Few rivers in Britain can match the Derwent for scenic beauty, vibrant wildlife, historical interest and industrial clout. From the heart of the Peak District National Park, it weaves south through picturesque villages, a grand country estate, a spa town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the great cities of the Midlands.
However, these human influences arguably play second fiddle to a landscape adorned by some of the finest natural sights in England. Atmospheric, tor-crowned moors rise above the valley; brooding gritstone escarpments look down from up high; and flower-rich pastures, watched over by ash and oak, are veined with burbling streams.
The Derwent Valley Heritage Way enters this fusion of human endeavour and natural splendour, following the river for 55 miles (89 km) from the sparkling Ladybower Reservoir to where its journey ends at the River Trent. As you enjoy the scenery, consider that it was the relentless flow of the water beside you that powered the birth of the Industrial Revolution. This truly magnificent long-distance trail follows a river that changed the world.
The Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site is the main draw for many. Snaking alongside the river for 15 miles (24 km) from Matlock to Derby, it is an area of spellbinding industrial history, peppered with its once-pioneering cotton mills and the world’s first modern factories. There are several visitor centres and museums along the route where you can learn more about this pivotal era in British and world history.
Other highlights along the Way include: the gorgeous village of Hathersage in the heart of the Dark Peak; the pretty villages of Froggatt, Curbar and Baslow, watched over by their namesake gritstone edges; the grandeur of Chatsworth House and its idyllic surroundings; High Tor, an impressive hill overlooking Matlock Dale; Matlock Bath, a spa village nestled in a scenic gorge; the village of Cromford, home to Arkwright’s Mill and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution; the city of Derby, a powerhouse of the Midlands; and Shardlow, an inland port and classic canal village.
In this Collection, I have split the Way into seven stages of between 5 and 10 miles (8 and 16 km). Strong walkers could feasibly complete the whole trail in four or five days, but why rush such a delightful hike? Each stage ends in a settlement of decent size, with plenty of accommodation and food options, as well as places to resupply. I’ve plotted a north to south itinerary but there’s nothing to stop you doing it the other way around, starting with the Derby region’s industrial heritage and finishing in the spectacular Peak District.
Unsurprisingly for a riverside trail, the walking is mostly on flat ground and any changes in gradient are gentle. You are never far from the next village or town, café or pub, making it a hike that is suitable for all. Nevertheless, the going can be boggy after rainfall or during winter, so decent hiking shoes are recommended. Waterproofs are essential all year round and sun protection should be worn during the warmer months. Spring is a lovely time of year to complete the Way, when the meadows are in full bloom.
The easiest way to access the start of the Way at Ladybower Reservoir is to take a train to Bamford, which links directly to both Sheffield and Manchester. From here, it’s a few miles to the start point. Motorists can park at the Heatherdene Car Park on the A6013 and be on the Way within moments.
When you reach the trail’s end at Derwent Head, the closest train station is 2 miles away (3.2 km) in Long Eaton. From here, it’s just a 10-minute train ride back to Derby station, while there are also relatively quick, direct services to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. There’s also a frequent bus service that goes from Shardlow’s Navigation Inn back to Derby.
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Last updated: April 28, 2023
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
This is a lovely opening stage among some of the Peak District’s most iconic scenery. From the peace and open space of the Upper Derwent Valley and Ladybower Reservoir, you venture alongside the river, with famous gritstone edges high above to your left and wild moors and woodland on your right.
The second stage continues in much the same vein as the first: the forested banks of the River Derwent, wild moorland to the west, moody gritstone escarpments rising above the mist in the east. En route to Baslow, you pass through a number of picturesque villages, each with their own character and charm…
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This stage is all about the magnificent Chatsworth House, its beautiful gardens and sprawling deer park, which were landscaped by the legendary Lancelot (Capability) Brown. Seemingly plucked from a Jane Austen novel, Chatsworth is the very essence of English country grandeur, standing proud on the banks…
This stage leaves the Peak District National Park and follows the Derwent on tracks, paths and minor roads, taking you from picturesque Rowsley and into Matlock, the first town on the Way. After the town centre, you ascend to the superb viewpoint of High Tor, before descending to the stage’s end in the…
This stage is the first of two in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Derwent Valley Mills, which snakes alongside the river for 15 miles (24 km) from Matlock Bath to Derby. The region was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution, where Richard Arkwright’s pioneering water-powered mills transformed…
This is the second stage within the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site, which you follow to its southern end in Derby. It has a more urban feel than the stages that came before and, unsurprisingly, the vestiges of industry are often apparent. After visiting the village of Little Eaton, the…
During the final stage, you leave Derby and make for the great junction of water courses near Shardlow Wharf, where the Trent and Mersey Canal meets the River Derwent as it empties into the larger River Trent.
To begin, you follow the river into Derby’s Pride Park region, once at the epicentre of Derby…
Hiking Collection by BMC
Hiking Collection by Country Walking Magazine
Hiking Collection by Schlosspark im Allgäu
Bike Touring Collection by Kit P