The Lovers' Walks are a series of footpaths both along the riverside and up and over the precipitous and spectacular cliffs.
Woodland still covers all but the paths of Lovers' Walks and is classified along with the High Tor woodlands as ancient, and has been designated as 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' by English Nature.
These woodlands also have wider recognition as they form part of the Peak District Dales Woodlands 'Special Area for Conservation' as they contain habitat which is rare or threatened within a European context and are considered to be one of the best UK examples of 'Tilio-Acerion forests of slopes and ravines'.
The Lovers' Walks are connected to Derwent Gardens on the opposite side of the River Derwent by a river bridge built in 1969. Derwent Gardens hosts the District Council's annual Matlock Bath Illuminations spectacular every autumn.
The Origin of Lovers' Walks
The original Lovers' Walks was created sometime prior 1742 and it is believed to be the oldest surviving example of a public pleasure ground and has been in continuous use since the 1740's. The Lovers' Walks, approximately three quarters of a mile in length, was reached via a ferryboat ride from below Bath Terrace.
The spectacular focal point for the original Lovers' Walks, was the Cascades, a natural outfall from a thermal spring into the river. Close to the viewing point for the Cascades, a further path was engineered, leading visitors 200 feet up and along the cliff. Contemporary accounts suggest that the original paths were adorned with decorative features such as urns and ornaments.
In 1782 Lovers' Walks was part of the estate purchased by Richard Arkwright, and included the land on which the family home, Willersley Castle was built. The Castle grounds were landscaped but separated from Lovers' Walks by a wall placed so the Cascade could be seen from both sides. Visitors wanting to complete the walk to Cromford were escorted through the gate in the wall by the Willersley gardener.
By 1785 Birdcage Walk was in existence, extending the Lovers' Walks northwards and adding another path to the top of the cliff, with rustic alcoves created at the top and bottom. It has been suggested that William Emes of Derby, the former Head Gardener at Kedleston Hall was responsible for this development.
Until the tree lined promenade along the riverside of the main street through Matlock Bath was completed and opened in 1887 Matlock Bath was hard pressed to cope with influx of day trippers brought by the railway. The Local Board leased land from FC Arkwright on the opposite side of the river to form the Jubilee Grounds. Circular walks were constructed, and in 1893 a bandstand was added. Matlock Bath and Scarthin Nick Urban District Council leased the Lovers' Walks in 1897 and in 1901 joined all of the separate walks together. Turnstiles were added in 1906 and an entry fee charged.
The Jubilee Grounds had been used from time to time for temporary attractions. From the 1920's there were aviaries and animal cages for wolves and monkeys, only ending in the 1950s. Since this time the Lovers' Walks have remained largely unchanged, until the recent renovation works via the Matlock Parks Project.
Also within Derbyshire Dales District Council's control are major parks at Ashbourne Recreation Ground and Bakewell Recreation Ground. Each caters for a range of sporting and recreational activities, as well as providing formal children's play areas, with splash pads.
In addition to the many recreational open spaces, the District Council also manages the picturesque grounds at High Tor above Matlock Dale and Derwent Gardens at Matlock Bath. In Bakewell is Bakewell Swimming Pool and Bath Gardens. Bakewell also boasts one of the largest farmers' markets in the whole of the UK, generally taking place on the last Saturday of the month at the District Council's Agricultural Business Centre.