This is the first in a series of occasional blog articles featuring our favourite photography walks. Living in Derbyshire for many years and enjoying the great outdoors, it was not long before we built up a whole catalogue of walks ranging from leisurely to strenuous. Many of these routes are walked on a regular basis, in all seasons and weather, and always accompanied with camera gear. I prefer walking in winter and autumn as the light and colours often make more interesting images. Note that these articles are not intended as a walking guide, but are just an indicator as to where to find a walk that we found photographically interesting. Many are what we have made up ourselves, although I am pretty certain some will overlap with those found in walking guides. I am constantly surprised how the same walk can appear so different at different times of the year, and in different conditions – they provide a constant source of new material. Please refer to a good map to plan a precise route and apply the usual common sense regarding warm clothing and food/drink as some locations are exposed.
The woods that rear up behind Chatsworth House are often overlooked by visitors to the house and gardens, with the exception of the Hunting Lodge that rises through the trees toward the top of the hill. Here, visitors to the house can be ferried up and down the winding tarmac road and take in spectacular views across the estate toward the hills beyond.
For those who are a little more adventurous, superb walks can be found along the maze of paths that criss-cross the woodland. Sometimes muddy, often slippery, this network provides acres of solace from the masses and very interesting subject matter for photographers. And some of the wildlife can be surprising too – on more than one occasion I have come face to face with Deer who occasionally wander from the open pastureland surrounding the house.
The duration of any walk through the woods varies considerably, depending on which paths are taken and, of course, how much photography is done. I always allow a minimum of four hours but prefer to take more time than this when conditions are exceptional, such as a recent snowfall or on a frosty autumnal day. I once spent a bitterly cold winter evening roaming the area until it was completely dark as a spectacular sunset threw magical light onto snow laden tree bows. Once the afterglow had fled the sky, it was a precarious walk out of the woodland but worth every minute.
We tend not to start our walk from the main car park adjacent to the house and opt for a much quieter location on the Beeley to Chesterfield road that snakes up the hillside a couple of miles to the south of Chatsworth. Parking is along roadside verges, easily identified in the summer by the presence of an Ice Cream van parked at the entrance of an unsurfaced road that forms the beginning of the walk.
With boots on and armed with my camera gear, I set off down this old pot-holed route that runs behind a fir tree plantation leading eventually to the valley below. After a short walk along here a high stile straddling a gritstone wall allows access onto a stretch of open moorland along which another very old track leads eventually to the southern perimeter of Chatsworth Woodland. One of the reasons I favour this approach is that superb vistas across the open valley can be captured from along the edge of the moorland. Also, this is a superb place to photograph cloud inversion layers that settle across the Derwent Valley on cold mornings. For those people who are archaeologically minded, another bonus awaits; set back in the bracken is one of the Peak District’s lesser known Neolithic stone circles. It can be a challenge to find in the summer as the standing stones are small and concealed by bracken. However it is much easier to spot (use an OS map for the precise location) during winter months. I have many pictures taken of this little piece of our ancient heritage, usually made when an interesting sky presents itself that contrasts well with the bleakness of open moorland.
Chatsworth Wood is accessed by climbing over another high stile next to a large gate and, when visited in Autumn, the approach is stunningly beautiful due to the presence of several mature beech trees. This is best photographed in the morning as the sun’s rays light the foliage beautifully and highlight those wonderful shades of russet and copper.
From here a well-defined path soon turns into a road that forks; down leads directly to the house while straight on is a far more interesting route. From the road many paths lead into the woodland and it is worth exploring at least a few of these as they lead to centuries old trees and odd follies such as aqueducts, ponds and waterfalls…all of which are wonderfully photogenic.
The road eventually leads to Swiss Lake which makes a great coffee stop and offers fine views across to a small cottage on the far bank. Further down the same road a second lake appears that is home to many wildfowl including the occasional Heron. Following this road further leads to the Hunting Tower mentioned at the beginning of this article. From here there are several paths meandering back into the woods and down to the House. Most of the time I tend to stay in the woods and work my way back to the open moorland, retracing my steps back to the car. Sometimes I walk down to the house, head through the car park and across the bridge that spans the Derwent. Turning left here offers some great views of the house, particularly at the end of the day when the soft light adds warmth to the façade. Large groups of deer also roam this area so if you are lucky enough to see them, this is the time to attach your long lens.
Following the path along the river eventually leads to the remains of an old house located on the perimeter of the estate. Join the main road, over the bridge and turn first left by a cottage onto an unsurfaced road. This is the same road encountered at the start of the walk, therefore following this for a mile or so leads the walker back to their car.