This walk could not be easier to follow and as a result rather than give a blow by blow description of the route, what follows is more of a potted history of Derby and its surrounding villages. The route is simply to follow the right bank of the Derwent downstream from Darley Abbey Park as far as say Derby market place and return by following the opposite bank upstream back to Darley Abbey. In all, the distance is about four miles of flat easy walking which could be shortened by avoiding a visit to Derby, but that would mean missing the chance of refreshment in one of the many pubs and cafes around the city centre.
From the car park at the start of Darley Abbey Park, walk to your left across the field as far as a path following the river bank downstream. The park with its magnificent trees is a wonderful green way directly into Derby. Now owned by the city, it is all that is left of a once grand house, the remains of which stand on the hilltop. This is where a pleasant café offers light refreshments to the constant stream of parents with their toddlers or dog walkers for whom the park offers so much. The park ends at an old railway bridge that once carried the long abandoned Great Northern Line on its way between Nottingham Victoria and Eggington Junction near Tutbury. Known as Handyside Bridge, the bowstring girder bridge was made by the local iron foundry of that name. Innovative in its day, Andrew Handyside, its designer, was so confident of its strength that he tested it by running several locomotives over it at once, a total of 432 tons. He also built the splendidly decorated bridge across Friargate on the Ashbourne road out of Derby. There was once a cantilevered pedestrian walkway to one side of Handyside’s Derwent crossing, but as the main bridge no longer carries trains, it was removed some time ago. Continuing downstream past riverside flats and now along a macadamed footpath, the next feature is St Mary’s triple-arched stone bridge. It was once the only river crossing north of the city. There has been a bridge on the site since at least the fourteenth century, replacing a dangerous ford. Such were the dangers of such an expedition that a chapel was built around the same time or maybe earlier than the bridge. Known as the Chapel of St Mary on the Bridge, it is a rare survivor from a time when people fording the river gave prayers for a safe crossing. A matter of yards beyond St Mary’s Bridge, the sound of traffic thundering along the ring road and modern bridge comes as shock, but fortunately there is no need to use the road. The riverside walkway continues beneath modern concrete with Derby Silk Mill directly in front. Currently undergoing restoration, the Silk Mill Museum will once again display a comprehensive list of Derby’s industrial heritage, from its early textile manufacturing to jet engines and high speed trains that can still be made at the Bombardier factory. The slender lines of the wrought iron gates to one side of the mill entrance were made in 1725 by the renowned Derbyshire craftsman, Robert Bakewell. Across a green space in front of the mill and looking towards the cathedral, a statue of Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, commemorates not only the end of his abortive march on London, but is just one of the great and famous who have links with Derby. John Flamsteed the first Astronomer-Royal, several Lord High Chancellors and an Archbishop of York were educated at the old Derby School that once stood in the cathedral precincts. Great philosophers met within the city boundaries and Joseph Wright, Derby’s famous artist began to paint with light as the dominating feature. Much of Derby’s ancient manufacturing industry can still be traced, not only does the silk mill still stand, but city centre streets give a hint of what once went on there; Full Street is where woollen cloth was ‘fulled’, or milled, to make it stronger. Along with Florence Nightingale whose statue is outside the old city hospital, probably the first name to spring to mind when considering Derby’s prosperity, is Sir Henry Royce, the engineering half of Rolls Royce. Starting as a paperboy on the local streets, he became the world famous father of a firm designing and building state of the art jet engines and nuclear technology.
The market place and city centre cafés are a short distance beyond the cathedral and assuming a stop be made there, it will be necessary to return upstream as far as Handyside’s Railway Bridge. Cross over the river here and turn left, upstream on the far bank. Even though you will pass it on your way along the riverside path, there is little to see of Roman Derventio on which Derby’s foundations rely. It marked an important north/south, east/west road junction beside the Derwent. As yet there is no hint of a bridge and perhaps the river crossing was made by ferry; certainly the Romans would have used the river to transport heavy goods. Beyond the group of houses surrounding the Roman site, an avenue of lime trees well to the right of the riverbank, make an attractive way of continuing the walk. They lead to a bend in the river where a small settlement once housed workers from the nearby cotton mill through which you will soon walk. Owned by the Evans family, the mill used the abundant power of the river in order to drive its machinery. A minor road wends its way through the mill yard, out towards the river and where vehicles crossing the bridge are obliged to pay a toll of one pound at the octagonal gate house. Once across the river where the thundering weir gives some hint of its power, the way forward is past interesting groups of cottages, but more importantly, a pub that still fills the only remnant of an Augustinian Abbey that once held sway here.