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Among the Aristocracy at Osmaston and Shirley Parks

To the south of the Peak National Park, two aristocratic estates provide gentle parkland walking.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 295ft (90m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Estate tracks and field paths, quite a few stiles

Landscape Park, woodland and farm pasture

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 259 Derby

Start/finish SK 200435

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads

Parking Osmaston village hall car park

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn right out of the car park, and follow the road past the Shoulder of Mutton to the village green and duck pond. Turn left and take the middle of three rights of way - marked 'Bridleway to Shirley'. The wide track descends among fields and though woodland.

2 Continue as the track reaches beyond Home Farm, which lies to the left, then follow it as it separates the two narrow lakes.

3 After passing an old water mill keep to the track ahead, which climbs up through the woodlands of Shirley Park. The track eventually becomes a tarmac lane, continuing towards Shirley.

4 The return path to Osmaston, highlighted by a Centenary Way (CW) waymarker, begins on the right, just before the village, but most walkers will want to take a look around the centre, if only for refreshment at the Saracens Head.

5 Return to previously-mentioned footpath, which begins in some steps. Beyond a stile it crosses a fenced off section of lawn, previously part of a garden belonging to the cottage on the left. Beyond a second stile the path follows a hedge on the left round the edge of three fields. It cuts diagonally across a fourth to a stile, beyond which you turn left to descend towards a wood, the southern extremity of Shirley Park.

6 Cross the footbridge over Shirley Brook and follow a muddy streamside path to another footbridge. Go over this and turn right into the woods on a path with another CW marker.

7 Beyond a gate at the edge of the woods, ignore the CW path on the right. Instead, leave the woods and follow a sunken track heading west of north west across fields and alongside a pleasant lake, the southernmost of the Osmaston Park lakes.

8 Where the sunken track fades maintain direction alongside the southern edge of a narrow strip of woodland. You are walking through the valley of Wyaston Brook and, although the path is invisible on the ground, the stiles in the cross-fences are all in place.

9 The bridleway from Wyaston Grove joins the route just beyond one of these stiles (grid ref 196423). Double-back right along it, passing some railings on the right and entering the woods. The bridleway track now climbs north east out of the valley and back into the estate of Osmaston Park. Follow it through the park, ignoring private tracks to the lodge. After passing through an avenue of lime trees it emerges by the village green. Turn left, by the duckpond, then right, back to the car park.

Osmaston is barely a few winding country lanes away from the buzzing traffic of Ashbourne, but it's just the unspoiled tranquil village you'd hope to find on a country walk. The moment you leave the car you will experience the slow tick-over of the place.

St Martin's Church was built in 1845 to replace a much earlier one. The parish register goes back to 1606. It's full of references to the Wright family, who for a long time were the local gentry and benefactors to the village. Francis Wright, the owner of the Butterley Iron Works, had Osmaston Hall built here in 1849. The hall itself was a mock-Tudor mansion and the gardens were landscaped. There's a memorial to him in Ashbourne's Market Place.

In 1964 the hall's owner, Sir John Walker, decided to demolish the place when he moved to Okeover and took the Okeover family name. However the grounds, Osmaston Park, are open to the public, and make a pleasing itinerary for the walker.

Across the road from the car park is a terrace of four thatched cottages, built to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. As you walk down the lane you pass the Shoulder of Mutton, a fine village pub with much promise for the end of the day, then some more of those thatched cottages, this time built with rustic tawny-coloured local bricks. These cottages are much older than the ones seen earlier and they're timber framed.

At the end of the lane there's a duck pond. Even the ducks seem less noisy in Osmaston. The walk enters the woodlands of Osmaston Park and threads between two of the estate's many lakes. On the other side there's an old mill, built in the style of an Austrian chalet and complete with a waterwheel. The path climbs though more woodland.

Shirley's another pretty village with its own aristocracy - Earl Ferrers and the Shirley family. Viscount Tamworth, the heir to Earl Ferrers, still lives in the village. From Shirley the walk turns back across fields and woods to Osmaston Park, reaching another of the estate's lakes. This one has the best setting, with a lush meadow surround and the occasional heron.

As you continue along the track heading north and back into the woods now, you'll see a peculiar-looking tower peeping out from the canopy of trees. It's 150ft (45m) tall and all that remains of Osmaston Hall. The tower was designed to accommodate all the hall's various chimneys in one single stack. With this odd sight still lingering in your thoughts the walk ends in fine 'lord of the manor' style as you walk down the hall's main drive, saluted by a fine avenue of lime trees.

While you're there

Why not have a look around Ashbourne, which proclaims itself to be the gateway to Dovedale. This bustling market town has many old buildings, including some fine old coaching inns. St Oswald's Church, with its 200ft (61m) plus spire and early 13th-century chancel, was described by George Eliot as 'the finest mere parish church in the kingdom'.

What to look for

The lakes are frequented by many birds, including grey heron, mallards, moorhens and many migratory wildfowl. The annual show of the Ashbourne Shire Horse Society is held in Osmaston Park in August.

Where to eat and drink

If it's a traditional Sunday lunch you're after try, the Shoulder of Mutton at Osmaston, a free house with real ales. The Saracen's Head at Shirley will be able to serve excellent tasty bar meals and Bass beer if you're partial to a meal or refreshment break in the middle of your walk.

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