Date: 14th June 2020. With Clare and Joe (a.k.a. ‘the family’), making this the first County Top they have formally bagged with me: although I know both have been up a couple in the past (see commentary).
Weather conditions: Not bad. A bit grey and muggy, but it stayed dry. It could have been sunnier.
County Top bagged: Allestree Park, which is the highest point in the unitary authority of Derby. The summit is 443 feet/135m above sea level and lies roughly at SK341406. The Top lies right on the border of the territory that the city carved out of Derbyshire in 1997 (see below), but is a reasonably authentic summit with a considerable drop-off on three sides to the valleys of the Derwent and its tributary Markeaton Brook. It is only to the north-north-west that higher ground continues. The map reveals that Allestree Park is the end of a diffuse ridge that makes it one of the very southernmost outposts of the Pennines.
This takes over from Normanby Top as the lowest Top I’ve bagged thus far, and is the first one I’ve visited that was never a historic County Top. It ranks 137th of the 172 modern Tops by altitude, and 159th of the full list of 196.
[ << Bishop Wilton Wold, East Riding of Yorkshire (11) | (13) Burnhope Seat, Durham >> ]
Start and end point of walk: There were various options today. We parked at the car park on Woodlands Road, which stands more or less on the highest point, and started and finished there — this at least makes a change from having the summit in the middle of a walk.
You can get very close to this point on Derby city buses under normal conditions (but not at the time that we did the walk, thanks to the Great Fear, or possibly because it was Sunday). However, if you come to Derby by public transport you may as well start walking from Derby station, heading north along the river and joining our route halfway through, at Darley Abbey Park.
Here is a map of our walk recorded on Clare’s Strava app (click on it to see a larger version). The starting point and summit are to the top left.
Pub at end: Derby is a big place and offers many options under normal conditions, though our route had a noticeable shortage of pubs that were walked past. The nearest establishment to the start/finish point is either the Joiners Arms in Quarndon, or the Red Cow on St. Edmund’s Close.
Distance walked: 7 miles/11.25km approximately.
Total ascent: 300 feet/90m approximately. Because of the way we did this walk, starting at the highest point, today this climbing all came in the last two miles. None of it is steep, or in any way awkward.
Difficulty: ★. A clear one-star award today. All the walking is on firm paths or pavements and you could probably get round in sandals if you really chose to.
Ease of access: ★★★★★. Look at any map of England (as opposed to Great Britain) and you will see that Derby is slap-bang in the centre of it. 90% of the UK’s population could make this on a day-trip, whether by car or public transport.
Scenic qualities: ★★. If there wasn’t the interruption of roads and housing estates between the two parks (Allestree and Darley Abbey) it would be better, but even with this, it’s pleasant enough. We are in a city for sure, but firmly in its genteel and suburban parts. Views from higher up are extensive, and convince you that you are up a hill of reasonable prominence.
The area: The historic Top of Derbyshire was, and remains, Kinder Scout in the Peak District. But in 1997 Derby was separated from the rest of the County that it gave its name to, and given the status of a unitary authority, meaning that these days it has its own separate summit on my list.
When I last came to Derby, I also wrote about this visit (in When Saturday Comes), and said the following:
All afternoon a bitter wind gusts through Derby, chilling the bones and sculpting maelstroms of litter. There’s more history evident in the city centre than expected — the pub where I eat has been going since 1530 — but these few attractive streets are like a cherry sat in the middle of a giant muffin of shopping centres, car showrooms, builders’ merchants and Travelodges.
I stand by this review, but now acknowledge it applies to the southern half of the city. The northern districts, where we wandered today, are less bland visually, but whether this makes them more interesting to inhabit, I haven’t spent the time here to know.
Map: Your phone will get you round just fine, but for completion of records you could pick up OS Landranger (1:50,000) 128 Derby and Burton upon Trent.
Route: Having completed this walk with the family, I asked them for their opinion. The consensus was that while we all liked the first of the two parks gone through — Allestree Park — the second (Darley Abbey Park) could have been anywhere, really. But all in all, it’s worth doing. There are plenty of less attractive urban walks.
Darley Abbey Park is part of the Derwent Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site, status granted in 2001 due to the valley being one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. In the 1700s the first automated processes for spinning silk and cotton were developed here. As defined by UNESCO the site spreads for more than 15 miles up the valley, and while this walk was designed specifically to add the site to the County Top, we were a little disappointed by the negligible amount of industrial heritage there was to see. Subtract that from the day and it becomes a suburban ramble, decent exercise but with no excitements.
The highest points on the hill lie just north of the car park, so visit them first. A path heads north through the trees and comes out into a little clearing which, both on the map and on the ground, looks the best candidate for being the summit of Derby. (This is only the second of my Tops, after Pavis Wood, which is not marked by some kind of trig point or other edifice.)
From here, bear right and drop down to cross one of the golf course fairways — though before crossing, make sure you aren’t about to be whacked by a ball. The path continues through the wood and comes out at Allestree Hall, which I am surprised has not yet been turned into luxury flats/a spa & conference centre/a heritage experience/etc. It instead decays in a genteel way while middle-class, middle-aged guys tee off around it. (See the picture at the bottom of the page, and the banner image.)
From the Hall, follow the signpost to the lake. Admire its waterfowl, but don’t head too far along the shore as this takes you in the wrong direction. Instead, embark on your first real bout of suburban street tramping by leaving the park down Main Avenue, and at the end, turning right down Duffield Road. Carry on over the dual carriageway A38 then turn left down Church Lane, and left again down South Avenue, which drops you on to the bank of the Derwent. Here turn right, downstream.
Shortly after this you reach the toll bridge (pictured) which allows access to the old Darley Abbey Mills on the opposite bank. Perhaps it will become more interesting after the Great Fear is over and the cafe and restaurant open up again. Then again, maybe not. As it was we just wandered through what amounted to a more-attractive-than-usual industrial estate, leaving down Haslam’s Lane then turning first right down Folly Road to rejoin the river bank, which we followed past the strange walls of Little Chester until reaching the bridge at SK352372. There we crossed the Derwent and began our trek back to the car, but note that here you are close to the city centre and if you want to explore it (and, in saner times, have lunch), this is your best chance.
On the other side of the river spreads Darley Abbey Park, a pleasant expanse of greenery but not all that interesting. We bore generally left to bring us out at the tea rooms. Continue past these and you will come out onto Abbey Lane, which becomes Church Lane and returns you to the crossing of the A38. Past this, if you want a different route back, bear left up King’s Croft onto Cornhill, where a path offers access onto the golf course again and heads uphill, round its southern and western perimeter, and back to the car park.
Commentary: When the idea of this blog first formed itself in my mind I was going to restrict it to the 91 historic tops — hence its title. It was around the time I did Black Hill that the arbitrary nature of the list started to bother me. That summit had moved from one county (Cheshire) to another (West Yorkshire) around the time of the Great Reorganisation of British counties that took place in 1974. It’s always been a County Top, so I had to bag it: but what of the current Top of Cheshire (Shining Tor)? Even if it’s lower than Black Hill — shouldn’t I be bagging it anyway? And what of places like Lancashire, which in the modern era had completely different summits than they did historically (Leck Fell and Coniston Old Man respectively — which are at least 40 miles apart)?
At some point in May I made my choice and resolved these conundra by tabulating the 172 modern tops to add them to the original 91. With overlaps this made the full 196. And as next week will mark the first anniversary of my trip to Anglesey which started all this, my bagging rate of almost exactly one per month, if sustained, means I will take 16 years to do the lot. It seems a fair enough timescale to me. I might be dead before then anyway.
Clare (‘The First Wife’) and Joe (‘The Boy’) are occasional companions on my Lake District walks, and as a result of those have both previously bagged Coniston Old Man. Both also claim Scafell Pike (Cumberland/Cumbria), Joe two years ago and C. some time in the distant past. With hindsight I have realised that we have all done Guernsey’s CT (on Sark), too. But hey, we can all start counting again, so let’s call this their first official County Top. In recent weeks lockdown has led to us spending way more time together, day in day out, than has ever been normal for us as a family, but it was still good to have their company today. A Sunday in Derby — particularly without the pubs being open or there being no football matches in the vicinity — would not previously have seemed a first choice for a day out, but this walk demonstrated why the modern tops were worth adding.
The change has significantly knocked down the average altitude of them all, as there are way more urban and fewer rural (and thus mountainous) areas on the list. But though it does look like several urban tops are in the midst of housing estates (e.g. Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham), this is true of at least a couple of the historic Tops too (Middlesex. Leicestershire) so I will just take what comes. For a first urban Top, Allestree Park was a decent introduction to the genre. The light for photography could have been better but never mind.
Sticking to the schedule — let’s commit to doing the next one some time in July. It’ll be a higher one: let’s make number 13 a proper mountain.
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