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The Derbyshire Portway

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 route files .KML HERE or .GPX HERE.

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 and 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 - or both! The colour scheme again represents those referenced by Stephen Bailey in blue and those from elsewhere, by me, in green.

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 the 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 leading 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 main 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 or so, 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.