Willersley Castle Cromford: Adventure centre will be 'life-changing' for Derbyshire and Sheffield schoolchildren

Supporters of plans to turn a stately home into an adventure centre say school children from north Derbyshire and South Yorkshire could benefit from its ‘life-changing inspiration’.
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The proposals for Willersley Castle near Matlock are set for approval despite concerns from mountain climbers over losing access to valued routes.

The project, from Globebrow Ltd and its company Manor Adventure, would see the Grade-II* listed former hotel, just north of Cromford, turned into an outdoor pursuits centre.

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In documents submitted to Derbyshire Dales District Council, the firm says it is of the “utmost importance” to bring the 18th century mansion back into use, having been empty since it closed as a hotel in the summer of 2020.

Grade II listed Willersley Castle stands next to the River Derwent at Cromford, DerbyshireGrade II listed Willersley Castle stands next to the River Derwent at Cromford, Derbyshire
Grade II listed Willersley Castle stands next to the River Derwent at Cromford, Derbyshire

It says that climbing, abseiling on cliff faces, and canoeing and kayaking on the River Derwent would be the main activities offered at the site.

Meanwhile, accommodation would be available for up to 90 people, with the project aimed primarily at school groups.

The house, built in 1792 to designs by William Thomas of London for Sir Richard Arkwright, is of “special architectural and historic interest”, a council report says.

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Council officers have recommended that the scheme is approved, writing: “The proposal would bring this prominent and important historic building back into use within a sustainable location that would support and expand the tourism offer of the district and wider area.”

Willerlsley Castle in Cromford was built for Sir Richard ArkwrightWillerlsley Castle in Cromford was built for Sir Richard Arkwright
Willerlsley Castle in Cromford was built for Sir Richard Arkwright

A decision will be made by councillors on Tuesday, March 8.

British Mountaineering Council

The scheme would have 29 double bedrooms and nine single bedrooms, a council report says.

A total of 50 objection letters have been submitted to the council, including from The British Mountaineering Council, Derwent Mountaineering Club and OREAD Mountaineering Club.

The first climb of the Wildcat Crags close to the castle was Cougar Cleft in 1948, the BMC says, and there have been 9,500 logged ascents of the route to date.

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Objectors say: “Removing access to the crag is not in the spirit of adventure and education the owners purport as their reason for the change of use.

“To remove access for monetary gain would be abhorrent.

“There has been a very amiable relationship between climbers and land owners throughout the UK with careful access agreements – routes in, litter picking, parking etc. to keep access without damage and in many cases improvements to the environment and the BMC management such agreements.

“Removing access to climbers will be detrimental to the local community.”

Objectors have also said that public access through the site’s grounds is safer than walking along the A6.

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Meanwhile, two supporting letters from residents in favour of the scheme say the proposal would benefit youngsters from across the region, claiming it “will be a life-changing inspiration for hundreds of school children each year that visit Willersley”.

They write: “This is a perfect environment for children to experience outdoor activities within the safe confines of Willersey’s grounds.

“It will be good to see investment in the maintenance of the building and grounds as it has suffered from lack of investment for many years.”

Methodist Guild Holidays

The site, close to the Masson Mills complex and the River Derwent, “has been unused and on the market for almost 18 months”, the applicant says, since its time as a hotel run by Methodist Guild Holidays.

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The applicant says in a document submitted to the council: “Given the scale and range of facilities and accommodation, this proposal represents the optimum viable use of the site.

“The proposed use will ensure the future upkeep and maintenance of both the buildings and the parkland.

“There will also be significant benefits to the rural economy both directly through employment opportunities and indirectly through economic activity within the locality.

“It will secure the necessary investment in the fabric of the historic building, securing its long-term future without any consequential disturbance.

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“It will also secure the upkeep and maintenance of the registered historic parkland which provides the setting of the listed building.”

Council officers, recommending approval, wrote: “The building has been vacant for at least two years when the hotel use became no longer viable.

“This proposal seeks to re-use the building for a similar use, albeit more focused on adventure elements for children.

“The proposal rather than a community use is for a tourism use with the resultant benefits to the local economy and wider district and the Peak District National Park.

“Furthermore the proposal would bring a very important historic building back into use.”