The River Derwent flows into the Trent south-east of Derby. To walk backwards up the river, or rather (a risk assessment suggests) to walk forwards upstream, the walker resident in Derby takes the train to Long Eaton. From here she may easily reach the Trent and Mersey Canal. In the flat lands of the floodplain, the canal is like a copybook letter and the Trent is like the attempt of an infant, equipped with a broad straggling brush and a gallon of blue ink, to trace it. They are difficult to disentangle. So the Derwent actually flows into the canal. The walker follows the towpath. Later, meandering across the fields in the wrong direction (the walker, not the river), she may meet the Derwent, wide and slow and with late swallows swooping across it for flies. But unless she is prepared to swim it, she will have to turn round and go back until the path joins it south of Borrowash.
PLACENAMES OF DERBYSHIRE
Borrowash is near Erewash. Erewash is not pronounced Earwash. Both Washes clearly belong somewhere in Middle-Earth, on the edges of the Shire.
From here into the centre of Derby, National Cycle Route 6 (London to Keswick) follows the river. This is convenient for very many commuters, who speed past. It is a hot day. The walker is slow in comparison to all the cyclists, and moreover she has sloes to carry which she has acquired along the way. Eventually, somewhere near the railway station, she defies the cyclists and sits down for a rest. Thus, in the middle of Derby, she sees a kingfisher.
NOT THE DERWENT
St Alkmund was a Northumbrian prince, exiled to live among the Picts and murdered in Mercia in 800. He is the patron saint of Derby and this is his well. My house is half a kilometre to the west and the river is 100 metres to the east.
Turning left at the well, the walker finds herself in Darley Park, where it is early on Saturday morning and the #parkrun runners are mustering for their 5 kilometres. Industrial archaeology makes itself felt. It began further downstream at the Silk Mill, in the section of river a walker might skip because she sees it every day. If a factory is a building where all the manufacturing processes are under one roof and with one source of power, then the Silk Mill was the world’s first factory; Arkwright’s early mills lie upstream, and the Silk Mill is the beginning of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site. Handyside Bridge, in Darley, was built for the Great Northern Railway. They tested it by running six steam locomotives on to it and seeing what happened. It was fine.
Will your anchor hold? Is your faith secure? If we put six steam locomotives on top of it, would it buckle?
The walker crosses the river and dodges the railway and the A38 for a while. A peaceful canoeist passes on the river. Little Eaton produces some telecommunications archaeology, repurposed for Art. The path finds the river again and leaves it to climb up Duffield bank. There are dry stone walls, hedges, oak trees. There are more sloes.
Derwent: a valley thick with oaks
Dair: an oak; daire, doire: an oak-wood
Dwr: water; dwr g wyn: clear water
Derwent: a river of clear water
All that lacks is a navigation-canal at ten thousand pound a mile, and the perpetual motion.
That would price the Cromford Canal at fifty thousand pounds. Nothing about it suggests perpetual motion. Pausing at High Peak Junction for coffee and antique railway machinery, the walker follows the canal to Cromford and then the road through Matlock Bath, whose railway station is so antique as to appear Tudor. Heroically ascending, the path climbs up the Tor, above the cable car, and comes down into Matlock. Here, feeling that there have not been enough modes of transport in this stretch already, the walker calls it a day and catches the bus to Rowsley.
Now the walker is reaching the Upper Derwent. It is like the Lower Derwent but with dukes. Top ducal tip: in conditions of poor visibility, where a cyclist would resort to hi-vis clothing, a duke gilds the balustrades.
In the Chatsworth estates, commendably free of access, there are opportunities for all:
But a walker cannot hang around a gate all day. On, into the hills. On to Yorkshire Bridge.
ADVICE TO CORRESPONDENTS
- I think I may be in Yorkshire. I am certainly at the Yorkshire Bridge Inn.
- ’appen tha’s in Derbyshire.
Fifty-five miles from the Trent, the path ends. The Derwent rises in the hills, at Swains Greave on Bleaklow. The first valleys it reaches were dammed in the early twentieth century to form Howden and Derwent reservoirs; Ladybower, the southernmost, was added after the Second World War. Derwent village lies under the Derwent reservoir. The water supplies all of Derbyshire and most of south Yorkshire. The earlier dams were used to practise for the Dambusters raid. There is an information centre and a
disinformation nature trail.
The walker returns to Derby. In the kitchen, she turns on the tap, and the Derwent flows out.