One of my favourite short walks in the Derwent Valley takes me from Derwent Dam, through what remains of Derwent village and up via an old packhorse route onto Derwent Edge. It is not a taxing walk, the ascent up on to the edge a mere 160m along a well marked and in places paved path. What it has that draws me back to it on a regular basis is quietness and contemplation.
Once the crowds have been left behind at the dam I can amble south down the valley along a single-track road, passing along the way a bright red phone box by the gateway to the remaining lodge to Derwent Hall, a terrace of workers cottages and an empty farmhouse. Soon on the left is the old school, no longer in use, the image of the Virgin Mary and Christ above the doorway, telling me that I am on the Roman Catholic side of the valley and therefore on Norfolk land. It is a lovely building; the porch has a beautifully tiled floor with plain black and red Minton tiles and stone benches on either side of the entrance each below a small leaded window. In the garden lays a carved lintel from the Derwent Hall, showing the date and the coat of arms of Henry Balguy a previous owner.
The road continues on through the site of the village, crossing over Millbrook where it becomes a track and soon the way south is barred by a gate. To its left is the bridleway that will take me up on to Derwent Edge, part of the old 14th century packhorse route from Derwent Village in to Sheffield. It begins its ascent by working a ribbon of stone through a meadow, the stone from the old cotton mills of Lancashire, the meadow filled in spring, with Buttercup, Scabious, Saxifrage, Mallow, Cowslip and Cranesbill and more. It is a wonderful and sadly rare sight these days to see a meadow in full bloom. The colours of white, reds, yellows and blues dotted across a huge expanse serves as a painful reminder of what we have lost in the countryside.
The path ends at a collection of stone barns, known as Grindle Barn. The barns are made of coursed and roughly dressed stone with stone roofs. They sit well in the landscape, clustered together on either side of the packhorse trail, the trail having to form an “S” bend as it weaves between the buildings. The first barn is dated 1647 above a doorway and has the initials of “LG”, probably the person who built it structure. A second barn opposite remains closed, but the third around the corner has been converted in to a shelter for walkers and bikers and perhaps horse riders. This is the barn now known as Grindle Barn.
Grindle Barn is one of my main objectives of this walk for it affords a comfortable stopping off point, particularly in inclement weather. There is the best bench in the whole of the Peak District to sit on, placed in such a way as to afford a spectacular view in any season, down the valley to Win Hill on the opposite side. The floor sits high so is not prone to flooding or gathering dirt. The walls are adorned with small tiles, each with a drawing or poem from local children in the villages down the valley. Above the entrance, just a large opening is a carved wooden board, depicting packhorse trains working their way down the trail.
I love to sit here and simply watch. Sometimes people are present or passing by and it is nice to chat about the day, the view, different walks, what flowers are present in the meadow. But it is solitude and watching that I seek most. To find the barn empty is a delight. I can take a seat, and just look. It does not matter about the weather or season. Looking out in winter and studying the old field boundaries, or the long forgotten ways up to the high grounds that snow has now brought back to life, the way it does by laying in the hidden dips long after the rest has melted. In summer the area around the barn is filled with swallows swooping up and down the trail, flashing across the barn opening. Occasionally a mouse will appear, out of the wall, once a stoat suddenly put in an appearance, disappearing as soon as it heard people approaching. I have never seen a horse, much is the pity, and it would be nice to see a small team of horses working their way down into the valley.