The Coffin Walk - Part 01
w/e 18 March 2012
All this week's pictures were taken with a Kodak DX6490

Despite its rather forbidding name, the Coffin Walk is a pleasant circuit from Breaston towards Wilne which then circles Draycott and returns to Breaston via the route of the former Derby Canal. A leaflet published in March 2000 was updated and reissued in a new slimmer format by Groundwork Derby and Derbyshire in 2011. Both versions (left) describe the route which is about five miles in length and include a map as well as information about various points of interest on the way.

We have walked the route several times previously and in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions usually as part of a group during the Autumn Footprints Walking Festival each September. For the purposes of this series, we will follow the clockwise directions as described in the leaflets beginning at The Green (right) in the centre of Breaston. The Green is actually a car park with a two hour time limit but as the leaflets advise allowing up to three hours to complete the walk, motorists need to find alternative parking in the village or make use of the frequent bus service that passes through. Or, as we are doing, walk it in stages ....

St Michael's Church

Church ViewDirectly across from The Green is St Michael's Church. The church dates from the early thirteenth century and was probably originally built in the reign of King John. Originally it was a "Chapel of Ease" to nearby Sawley and only mass was said in the church. This meant that other services such as weddings, baptisms and funerals had to be conducted in St Chad's Church at Wilne. It also meant that coffins had to be carried across the fields to Wilne along the route which now forms the first part of our walk and which gave rise to the name of the Coffin Walk. We begin the walk by the side of the church in Church View (right).

There is a full history of the church on the St Michael's Church website.
Stile No. 1

Although we start in the centre of the village we are immediately in the open countryside after climbing the stile at the bottom of Church View. This is the first of five stiles within the first half mile or so.
Double Stile

The second stile is actually a double stile through the hedge into the next field. Although there is open countryside to the left, the path runs along the boundaries of the properties in Breaston and to the right there are gardens, orchards and even enclosures for poultry.
Jacob Sheep

And against the fence bounding the next field we passed three Jacob sheep that were huddled together and gave us nothing more than an inquisitive glance.

Stile No. 4Stile No. 5The animal life continued in the next field after crossing the third stile (left) where the diagonal route was patrolled by this pony who stood like an equine guardian of the footpath. As he was not going to move we detoured around him and continued to the fifth stile (right) and onto a bridleway used not only by pedestrians but also by horseriders and cyclists too. The thought crossed my mind that if these stiles were in situ when the coffins were carried this way there must have been a lot of stops and starts.

BrookRailway CrossingSo in less than half a mile we've already seen a variety of animals and clambered over five stiles but there is an alternative beginning to this walk that misses all of those. That is via Marlborough Avenue from the bottom of which the bridleway can be joined. The bridleway swings round to the left, crosses a brook (left) to reach the railway line (right) where the leaflets warn to "Beware of Trains!"
Heading Southwest

After carefully crossing the railway lines the path continues to the southwest between hedges on both sides. On the left a bank rises behind the hedge to obscure the view of Church Wilne Reservoir. Construction of the reservoir and treatment works began in 1967 as part of a Derwent Valley scheme to take about six million gallons of water a day from the River Derwent to supply Nottingham.
Ridge & Furrow

To the right of the path and seen with some difficulty through the hedge is a feature that goes back way beyond 1967 to mediaeval times with an excellent example of a ridge and furrow open field system.
Coffin Stone

Coffin Stone information plaqueA little way after the railway crossing a plaque is fixed to the fence above a large broken stone slab. The plaque is headed "Coffin Stone" and alongside the illustrations relates how coffins had to be carried along the "Coffin Walk" or "Corpse Way"to St Chad's prior to the consecration of St Michael's in 1824. It continues: "Coffin Stones provided somewhere for the coffin to be placed whilst the bearers paused on the two mile journey. Historically located near here, and originally in one piece, this stone is believed to have been the top slab of one such temporary resting place."
Wilne Cross

After the Coffin Stone the bridleway (left) continues towards Church Wilne and in about three quarters of a mile from the start of the walk reaches Sawley Road (right) at a place called Wilne Cross. I regret that I have been unable to determine whether the name just refers to the crossing of the road by the bridleway or whether an ancient cross once stood here. I suspect the latter as the name "Wilne Cross" appears on maps although I have yet to find any evidence of such on the ground.

Forward to Part 02

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