A brisk wind was hurrying from the north over Derbyshire, pushing grey clouds down the long valley of the River Wye.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking back from the heights of Rowsleymoor Woods across the valley with its intense greens of pasture and hedges, the farther peaks topped with bushy spinneys under a sky of gunmetal grey and Chartres blue, I thought a palette of two or three colours could catch the whole scene.
A pair of mountain-bikers passed me, panting hard. I followed them across a common of peaty soil and pine trees cushioned with big tuffets of moss, and came out of the trees onto the wide green sheep walk of Calton Pastures. This open grassy upland looks more like the undulating, unfenced pastures of Eastern Europe than anything you’d expect to see in the compartmented farmlands of England. Alone in one corner stood an ornate gingerbread cottage with white bargeboard and elaborate window shutters – the Russian Cottage, built as a full-size copy of a model farmhouse given to the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1855 by his good friend Czar Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias.
The Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire, are the power in the land hereabouts. Emerging from New Piece Wood I was overwhelmed by what must be the most striking of all views of their great mansion of Chatsworth House. The building rises beyond the River Derwent’s meadows, an enormous cube of windows and walls among formal gardens, its Emperor Fountain blasting a mare’s-tail jet of water a hundred feet into the air, the pepperpot domes of the 16th-century Hunting Tower rising among the trees beyond. Chatsworth owes a lot of its effect to the sombre wildness of the Peak District moors that back it to the east. A jewel of orderly civilisation in a wilderness setting was the effect that the 1st Duke of Devonshire was aiming for when he built the place in 1687-1707, and even today you can see exactly what he was after.
The 6th Duke was lucky to have the brilliant designer Joseph Paxton as his right-hand man in the mid-19th century when he rebuilt Edensor village just over the hill from the house (having cleared away the existing settlement because it was spoiling his view). I went to pay my respects at Paxton’s tomb behind St Peter’s Church; he lies a little down the hill from the Dukes that commissioned him to design their gardens and glasshouses and estate buildings. Then I went slowly back to Rowsley by way of the flat, wide and lovely meadows along the Derwent.
In 1849 Joseph Paxton designed a beautiful little station for a railway line that was to run up the Derwent valley past Chatsworth. The 6th Duke objected, the line was never built, and now Paxton’s station stands marooned among the retail outlets of Peak Village Shopping Centre in Rowsley – as fine a picture of Dignity and Impudence as you could hope to find.
Start: Walker’s Zone car park, Peak Village Shopping Centre, Rowsley, Derbyshire, DE4 2JE (OS ref SK 258660)
Walk (9 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL24): From Grouse & Claret Inn, right on A6 across bridge. Right up Church Lane (256658), which becomes stony lane. In 1¼ miles, at metal barrier, lane forks (244670). Take upward path to right of right-hand fork (BA, ‘Chatsworth’), following BAs through woods and across Calton Pastures for 1¼ miles to descend to wall at Calton Plantations (243286). Through gate; sharp right along wall (BA). In 200m bear left beside gate (244685). Cross pasture near Russian Cottage, following BA (‘Edensor, Chatsworth’). Through shank of New Piece Wood to gate (247689) and view of Chatsworth House. Half right to waymark post; ahead (YA) past Maud’s Plantation and aim for Edensor church spire.
From Edensor cross B6012 (251700); bear right on stony path to Palladian bridge (257702). Don’t cross, but turn right through meadows on Derwent Valley Heritage Way (DVHW). In nearly 1 mile, at mill ruin, right up bank to cross B6012 (258688); left past car park on path marked ‘Garden Centre, Calton Lees’, then minor road to Calton Lees. Left at junction (257682; ‘Rowsley’ fingerpost). By Calton Lees Cottage, left through gate (257680; ‘Rowsley’); follow wall, then DVHW arrows. At end of 2nd big meadow, right over stile (260667, DVHW); on to lane to Rowsley.
Lunch: Edensor Tea Cottage (01246-582315)
Accommodation: Devonshire Arms, Beeley, DE4 2NR (01629-733259; devonshirebeeley.co.uk)