17 reasons to visit the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site
Some of the best things to do and places to visit in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Did you know that Derbyshire is home to the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the East Midlands?
Amid breathtaking Derbyshire countryside the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site follows the River Derwent from Matlock Bath in the north, to the city of Derby in the south. It includes a series of historic mill complexes, river weirs, villages and rail and canal ways – providing a fascinating insight into life at the time of the Industrial Revolution.
There’s so much to see you do you’ll want to visit again and again. Here's our round-up of some of the best things to do in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Say hello to Mr Arkwright
Visit the birthplace of the modern factory system, Cromford Mills. Learn about its amazing history on a guided tour and meet Arkwright himself. With regular Artisan markets and independent shops to explore it’s a great place to find some marvellous items from local makers and producers.
Have-a-go at being a blacksmith
There are regular forge days at High Peak Junction in Cromford where you can try your hand as a blacksmith on the historic forge and make a poker to take home and keep. Booking is essential - for dates and more details visit the website, participants must be 11+ years old.
Paddle along the valley
For the more adventurous how about hiring a canoe and going for a paddle along the River Derwent? Peaks & Paddles offer an awesome 4 mile canoe trip experience down the lovely river from Darley Bridge to Matlock Bath. A fun way to explore the valley and admire the stunning views.
Experience the power of a great steam engine
Leawood Pumphouse houses a magnificent steam pump engine built in 1849 and it is still in working order, capable of pulling tons of water from the river into the canal. Run by a team of dedicated volunteers, you can see it working in full team one weekend every month until October.
Browse Scarthin Books – a glorious bookshop in Cromford
One of Britain’s finest and quirkiest bookshops, beautifully positioned by the village pond. Lose yourself amongst the rooms full of new and old books, enjoy a coffee in its delightful café and discover what can best be described as a small exhibition of curiosities on the first floor. Scarthin Books has been selling new and second-hand books for nearly 50 years.
Take a Heritage Walk along the Cromford Canal
Built in the 1790s the canal is now a rich haven for plants and wildlife. A pleasant way to wile away an afternoon and discover the heritage along the valley.
Discover the valley by barge
A wonderful alternative to walking the towpaths is ‘Birdswood’, the Friends of Cromford Canal trip boat, entirely run by volunteers. Come and enjoy a peaceful journey along the canal, introduced by a booming announcement from the Friends’ President, Brian Blessed.
Treat yourself to a little luxury in the Factory Shop at John Smedley’s Mill
John Smedley have been creators of the World Finest Knitwear since 1784, and suppliers to the royal household since 2012. The mill at Lea Bridge is where they continue to craft their luxury knitwear and their iconic collections can be found in the Factory Shop, where you’ll find some great discounts.
Row, row, row a boat
Belper River Gardens have been offering a tranquil setting to visitors for over 100 years. Adjacent to Strutt’s historic mills, the beautiful formal gardens also have a newly opened tearooms. On a sunny day there’s no better way to enjoy the gardens than hiring a rowing boat for a leisurely row along the river.
Try a spot of shopping on the famous high street in Belper
The historic town of Belper has twice been the winner in the Great British High Street Awards. The town is packed full of independent businesses and you’ll find plenty of wonderful cafés if you need to stop for some light refreshment.
All day breakfast at Nourish in Belper
Try the Nourish Full English Breakfast, with sausages and bacon locally sourced from Coates butchers. A breakfast fit for a king which will fuel you for a day of exploring in the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site. Nourish offers delicious all day dining and drinks in a stylish Bistro setting. By day it’s a busy coffee society style café, by night it becomes a relaxed informal candle lit bistro with live music weekends and a garden terrace.
Follow in the bike track of the Hairy Bikers
Visit the historic Heage Windmill and buy some wholemeal flour. Built in 1797, the windmill is the only working six-sailed stone tower windmill in England. The flour is stoneground at the mill from wheat grown in the UK, harvested in a traditional way, free from synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. The grain is passed directly through the millstones and what comes through is wholemeal flour. Nothing is added, nothing is taken away.
Stop off at the Holly Bush for a pint
A family run pub and a hub for real ale drinkers and walkers alike, just a 10 minute walk from the Milford bridge across the River Derwent. The pub is a traditional 17th century village inn, where highwayman Dick Turpin is reported to have frequented on his travels. An unspoilt inn, where time has stood still. With fresh homecooked food, a selection of fine real ales and warmth from the open fires, there is much to tempt you.
Sip a little Sangria at Lorentes Tapas and Wine Bar
Nestled in the beautiful surroundings of Darley Abbey Mills, the most complete 18th century cotton mill complex in the world, built by the Evans family. Lorentes brings a little Spanish flavour to this historic site, alongside a picturesque weir and with views of the river. The many buildings across the site now have new uses from cafes, restaurants and a wedding venue to digital engineering.
Picnic in Darley Park
Enjoy the open space of unspoilt parkland and dine alfresco. Once part of the Evans family estate, Darley Park has fine views of nearby Derby city and the National Hydrangea Collection in the former walled garden.
Hop onboard the Derby Riverboat and sail along the river towards Darley Abbey
The 45 minute cruise will depart from Causey Bridge in Derby. Whilst aboard you will learn about the river, the wildlife and Derby’s place in history. The boat is electrically powered from solar panels and designed with the environment in mind. So simply sit back on the open air foredeck and enjoy the sun and sights of the Museum of Making, Darley Park and the Derwent Valley and look out for our resident kingfishers.
Enjoy a scenic train ride on the Derwent Valley Line
Travelling by train is a great way to explore the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, passing through the picturesque and historic landscape. Visit Belper and Cromford before travelling onto the spa towns of Matlock Bath and Matlock. Download a copy of this illustrated guide ‘Views from the Train Window’ which highlights what to look out for on your journey from Derby.
More great things to see & do
Celebrating the area’s rich history of innovation, the Museum of Making in the Derby Silk Mill.
A great walk around the historic village of Cromford.
Established in 2016, White Peak Distillery is the first full-scale, craft distillery in the Peak District region.
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