Car-free guide: 48 hours in the Derwent Valley
Connecting charming towns and villages with an amazing industrial past, the Derwent Valley Line runs from Derby to Matlock.
Connecting charming towns and villages, each with an amazing industrial past, the Derwent Valley Line, operated by East Midlands Railway, runs through the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site – connecting the city of Derby with the spa town of Matlock, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution at Cromford and the award-winning market town of Belper.
From the station, take a short stroll to Crown Square, with its independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants; Matlock is especially renowned for its antique shops. Soak up the scenery at pretty Hall Leys park next to the River Derwent with its boating lake, riverside walks, tennis courts and skateboard park.
For a trip back in time, hop on a steam or diesel train operated by Peak Rail from Matlock to Rowsley, or delve into the town’s heritage on one of the popular Town Trail walks and look out for Blue plaques along the way, explaining the fascinating stories behind some of the town’s most historic buildings.
Take a cable-car to The Heights of Abraham
Catch the train to Matlock Bath for a cable-car adventure at The Heights of Abraham.
Just a 3-minute train ride from Matlock, Matlock Bath is often called ‘the seaside town without the sea’. Just a short walk from the train station is the cable car station for the award-winning Heights of Abraham clifftop country park.
Enjoy a cable car ride across a deep limestone gorge to the 60-acre park where you can soak up the panoramic views of the Derwent Valley, discover adventure playgrounds and woodland trails and tour the show caverns.
If you've worked up an appetite, you can enjoy lunch with a view in the Vista Restaurant & Bar.
Discover Cromford Mills
Take the train to Cromford at the heart of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Just a 3-minute train ride from Matlock Bath, Cromford is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern factory system. It’s also famous in more recent history: Cromford Railway station featured on the sleeve artwork of Oasis’ single ‘Some Might Say’! Admire the world's first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill at Cromford, built in 1771 by Sir Richard Arkwright, and discover the captivating story of how the Derwent Valley changed the world.
Walk along Cromford Canal
Now a picturesque and relaxing place to go for a countryside walk, Cromford Canal was once a buzzing hub of Derbyshire’s industry.
With 5 miles to explore along the towpath, the canal is rich in wildlife and is designated as a site of special scientific interest. Look out for water vole, a threatened and declining species, and for grass snakes, little grebes, moorhen and coots.
Access the Canal at Cromford Wharf and enjoy the gentle, easy stroll towards High Peak Junction, where there is a small shop offering refreshments.
Great places to eat and drink
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, back in Matlock you’ll find a great selection of places to rest and recharge, such as bod cafe and bar, the Remarkable Hare restaurant and Mad Hatter tea rooms, plus a vibrant nightlife scene with popular spots such as Monk cocktail bar and the Tipsy Toad.
Spend the night in a cosy cottage
Places to stay nearby include the characterful Carpenter's Cottage, situated in a sensitively converted 18th-century flour mill complex in what was originally the carpenter's workshop. With three bedrooms, the self-catering accommodation is warm, light and spacious with a sunny garden.
Discover 100 years of motoring at Great British Car Journey
Discover 100 years of motoring history at the Great British Car Journey. From Ambergate station, it's a 15-minute walk to your destination at the old Johnson & Nephew Wire Works, a riverside industrial site that has been given a new lease of live through the opening of wo excellent visitor attractions.
Great British Car Journey features over 100 classic British cars from the days of the Austin Seven up to the latest McLaren. Discover their stories through the latest interactive technology on an audio tour (there's a special child-friendly tour too), before enjoying tasty refreshments in the on-site cafe.
Tour White Peak Distillery
Just across the River Derwent is a true hidden gem: the first full-scale, craft distillery in the Peak District region. Founded by local couple, Max and Claire Vaughan, the Distillery is located in the former Johnson & Nephew Wire Works in Ambergate and celebrates the rich riverside and industrial landscape of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. On their Distillery tasting tours you can sample the award-winning Shining Cliff gin, learn about the whisky distilling process, and try their brand-new whisky which launched in 2022.
Explore one of Britain's best High Streets
Birthplace of the world's ground-breaking skyscraper technology, Belper has a rich industrial history and lies at the heart of the World Heritage Site. More recently, the town has been crowned Winner of the Great British High Street Awards - making it the perfect place for some retail therapy. Take a town walk to appreciate sights such as Long Row and The Clusters, the Nail Makers Workshop and St John's Chapel, the oldest building in the town and home to Belper Heritage Centre.
Hire a boat at Belper River Gardens
Just a 10-minute walk from the High Street, towards the imposing East Mill, round off your trip with a tranquil boat or pedalo ride at the pretty Belper River Gardens. These unique riverside gardens have been offering visitors a tranquil setting to view the River Derwent for over 100 years, providing the perfect spot to rest and relax following your railway adventure.
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