Walking the Five Pits


Clay Cross


7.75 miles (12.5kms)

230ft (70m)
3hrs 30min

About the walk

Look at an old map of Clay Cross and you’ll see numerous collieries and a network of railway lines and sidings serving them. Before the decline of the 1970s and 1980s, coal played a big part in the lives of northeast Derbyshire folk, and the pit closures hit them hard.

End of an Era

Sadly, in an age when industrial heritage sites are promoted as tourist attractions, not even an old pit wheel seems to have been left to remind us of this proud but dangerous industrial legacy. Between 1979 and 1989 Derbyshire County Council reclaimed vast acres of derelict, former colliery land and re-landscaped them on a large scale. In doing so they also created the Five Pits Trail, a linear recreational bridleway, with a loop route around Holmewood. Using the trackbeds of the old railways and sidings the route links the pits of Tibshelf and Grassmoor, and then passes through those of Pilsley, Holmewood and Williamthorpe. To save using two cars, this walk starts at Pilsley, north of Tibshelf, and does the loop around Holmewood before returning to base. The car park is located on the site of Pilsley Station, on the old Great Central Railway, which carried coal from the pits to London. The nearby terraced houses were built for the railway’s staff.

New Wildlife Sanctuaries

All along the route are reminders of how quickly the landscape can be transformed, no more so that at Williamthorpe. It was the last of the five pits to close, in 1970, since when extensive tree planting has taken place and a network of reed-fringed ponds created. The ponds are still fed by mine water that comes from as far as Welbeck and Thorsesby in Nottinghamshire. Williamthorpe Local Nature Reserve is now an important site for wildlife, with over 190 different species of birds recorded here, including reed warblers, snipe and great crested grebes. Grassmoor Country Park and Holmewood Woodlands, both on the trail, are also rich in natural history. Amid the green spaces are new industrial estates, such as the one at Holmewood, which stands on the site of the former colliery, and the vast factory sheds overlooking the ponds at Williamthorpe. They were built to create jobs and encourage new business in an effort to mitigate the devastating impact that the closure of the collieries had on local employment, since for many of these small Derbyshire communities mining was their sole livelihood. At the beginning of the 20th century Pilsley Colliery employed over 1,000 men and boys, but less than 60 years later it had closed for good. 

Walk directions

From the car park cross the road and follow the surfaced track, clearly marked the Five Pits Trail. It heads northwards through fields and past strips of newly planted woodland to reach Locko Plantation, where it descends to cross Locko Lane. Continue in the same direction through Broomridding Wood to reach Timber Lane. Go through the car park, then turn left across more farm pastures.

At a fork go right, signposted ‘Five Pits Trail – Holmewood’, which eventually reaches Tibshelf Road. Go across and resume the trail past Holmewood Woodlands to the junction with the A6175 at Holmewood.

Cross over and continue along the obvious continuation of the route opposite. Where it meets another road go right, over the road bridge, then almost immediately turn sharp left along a waymarked route, bending round to the right behind houses and passing an industrial estate on your left. Entering the nature reserve at Williamthorpe, with its recently planted woodland, stay on the wide main track and go ahead at a junction. At the next, a crossroads of tracks, go left down towards Williamthorpe Ponds.

At the bottom turn hard right for the track close to the water. From the information board go alongside the outflow leat, then left at the crossroads to go over a wooden bridge and straight uphill. At the top turn left and follow the direct track past the huge sheds of an industrial estate. Fork left at a junction, signposted ‘Grassmoor’, and go under the road and along as far as Wolfie Pond.

Turn hard left just after the pond, almost back on yourself, and on to cross the busy A6175 with care for the gate on the far side. The track then bends sharp left, then right, passing amid open fields. Go straight on at a junction by a picnic table and soon you meet the outward route north of Timber Lane. Go straight ahead for the route back to the car park, now following signs for Tibshelf.

Additional information

Good surfaced tracks


Good, though watch out for bicycle riders

OS Explorer 269 Chesterfield and Alfreton

Five Pits Trail car park, Hardstoft road, Pilsley

None on route

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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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