Starting with Swarkestone Bridge, there are three other historical features passed by on this walk around the Trent’s floodplain near Melbourne. With a total ascent of only 65 feet (20 metres), it follows grassy footpaths, an old railway trail, minor roads and a quiet farm track on its way around this historical part of South Derbyshire.
After dropping down from Stanton-by-Bridge, the walk crosses a couple of fields below Swarkestone Bridge, giving a view of the way the thirteenth century builders made what is really a causeway carried over 17 arches. It still makes a dry crossing of the floodplain and it can genuinely claim to be the longest stone bridge in England. Originally made from timber, it was rebuilt in its present unaltered form around the fourteenth century. Part of the King’s Highway and for 300 years the main crossing of the Trent, it saw conflict during the English Civil War and was where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forward Jacobean troops panicked and retreated after incorrect information made them think they were about to come under attack.
By sheer chance, having walked this walk, I discovered that my colleague Maxwell Craven’s September 2016 Country Images ‘Lost Houses’ article covered Swarkestone Old Hall. To glean more information, I suggest, like I did, that you read his article (you can find it under Swarkestone Old Hall on Google). This is the second most interesting feature seen along the way. What you are looking at are the twin towers of an imposing gatehouse to a now vanished large Tudor mansion built by Sir Richard Harpur (1512-1577). Now a holiday let for two, the gatehouse overlooks a grassed over garden that once included a bowling alley. All that is left of the main house are scattered stone walls leading to the modern version of the original farmhouse. As idyllic as it now seems, life was not always tranquil at the hall, as witness the scars left from a skirmish during the English Civil War.
King’s Newton comes at the turning point of the walk. It can be by-passed, but it is more interesting to follow the quiet road through the village. A stone preaching cross stands at one end and there is even a holy well, but the real eye-catchers are the black and white 15th century houses. More common in Cheshire they act as foreground to the 16th century, one time home of Henry Hardinge, later Viscount Hardinge following his success at the Battle of Sobaron in India. His arms are displayed outside the dog and walker-friendly village pub that also dates from the 16th century.
The walk starts and finishes at Stanton-by- Bridge where roadside parking is limited, so please do not block anyone’s access. Houses in this quiet village have fine views over the Trent meadows; its towerless church dates from Saxon times, but there are also examples of Norman work, especially with the chevron moulding around the doorway. Below the village the white sails of sailing club dinghies make a pretty scene as they gracefully skim around the flooded gravel quarry.
THE WALK :
Opposite the church at the far end of Stanton-by-Bridge take the signposted footpath downhill to the sailing club.
Turn right and follow the club’s access track.
A little over 150 yards beyond where the track turns left around the lake, turn right to follow a field path heading across three fields, heading towards the causeway of Swarkestone Bridge – use stiles to keep to the line of the path.
Climb up to the bridge and turn left along the narrow pavement.
N.B. Take great care when walking along the narrow pavement beside the equally narrow road. Walk in single file with children and dogs under constant scrutiny.
At the far end of the bridge, immediately after it has crossed the River Trent, cross over to the other side of the road and turn right on to a path first going down to the riverbank.
Continue with the path as it bears left away from the river, on to a surfaced lane in order to reach the parish church.
Go to the right at the back of the churchyard and then, following the direction of a fingerpost half right, cross the field in order to reach the Old Hall.
Cross the access lane to the farm and walk on past the Old Hall.
Cross the first of two stiles and follow a faint grassy path, keeping the boundary hedge on your right.
Go over a wide concrete bridge and then bearing half right cross two fields using the stile to keep to the right of way.
Reaching the canal do not go over the bridge, but turn right along the canal tow-path.
Follow the tow path for about a mile until it reaches an old iron railway bridge.
Leave the canal by turning right on to a short path climbing up to the track over the railway bridge. The abandoned railway is now a walkers and cyclists’ trail.
Turn right and follow the trail, over a viaduct across the River Trent and onwards for about three quarters of a mile until the trail reaches a bridge.
Leave the trail by climbing a path to the right of the bridge in order to reach a surfaced lane leading into King’s Newton.
Turn right along the lane. Go past modern houses to reach a road junction marked by an old stone cross.
Turn right along the village street, following it past the old black and white houses and the Jacobean-style hall. The Hardinge Arms pub is on the right.
At a small traffic calming island, leave the village street by turning right to join a narrow lane. Follow this, over a slight rise and then down, for a little over a mile.
Where the lane joins the main road at the southern end of Swarkestone bridge position yourself slightly to the right where you can see traffic moving in both directions. Cross the road with care and go over a stone stile partly hidden by bushes.
Over the stile, immediately bear left and following a wire fence climb the grassy slope.
The path reaches the main street in Stanton- by-Bridge where your car is parked.