Water, wildlife and wild flowers: Sally Mosley shares one of her favourite walks - along the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire
There is something magical about walking beside Cromford Canal. It could be the setting, slotted in between river and rail; it could be the abundance of wild flowers, birds and insects making parts a protected environment and nature reserve; but add an easy to walk path and a fabulous tearoom to your amble for a sample of Peak District indulgence at its best!
I was accompanied on this walk by my granddaughter Jessica who had just finished a string of important exams and was ready for some chill out time. We parked in Holloway and made our way along Leashaw Road to the junction with Bracken Lane and then began our descent to the canal by dropping down the ‘Jurassic Park’ path beside Lea Hurst, one time home of Florence Nightingale, which was hidden away in trees to our right. The ‘Lady of the Lamp’ was born of middle class English parents in 1820 and named after the place of her birth. Lea Hurst was her first English home where she played around Holloway with her sister Parthenope.
After passing through high double gates with warning notices, we scoured the horizon for dangerous deer and could just make out a pair of Bambi lookalikes under the trees in the far distance. I’m sure during the rutting season even these adorable looking creatures can get a bit frisky toward anyone using the path but being June I considered it to be safe to continue.
Arriving at the canal path we initially turned right in Cromford direction to enable us to walk back through Gregory Tunnel and walk towards Ambergate. It seemed so narrow in there, surely not wide enough for a barge to get through as well as cargo. It’s hard to believe that all manner of goods were at one time transported on this thin man-made watercourse including spun threads and textiles from Arkwright’s mills, stone and lead ore from Derbyshire hills as well as produce from Peakland farms. Exiting the far end into bright sunlight there was a fabulous view of Crich Stand in the distance on the skyline.
Walk this way...
Top row: Gregory Tunnel; Crich Stand
Bottom row: wild flowers in abundance
Tall reed grass and bulrushes offer the perfect nesting site for mallard, moorhen and coot, whose little clockwork chicks appeared to skim the surface of the canal hereabouts before dashing off into the undergrowth to hide.
Progress to Whatstandwell was slow due to frequent pauses for photographic moments with my Canon thanks to an abundance of subject material and my systematic search for the ever elusive water vole which sadly on this occasion failed to show. The ‘Lilliput Lane’ house with manicured gardens down to the water’s edge always takes a good picture and would not look out of place on a chocolate box or biscuit tin.
Eventually we arrived at Whatstandwell. The Derwent Arms former coaching inn and public house has had a recent revamp and reopened its doors as The Family Tree tearoom. I had been advised on good authority that it was worth a visit and I was certainly not disappointed. I treated Jess and myself to a scrumptious afternoon tea for two with enough calories to fuel us up for a long distance marathon!
Back over the canal and our route followed Robin Hood Road (was it possibly called this because it was where merry men walked home from the pub?), a hollowed away lane through an arboreal tunnel of sunbeam dappled trees between old disused workings of Duke’s Quarry, at one time owned by the Duke of Devonshire. It is said that gritstone quarried here had a pinkish tinge and was used in the construction of many important buildings.
Top row: the canal path is easy to follow; danger, deer
Bottom row: plenty of wildlife can be seen along the walk
Following the footpath sign for Wakebridge we began an ascent through woodland where decaying bluebells were rotting down to make way for other plants and flowers to take centre stage in the annual bloom competition. Higher up the hillside, the path opened out into a wild flower meadow sprinkled with pastel shades amongst a sea of tall grasses, all buzzing with insect life and butterflies. Here I was clicking away on the camera repetitively in macro mode in an effort to get up close and capture the beauty of this floral display.
After crossing the road by houses making up the little hamlet of Wakebridge, we wandered up a grassy footpath and muddy track to the far left of Wakebridge Farm, taking us to high ground and stupendous views of the glorious Derwent Valley which appeared incredibly verdant with swathes of woodland in every direction.
A wonderfully positioned seat on an elevated footpath provided us with a resting place to admire the views as well as a vantage point to watch a pair of blue tits that occupied a nearby nesting box. We were transfixed by their comings and goings with food to feed the hungry chicks hidden within. Our challenge was to capture on camera one of the parents emerging. This provided a perfect opportunity to try out the movement mode, video and to play around with shutter speeds.
Our photographic adventure was not yet over as in the following field there was a small flock of most unusual sheep with dreadlock fleeces and adorable faces. Click, click, click!
Finally arriving back at Upper Holloway it was only a short walk back down to the heart of the village. However, before heading for home there were a couple of visits to make. The first was to Studio 61 Gallery to buy a piece of locally made artwork as a gift for a friend and then I just had to pop into Maycock’s butchers for a nice piece of steak for my tea!
This is not intended as a walk guide
Photo opportunity: the glorious Derwent Valley; flock of sheep
Sally Mosley is passionate about the Peak District and likes to pass on her vast local knowledge through guided walks, talks and writing. She has written a regular fortnightly feature for the Peak Advertiser for more than 24 years and is the walks feature writer for Derbyshire Life & Countryside magazine. Her business has been awarded the Environmental Quality Mark accreditation in recognition of her high environmental quality standards in the Peak District National Park and her caring and fun approach to promoting it!
Green Adventures April 2015