Cromford and the Black Rocks

From Arkwrights Mills to Jessop's Canals in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site




9 miles (14.5kms)

1445ft (440m)

About the walk

For many centuries Cromford, ‘the ford by the bend in the river’, was no more than a sleepy backwater. Everything changed in 1771 when Sir Richard Arkwright decided to build the world’s first water-powered cotton-spinning mill here. Within 20 years he had built two more, and had constructed a whole town around them. As you walk through the restored courtyard of the Cromford Mills you are transported back into that austere world of the 18th century. Most of the town lies on the other side of the traffic-laden A6, including the mill pond which was built by Arkwright to impound the waters of Bonsall Brook, and the beautifully restored mill workers’ cottages of North Street.

The Black Rocks overlook the town from the south. The walk makes a beeline for them through little ginnels (alleys), past some almshouses and through pine woods. You’ll see climbers grappling with the 80ft (24m) gritstone crags, but there’s a good path all the way to the top where you can look across the Derwent Valley.

The next stage of the journey takes you on to the High Peak Trail, which uses the former trackbed of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. Engineered by Josias Jessop and constructed in the 1830s, the railway was built as an extension of the canal system and, as such, the stations were called wharves. In the early years horses pulled the wagons on the level stretches, while steam-winding engines worked the inclines. By the mid-1800s horses were replaced by steam locomotives. The south end of the line connected with the newly extended Midland Railway. The railway was closed by Dr Beeching in 1967. The walk now swings south through high woods and fields above the Derwent Valley before crossing the river at Whatstandwell and returning via the towpath of the disused Cromford Canal. The 33-mile (53km) canal was built in 1793 to provide a navigable waterway to the River Trent via the Erewash. The final section of the walk is via Bow Wood, west of Lea Bridge. It’s an area of beautiful woodland that must have once covered the valley sides.

Walk directions

Turn left from the car park and up to the A6 junction. Cross over the busy road, then take the first right (towards Scarthin Books shop) passing the old mill-pond, before doubling back left at a T-junction to Market Place.

Turn right up The Hill. Pass North Street, then ignore a footpath left. Take the next left up Bedehouse Lane, which bends right into a narrow tarmac walkway. Cross a road and take a footpath towards Black Rocks. At its top, turn left up a steep and winding lane. Higher up, take the right-most tarmac footpath, crossing a cattle grid and rising to the Black Rock Cottages ahead. Fork right along the top of a field. Climb a few steps to pass round the fenced-off Black Rocks Scree Slope then take a trail into the woods opposite an information sign. Head uphill to the High Peak Trail.

Turn left towards High Peak Junction. Pass Sheep Pasture engine house and go down the first part of the incline. Turn right towards Intake Lane, bend left, ignore a concessionary path to the right, and go down to a waymarked junction. Turn right towards Longway Bank, rising on the wide woodland track. At the edge of the wood fork right and pass a gate. Turn left on to a stony track, pass a large campsite, then bend right and up to a road.

Cross this and take a rising footpath through a field. Fork left below Crabtree Wood, then rise steeply through a hilltop plantation, with boardwalk across boggier parts. Keep left of some buildings (Watfield Farm), joining a stony lane at the bottom of the driveway. Fork right by woods on to a footpath which heads downhill past Watergate Farm. Cross the driveway and follow waymarkers uphill through fields to a hilly junction.

Turn left on a field-edge path, and down to pass just right of a cottage. The path steepens by a wooden fence, crosses a driveway, then descends to a road. Cross a small field then the River Derwent via the A6 bridge. Fork left by The Family Tree café on to the Crich road, then turn left on to the Cromford Canal towpath.

Follow this for about 2 miles (3.2km), including a short tunnel (there’s an alternative path over the top). When the chimney of Lea Wood pumping station comes into view, switch banks via the swingbridge.

At High Peak Junction swingbridge, turn right on to a fenced path. Take a road pavement to the right, entering Lea Bridge. Just before John Smedley’s Mill turn sharp left on to a footpath through Bow Wood. Join a tarmac lane on a hairpin bend and head downhill. Just after an overhead power line, fork right on to a footpath, rising gently across open pasture. Go through a wood then head left down a stepped path to the road. Turn right to return to Cromford Wharf.

Additional information

Lanes and urban ginnels, woodland and field paths, canal towpath and a former railway trackbed, several stiles

Town streets, wooded hillsides and grassy valleysides

Under close control at all times; keep out of the canal to protect water voles

OS Explorer OL24 Peak District – White Peak Area

Cromford Wharf pay car park

At car park and High Peak junction

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About the area

Discover Derbyshire

The natural features of this central English county range from the modest heights of the Peak District National Park, where Kinder Scout stands at 2,088 ft (636 m), to the depths of its remarkable underground caverns, floodlit to reveal exquisite Blue John stone. Walkers and cyclists will enjoy the High Peak Trail which extends from the Derwent Valley to the limestone plateau near Buxton, and for many, the spectacular scenery is what draws them to the area.

The county is well endowed with stately homes – most notably Chatsworth, the palatial home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, with its outstanding collections of paintings, statuary and art. Other gems include the well preserved medieval Haddon Hall, the Elizabethan Hardwick Hall, and Kedleston Hall, whose entrance front has been described as the grandest Palladian façade in Britain.

The spa town of Matlock is the county’s administrative centre and other major towns of interest include Derby and the old coal mining town of Chesterfield, with its crooked spire. Around the villages of Derbyshire, look out for the ancient tradition of well dressing, the decorating of springs and wells – the precious sources of life-sustaining water – with pictures formed from flowers.

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