Despite traffic thundering along the A52 Derby/Ashbourne road barely a mile away, the tranquil villages of Osmaston and Shirley with their thatched-roofed cottages and mellow Derbyshire brick, are the archetypal image of typical English villages. Between them are the wooded sporting estates of Osmaston Manor and Shirley Hall; this walk crosses both.
Oddly enough, the houses that once dominated these estates are, in one case no longer there, and the other, 16th century Shirley Hall, offers the more plebeian existence of a highly rated farm house based bed and breakfast establishment. Osmaston Manor though demolished in 1964 was built on the site of another 16th century house in 1849 by Francis Wright owner of Butterley Ironworks at Ripley and ancestor of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; it was this company that made the massive rib-like girders supporting St Pancras Station. All that is left of this once substantial house is the massive tower looming above its surrounding trees as seen on the last leg of the walk. Apparently the flues from dozens of fires throughout the building were channelled into this single pillar. Through marriage the estate became part of the Walker-Okeover family whose descendants have made the park famous throughout the equestrian fraternity by the annual horse trials in the park. Apart from the Rights of Way used by this walk, the rest of Osmaston Park is private, a fact brought home by the frequency of notices to this effect. The only estate building of note that can be seen without trespassing, is the Hansel and Gretel-like saw mill at the foot of the woodland climb up to Shirley, but even this building is mostly off limits apart from a handful of advertised days each year.
A quiet by-road off the A52 leads to Osmaston, an estate village where thatched cottages are clustered around a duck pond together with a rockery and a sturdy shelter for the ducks. The church dates from the same time as the manor was built. Although only dating from 1845, the church was built on the site of a mediaeval chapel, but all that remains of this is the font. The Shoulder of Mutton Inn completes everyone’s idea of a truly rural village and being at the end of the walk, it makes a perfect place to rest weary feet.
Shirley stands a little short of the half-way point along the walk and is probably the older of the two villages met along the way. Its 16th century hall now popular with over-night visitors stands a little aloof from the main village a little way behind the church. Although dating from the Victorian craze for ‘improving’ mediaeval churches, hints of its 14th century predecessor remain, although somewhat past their glory. All that remains is the base of an ancient preaching cross, and of a yew reputed to be even older stands like a hollowed out dragon beside the road. The Shirley’s who gave their name to the village boasted an ancestor killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury and in so doing was immortalised by Shakespeare. The Saracen’s Head has stood almost opposite the church since the 18th century, tempting walkers to make an early stop along the way.
A personal comment: be prepared for mud! Several of the woodland paths beyond Shirley seem to double up as drains, some so bad that duck boards have been erected to cover the worst bits. This is a walk for a sunny day when the trees are coming into leaf and birdlife busy raising the next generation. Having said that, although we did the walk on a depressingly foggy day when visibility was down to about a hundred yards and there was mud everywhere, it did add a degree of adventure to an enjoyable day out.
And another personal comment. I do pride myself in making the most of what I photograph, ideally when the sun is shining. This time however, sunshine was somewhat scarce, and I had to make the most of what was on offer. What did turn out had, I think, an evocative atmosphere, rather spookily recording a day when the weather was, to say the least, not at its best.
- 5 miles (8km) of country estate tracks, woodland and field paths. No significant climbs. Please note that part of the route beyond Shirley is prone to mud. Take extra care when crossing duck boards over the worst sections as they can be slippery, especially after rain.
- Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1: 25,000 scale Explorer Map Sheet 259, Derby, Uttoxeter Ashbourne and Cheadle.
- Public transport: Trent Barton Ashbourne/Uttoxeter service from Derby stops at Painter’s Lane on the A52. Church Lane is opposite and leads into Osmaston.
- Car Parking in Osmaston village near the village hall opposite the church.
- Refreshments: Shoulder of Mutton in Osmaston and the Saracen’s Head in Shirley.
The Walk with Rambler
- From the village hall turn right and walk down to the duck pond and bear left.
- With thatched roof cruck supported cottages on your left, walk forwards to a three-way junction and follow the central track between fields and woodland.
- Go between two clumps of trees and begin to go downhill, ignoring a surfaced track crossing right to left.
- Continue along the track, downhill into the valley bottom.
- The attractive pond on your left provides a head of water to power the old saw mill on your right. The mill has lately been restored with aid from English Heritage and is open to the public on advertised days
- Beyond the mill ignore the track going left and follow the muddy track winding uphill through a mature beech wood.
- Ignore a track crossing right to left and continue, past a brick-built farm building on the left.
- When the track becomes surfaced, follow it gently downhill, past substantial properties until it joins a minor road coming in from the left.
- Turn right opposite the road and climb some steps to follow a grassy path beside a private garden. Go through a kissing gate and then along a muddy field path. Ignore the waymark pointing left and continue down the field. Otherwise:
- Instead of turning right to climb the steps, continue with the road for a little over a hundred yards, past the church and into Shirley village. Follow the path on the right of the Saracen’s Head, then bear right around the backs of houses until the path reaches the signpost mentioned above. Turn left here to join the main route
- Walk downhill, crossing a couple of field boundaries by stiles.
- Go down to the edge of woodland and through a field gate. Bear left and immediately right towards narrow Shirley Brook.
- Go over a footbridge across the brook and then with care follow a series of often slippery duck boards as far as a second footbridge. Cross this and turn right into the woods.
- On reaching a gate, ignore the path waymarked CW (Centenary Way) going right, and bear slightly left along a field path beside the lower of a series of ponds, the southernmost of Osmaston Park’s lakes.
- Continue to walk, beside the lake and by using stiles, cross the lower part of fields dropping down to Wyaston Brook. Ignore stiles on the left and another opposite, crossing fences. Continue forwards on the grassy path.
- Look out for a gate ahead and a surfaced track, but do not go up to them. Instead go sharp right on to a grassy bridleway marked by hoof prints, leading towards the stream.
- After crossing the brook, follow a muddy track through woodland and begin to climb on an improving track through fields with grazing stock.
- Go down then winding up towards a large house on the woodland edge.
As you cross the winding dip leading to the house, look up to your half right. Looming above the trees is a large, squat tower. This is the only visible remaining feature of the manor house and was built to funnel all the flues from the manor’s fireplaces.
- Beyond the house the track becomes surfaced. Follow it, keeping left at junctions with other tracks.
- Reaching a ‘T’ junction, turn left along an avenue of lime trees and follow it back into Osmaston, reaching the village beside the duck pond.