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Follow an undulating off-road route between former coal mines transformed into peaceful lakes and parks.
Minimum time 3h30
Distance 11.5 miles (18.5km)
Suggested map OS Explorer 269 Chesterfield & Alfreton
Start/finish Tibshelf Ponds picnic area, grid ref SK 441600
Trails/tracks old railway and hard-surfaced tracks
Landscape mixed immature woodland, hay meadows and cornfields, with views across Derbyshire to the Peak District
Public toilets none on route
Tourist information Chesterfield, tel 01246 345777
Bike hire none near by
Recommended pub Weeping Ash Country Inn, Hardstoft, see Directions to pub, page 175
Notes Care to be taken at the road crossings. There are some short, steep climbs and some longer, gentler inclines
© Automobile Association 2008. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
From Chesterfield head south on the A61 through Clay Cross, turning on to the B6014 eastbound at Stretton (signed Tibshelf). At the edge of Tibshelf turn right on to the B6025, then very shortly left on the B6026 for Newton. In 300yds (274m) turn left into Shetland Road. In 500yds (457m) turn right into Sunny Bank. The car park is at the end of this road.
1 The Tibshelf Ponds picnic site, a popular place with locals and fishermen, is a picturesque mix of wooded glades, meadows and ponds where Tibshelf Colliery stood. The route is known as the Five Pits Trail, recalling busier days in this part of Derbyshire. Turn left from the car park, passing between ponds and up a short incline to a cross track. A Five Pits Trail board indicates the way back left, an initially rough path that soon meets a graded path, which you follow right. In a short distance you'll reach the rear of the Wheatsheaf pub and a descent beneath a road through an underpass. Rising again, turn right on to the compacted track. Crossing a rough lane, the way drops steeply down; don't speed, as the surface is badly rutted. This descent is matched by a long gradual climb and, soon, Hardstoft Lane picnic site.
2 Cross the road here, continuing along the firm track to reach Locko Plantation, planted in 1970, a mix of spruce, sweet chestnut and other strong growing species that clothe the remnants of the old spoil heaps at Pilsley Colliery. A very steep descent ends at a gate; carefully cross and pick up the trail opposite, rising again to cross Timber Lane into another picnic area. The track leaves left from the rear of this, rising gently to a junction. Here keep left, heading for Grassmoor. The next road crossing at the edge of Williamthorpe is rather busier, so take care here.
3 The next junction is at Wolfie Pond. Here, keep left for Grassmoor before forking right just before a gate. The open meadows here are typical of the reclaimed areas; more await you at Grassmoor Country Park, the end of the line. Spend time exploring the thickets, hay meadows and ponds before returning to an overbridge to commence the return journey.
4 A long, gradual climb returns you to Wolfie Pond, where you turn left for Williamthorpe. After a while pass through the outskirts of an industrial estate built on the site of another old colliery. A steep descent brings you to a wide bridge across a brook. Turn right along the wheelchair route, passing the large ponds before, at the far end, turning sharp left up an incline for Holmewood. Pause at the crossways at the top and look left to spot the distant, crooked spire of Chesterfield's parish church. Your way is right, soon reaching Holmewood Bridge. Dismount here, cross the bridge and rejoin the Five Pits Trail on the left, shortly crossing a busy road.
5 Pleasant woodland is superceded by cornfields and meadows before the outward route is rejoined at a junction. Follow signs for Tibshelf from here, crossing lanes with care.
6 Excellent views to the right (west) encompass the distant edge of the Peak District and the war memorial above Crich. Beyond the Wheatsheaf underpass, follow the trail back to Tibshelf Ponds, turning left at the lane to the car park.
Sparse remnants of the Derbyshire section of the old Yorks, Notts and Derby Coalfield are now a delightful string of picnic areas, fisheries, country parks and nature reserves interlinked by the Five Pits Trail. Reclamation and conservation efforts over the past 30 years have seen spoil tips and wasteland replaced by rich hay meadows and maturing woodland, while the areas of water have attracted upwards of 200 species of birds. The former collieries had a long death, with deep mines gradually being replaced by huge opencast workings, which had a lifespan of less than 20 years.
Today's landscape holds only the barest scars of these workings, and these are slowly being disguised. The cornfields and pastures, meadows and woodland are probably the greenest this area has been for 150 years. Mining still plays its part, however. The fine bird reserves at Williamthorpe Ponds are partially filled by water pumped up from old workings from miles around. This is at a constant 10°C, and in winter attracts countless water birds to a frost- and ice-free home.
This is a lovely ride along old railways and colliery tracks, long since reclaimed and now a green corridor between the resurgent pit villages of this part of Derbyshire. Excellent countryside and a fascinating heritage offer a moderately challenging route within sight of the edge of the Peak District.