The industrial landscape around Clay Cross has been transformed by reclamation of old colliery land.
Distance 5.6 miles (9km)
Minimum time 4hrs
Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Good surfaced tracks
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 269 Chesterfield and Alfreton
Start/finish SK 430624
Dog friendliness Good, though watch out for bicycle riders
Parking Pilsley Five Pits Trail car park
Public toilets None on route
1 Across the road from the car park, follow a surfaced track, clearly marked the Five Pits Way, and head northwards with recently planted trees to the right and rolling fields to the left. On reaching some pines at the edge of the Locko Plantation, the path descends through shady bowers to cross Locko Lane. It continues north, entering Broomridding Wood, which was once used for making charcoal for a neighbouring iron foundry.
2 On reaching Timber Lane, go through the car park, then turn left across more farm pastures. Take the right fork track, signposted 'the Five Pits - Holmewood', which eventually reaches Tibshelf Road. The continuing track is staggered slightly left across the road. The old Holmewood Colliery was sited on the left - it's now an industrial estate. Take the left fork, a narrow path, to the A6175 (Heath Road) at Holmewood.
3 Cross the road and head down Devonshire Road. Go over the road bridge, then turn left along a waymarked route, passing to the right of a modern industrial estate into recently planted woodland. The track arcs left, and the twisted spire of Chesterfield's church comes into view in the distance. At a crossroads of tracks, turn left, following the Grassmoor wheelchair route, down towards the Williamthorpe Ponds.
4 The route doubles back right on a track climbing above the west shores of the ponds, then by one of the outflow leats. At the next T-junction of tracks, turn left to head south west. To the right the flattened spoil heaps of the old tip are now covered with the saplings of rowan, sycamore and beech, with colourful broom lining the track. Take the left fork past the huge sheds of an industrial estate. The track goes under a road bridge, passes to the left of a small pool, then right of Wolfie Pond. When I was here last there was a young mute swan foraging in the rushes, a few mallards and a score of Canada geese competing with the local anglers for a catch.
5 Just beyond the pool, turn sharply to the left, following the track between North Wingfield and Highfield. Cross the busy A6175 with care and go through the gate on the other side. The track soon bends sharp left, then sharp right to meet the outward route 400yds (366m) north of Timber Lane. Follow the route back to the car park at Pilsley.
Look at an old map of Clay Cross and you'll see numerous collieries and a network of railway lines and sidings serving them. Before the decline of the 1970s and 80s coal played a big part in the lives of north east Derbyshire folk, and the pits' closures hit them hard. Sadly, in an age when industrial heritage sites are promoted as tourist attractions, not even an old pit wheel seems to have been left to remind us of this proud but dangerous industrial legacy.
Between 1979 and 1989 Derbyshire County Council reclaimed the vast acres of derelict, former colliery land by planting trees and creating fine habitats for wildlife. They have also created theFive Pits Trail, a linear recreational bridleway, with a loop route around Holmewood. Using the trackbeds of the old railways and sidings the route links the pits of Tibshelf and Grassmoor, and passes through those of Pilsley, Holmewood and Williamthorpe.
To save using two cars, this walk starts at Pilsley, north of Tibshelf, and does the loop round Holmewood before returning to base. The walk begins at the site of Pilsley Station on the old Great Central Railway, which carried coal from the pits to London. The nearby terraced houses were built for the railway's staff.
There are three fascinating buildings in the region. Strangest is the gaunt hilltop castle of Bolsover, which can be seen for miles around. Built in the early 17th century for Charles Cavendish, it replaced a Norman castle built by William Peverel. Sutton Scarsdale Hall, a grand Baroque mansion, is now a shell but was built in 1724 for the 4th Earl of Scarsdale. The six-towered Hardwick Hall, owned by the National Trust, was built in 1590 for Bess of Hardwick. This replaced the house of her birth, the old hall, which lies in ruins in the same grounds.
There are no good pubs on the route of this walk, but it's worth a detour at the end of the day to the Winsick Arms in the nearby village of Winsick. Here you'll find they serve a range of good real ales, including Boddingtons and Flowers and excellent traditional English food which includes a highly commendable steak and kidney pie.
The Williamthorpe Ponds once provided a head of water for the the pit engine. They have now been transformed into the centrepiece of an excellent nature reserve. Surrounded by scrub, bull rushes and wetland plants they support an ever-growing number of wildfowl. The facilities include a viewing hide, so it's well worth taking your binoculars.