The façade of Riber Castle stands proud, high above Matlock, despite the vicissitudes of weather that has been thrown at it for over 160 years. Built of local stone, on a hillside 850 feet above sea level by John Smedley in the 1850s, who intended it to be the culminating feature of his hydropathic establishments in the area; regrettably it never succeeded, partly because it lacked a good water supply.
Over the later years the building has served as a boy’s private school, a depot for the Ministry of Food during World War 2 and a small zoo where European animals had a greater degree of freedom than some of its larger rivals. Amongst the animals bred there were European lynx, some of which were exported to restock a national park in Spain. Currently Riber Castle is undergoing a marked transformation by being converted into high quality apartments.
Most of the other buildings in this high level settlement are Jacobean, clustered around a 17th century manor house. Off limits to passers-by, nevertheless, its gabled roof and mullioned windows, with a stone gateway in a balustrade wall, top a short flight of round steps leading from the wayside lane. The hall was for a long time, home of the Wooleys, a notable Matlock family. Eddie Hallam sculpts wildlife scenes in bronze in his tiny studio in the old farm buildings at the back of the manor house: his studio is open to visitors on advertised days: his phone numbers are 01629 583108 & 07714418174.
Dethick stands high above the nearby little valley of the River Lea, a tributary of the River Derwent which it joins below Cromford. A secluded hamlet of now only a couple of farms close by a tiny church, for centuries it was the home of the Babbingtons. One of their forebears, Thomas, led the archers of Ashover to glory at the Battle of Agincourt, but Anthony a later member of the family, suffered a painful death, executed for his attempt to free the captive Mary Queen of Scots. Bells in the tiny church tower joined local peals to welcome Florence Nightingale on her unannounced return to nearby Lea Hall from the Crimea.
5 miles (8km) of moderate walking along field paths and tracks. One stream to cross on rough stepping stones below Lea and a second by a footbridge beyond the village. Muddy sections throughout when wet.
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Outdoor Leisure Sheet 24. The White Peak Area.
No convenient public transport beyond Matlock.
Limited car parking on the roadside around Riber, but take care not to impede local access.
Refreshments in Lea, or at Tansley after the walk.
- With your back to Riber Hall, turn right and then left at the ‘T’ junction after a few yards. Go through a stone stile on the right almost immediately after the road junction.
- Aim across a couple of fields as far as a group of cottages and farm buildings.
- Turn left when reaching the farm lane and walk through the farmyard.
- Go past a large silo and fork right on to a walled track climbing over and then down the hillside.
The little hill you will climb is known as Bilberry Knoll: clumps of this luscious fruit are usually ready in mid-summer. Ahead is the wooded Derwent winding its way southwards, and over to the left Crich Stand with its lighthouse memorial to the men of the Sherwood Foresters who died in both World Wars. Crich Tramway Museum is in the old quarry below the lighthouse.
- About 120yards (110m) beyond the corner of a wood on your right, turn left, and climb over a stile; follow waymarks alongside a holly hedge.
- Continue to follow the waymarks now bearing left, steeply downhill across two fields and into woodland.
- Go down to the steam and cross the rough stepping stones which can be slippery at times.
- Climb up to the road and cross it using stiles on either side of it.
- Walk up the steep slope towards a second road. Go through another stone stile and bear right and then left on joining the road into Lea village.
In late spring a signpost to the right points to a highly recommended diversion of about 350 yards (320m) leading to Lea Rhododendron Gardens.
- Walk through the lower part of Lea village and turn left at a kissing gate. Follow the footpath signposted to Dethick and Tansley, steeply down to a small wooded stream’
- Cross the footbridge and climb the far side of the valley.
- Beyond the trees, follow a field path up to the church.
- Keep to the right of the church and walk through its tranquil lawns past Babbingtons rest.
- Bear left on reaching the farm lane and follow it as far as a minor road.
- Cross the road and climb a stone stile. Follow a field path alongside a stone wall until it reaches a bridleway.
- Turn right along the bridleway until it reaches another minor road.
- Turn left along this road as far as the junction with a road leading to Tansley.
- Bear left at the junction and follow the road for about 3000yds (275m).
- Where the road descends sharply left, turn right and go through a narrow stone stile.
- Follow the field path aiming left and directly towards Riber Castle.
- Where the path reaches a small farm, follow its unsurfaced access lane into Riber village.