National Stone Centre

We have really enjoyed visiting the National Stone Centre ever since we moved to Derbyshire over 20 years ago. Over this period of time we have seen things develop and have joined in with a number of activities at the centre.

The National Stone Centre is a 40 acre Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), for its geological formations, offering both outdoor and indoor activities. The centre is set within six former limestone quarries located on the edge of the former mining/quarrying town of Wirksworth. Derbyshire is the largest quarrying area in the country, and in the 1990s, it produced twenty million tonnes of stone a year. The Stone Centre was opened to the public in October 1990.  

There is a large carpark, a visitor centre with a shop, café and “Building Britain” Exhibition. The cafe has an outside seating area with far reaching views and a children’s playground near by. There are outdoor fossil trails around the site with viewpoint panels which indicate where you are: the bottom of a lagoon, the side of a reef, or by the tropical Derbyshire coastline. Stone from this site was used to build the M1 motorway but quarrying stopped in the mid 1960s. 

Over a weekend in 2000 the Millennium Wall was built by members of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain. The wall is a permanent exhibition composed of eighteen sections of wall, each six metres in length, and forms the most extensive known collection of dry stone walls in any one place. It is incredible to see all the different styles and wall designs. All the sections were constructed using stone local to the area the wall design came from so all this stone had to be transported to the Stone Centre from all over the country prior to the event. Dry stone walling courses are regularly held at the stone centre as well as stone carving and restoration courses. 

Dotted around the site are three striking stone towers designed by Denis O’Connor and built by Gordon Wilton and his son Jason, champion wallers from Biggin near Buxton.

In front of the visitor centre there are some striking Geosteps which show the amazing variety of stones to be found in the British Isles which have been arranged in order of age with the youngest at the bottom. The rises are British rocks, with the treads created from Hopton Wood Stone, which is so decorative.

Geo Steps on left, path back to carpark on the right under the railway bridge of the
High Peak Trail.

There are paths to follow and quarry areas to explore. Plenty of trees and wild flowers now grow in the area so it is a pleasure to visit at any time of year. It is open every day except Christmas day. 

A few photos taken on a lovely Autumn day in early November 2020 during Englands second lockdown.

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.

Hydrangea Paniculata is a large deciduous plant with cone shaped flower heads. These can be dense with infertile showy florets or lacey and open. The flowers have different ratios of fertile and infertile florets. These hydrangeas are becoming more popular and are hardy throughout Britain, they put on a vigorous display of amazing flowers from August to November.

A little bit of history about Darley Park which is one of Derby’s most beautiful parks. It was in fact once home to the county’s most important monastic institutions, a house of Augustinian Canons established in 1137 and dedicated to St Helena. By the early 14th century, the abbey had fallen into poverty and the last remaining two canons had to be sent to other monasteries as they could not be sustained at Darley. The Abbey was surrendered for dissolution on 22 October 1538. 

Pub in the old Travellers rest building of a former Augustinian Abbey 

Over the centuries the land passed through many hands, reaching the local mill owners – the Evans family by the early nineteenth century. Under Walter Evans a red brick mansion was constructed on the site, Darley House was surrounded by gardens and plantations. During the second world war this became a school but it was demolished in the 1960s as it was was in such a poor state of repair. 

A traveller in 1829 wrote favourably of the village of Darley, “I passed through Darley, interesting as the seat of the extensive cotton and paper mills of the Messrs, Evans, and also as an exhibition of their unwearied philanthropy to their numerous work-people. The whole forms a neat town, displaying general comfort, with institutions of all kinds, for the improvement of the physical and moral condition of some hundred families.” 

The river Derwent flows through the park and it is an easy walk along the river into the centre of Derby. In the park, the walled garden is closed during the winter, although the rest of the park remains open throughout the year. Darley Park also has a Tree Trail that you can follow, which takes you past thirty different varieties of trees originating from all over the world, from the Purple Japanese Maple to the Tibetan Cherry.

Although the walled garden closes in the winter there are wildlife gardens to explore and many beautiful views.

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

The stone from the abbey was eagerly seized upon by local builders. Only the great 13th century east window remains, which probably has much to do with the ancient belief that if the arch fell the villagers would have to pay tithes. Today the abbey ruins are designated as an ancient monument.

Stone from the Abbey was used to build part of this house.

Parts of All Saints Church date back to 1150, when the hermit started to build his chapel and house on the site. The church is the only one in England to share its roof with a farm. At one time it shared it with the abbey infirmary and later with the Bluebell Inn, when the connecting door from the church was said to lead from ‘salvation to damnation’. 

The church is very unusual and nothing seems to quite fit, it has reputedly the largest chalice in England. The pulpit leans at a sharp angle and it is possible to sit in one of the box pews with your back to the minister.

Dale Abbey Church and Farm.

Hermit’s Wood is an ancient woodland and probably formed part of the original forest that once covered this area. It contains many fine beech and oak trees. Abundant wildlife and over 60 species of flowering plants have been recorded. The Hermit’s Cave is now designated as another Scheduled Ancient Monument, and it is worth taking a good look at the view from this point.

Tattle Hill in Dale Abbey is said to have got its name from neighbourly ‘tittle tattle’ amongst the householders. On this road is a thatched barn once the up-market residence of four cows.

Friar’s House in the village dates from about 1450 and is open on Sundays and Mondays trading as a cafe during normal times. To check their opening times please look at their website. Friar’s House Dale Abbey.

Friar’s House Dale Abbey

Lastly a few more photographs from our visit.

Dukes Quarries, Whatstandwell

I love walking along the Cromford Canal and this year have also started to explore woodland near the canal. It is possible to park near the Cromford Canal at Whatstandwell or in a couple of small parking places along Robin Hood Road. This area has a cluster of old stone quarries which started to be worked over 200 years ago. Most are now overgrown with trees and other vegetation, one however, Middle Hole Quarry is still working.

Yesterday we started our walk from Robin Hood Road, walking through a gate and down towards the canal. At this point there is a bridge over the canal named Sims Bridge. There is also an open area which has been tidied up I think by the Wildlife Trust. On the right is a small wall and behind it what looks like an old rubbish dump. I didn’t see any plastic but old Denby pottery, meat bones, thick glass bottles and leather shoes etc.

We carried on walking straight ahead on a path that started to climb gently uphill and then crossed Robin Hood Road following a footpath signposted Wakebridge. The weather was sunny but the way through the woods felt pleasantly cool. To the right of the path was plenty of evidence of previous quarrying.

There is something magical about a wood on a sunny day and lovely to see shafts of sunlight through the branches.

Continuing to walk upwards we passed a stream, the trees cleared and the path continued on to Wakebridge. At this point we turned around but it is a walk we will enjoy doing again.

There is much more information about this area on the Derwent Valley Mills website.

Spending time in the natural world is so good for both physical and mental health.