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Winter Walks at Hardwick Park by Laura Rowan - Derby Days Out

Winter Walks at Hardwick Park by Laura Rowan

I like winter. Snow-covered landscapes and frosty mornings, warming winter stews and hot chocolate to drink after a long walk. But snow and frost don’t grace us every winter’s day, many winter days are just overcast with drizzly rain and sharp winds. As a family, we often find ourselves gazing out of the window at ominous looking clouds, thinking “can we be bothered to go out for a walk today?” The answer is usually yes, because getting outdoors to stretch our legs benefits our wellbeing and we always feel good afterwards. Living in a semi-rural village we have lots of local green spaces to visit, one of which is The National Trust’s Hardwick Hall and Park. Early on winter mornings with frost and low hanging mist, the park is incredibly beautiful. If you can visit when it has snowed, it looks wonderful.

 

 

Hardwick Hall (and the Old Hall ruins) is an Elizabethan house built by Derbyshire native Bess of Hardwick, and it sits at the top of a hill surrounded by 2000 acres of parkland. There are numerous walks that explore the landscape in both the upper and lower parkland, from lengthy treks to gentle strolls. Walks are sign-posted or you can wander at your leisure across the landscape. It can get quite muddy in places, so pack your wellies or winter walking boots. There are Long-Horn cattle, and sheep roaming through the park, so dogs must be on a lead. 

The upper parkland is nearest to the hall and offers the best views across the lower park and surrounding countryside. It’s said that Bess once stated that she owned all the eye could see, which, based on the views from the park, is a lot of land. 

 

 

At the hall is the main car park (there is further parking in the Lower Park), stable yard and restaurant. Adjacent to the main car park you can find Lady Spencer’s Walk, a short and mostly flat, stroll through beautiful woodlands with towering trees, and play-spaces for children. There is a wonderful fallen giant tree stump for kids to scramble over, a swing and mini obstacle course amongst others to keep little ones entertained for a while. Dotted throughout are picnic tables to pause at and have some lunch. Look for snowdrops, vibrant mosses and fungi on the trees. Spot different bugs on tree stumps, or build a den from the many fallen branches in the woods. At the end of the woodland, the path becomes steep with some steps and hills to negotiate which are okay for most kids but not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs. If you follow this path down the steps and beyond, you can do a circuit around the park (The Oak Walk; about 2 hours), or for a shorter walk you can join the access road which takes you back towards the car park. This road offers fabulous views towards Ault Hucknall and Stainsby.

 

From the upper parkland you can wander down to the lower park via footpaths over grassland or by following the exit road down towards the Hardwick Inn pub, a sixteenth century historic coaching Inn. The Lower Park is home to the Great Pond, Row Ponds, Millers Pond and patches of woodlands. The ponds are thought to have originated as medieval fishing ponds. It is also close to the M1, although this doesn’t distract from the beauty of the place and little ones who like lorries will enjoy the occasional glimpse through the trees of a truck passing by. The walks around the ponds are fantastically muddy during wintertime, especially between the Row Ponds (where I have slipped over more than once!) Keep a lookout for swans, geese and gulls gliding on the water, the odd squirrel amongst the trees. See if you can spot the entrance to the Victorian Ice House (look for red bricks).  You may be lucky and find tracks of foxes, badgers or deer in the mud. There are tree stumps and play areas for kids to clamber over, and picnic tables and benches to rest at - albeit often quite damp during the winter. We take carrier bags to sit on. The sign-posted walks here are very easy to follow and range from about 50 minutes to an hour and a half, over some hilly ground. Our favourite walk is to do a circuit, taking in the ponds of the Lower Park and up to Lady Spencer’s wood, finishing with coffee and cake either at the hall or the Inn. The 12year old’s favourite thing about a walk at Hardwick Park: “I like the trees, a cheese scone at the restaurant and a milkshake at Hardwick Inn.”

 Hardwick Hall and Gardens can be accessed from the parkland, fees apply if you are not a member of the National Trust, and are open now. During school holidays there are usually children’s activities in the stable yard (fee applies). Hardwick Old Hall (English Heritage) is currently closed for conservation work, but you can still see a glimpse into the remains. 

Parking and facilities

Upper Park: main car park (fees apply, free for NT members), with toilets, restaurant and shop in the stable yard. Dogs are allowed in the Reynolds room of the restaurant.

Lower Park: car park (fees apply, free for NT members), toilets in the small visitors centre. Food, drink and customer toilets can be found at the Hardwick Inn pub which has a stable bar and plenty of outdoor and indoor seating.

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