The river Derwent arcs through the eastern Peak District in a wooded vale with looming moorland shoulders.
Tributaries tumble from the tops, foaming amid wizened woodlands little-changed in centuries. Padley Gorge has the best of these, draining Burbage Moor to the Derwent at Grindleford. An enchanting stroll explores this chasm, pausing midway along to route at a cosy inn, before looping up through woodland-shrouded industrial heritage.
Abandoned millstones are an incongruous sight in the woodland glades of Padley Gorge ©Getty
A surprising start
Opposite the car park at Surprise View, heathery paths lead half-left over shapely Owler Tor to a footbridge across Burbage Brook. Don’t cross it!
Instead, turn downstream (sign Padley Gorge) to the gate into the extraordinary Yarncliff Wood. Autumn in these woods of contorted sessile oak and lofty pines sees an explosion of colours, with the trees’ vibrant palette of reds countered by the greens of the mossy boulders littering the slopes. Look for impressive fungi, too. From the bottom of the gorge, an endless string of waterfalls adds rousing voice.
Ignore the fingerpost for Surprise View; then, as the main path starts up steps in another 250m, take the side path back-left. Drop to a stone bench, turn right and cross the footbridge below. From here, adhere to the path (at times steep and muddy) that rises right, up steps and then close above the torrent, to reach an access lane at Padley Mill.
No matter what the season, Padley Gorge is a magical place ©Getty
Grindleford Station (on the Manchester to Sheffield line) and Station Café are to the left, and up the hill is The Sir William pub – an 18th-century hotel, bar and restaurant.
Otherwise turn right past the old mill. Take the first-right track, rising to a gate. Some 50m beyond, fork left in front of the arched pumphouse on the path climbing amid trees. Go through a handgate (right) and uphill 40 paces, then left on a wide path.
Drift right up across this area of old workings, the upper levels of Bolehill Quarry where glorious open birch-woods have reclaimed the area.
An engaging grassy-track ramble beneath the wind-riffled yellowing foliage eventually reveals the astonishing sight of countless millstones littering the verges and deeper glades.
Millstones dot the forest floor ©Getty
This area was for centuries one of England’s premier sources of these stones, used mainly by corn-mills and the Sheffield cutlery industry. Alternative, higher-quality stones, then the advent of synthetic grinders, meant the industry died out almost overnight 80 years ago, with ready-worked stones simply abandoned in-situ. It’s a very unexpected and bizarre sight.
As the woodland and millstones end at a wide, spreading beech, turn sharp-right on a path (cast-iron valve-covers here) up to a moorland-edge stile. Keep ahead back to Surprise View.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Main image ©Getty