The A52 Derby to Ashbourne road passes through some of the gentlest rural countryside in Derbyshire. Tiny villages little changed in centuries sit around junctions of minor roads that wander pleasantly between both ploughed fields and pasture. This walk skirts three of them, one barely bigger than a hamlet; starting at Osmaston, the largest, it wanders through Osmaston Park and on to Shirley. Field paths and farm tracks then take us by way of Shirley Mill and into the outskirts of Wyaston. Here a right turn takes the walk back into Osmaston Park, entering the village by way of its delightful green. It is complete with a duck pond and seats to rest and admire the scenery; the Shoulder of Mutton pub is only a few yards further on, making an ideal end to this short rural stroll. Osmaston where the walk begins and ends was the home village to Osmaston Park, whose estate employees’ thatched cottages are now much sought after properties. The village church appears Victorian, rebuilt by the architect H I Stephens of Derby in 1845, but from the size of the venerable yews in its churchyard and the mediaeval font, it is obviously built on ancient foundations. While the parkland is magnificent, the 19th century Osmaston Manor is no more, abandoned apart from estate houses and the odd tower peeping over the surrounding trees as seen on the latter stages of the walk. Shirley, like Wyaston is only entered by a short but worthwhile extension to the walk as it passes so close: this village easily dates from the 14th century, but there are even older Norman stones slotted around the church doorway. The remains of a much damaged Saxon cross in the churchyard and a massive yew that was once badly damaged in a gale give some hint of its age. Further on is Wyaston that nestles in a green hollow a quarter of a mile off route, sharing its pub with neighbouring Edlaston, another village with an ancient yew in its churchyard.
6 miles (8.8km) of easy field paths, forest drives and minor roads. Can be muddy after rain, especially when crossing ploughed sections. Regrettably there are no suitably timed buses that reach Osmaston. Access is by side roads signposted away from the A52, Derby to Ashbourne road. Off road parking usually available next to the village hall opposite the church. Recommended map: Ordnance Survey Explorer 1:25,000 scale – sheet 259, Derby, Uttoxeter, Ashbourne and Cheadle. Refreshments available at the Shoulder of Mutton in the main street.
• Bear left around the pond to follow a wide bridleway to the left of the park gates. This track is signposted to Shirley and is arrow-straight almost all the way. Walk on between fields and downhill through mature woodland.
• Go straight on at a crossing, continuing downhill to a causeway between two mill ponds. Go past a substantial one time water-powered saw mill on your right and re-enter the forest.
• Walk uphill and out of the tree cover, keeping the forest boundary on your right. Go past what appears to be kennels for the local hunt. The water mill is currently (July 2013) being renovated and converted into a house. Parts of two long distance walks are used on this walk; the section between Osmaston and Shirley is along Bonnie Prince Charlie Walk, supposedly following his ill-fated route between Ashbourne and Derby. The other is from Shirley along part of the Centenary Way, a walk that wanders pleasantly across the fields of south-central Derbyshire.
• A surfaced lane continues along the route out of Osmaston Park. Where it meets the lane into Shirley, look out for a flight of wooden steps on the right. Climb these and follow a waymarked path, past a private garden and alongside hedgerows, then across fields. An extension into the compact village of Shirley is worthwhile if time allows. The village sits tightly around a staggered cross roads together with its venerable church where its broken cross is worth seeking out, or maybe the handy pub.
• This part of the walk is along a short section of the Centenary Way. Follow it slightly downhill towards the mature woodland of Shirley Park.
• Bear left in front of the woodland boundary, on to a farm track (muddy when wet), following it as far as a minor road.
• Turn right at the road and go between a farm and Shirley Mill now converted into a private house.
• Beyond the mill house look out for a finger post pointing the way through a gate and into fields.
• Walk past the mill pond and then begin to bear left, uphill on a pathless route through meadowland.
• At the top of the rise, climb a stile and go forwards to the right of farm buildings.
• Follow the farm lane around a sharp bend and then continue towards woodland marked by a cottage and a handful of caravans.
• Continue to follow the lane along the edge of the wood. Go past the drive to the first of two farms.
• Where the lane begins to go left at the second farm, climb over a stile on the right and into a field. Cross this and then over another stile. Follow the path through a wheat field.
• When the growing crop ends and overgrown grass begins, drop down alongside some trees to the road, reaching it through a gap in a broken wall.
• Turn right downhill along the road, going past the attractively yellow painted hollow square of Charity Farm to climb the hill opposite.
• At the top of the rise and unless diverting to Wyaston (return to this point if so doing), turn right and go down a bridle track and then out into fields gradually leading towards Osmaston parkland.
• With the rather eerie sight of the remnant towers of Osmaston Manor peeping above treetops on your right, go forwards along the track, past a couple of estate houses and the village cricket field to your left.
• Reaching a ‘T’ junction, turn left along the drive and go through two substantial gate posts, the remnants of the manor’s one time splendour.
• Walk past the village pond and go forwards past the Shoulder of Mutton back into Osmaston village. Seats around the pond are just made to rest weary limbs and have the remaining drink left in the thermos. A rockery gone wild is in the middle of the pond and pretty thatched cottages make a perfect background.