Spring Flowers along the Cromford canal.

I love to walk along the Cromford Canal whatever the weather. Here is a short video of one very wet day.

The canal is beautiful on any day but especially in the early Spring sunshine. April 14th 2022 promised to be sunny so I decided to go for an early morning walk. By early I mean 8.30 which I know would not be everyones definition of early. It did however mean that there were not too many others, out walking the canal path. Deciding to start from Cromford was a really good idea as when I arrived at High Peak Junction, (the name now used to describe the site where the former Cromford and High Peak Railway, meets the Canal,) it was not too long before the small cafe opened for Coffee and a sandwich. 

Leewood Pumphouse near High Peak Junction.

The canal used to run for 14.5 miles along the Derwent Valley to Ambergate where it turned to eventually join the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. It was part of a network of canals dug in the midlands to transport goods such as coal, limestone, cotton and lead. 

The 6 mile stretch from Cromford to Ambergate has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area is home to diverse wildlife and a haven for water voles, grass snakes, little grebes, moorhens, coots, dragonflies as well as myriads of ducks, geese and swans.

Returning to Cromford along the canal I was excited to see three water voles but it is still probably rather early for grass snakes. There was how ever a good variety of wildflowers making their appearance and many bees buzzing around.

Wild Garlic in bud.

The larch

I remember the Monty Python sketch, ‘Number 1 The Larch’, about identifying trees from a distance. However the larch is not a tree I am very familiar with. The European larch is native to the mountains of Central Europe and was introduced into the UK in the early 17th century for timber plantations. It is a unique tree as it is the only deciduous conifer.

Looking up

I have not taken much notice of the larch, (apart from the Monty Python sketch) but a new interest in making natural teas alerted me to the fact that you can use larch flowers and the needles for tea making. I hadn’t realised that the tree had such pretty pink/red flowers which eventually turn into the small larch cones. It is spring so I went on a hunt to find a larch tree with flowers.

The sad news is that many larch trees are dying from Sudden Larch Death. This disease causes the rapid decline and death of larch trees of all ages. Stem cankers, needle lesions and canopy dieback are all symptoms of Sudden Larch Death in the UK.

Today I searched in a local wood, hoping that if I found a larch, it would be well and healthy. I found a lot of trees but they did not look well to my untrained eyes. The tops of the trees had green leaves coming out but the lower branches had no green or flowers. Many had already been felled and this made me wonder if there is a problem. The colour of the wood was beautiful and I wondered what it is used to make. 

Information found on the internet www.timberblogger.com/larch-wood/ says Larch wood is known to have tough, waterproof, and durable qualities. It is mostly used for boats, gazebos, floors, fencing, etc.

Having discovered the beauty and usefulness of the larch, I do hope it survives in the local woods and one day I can find enough flowers to try making tea. Larch trees like to grow in any wet, peat-rich soil. The right soil acidity —neutral to acidic—is also key. Larch trees do not grow well in soils with high pH. The area I discovered was wet with a lovely stream and I was glad that I wore my welly boots. I am now considering what I can look for next to make some natural tea.

Show the Love & Beyond.

St Peter’s churchyard was decorated with green Show the Love, handmade hearts in February 2021. Trees along the paths and the railings were decorated by local people and groups. This was a community effort to join in with the Climate Coalitions call to #Showthelove for our world.

2021 is a very important year for the future of our planet with the UN Climate Summit COP 26 taking place in Glasgow in November.  We need the UK to ensure that the Climate Summit is successful and sets us on the path to a safe climate for all. Underpinning all of this is the imperative that global economic recovery is sustainable and doesn’t prevent us from limiting warming to no more than 1.5C.

Because of this the Climate Coalition are encouraging communities to have a Great Big Green Week in September as a call for action on climate change. Here are some of their ideas, ‘From local park clean ups and planting sessions, to concerts and community group stalls, you can plan events to suit your community. For guidance on how you can organise an event or green week, visit greatbiggreenweek.com

Already plans are being discussed in Belper and ideas being thought of. The date of the week is from September 18th – September 26th. Still hopefully plenty of time to plan. 

I have recently read Rob Hopkins book, From What Is to What If (Unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want). It is full of inspiring stories of communities working together to improve their lives, the places where they live and helping to look after the planet. Rob emphasises how important it is to start by imagining the future you would like and then work out ways of helping that future happen.

We can all do something however small and lots of small things do make a difference. We can also join in collective movements to make sure our Government and local authorities know that we think the issue of Climate Change and the Climate Crisis must be taken seriously.

In the last two years I have changed my gardening habits and have tried to think of ways to garden to help wildlife. In the garden we can make a difference and some of what we need to do actually saves time and money. Last year we only mowed our lawn twice and in between allowed the grass to grow along with the daisies, dandelions and clover. One of the things that really bothers me is how many front gardens are paved over for cars. This could be mitigated with a few pots of suitable bushes and flowers to make a difference for bees and insects .

Another easy thing households can do is to stop using any sort of pesticide as this is harmful to all insects and other creatures who eat the insects. Last year I made my first wildlife pond in an old washing up bowl and then enjoyed seeing it regularly used by birds and frogs. A small effort can give a lot of enjoyment. This year I have gone a little larger by digging a bigger hole and using a liner. On one afternoon I watched starlings, blackbirds and sparrows taking turns to bath. One really important thing we can all do is to be untidy. When we do any pruning I now leave piles of branches under bushes and have seen wrens hopping about looking for bugs to eat.

More advice on gardening for wildlife can be found here, RSPB website and on the Wildlife Trusts website. Watching the birds, frogs, squirrels, bees and insects has given us so much pleasure during the last year of on and off lockdowns.

Trees of St Peter’s Belper


In the previous twelve months St Peter’s Church like other Belper churches has had to change the way it meets and serves the community. At times the building has had to remain completely closed. At the time of writing this, the church can open for two hours a day for private prayer and have a limited service on Sunday mornings. Most of the different church denominations in Belper have moved their services onto the internet with many now having their own Youtube channels. St Peter’s Parish Belper.

St Peter’s Church Belper

During this time St Peter’s has used its grounds and its trees as a way of bringing pleasure to many who walk through the churchyard on their journey around the town. This has included photographs showing the beauty of the natural world at Harvest Time starting in September 2020.

An Advent Calendar gradually appeared in December 2020, in the days leading up to Christmas. Trees were decorated by individuals and community groups with the organisation being coordinated by Belper Woollen Woods. As well as the items used to illustrate the Advent story, bible readings were also attached to the trees.

Trees were decorated in many different ways with people using wool to knit and crochet, copies of paintings by local artists, needle felted pieces, embroidered fabric, painted MDF and wood. A fantastic stable was constructed by Mark and Josh Gregory and this was gradually filled with the main characters from the Christmas story.

From an original painting by Fi Marks

In the month of January 2021 the trees were decked out with jokes, useful information and inspirational quotes.

In February 2021 the trees were decorated by people from the Belper community with Green Hearts. This was as a response to the Climate Coalitions ‘Show the Love’ (#showthelove) campaign, which is about using our voices to celebrate all the things we don’t want to lose, as a result of climate change.

There were so many fantastic hearts made by people of all ages, I decided to make a film about it and even in this it has not been possible to show every heart.

The season of Lent began on February 17th 2021 and prayer flags beautifully written by local school children were strung between some of the trees along the path.

There are plans ahead for an Easter display, and then from April 17th a POET-TREE trail organised as part of Belper Fringe by local poet Carol Brewer. More information can be found on the fringe website.

May 15th – 23rd, will see the trees dressed as part of 2021 Woollen Woods, as this year the woods come to town with trees decorated in both the Memorial Gardens, St Peter’s Churchyard, houses along Long Row and some shop windows.

St Peter’s church is happy to receive ideas from Belper people, please contact the church office for more information. office@stpetersparishbelper.org.uk

#showthelove 2021

This year it feels more important than ever to take climate change seriously. The UK should have hosted the UN Climate Change Conference last November which had to be cancelled because of Coronavirus. It is now hoped that the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, (also known as COP26), will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1 to 12 November 2021 under the presidency of the United Kingdom.

Logo designed for last years event by India Day.

In 2015 there was a very important meeting in Paris and an agreement was signed by 196 countries. It is often mentioned on the news as the Paris Agreement, its goal was to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. Even this level of warming will make significant changes to our world so it feels that it is really important to make changes ourselves but also to do what we can to persuade those in power to reconsider their actions.

A vigil was held in Belper in 2015 which also included some craft activism making hearts to wear. A report can be read at NAILED Belper’s Independent News. Anyone wishing to make their own heart this year can buy a kit with everything they need from the Craftivist Collective. A-Heart-For-Your-Sleeve-kit

During 2020 many people discovered how important the natural world was to their mental health. I have written a previous blog about how it interesting it was in the first lockdown, to almost be forced to walk the same fields each week and see the progression of flowers, insects and fruits in the fields and hedgerows. We do need to take action to protect the natural world. https://www.anneclarkhandmade.co.uk/wildflowers-during-lockdown/

Herb Robert, a beautiful tiny wildflower found nearly everywhere.

The Climate Coalition, the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to taking action on climate change, ask that green hearts are made in February each year . This is what they say, ‘Green hearts are powerful, When you make and share your green heart, you help send a powerful message to decision-makers: that people from every corner of the UK want to see urgent action to protect the people, places and life we love from the worst impacts of climate change.’

Large Green Heart made to tie around a tree.

Last year we had a Show the Love event inside St Peter’s Church Belper, https://www.anneclarkhandmade.co.uk/showthelove/

This year the plan is to tie green hearts around the trees in the churchyard. When you make and display your green heart, you show others in your community that you care about climate change and are hopeful that we can protect what we love from its impacts by taking urgent action. Obviously because of the latest lockdown we cannot meet in groups to make these but we can still take action. As the Climate Coalition say, THE TIME IS NOW.

I have recently used an old cotton reel to make my own small banner.

Making Winter by Emma Mitchell

I love books particularly books about the natural world. In the last few years there have been so many fantastic new books published, I am constantly tempted to buy another. I thought I would write about some that I have read, learnt from and enjoyed. The first is Making Winter, (A Creative Guide for Surviving the Winter Months) written and illustrated by Emma Mitchell.

Emma is a naturalist, author and workshop leader. She often writes about how contact with the natural world can improve mental health. In 2020 this has been such an important message helping many of us cope while not being able to take part in our usual activities. Emma has appeared on BBC TV in Countryfile and Springwatch speaking about the healing effect of nature. 

The book is full of beautiful photography, lovely illustrations and contains instructions for making many different projects. She includes different methods for making jewellery, how to use water colours, keep a nature diary, make comforting food and drink, many nature inspired crafts and several crochet patterns.

A collection of things from a walk along the Cromford Canal

I just love this book both for the overal look of it and for the clear instructions. I have tried many of Emma’s ideas and they have all turned out well. The first idea I tried was on page 15, Preserving Autumn Leaves. This Autumn the colour of the trees has been amazing and I was eager to see if I could preserve the leaves and their colours. Emma explains how this can be done using a mixture of water and glycerine and this worked really well for me.

I usually prefer knitting to crocheting but used a pattern from this book to make a Crochet Lace Necklace and was very pleased with the result. Emma has more crochet patterns and instructions on her website silverpebble.net

In 2015 Emma had a pattern published in Mollie Makes magazine for making a semicircle winter garland. I made this and was once again very pleased with the end result. I love the shape of flowers like Cow Parsley and Common Hogweed and I think my garland looks a little like these.

I have tried several of the recipes from the book including Blackberry and Almond Streusel Cake, Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies and Apple and Caramel Chelsea Buns. I love using berries foraged from hedgerows and this year has been an amazing year for hawthorn, rose hips and blackberries.

I plan to make many more of the creations from Emma’s book and would recommend it as a beautiful present to give someone. This book was published in 2017 and since then she has published another book in 2019, The Wild Remedy, (How Nature Mends Us) written as a nature diary. Once again a most beautiful book in which Emma shares how taking walks in the countryside near her home has helped her with ongoing depression which is particularly difficult for her during the winter months.

Emma does however occasionally travel further from her home in Cambridgeshire and in the chapter for the month of June she visits Rose End Meadows in Cromford Derbyshire. The meadow is not the easiest place to find but well worth the effort. Here is what Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has to say about the area, “The meadows are a set of 16 small, hilly fields which can be accessed from Cromford Hill. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust purchased the land in 1987 and have been managing it ever since. The views across this part of the county are spectacular but the real gems are two-fold – the incredible mix of wild flowers from spring right through to summer, and the knowledge that you are strolling through a landscape that has predominantly remained unchanged for over a century; a genuine agricultural and wildlife time capsule.

I feel so lucky to live in Derbyshire such a beautiful county however small patches of nature can be found and enjoyed even in most of our cities. It is good for our health, both physical and mental to spend time outdoors.

Felley Priory

I love to visit the beautiful gardens of Felley Priory. Felley Priory like Dale Abbey was reputed to have been built on the site of a small hermitage. Unlike Dale Abbey no one is sure where the hermit’s dwelling had originally been. The Priory of Felley and the Priory Gardens are situated just half a mile from Junction 27 of the M1 and 16 miles from Dale Abbey. 

The front of Felley Priory House

Felley Priory was founded in 1156 dedicated to Our Lady. It consisted of twelve canons following the Rule of St Augustine. Like Dale Abbey the priory was not always managed well and in 1276 its prior was deposed for mismanagement and misbehaviour. He had permitted the priory buildings to fall into disrepair and, ‘the canons had erred and strayed to the scandal of the neighbourhood.’

Darley Abbey Hydrangeas

Yesterday we had a lovely walk in Darley Park. The sun was shining and the trees were changing colour. We took the opportunity to visit the walled Hydrangea Garden before it shuts to the public on November 3rd. The garden is looked after by a team of volunteers and it was obvious that since our last visit in 2019 a huge amount of work had been done. The garden houses the National Collection of Hydrangea Paniculata.

Hydrangea Derby, (the name of the voluntary group) was set up in 2010 to look after the Hydrangea Garden and in the last 10 years they have become the National Collection, the only such collection in the world. They also have a wide variety of other hydrangea species. The garden now holds 890 different cultivars.

Dale Abbey, Derbyshire

Dale Abbey is less than three miles from the suburbs of Derby to the west, and close to Industrial areas on the Eastern side. Originally known as Depedale it is a most intriguing and beautiful area. The story of Dale Abbey begins when a Derby baker had a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared and told him to go to Depedale, to live a life of solitude and prayer. At that time it was a wild and marshy place and the hermit carved out a home and chapel in a sandstone cliff. There is a path beside the church and farm which goes through the woods and from this are several ways up to the caves using steps.

Here the hermit continued to worship until one day the smoke from his fire was seen by Ralph Fitz Geremund the owner of the land. He rode over to the place where he saw the smoke, intending to drive the intruder away. On hearing the hermit’s story he was filled with compassion and allowed him to remain. He also gave the hermit the tithe money from Borrowash Mill. This enabled the hermit to build a small chapel and home on the site of the present church.

After the hermit’s death, word spread of the religious significance of the place and Dale Abbey was founded in about 1200 by the White Canons. The abbey remained until 1538, when it was dissolved and the majority demolished by the command of Henry VIII.

Remains of Dale Abbey