Lands on either side of the River Derwent between Whatstandwell and Ambergate are amongst the most natural sections of countryside along the valley. Shining Cliff Woods are to the west and to the east is Crich Chase, an ancient hunting ground, originally the preserve of Henry de Ferrers, who came over with William the Conqueror. On this walk you will first follow the canal and then climb the steep hillside towards Crich. The village stands on a high exposed ridge stretching to its highest point at almost 1,000 feet above sea level and where a lighthouse commemorates the loss of 11,400 men from the Sherwood Foresters in two world wars. Below it the National Tramway Museum uses the space created by quarrying the underlying beds of limestone. The walk starts in Whatstandwell and then follows the tranquil waters of the long abandoned Cromford Canal now colonised by a wide range of aquatic and birdlife. Almost reaching the point where the canal has been cut off by a gas processing plant, the route bears left and climbs steadily to a gritstone ridge known locally as The Torrs. Probably the final outlier of Pennine Gritstone, the ridge shelters the southern part of Crich from the worst of winter’s winds. Dropping down to the onetime market place, the walk then makes its way through modern housing to reach footpaths leading steeply downhill to Crich Carr and so back to Whatstandwell.
6½ miles (10.5km) of varied walking; first along the canal towpath and then a fairly steep climb through woodland towards the gritstone ridge overlooking Crich. The return leg is downhill through fields and past stone cottages. 525 ft (160m) climb. Muddy sections in woodland above the canal.Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer Map; White Peak Area – Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock and Dove Dale.Parking either at Whatstandwell station car park (pay), or on space beside the canal off the Whatstandwell to Crich road. Public transport: Derby/Matlock train to Whatstandwell, or frequent busses from Derby and Ripley. Refreshments: pubs and café in Crich and also at Whatstandwell.
Whatstandwell has hardly changed since Florence Nightingale on her return from the Crimea, left the northbound train at the tiny station and walked unannounced to her family home at Holloway. Cromford Canal once ran all the way to the Erewash Valley, but is now a National Nature Reserve. A haven for wildlife in particular it has one of the nation’s highest numbers of water voles. About a quarter of a mile beyond the canalside line of cottages (once the home of a farrier who looked after the horses pulling canal barges), look out for a plaque immediately before a stone bridge.
• Turn right away from the canal and then left along the side lane to cross the bridge.
• Bear left over a stile in the corner of a garden attached to a large stone cottage and follow a muddy path zig-zagging steeply uphill into woodland.
• At the top of the wood turn left and walk along what soon becomes an escarpment with extensive views over the Derwent Valley.
• As you come into sight of a couple of open fields on your right, look out for a stile on the right in the corner of a third field.
• Climb the stile and walk beside the boundary wall as far as a side road.
• Turn right along the road and follow it until it begins to descend through Chadwick Nick.
• Climb a short flight of steps sharply on your left and then continue along the top of the escarpment known as The Torrs.
There is a picnic table conveniently at the end of the ridge and a Millennium Commemoration plaque nearby. Crich comes into focus as you walk along the ridge. It seems to have developed piecemeal over the centuries, for the church dating as far back as the 12th century stands surrounded by old stone cottages well above the present village centre. Probably the reason for this apparent movement was due to the village later being host to a busy market that filled the more readily available space lower down the hill from the church and subsequent development simply grew around the market place. Scattered about the village you might find traces of several narrow gauge tramways built to carry stone from the quarried hillside to limekilns in Ambergate. George Stephenson the railway engineer is reputed to have built the tracks.
• Go down into the old market place and turn left heading towards modern houses. Go to the right at the road junction, along Coasthill.
• Look out for a side lane and follow it past a covered reservoir, out into open fields.
• Begin to go downhill and, using stiles to keep to the route, aim for a farmhouse.
• Keep to the right of the farm and go steeply downhill, first across a farm lane and then a minor road.
• Go down a flight of stone steps and follow a narrow road, still downhill, through the hamlet of Crich Carr.
• Turn left when the side lane meets another narrow lane. Follow this down to the road linking Crich to Whatstandwell and bear right along it.
• Walk past the village school and as far as the canal at the end of the walk.
The café-guest house between the canal and river bridge was once a coaching inn and forge where horses were kept to help pull coaches up the steep road to Holloway in the days before the A6 was built along the valley. The building opposite the old inn was once used as the stables.