Duffield to Mercaston, by Mark Halliwell [Next page]
The privilege of living adjacent to the beautiful Derwent Valley meant it was no hardship to return to the river at the Bridge Inn for the start of the next leg. Pausing for a few minutes to see the river birds, I then headed past St Alkmund’s Church, Duffield. Next it was over the main Derby-to-Sheffield railway line via Poetry Bridge, a lovely concept where people have left poems for the benefit of others to read. Crossing under Makeney Road, I walked north-west through the meadow to reach Duffield’s houses. There’s less than a quarter of a mile along the A6, past the White Hart pub (a familiar evening out with our friends from Duffield), then left on Tamworth Street past the excellent Viceroy Restaurant.
Amongst cottages, the street crosses to the north bank of the River Ecclesbourne and, after a couple of junctions and the curious Duck Island, the Centenary Way heads off left, or west, eventually hugging the wooded north bank of the now-channelled river. Ignoring anything more than the briefest of Snake Lane’s charms, the path keeps to the north bank and leads to a sign presenting the river’s wildlife (which includes otters) as it proceeds across Ecclesbourne meadows and approaches some houses. I crossed back to the south-west bank as I neared Meadows Farm, with its many swallows and house martins.
Moving north-west across fields, The Way comes close to the River Ecclesbourne twice more, the first a pretty spot, temporarily resident to a small herd of somnolent cows. On other days you may hear from over the river the sounds of the recently restored Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, on its journey between Duffield and Wirksworth. At the second river approach, I turned left across fields to The Way’s meeting with the B5023 Wirksworth Road. Many years back, I’d learnt to drive on this road.
Straight across, through the gate next to the lodge, I faced a broad avenue with a narrow, unfenced field either side bordered by trees. A small herd of cows and calves had organised themselves on the right, whilst sheep resided on the left. Up the hill the avenue went, bearing south and with sheep now on both sides, skirting woods as the vista opened wonderfully to the left. East across the Derwent Valley, the view was back to the high points of the previous leg of the walk, whilst to the north I looked across the Ecclesbourne Valley to Hazelwood Hill and beyond to the lovely viewpoint of Alport Height, with its telecommunication masts.
Champion Farm had lots of lambs – this area near the top of Cumberhills Road was what I could see from the previous leg of The Way – and the path headed west to meet up with Woodfall Lane to the right. This marks the half-way point of the Centenary Way, where the whole hike could be split into just two parts by using the Duffield to Brailsford bus stop on Cumberhills Road. (Alternatively, either of Weston Underwood, ahead, or the recently crossed Wirksworth Road, would enable the whole route to split to 11-mile and 14-mile sections). The view ahead from Woodfall Lane to the north-west included the distant wind turbines at Carsington High Pasture and the nearby 1,243-foot summit of Harboro Rocks, adjacent to the Peak District National Park and a favourite place, with its limestone scrambles and stunning panorama to nine counties.
In less than half a mile The Way angles off to the left, now on a westerly setting. I crossed sunny fields with poppies and other wildflowers spread over undulating hills, skylarks overhead, and as many yellowhammers as I’d heard in one day. A couple of miles away down to the left I could see Kedleston Hall, a beautiful eighteenth-century stately home and grounds, family seat of the House of Curzon and the architectural template on which Kolkata’s Raj Bhavan Government House was built. On my right, buzzards were circling around Draycott Plantation as I entered some boggy woodland ahead.
Next up, a couple of fields to cross with some old farm machinery. Rabbits and foxgloves were in equal evidence as I broke out onto the lane and the first houses of Weston Underwood. Bullhurst Lane to the right leads up to the Cock Inn, and beyond that to Mugginton Cricket Ground, a venue I’ve played at many times, with one of our defeats leading to our Cricket Match Reporter’s creative – and memorable – headline of “Cock-up at Cock Inn”! Errr, anyway, over the crossroads into Cutler Lane and with Inn Farm on my right I took the steps up to the right into the fields, headed down to Greenlane Brook, then over the hill to Mercaston Brook, with its resident Grey Heron. One of the channels of the brook fed the Trent Trout Farm, and this was a pretty place to scoff my packed lunch.
An avenue of trees followed up the rising ground to the west, and I entered out on Mercaston Lane right by Mercaston Hall. I managed a little further over the other side of the road, before working out that I’d need to turn round to get back home in time to give my son a lift. My return route to Duffield on a lovely afternoon was partly on the same route, partly via shortcuts. A beautiful day out.