Matlock Bath and the Heights of Abraham

Wander high up above Matlock's gorge on a shady walk that's perfect on a hot summer's day


Matlock Bath


4.7 miles (7.6kms)

1230ft (375m)

About the walk

Between Matlock and Cromford the River Derwent forges its way through a spectacular, thickly wooded limestone gorge. At Matlock Bath it jostles for space with the bustling A6 highway, the railway to Derby and a string of three-storey houses, shops and amusement parlours, built by the Victorians, who flocked here to take in the healing spa waters. On the hillside to the east lies the gaunt castle of Riber, while Alpine-type cable cars glide up the Heights of Abraham, above cliff tops to the west.

The Heights in Quebec

The original Heights of Abraham, which the hillside must have resembled, rise above Quebec and the St Lawrence River in Canada. There, in 1759, British troops under General Wolfe fought a victorious battle with the French under the Marquis de Montcalm. Both generals were killed and the encounter earned Wolfe, and Quebec, an unenviable place in English place-name folklore, to be joined later by Waterloo and later still, Spion Kop.

Matlock Bath

Matlock Bath doesn't have time to catch its breath: it's Derbyshire's mini-Blackpool. Yet there are peaceful corners, and this walk seeks them out. It offers fine views across the Matlock Gorge. Spurning the cable car, it climbs through the woods and out on to the hillside above the town. The Victoria Prospect Tower peeps over the trees. Built by unemployed miners a century ago it's now part of the Heights of Abraham complex. Above the complex, a little path leads you through delectable woodland. In spring it's heavy with the scent of wild garlic and coloured by a carpet of bluebells. Out of the woods, an attractive hedge-lined unsurfaced lane weaves its way through high pastures, giving distant views of the White Peak plateau, Black Rocks and the cliffs of Crich Stand.


At the end of the lane, there's Bonsall, whose Perpendicular church tower and spire has been beckoning you onwards for some time. In the centre of this old lead-mining village is a sloping market square with a 17th-century cross. The Kings Head Inn, built in 1677, overlooks the square, and is said to be haunted.The lane out of Bonsall takes you to the edge of an area of old mine shafts and modern-day quarries. Here you're diverted into the woods above the Via Gellia, a valley named after Philip Gell who built the road from the quarry to the Cromford Canal. Those who wish can make a short diversion from the woodland path to see the Cromford Mills (site of Richard Arkwright's first mill complex) and canal. The main route swings north, back into the woods of the Derwent Valley, passing the high hamlet of Upperwood, where fleeting views of Matlock appear through the trees.

Walk directions

From the north end of the car park, cross the A6 and take St John's Road up the wooded slopes opposite. Fork right as the road divides, heading uphill and below St John's Chapel to the gates of Cliffe House. Take a footpath immediately right of the gates, this climbs steeply through the woods before running at the field-edge above a farm.

As views open out directly opposite Riber Castle and with Victoria Prospect Tower directly ahead, the waymarked path swings right and climbs up to the top of the field. The footpath threads through mixed deciduous woodland (which can be muddy underfoot if wet) and a grassy field, before reaching one of the entrances to the Heights of Abraham complex.

Ignore an obvious, engineered path and continue briefly uphill beside the perimeter wall to a gate. Pass through, cross a wide vehicle track and carry on through woodland.

At the far side of the woods, turn right on to a farm track close to a Farm. This becomes a pleasant lane that winds down pastured hillslopes into Bonsall village.

Turn left by the church along a lane that becomes unsurfaced when you get beyond Town End Farm. Curving left, the track skirts the high fence of a quarry. Later narrowing to a path, it descends rightwards into trees.

A brief clearing leads to a wider expanse of woodland. After a few paces, bend sharp right with the quarry fenceline, falling on a narrow path through woodland high above the Via Gellia. Stay with the fenceline rightwards at a junction by a sharp fence corner then continue on a narrower path beside a derelict post and rail fence. This descends gently above Cromford, ignoring a path fork by an old gatepost and descend to the next fork (above a small wooden shed).

Turn left here (waymarked) to stay on the route, passing above houses - or detour ahead to Cromford if you wish. Fork left at a junction on a small spur, soon following a low wall on the right. Pass above a disused basketball/tennis court, then fork left. Continue ahead past a junction by an adit. At the edge of woodland, fork left onto a grassy track that soon becomes a lane. This descends through Upperwood, passing West Lodge, the main entrance to the Heights of Abraham.

Just before a sharp bend right in the road, fork left onto a stepped path through the woods on the left, signed 'to Matlock'. Climb steps to a wooden footbridge over a lane, and continue on the woodland path. You'll pass under the Heights of Abraham cable cars before joining a farm track that has come in from the left.

This joins St John's Lane and the initial outward route at Cliffe House. Retrace your steps to the start.

Additional information

Narrow limestone woodland paths, field paths, stone tracks and tarmac lanes, may be muddy, several stiles

Fields and wooded hillsides

Farmland, Access land, urban controls. Dogs on lead.

AA Walker's Map 1 Central Peak District

Pay car park at Artists Corner

None directly on route but available in Bonsall and near Matlock Bath rail station

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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.