morning recently to do one of my favourite walks. It runs from Matlock to Bonsall and back and if I can get the timing right, and I usually do, arrives outside the door of the King’s Head in Bonsall exactly on opening time. I am aware that some of our readers might spot that I have already offered this walk in a previous edition of Country Image. This is something I freely admit, but whereas I have always followed this walk in an anti-clockwise direction, this time I decided to do it clockwise. Having done that it dawned on me that however many times you might do a particular walk, following it in opposite way puts an entirely different slant on things. The views if nothing else can open up fresh vistas, especially if you look at them while walking downhill. I didn’t realise how much I had been missing by keeping my nose pointing at the ground in the past and I was able to admire the dramatic rock face of High Tor, or cast my eyes forward to the long incline leading up to Black Rocks. The walk starts and finishes in the centre of Matlock before climbing the steep slope of Masson Hill. It then skirts the Heights of Abraham, where incidentally the owners are happy to allow passing walkers to call in for a coffee. Woodland paths once walked by generations of lead miners lead on towards Ember Farm where a quiet lane drops down into Bonsall. A right turn here will bring you to the unique market cross on its stepped plinth, and the King’s Head. From the pub the route climbs steeply away from the village, out on to Masson Hill once again to where field paths lead back to Matlock.
4½ miles (7.24km) and 220 feet (67 Metres) climb and descent of moderate walking on field and woodland paths. Frequently muddy around the Heights of Abraham. Public transport to Matlock town centre is either by frequent trains and buses from most parts of the region. Recommended map: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Series 24; the Peak District, White Peak Area 1:25,000 scale. Refreshments available at the Heights of Abraham Café, King’s Head in Bonsall and Matlock.
• From the centre of Matlock, cross the road bridge and walk up the road opposite, past the Royal Bank of Scotland and turn left at the second turning on the left.
• Walk up the side road, past the French Wine People and aim for a short flight of steps next to the last house at the top of the road. • Climb the steps and go through a narrow gate to enter a steep grassy field.The path follows a shallow gully. Look out for a wooden post about 100yards uphill. Turn left here and continue along the path. Go through a narrow gap and into a second field where the angle of ascent eases.
• At the top of the field go through a kissing gate and out along a further grassy path contouring round the hillside. Grassed over humps at the side of the path are the remains of a lead mine. The whole of Masson Hill is riddled with these ancient remains. Most are blocked off for safety, but one or two are not, so take great care when wandering off the path; dogs especially need to be carefully watched in case they decide to chase a rabbit into one of the many clumps of hawthorn or bramble that can hide a mine shaft.
• The path continues away from the field and between a rocky limestone outcrop known as Shining Cliff and the top wall of an attractive Victorian villa below and to your left. The name Shining Cliff refers to the way it glows at sunrise.
• The path drops down to a narrow side road. Turn right on reaching it and walk uphill past the attractive building known as St John’s Chapel. Continue as far as the gates leading to a private house. St John’s Chapel although still owned by Southwell Diocese is rarely used for service. It is though a link with Matlock’s short-lived fame as a centre for hydropathy. Worshippers could only use it by invitation and were no doubt higher ranking than those day trippers who were already coming by train to enjoy the delights of Matlock Bath. The best view of the chapel is from the road, especially to see the corbelled side window that make the building look not unlike some Bavarian hunting lodge. Horses climbing the hill would slake their thirst at the large stone trough set into the chapel’s lower retaining wall.
• At the metal gates turn left as indicated by a finger post and follow the steep often muddy path uphill alongside the boundary wall.
• Climb a flight of stone steps away from the wall to reach a fenced path to the right of a large house. Continue along the path as far as a stile.
• Cross the stile and bear right, uphill and towards rough woodland. Cross another stile and continue with the path, still uphill, half left, towards the boundary of the Heights of Abraham.
• Unless intending to call for a coffee, cross the macadamed path leading to the pleasure ground and aim for a stone wall diagonally right, uphill of the path. The Heights of Abraham are accessed from the valley bottom by cable car. Two mines-cum-caverns have been made accessible to the public together with the Victorian Prospect Tower and woodland walks; children’s play areas and a restaurant make this a popular attraction high from the crowds, noise and motor bikes of Matlock Bath.
• Walk along the fairly level path through beech woodland until you reach a farm lane connecting Ember Farm which is on your right.
• Follow the lane downhill into the outskirts of Bonsall.
• Turn right along the road passing Bonsall’s ancient parish church and follow it down to the junction with the main road through the village. The King’s Arms is immediately on your left and comes highly recommended for its real ale supplies and home cooked food. The focal point of the village is the ball-topped market cross that stands on a circular stepped-plinth. Also spend a few moments looking at the scenic village map on the wall of the seated area above the cross to look into the interesting history of this village.
• From the cross turn right and go steeply up the narrow part-concreted track leading away from the village. The concreted surface of the lane was laid to aid lorry access to a fluorspar mine beyond the lane end several years ago.
• Where the track turns half right at a ‘T’ junction, turn left away from it and on to a narrow walled path that winds between hawthorn and blackthorn bushes. • Turn right at the junction with another path and follow it uphill, through a gate and alongside upland grazing.
• Where the path seems to meet a hedged ‘cul-de-sac’, look for a stile in the hedge on your right and climb over it into an open field. The onward path is indistinct so aim half left for a field barn immediately ahead.
• Go to the right of the barn and cross two more fields.
• Cross a farm access lane by using stiles in walls on either side of it and then bear right to another stile. Beyond this the path descends left to a metal kissing gate. At the far side of the gate there is a memorial seat that offers a fine view of Matlock and along the Derwent Valley.
• Cross the access track diagonally right below the seat and enter the field to your left. Follow the boundary hedge as far as a further stile and then bear half right across the next field, aiming for a group of farm buildings.
• Cross the farm drive and go over a stile into a series of fields leading downhill towards a small copse. Go through this and over the macadamed access to a couple of large houses.
• Walk down the grassy path to reach the outward part of this walk and so back into Matlock.