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The Derbyshire Portway

Across the Andes Pennines by Frog Pack Horse?

Walks & Explorations: A rough, illustrated, guide.

By clicking the icon in the top left of the map window, you can select/deselect other options to view or click the icon top right to view full screen.

The photos for this map will also be viewable in album form, section by section, below, as the walk progresses.
You can also 'right-click' and download copies of the summer 2020 route files .KML HERE or .GPX HERE.

Air Ambulance Image Unusually for my walks, I have created a JustGiving Page in aid of the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance. These voluntary emergency services are always in need of donations - particularly at this time. So, as we will be venturing into the wilder parts of the shires, it seemed fitting that we should try and raise a little for them. As the Portway route was primarily for transporting the products of mining, I was also going to do one for the Mines Rescue Service - but they no longer exist as a charity, so send everything to the Air Ambulance using the link please!

The principal route is shown in blue with alternative sections shown in turquoise or green .

I was unaware of this ancient pathway until I saw a program on tv, featuring Tony Robinson walking Britain's ancient tracks. The route is unusual because, as he presented it, the south end was a short distance from my home and terminated at the north end at Mam Tor, in the Derbyshire Peak District some 60 miles away.

Further research revealed that, whilst the route is 'speculative' in some areas, there is no doubt that such a pathway existed. In his book, Stephen Bailey (see below) puts forward a good case for the Portway having originally started by the Trent at Nottingham. Similarly, he suggests that it continued at the northern end, from Hope Cross, over the Snake Pass, using a route which subsequently became 'redeveloped' as a Roman road.

The foremost thing to remember here is that the Portway predated not only the Roman roads, but many of the towns and villages we take for granted today. So its avoidance of settlements such as Bakewell, Matlock, and originally Wirksworth, must not be seen as surprising - because they simply did not exist at a time when the Portway first developed as a long distance pack horse route between Nottingham and Manchester - and all the mines in between.

Also because of this, it is not surprising that the route changed as time and patterns of trade changed. So, for example, Stephen Bailey suggests an alternative, later, route which takes in Wirksworth (turquoise on my map). The route in blue is primarily Stephen Bailey's suggested 'original' route.
This is based largely on a GPX file for the Hemlockstone to Mam Tor section supplied by my friend Ken Brockway (to whom I am indebted) and extended by me to Sneinton Hermitage and Hope Cross at the ends. I have added other alternatives (in green) because either, they involve less road walking or, I perceive them as viable original alternatives - or both. I have also added many other ancient locations, such as standing stones, either because they are again in Stephen Bailey's book or because I found them at www.megalithic.co.uk - or both! As above, the colour scheme represents those referenced by Stephen Bailey in blue and those from elsewhere, by me, in green. The brown markers are for the photo locations which may also be viewed en masse in the daily albums (see below). All photos are by C&J Deuchar unless otherwise credited. GPX files for each section, based on our actual tracklog, will be added in due course.

I have found a number of websites & publications with more information on the walk route(s) and history. The following are just samples.
Follow these links for further information:- All links should open in a new tab.

For a historic map of the area, follow this link and then adjust the transparency on the slider scale to view the present day appearance (You will need to zoom and track to find the section of interest):
Click Here for Historic Map

The best starting point is probably this Wikipedia entry - but this does not acknowledge the whole route.

Stephen Bailey's book may be obtained from numerous sources such as Amazon "The Old Roads of Derbyshire" ISBN-10: 1789018439 ISBN-13: 978-1789018431 and is largely an expansion of an earlier book which dealt exclusively with the Derbyshire Portway. The newer book includes much interesting material on road development and additional Derbyshire walks.

Day 1: Sneinton Hermitage to The Hemlockstone - 7 miles. Day 1 Photo Album
The old 'hermitage' caves are there, right by the side of the road, and so, after viewing the Sneinton Dragon, we proceeded via Fisher Gate and Pennyfoot Street to cross to Malin Hill directly opposite. From here there was a dilemma because we were previously aware that there had been three routes. Either, turn right and ascend to St Mary's church, and High Pavement via Hollowstone, turn left and ascend via the Long Stairs (currently closed) or proceed a short way up Malin Hill and then turn right up the Short Stairs. In the event, all were probably wrong because, straight ahead, a fourth route, Malin Hill, turns into an old cobblestone path, hanging on to the side of the rock, and emerges in Commerce Square, right by St Mary's church. This is the way I would take a packhorse train - without doubt.
Heading west via High Pavement, Low Pavement and Castle Gate, followed by a brief right and left turn round the castle, took us to Lenton Road - ie 'the road to Lenton', quite literally - through the fine private Park Estate. On the left there is Hermitage Walk - which once lead to the second hermitage on the route but is now occupied by modern housing. However, many old cave remnants can still be seen at the rear of premises on Canal Street - which runs parallel to, but below, Lenton Road. A short jitty then leads out of the estate into the, ironically named, Park Road and public roads again lead us downwards towards the former Grove pub - currently closed. In turn, Grove Road leads to a low railway footpath underbridge and onto Lenton where we turn right onto Lenton Lane.
After a brief sortie to check out the Lenton Priory remains by the traffic lights, we retreated slightly to take the alternative route to see the other priory remains before turning right again past the Boat Inn and then across the main road and walking up the east side of the River Leen. Crossing the Leen by the back of QMC we continued up the west bank path to Derby Road. From here it is far quieter to walk along the service roads on the north side of the main A52 Derby Road, cross the ring road, and then only exit onto the main road at the top of the rise.
Up to this point, the route had been a surprisingly pleasant way to cross the city but the next mile, alongside the heavy traffic, was much less so but was punctuated by a brief detour, into Wollaton Park, to visit Arbour Hill where there is probably the largest and most magnificent oak tree I have ever seen.
Finally, leaving the A52 and housing behind, there is a steep rise to regain the high ground along the ridge. From here to Bramcote all is quite peaceful and there are a variety of paths which meander through the trees. Probably it was always so! Evenually reaching Coventry Lane (adjacent to the somewhat sinister looking, and heavily protected 'Plymouth Brethren Meeting House'?), we turned south for the short roadside walk to Bramcote Hills Park car park and the Walled Garden - opposite the Hemlockstone itself.

Day 2: The Hemlockstone to Morley - 8 miles. Day 2 Photo Album
The Hemlockstone is of unknown origin. As a child I was told it was a volcanic plug but other theories abound - including a left over 'stack' from quarrying. The most amazing thing is that no one seems to know for sure! From here it is an easy walk along Hickings Lane in Stapleford and then across the county boundary at the River Erewash. Shortly after, the longest railway footbridge I have ever known, crosses what used to be the northern part of Toton Sidings - but which is now a silver birch forest. Across the Erewash Canal, and Ilkeston road, a good path leads up to Sandiacre Church. This has a very gradual gradient and stone walling at the sides - suggesting it was once of much greater significance than it is now.
Another road section finally leads out of the urban area and up to the heights of No Man's Lane where excellent views are seen to north and south. A bit of a zig-zag and field paths continue along the ridge until the descent in Hermitage Wood - where the stone hermitage itself can be found - a scheduled ancient monument. Dale Church is almost unique in being 'semi-detached' to the adjacent large (and growing) house. Leaving Dale, a footpath detour avoids the road around a second Arbour Hill on the route, before crossing the main Ilkeston to Derby Road and onto Hagg Lane.
Easy walking from here on, Hagg Lane turns into a farm track before reappearing as Dale Road in Stanley village, just after the site of the former Kilbourne Colliery. Following the Stanley Brook, the path continues westwards and crosses the route of the former Great Norther Railway and continues until meeting Church Road on the outskirts of Morley. Despite only being the access to a handful of dwellings, this road too has considerable engineering features (walled sides, drainage and a raised pavement) which seem out of all proportion to its current usage.
The Morley Butter Cross may now be found inside Morley Church yard - which in itself is one of the best kept churchyards I have ever seen. It also has a separate chapel for the former Morley family.

Day 3: Morley to Blackbrook - 8 miles. Day 3 Photo Album
Some nice field walking to start with on this stretch; good paths interspersed with stiles and the notable Morley Mound which is of ancient but indeterminate origin! There are a lot of path options around here but we chose to view the fine almshouses in Morleymoor before heading north towards Morleymoor Farm via some old clay pits - now overgrown with trees. Shortly after leaving the farm, and its fine garden, we crossed the route of Roman Ryknild Street - without noticing - and skirted round, and through, the back gardens of Brackley Gate to emerge at a fine view towards Kilburn in the north.
Not far beyond, after passing an equestrian establishment(?) featuring something rather smaller than the Lothian Kelpies, we reached Horsley Park and Castle . This area is an absolute gem where silver birch trees, and oaks, have grown over the former castle site and associated stone quarries.
Descending towards Coxbench (previously 'Tanton Cross'), and the A38, we passed some rather fine kennels, with viewing portals in their fence for both humans and canines. The access to the former quarry leads down to the re-sited St Anthony's Well at Coxbench and our route under the A38 and thence crossing the routes of the former Little Eaton Gangway and the standard gauge line to Ripley. Here we took a look at the 'repurposed' Coxbench/Holbrook Station before taking the road to Holbrook itself. This road is actually called 'Portway'!
Reaching the top of the ridge at Holbrook there are some fine views, east and west, before descending to Makeney (and the Holly Bush Inn!) and thence to Milford - although the footbridge is no longer publically accessible since the garden centre and Millhouse pub have both closed.
The climb up Sunny Hill out of Milford is remarkably steep but the views are rewarding - notable for the quickness with which it overtakes the height of the former mill chimney! At the top there is not only a railway tunnel air vent by a golfing green but also the bizarre Stephenson's tower which was apparently built as an aid to railway alignment during that construction.
The ridgeway from here along North Lane gives outstanding views to either side initially but then, after passing the former WWI rifle range wall, of Belper to the north. This road is laid with large stone cobbles, many of which have sadly moved and allowed considerable erosion. This is sad - but at least means that passing wheeled vehicles cannot spoil a good walk!
After a slow descent to Farnah Green, the path again took us round the back of a few gardens before spitting us out at a junction of paths and then heading towards the woods above Lumb Grange. Heading north, it was only a short way along Lumb Lane to cross the Lumb Brook before meeting the A517 at Blackbrook. A brilliant day's walk.

Day 4: Blackbrook to Middleton Top - 8 miles. Day 4 Photo Album
Climbing the rough Longwalls Lane from Blackbrook, we travelled along a very similar road to North Road on the previous day - ie a rough, eroded cobbled way between two stone walls about 30 feet apart. In this case though, the way was rather more heavily overgrown - but readily passable and with excellent views to either side. The last part of the lane is tarmaced and meets with other routes at the former site of Knave's Cross. After another couple of hundred yards we were off into the fields, en route passing near Crowtrees Farm, towards Alport Height. The views were continually outstanding, with Crich Stand visible to the east and Ratcliffe Power Station to the south. Good field paths, but some indifferent stiles, lead to a junction with three lanes on the approach to Alport Height. Back Lane leads round to the entrance to the Height, from which 360 degree views extend as far as the Long Mynd in Shropshire, 63 miles away! Fantastic!
At this point in our walk, we could see incoming rain clouds which unfortunately blotted out the sun for the rest of the day. They also spoiled some of the views, and photos, but I will endeavour to get some improved images at some point for today's album. Some pleasant quiet lane walking led us past the huge Hardhurst Farm and to Breamfield Lane - from which the view of Wirksworth and its quarries is unparalled - at least in good weather!.
Near the staggered crossroads at Wirksworth Moor there is a standing stone, of arguable provenance, in the field. The route next takes us down through pretty Little Bolehill and thence via a footpath to Bolehill itself on the north-eastern corner of Wirksworth. At this point, we need to turn left onto the former Cromford & High Peak Railway (CHPR) but to do so means going through the arched bridge, right onto a bridleway and thence onto the trackbed. There is a another potentially useful car park here at Black Rock - the last place in England to have had wolves - allegedly. I say allegedly because there has been talk of reintroduction and, if a blood curdling howl I heard in the 1970s on a foggy evening a little to the east was anything to go by, then they never went away!
From here it is only a short walk along the trackbed to the Middleton Incline and another good car park, visitor centre and facilities. There is much of interest along here - bits of old railwayana and the, still functioning, Steeple Grange narrow gauge railway built along the trackbed of a former CHPR quarry branch. There is also some inexplicable, and inexcusably confusing pseudo-railway sculpture, whose sole purpose seems to have been to have used money that would have been better spent on the infrastructure upkeep or restoration.

Day 5: Middleton Top to Grangemill - 8.75 miles (with deviations). Day 5 Photo Album
This was our most energetic day so far. Having skirted Wirksworth on our previous day via the northern route, this (later) route goes via the town itself. The descent from Alport Height was quiet and easy along narrow roads with only a hedge-cutting tractor to pass by. On Taylor's Lane there is supposedly Folly Well in an adjacent field but we could not access it - however, the name features in several local places. This whole area is very attractive - especially around Holehouse and Doveswood Farms, the ford across the brook and along Pratthall Lane.
Gorsey Bank is an attractive suburb of Wirksworth, with the stone-built Providence Mill and other buildings of note. Our route crosses what is now the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway - a restored line with much of interest in Wirksworth itself.
From Wirksworth itself (aka 'Stone Town'), rather than follow the road up towards Middleton Top, we followed a more direct, traffic-free route, along a series of footpaths through the disused quarries and then fields to reach the Cromford & High Peak Railway (CHPR) just west of where we finished the previous walk. To close the gap we followed a farm track eastwards and then looped back along the old railway to the same point before proceeding north-westerly past Moor Farm.
From here we descended yet again towards Arm Lees Farm, and under the former CHPR Hopton Quarries Branch, before ascending again to go arund he north side of a still active quarry and its huge wind turbines. Leaving the quarry behind, the way should have got simpler but the footpath directions are in a bit of a mess and we struggled to find the correct paths to get us to Harborough Rocks. Some stiles are definitely missing (!) but we found our way to Harborough Rocks eventually and enjoyed the magnificent views all around from the High Peak in the north, to Ratcliffe Power Station in the south, beyond Carsington water in the middle distance. Here also, amongst other industrial remains, may be found a former cave dwelling, a chambered cairn and some more recent memorials. The rocks appear to be well used by climbers.
Back on more obvious footpaths, we descended past New Harboro Farm and onto a decent track for most of the route to Grangemill. The last part of this demarked bridleway was somewhat muddy but gave interesting views of the quarries here and the Via Gellia below. Somehow we missed a path towards Ible which, on consideration, then leads onto other paths following a route which may have been a more serious contender for being the Portway?

Day 6: Grangemill to Conksbury (Medieval Village) - 7.52 miles (with deviation). Day 6 Photo Album
This was a good day with relatively easy walking, several ancient sites - varying from mines to hermits caves and a stone circle - and some gorgeous scenery.
Leaving Grangemill, the narrow Grange and Tophill lanes ascend rapidly - but not quite so rapidly as the alternative footpath straight across the fields - eventually reaching a common point above Ible where four lanes meet. Turning northwards at this point, Whitelow Lane continues northwards and then splits. For the next couple of miles there is ample evidence of mine working. This is the western edge of the former great lead mining district of Bonsall - in which some of my ancestors once toiled. Taking the western track branch, a straight line of stiles at field boundaries leads eventually to Bonsall Lane which is crossed to reach a high point above Winster.
It is only a short descent, along Occupation Lane, now part of the LimestoneWay, to the main B5056 at the Winster lead ore store - an ancient version of a 'night safe'. Continuing along Islington Lane (aka. the Limestone Way), with Winster to the east, the path descends gently, past the former Portaway Mine (one of two near here), towards the lower land before the striking Cratcliff Rocks and Robin Hoods Stride. Here another ascent, alongside what appeas to be an old hollow way, leads to open access land where the rocks are worthy of exploration, not least because there is yet another hermit's cave! (Although I haven't found the 'proper' one yet...)
Also here is what is left of the former Nine Stones Close stone circle (now just 4 stones) on private land. This whole area is worth some exploration. There is a separate standing stone, removed from the circle and now in use as a gate post, along with a possible barrow. On reaching Cliff Lane, there is another good view of the stones before a descent through the woods on the way to Alport, near Youlgreave. Ths is another very quiet lane with good views around - notably towards Stanton-in-the-Peak where there is the Nine Ladies stone circle and other ancient monuments.
Alport is a bit of a dream village, scenery wise, although I suspect it can be rather bleak in winter in the depths of its narrow valley. From here, another Dark Lane leads northwards past the signs of other former mining - most notably the Raper fluorspar mine. The Portway continues along the centre of this broad ridge between Over Haddon and Haddon Hall but we bore slightly left to visit the sight of the former medieval village of Conksbury. In the intervening fields there appears to be some terracing - which too may be medieval in origin.