BELPER RIVER GARDENS
The River Gardens at Belper hide away from the public gaze behind a brick wall on the A6. The main entrance opposite East Mill, is unimpressive and very easily overlooked by the traveller. This is a pity as many people miss an unexpected delight. Access to the River Gardens is now possible from Strutt's North Mill, past the semi-circular weir. In the gardens you will find flowerbeds, an arboretum, a bandstand, water gardens, childrenís playground and boating facilities.
In 1905, George Herbert Strutt agreed that the river above the weir should be used for recreational purposes and a boathouse and landing stages were built. On land that had previously been used to grow osiers to make baskets for use in the mill. The opening of the boathouse took place later that year on the 4th July, and the venture was so successful that it was decided to make more land available for public use.
A new entrance was built, paths were laid, the ground landscaped and an arboretum created. Refreshment facilities were provided in a Swiss style tearoom, and a promenade was built at the water's edge with plenty of seating to enable visitors to relax and enjoy the view. On Easter Monday the 6 April 1906, the River Gardens were officially opened, when 6,000 people attended. One hundred years later a number of special events were organised to celebrate the gardens centenary.
The success of the boating side of the enterprise led to Strutt appointing an experienced boatkeeper from the Isle of Skye. He was, John MacArthur, the great-great-grandfather of the famous yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur, the youngest person ever to receive the honour. She shot to fame after finishing second in the gruelling Vendťe Globe single-handed Round the World race. Then in early 2005, Ellen completed her bid to break the record for the fastest person to sail single-handedly around the world, beating the previous record set by Frenchman Francis Joyon of 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds.
In 1918, Strutt gave the gardens to the English Sewing Company and they in turn gave them to the town 48 years later. The gardens have been the home of Belper Well Dressings Festival, since 1997. Visitor's can easily combine a visit to the River Gardens with a guided tour of the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre situated in North Mill where superb displays of hand spinning wheels, Hargreavesís Spinning Jenny and many more exhibits bring this old mill back to life. Belper is a very important part of the Derwent Valley, which is universally recognised as the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution and now holds World Heritage Status.
The gardens are easily accessible by both bus and rail and for those that come by car there is a car park in the River Gardens. The journey from Derby on the train only takes 12 minutes and there is an hourly Transpeak service from Manchester, Nottingham and Derby. Local service buses run on a regular basis.
For more information contact Strutt's North Mill, home of the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre, Bridgefoot, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1YD (Tel. 01773 880474, Website www.belpernorthmill.org.uk). The nearest Tourism Information Centre is at Ripley, which can be contacted on telephone number 01773 841488 or by visiting the Amber Valley Borough Council website at: www.visitambervalley.com.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
St. Johnís Chapel Heritage Centre: (Tel. 01773 822116) dates back to about 1250, contains an interesting collection of old photographs of Belper and memorabilia. Open weekdays 9.30am to 12.30pm. Also open the last Saturday in the month. See feature.
Derwent Valley Visitor Centre: (Tel: 01773 880474) situated in Strutt's, North Mill where superb displays of hand spinning wheels, Hargreavesís Spinning Jenny and many more exhibits bring this old mill back to life. See feature.
Heage Windmill, (Tel. 01773 853579 - when mill closed telephone 01773 853136) a Grade II listed building, is the only working, stone-towered, multi-sailed windmill in England. Spectacular views across the Derwent Valley. Visitor Centre and shop. Light refreshments. See feature.
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