Date of walk – Sat 1st Sept, 2012. Distance – 13.1 miles.
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To be honest, something about the names Crich and Heage doesn’t seem too promising. To a walker it’s names like Bowfell and Crinkle Crags that grab the attention and whet the appetite. Crich and Heage are two Derbyshire villages, but they are set in lovely countryside in the transition zone between the lowlands of the Midlands and the higher ground of the Peak District. Crich is famous as the rather unlikely location of the major tramway museum for the country.
In fact, the walk did not begin at either, although there are many points around the circuit that could be used as the starting point. I set off at South Wingfield, the point closest to home, just at the eastern end of the village on the B5035. Turning left on to Parks Avenue, I found a path cutting a corner back to the main road. Then it was very soon left again towards the imposing ruins of Wingfield Manor. There is very limited access through the auspices of English Heritage. Although the public footpath passes fairly close by, the views of the extent of the ruins are not of the best. Most of the building work dates back to the 1440’s and the scale is impressive.
A path which looks little used goes through open fields to Park Lane. Directly across, another path cuts past Holly Bush Farm, dipping and then rising to a much clearer path between walls, which crosses from east to west on a shallow ridge. It was rather dull, but pleasant for walking, on a day set to be dry and fine. The views opened out behind.
The path headed west through Long Wood and Cawdor Wood, with stern signs indicating that it is best to keep to the path, which is at least pleasant to follow. Some fungi were spotted amongst grass and bracken by the track. The path emerges from the woodland near Thorphill Farm and follows the farm track down to Dimple Lane. A very short right along the lane finds a path onwards towards the village of Fritchley.
The path merged with the end of Kirkham Lane and headed on into the heart of the attractive village. First the little hamlet of Mill Green could be seen nestled to the left. The village itself has a green and an old red telephone box, a chapel, and a network of little streets with stone cottages and hidden corners, and a sense of the countryside all around. The sun made an effort to appear, but never really shone with much conviction until later in the afternoon.
Bowmer Lane was followed to continue the walk. The path descended to the railway line in the Amber valley, crossing it and the river to reach the busy main road (the A610) at Sawmills. By a bus stop on the other side of the road a few yards east, a steep flight of stone steps led towards the onward footpath, passing close to a large works or depot.
Open fields soon resumed, with good views opening ahead and right with the village of Nether Heage spread out across the hillside. A landmark ahead could just be seen on the hilltop from time to time. Near the top of the hill there was a good spot for a break and refreshments, with good views to enjoy, including towards Crich, set on a hill and the objective for later in the day.
The landmark was the focus of attention for the start of the next section through the large village of Heage. Without further ado, a couple of pictures will reveal what it is….
The windmill is a delightful feature, having been lovingly restored after years of neglect following closure in 1919 after gale damage. The previous mill with four sails had also been badly damaged by wind in 1894. The original mill dated from the 1790s. Between 1972 and 2002 the restoration work was undertaken in various stages, and it was great to see the sails slowly turn in the light breeze. The path soon reached the road through the village, near the school. To see more of the village, I followed Ripley Road then Brook Street then a path through a recreation area to Old Road. It was a surprise to discover that there is no post office in such a large village, closure taking place in 2008. The village has more of an industrial heritage than might appear at first sight.
The name Heage apparently derives from “High-edge”, which would make sense. The open country between Heage and Belper is not well endowed with footpaths, so a dog leg to the end of Old Road and back out along New Road ensued. A footpath through open fields eventually rises towards Heage Common Farm. Alpaccas (not big enough to be llamas, I think) were an unexpected sight in one of the fields, with the more everyday sight of cattle nearby.
Hard by the farm, at quite an elevated hilltop position, a large plastics works was another unexpected sight. No doubt it is a modern development out of the more established local industrial heritage. The long farm track by the industrial buildings leads to Spanker Lane.
The lane was followed to the junction near the crest of the hill, and then straight on and down Newbridge Road (steep and narrow, but no problem for walkers). The lane is lined with houses in the enviable hillside position, but some do require very steep steps for access. The lane continues straight down to the valley floor, at the foot of the Amber valley close to the confluence with the Derwent. This is the lowest point of the walk at about 67m. Near the bottom it dives over one railway near a tunnel and then under a low railway bridge and straight out onto the main A6 road. “Stop” is certainly an instruction to be heeded here.
The main road was followed north across the end of the A610 – there is a pavement, but the junction is a busy one. At the first opportunity I turned right, under another railway bridge and up to the Cromford Canal. On stop along the canal to the next bridge brings us to the start of the climb through woodland on Crich Chase.
The steepest section is lower down, amongst trees all the way. I usually find it a challenge to capture woodland on camera because the light can be so tricky. Also it can be hard to get a sense of place and uniqueness when most woodland of any size has a relatively small number of dominant species. But woodland walking is part of the whole experience of the day, and this was fine hillside woodland and enjoyable to walk through.
The gradient eases, and eventually the path leaves the woodland edge to climb slightly higher through fields to Chadwick Nick Lane. The views soon confirm the amount of height that has been gained and they repay the effort involved. Continue right up the lane, and then left on to The Tors, a ridge which is wooded on the eastern side. Another break for food and drink was enjoyed, taking in the views of the Derwent valley area.
It was disappointing not to get views in the other direction because of the trees, until almost approaching Crich at the northern end there was a wall and a gap in the trees. The view was startling, at the top of a 30-40 ft cliff overlooking rooftops of the southern part of Crich village – a real highlight of the day.
Crich is a large village, running south to north among hillsides. It was visited on the very first walk for this site, when the camera I had then gave up because of rain. I had seen enough from the northern part of the village to realise that it was an interesting place, and this was confirmed today. Steep steps descended to the village below, and I went by an old Wesleyan Methodist Chapel built in 1765 and visited by John Wesley a couple of times over the following five years. I then followed The Common (the name of the road) to the centre of the village, where there is also a large Baptist Chapel.
The way continued uphill along Browns Hill and Cromford Road to the church with the steeple. At the junction of the two roads, there are some lovely cottages by an old village cross. I wandered through the churchyard and found the sign for the onward path by an old outbuilding in the far corner.
A field path led across to Mooredge Farm, and then a little used path dropped down Edge Moor to Moorwood Farm and the lane back to South Wingfield. There were great views from the hillside, with very much the sense of leaving the edge of the high country.
It was simply a case of following the lane to the village, with a couple of interesting sights in the village itself, and so back to the car and home. The completion of another very worthwhile and varied day’s walk.