Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount
Car-free in and around Derbykindly supported by East Midlands Airport
Discover Derby’s award-winning riverside pubs and brick textile mills, its light-filled cathedral and green parks. This is a city with Roman origins and a rich Victorian heritage. It’s a birthplace of the industrial revolution, a centre for craft breweries, and a gateway to the beautiful landscape of the Peak District. In nearby towns, you can explore the underground tunnels of old tin mines near Matlock, glide down the Cromford Canal on a narrowboat or meet massive shire horses at the National Brewery Centre. Trains arrive from all over the UK, from Cardiff and Edinburgh, Birmingham and London, Southampton and Plymouth. And from East Midlands Aiport, the Skylink bus takes just 40 minutes.
1. Explore the Derwent Valley
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fast-flowing River Derwent powered a series of important factories that are now part of a huge UNESCO World Heritage site. Regular trains and buses head north from Derby towards Matlock Bath through this historic valley and you can get cheaper entry to various attractions when you arrive without a car.
- The “sixes” bus route links Derby with the Ecclesbourne Valley heritage railway, the indie shops and the historic mills at Belper and several other great market towns.
- A zigzag ticket (costing £6.50) gives you a day’s unlimited travel on Trentbarton buses and the company has produced a guide to help you explore the valley.
- The Derwent Valley railway line also has hourly trains and costs £6.40 for a day return, allowing you to hop on and off at any stations on the way and get discounts at various attractions, including free entry for an accompanying child at Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills.
- The railway crosses the River Derwent ten times between Derby and Matlock Bath and runs beside it for much of the route, through ancient woods and fields of sheep.
- The Derwent Valley rail partnership has also created a handy guide to the area and there is a Heritage Way along the river: ten scenic station to station walks of four to seven miles each.
2. Fly to the Heights of Abraham
The cable car that carries visitors from Matlock Bath to the top of the neighbouring cliffs first operated in 1984 and is now one of the area’s iconic attractions. The wooded park at the top of the crag has been drawing visitors for much longer. Opened as a pleasure ground in the late 18th-century, it still boasts a Victorian summerhouse and panoramic viewing tower. It’s easy to get to and offers 20% off for visitors who arrive by bus or train.
- From Matlock Bath station, or the nearby “sixes” bus stop, simply cross the railway and follow the tarmac path for a couple of minutes to find the way into the Heights of Abraham park.
- Alpine-style cable cars head up, past fabulous views, into the wooded hills and, when you reach the top, the adventure is just beginning. There are two entertaining underground cavern tours, introducing you to Derbyshire’s geology, history and industrial heritage.
- The Masson Cavern involves climbing 170-odd steps, through the tunnels and chambers of former lead mines that are always a moist and chilly seven degrees, no matter what the temperature outside.
- Afterwards, you can explore Matlock Bath. Derbyshire’s county town. Popular with Victorian visitors (including Queen Victoria herself), the whole area has a nostalgic feel.
- You could try a traditional Derbyshire oatcake (a delicious savoury pancake) at the retro When the Clock Strikes 3 café in Matlock Bath.
- Or book a cruise along the canal on the community narrowboat Birdswood, moored five minutes away from Cromford station, near Cromford Mills; or travel back in time to Crich Tramway village. Crich is a steep mile’s walk uphill from Whatstandwell station or there are direct buses from Matlock. Visitors arriving by train get £1 off boat trips and group rate entry to the Tramway village.
3. Royal Crown Derby
From porcelain peacocks to Royal Wedding souvenirs, from opulent gold and turquoise to minimalist abstract designs, Derby’s tradition of fine bone china is alive and well. This aspect of Derbyshire’s industrial heritage is on show at the Royal Crown Derby factory, just ten minutes’ walk from Derby railway station. An exhibition tells the company’s story with some rare and early ceramics. You can tour the factory and have lunch in the 1750 tearoom.
- From Derby railway station, walk straight ahead along station road, turn left into London Road and right into Oxford Street. Keep straight past the hospital and you’ll see the red brick factory ahead of you, with a crown on the roof.
- You can buy plates and cups from discontinued lines, with tiny imperfections, in the shop at an 80% discount.
- The tea room menu features a signature Royal Crown Derby tea loaf with butter for £3.50 or a full afternoon tea for £15 with a choice of cakes, sandwiches and – of course – a scone with jam and cream.
- Nearby, the Victorian aboretum is a shady place to stroll past the roses, chestnuts and copper beeches, past a 19th-century sculpture of a boar.
- With a statue of its creator Joseph Strutt over the ornamental gateway, the aboretum was Britain’s first purpose-designed urban park and helped inspire New York’s Central Park.