50 Gems of the Peak District by Denis Eardley
When I started to compile 50 Gems of the Peak District the biggest problem was what to leave out. After some thought, I decided to select gems that were relatively easy to visit for both the private and public transport user of all ages. This somewhat reduced the number of gems I had in mind but there were still far too many for the book. Eventually, after much further deliberation I settled on the number required.
The Peak National Park was established in 1951 and was the first to be set up in Britain. It is stunningly beautiful and it is visited by people from all over the world. They come to enjoy its glorious ever changing landscapes, enchanting villages, beautiful historic houses, famous attractions and hundreds of traditional events attract visitors time and again. Strikingly beautiful limestone valleys, with magnificent clifftop views, characterise the southern half of the Peak District, with the northern area featuring dramatic gritstone ridges and wild heather covered moorland.
The 50 Gems in the book have been arranged in groups to enable the reader to explore at their own pace, by visiting just one at a time, or several. The fascinating historical information, legends and other stories will let both the first time and regular visitors to the Peak District take even greater pleasure out of their visits. There is much to see and the book will prove indispensable both to the first time as well as frequent visitors to the Peak District.
As a sneak preview of the 50 Gems book, I have selected five of my favourites below:
Derbyshire’s Lake District (SK171898)
The Upper Derwent Valley is often referred to as the ‘Lake District of the Peak’. It is surrounded by magnificent countryside where water and woodland, topped by high moors, predominate. In recent years forestry has become an important factor and the sides of the valley have been clothed in conifers. Not surprisingly, the area has become so popular that over two million people visit each year. At certain times the road up the valley beyond Fairholmes is closed to help protect the environment and a mini-bus service is operated. Disabled Badge holders are exempt from the road closure.
The valley was a very attractive location for the storage of water, with its long deep sides and narrow points for dam building. All this, combined with a high average rainfall, low population level and heavy demand for water from the industrial towns that surrounded the Peak District, made the case for reservoir construction. The Derwent Valley Water Board was set up in 1899 to supply water to Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester and the Howden and Derwent Reservoirs were constructed.
At that time the demand for water was satisfied and although plans existed for further reservoirs, no more action was needed. Demand, though, continued to grow and the decision was taken to build one very large reservoir, to be called Ladybower. This entailed the flooding of the villages of Ashopton and Derwent and caused immense unrest. However, the project went ahead and the villagers were moved to new houses at Yorkshire Bridge.
Ashopton Viaduct was built to carry the Snake Road to Glossop and the Ladybower Viaduct to carry the road from Yorkshire Bridge to the A57.
The ancient Derwent packhorse bridge, which had a preservation order on it, was painstakingly moved stone by stone and rebuilt at Slippery Stones at the head of Howden Reservoir. The graves in the churchyard were excavated and the bodies reburied at Bamford.
A few properties built on slightly higher land, including the Shooting Lodge and former Roman Catholic School, survived. Although the majority were demolished and flooded, the church spire was left eerily poking out above the reservoir, when the water level was low, until it was blown up in 1947. The flooding having been completed, the opening ceremony was carried out on 25 September 1945 by King George VI. In order to mark the occasion, a commemorative monument was built close to the dam wall.
Pott Shrigley (SK945792)
The picturesque Cheshire village of Pott Shrigley is located on the western border of the Peak District, about one mile north from the small town of Bollington. The houses in the centre of the village huddle together close to the top end of two valleys with Holme and Nab woods rising up to the rear. In all directions, there are beautiful trees and fields with flocks of sheep grazing that give the village a distinct rural identity.
Pott Shrigley has a long and interesting history, which for many years revolved around Shrigley Hall and its estate, farming and later, mineral extraction. Originally built in the fourteenth century by the Downes family, who lived there for 500 years, it was rebuilt on a grander scale in the early nineteenth century by William Turner. In the 1950s it was sold to the Salesians as a Catholic Education Centre and sold again in the 1980s when it was converted into a hotel, which it remains today.
St. Christopher’s Church is a Grade I listed building, which is thought to have been founded in the late 14th century and completed in its present form by the building of the Downes Chantry Chapel by Geoffrey Downes in the late fifteenth century. Inside the church, there is a fine, fifteenth century barrel roof, an oak altar table that dates back to 1698. The oak box pews were acquired from St James' Church, Gawsworth in the nineteenth century. Another building in the village with an ancient history is the Church of England primary school, which was founded in 1492.
In the spring, the bluebells along the road up the hill towards Shrigley Hall are an impressive sight and attract large numbers of visitors. The village cricket ground is in a stunning location, which according to the locals, is one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
One person though refused to move, Miss A. Cotterill of Gwinnett House. She remained there until she died in 1990, at the age of ninety-nine, the waters of the reservoir lapping at the front garden steps. You can easily pick out the house at the side of Ladybower when crossing the discretionary path across the dam wall.
Food is available at the refreshment kiosk at Fairholmes, Yorkshire Bridge Inn and Ladybower Inn.
Flash Bar (SK032678)
For the tired walker having trekked across the wild windswept moorland and the cyclist toiled to the top of Axe Edge, Flash Bar must seem like an oasis with its smart welcoming café and pub. Situated just outside the village of Flash, on the A53, the stylish café and stores is possibly the highest shop and cafe in England. Opposite, the Traveller's Rest public house has now reopened as the Knight’s Table.
Flash is surrounded by magnificent moorland scenery, stands at a height of over 1,500 feet above sea level and is claimed to be the highest village in England. It is an isolated place, the main part of which consists of well weathered cottages and a small church, all clustered together seemingly to keep warm on the side of Oliver Hill, together with the New Inn.
On a sunny day when the sky is clear you can see for miles over the surrounding countryside, and as you walk across the moors, listening to the birds singing and keeping a watch out for wildlife, it is easy to imagine you are in Paradise. At another time, on a different day, the picture may be quite the reverse, when the A53 is blocked by snow. It is often one of the first roads in the country to be closed after heavy snowfall.
Only a short distance from the village is Three Shires Head, where a bridge crosses the River Dane at a point where the borders of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet. Many years ago, illegal prizefights used to take place there, as the police were not allowed to cross county borders, and it was easy for the wrongdoers to flee into another county. For the very same reason, counterfeiters choose the spot for their unlawful trade, ‘flash’ is the name given to the illegal money. The word flash has since become associated with being dishonest, or for goods that are not of genuine quality.
The village had its own benefit society to support those most in need, the Flash Loyal Union Society, established in 1846, nicknamed the ‘Teapot Club’, presumably because many members saved the money in a teapot. Attendance once a year at an annual feast was compulsory for members when the money was placed in the fund. Feast Day was an important day in the village’s social calendar and when in 1995 the benefit club had to be disbanded due to new Government regulations the event was retained.
As one visitor who just happened to visit Flash on the day of the village parade recounts, she was astonished to see a procession march all the way to the Traveller’s Rest carrying a large model teapot. Even more so as the marchers also carried banners referring to the teapot and were accompanied by a brass band. On the same day there is a service in the church and also a well dressing and flower festival takes place, and refreshments are provided in the village hall.
Edensor, Chatsworth Park (SK250698)
Every year visitors from all over the world pass through Chatsworth Park on their way to visit the house and gardens or to just admire the view. Most only cast a cursory glance over towards the gateway that leads to Edensor, one of the most admired estate villages in the country. It is quite unique in style and provides the first time visitor with an experience they will never forget. Set in a walled enclosure within attractive parkland owned by the Devonshire family, with its fine buildings and majestic looking church the village just waits to be explored.
Originally, Edensor lay between the river and the road through the Park, when the houses were set out in a straggling line down to the Derwent. This did not appeal to the fourth Duke of Devonshire, who having spent considerable money and effort improving Chatsworth House, redesigning the gardens and building a grand new bridge over the river. He decided to demolish the houses visible from his home and re-house the tenants in the nearby estate villages of Pilsley and Beeley. The Duke died in 1764 prior to the completion of the work and it was the sixth Duke who completed the building of the present village.
Joseph Paxton, who remodelled and landscaped the gardens at Chatsworth, chose the site for the new ‘Model Village’, but it was John Robertson, a relatively unknown architectural assistant from Derby, who provided the designs. At that time aspiring young architects such as Robertson would prepare a book of house plans as part of their training.
It is thought that Robertson approached the Duke to show him the plans when he was busy with other matters. After quickly looking through them he could not make up his mind and chose all the different styles in the book, which proved to be a masterstroke. The designs ranged from Norman to Jacobean, Swiss-style to Italian villas. A few of the old houses that were well out of sight of Chatsworth House were left virtually untouched.
Robertson retained the fourteenth century church, but it only remained for about 30 years after the completion of the village, before it was replaced by a much larger one, built by George Gilbert Scott. The new church with its graceful spire and spacious layout added to the status and importance of the village, which its predecessor had failed to do.
Wetton Mill (SK017561)
Wetton Mill, owned by the National Trust, is a very popular spot with visitors to the Manifold Valley, which lies a short distance to the northwest of Wetton.
It was originally a water mill for grinding corn but closed in 1857. Situated by the side of the Manifold Way, it has now been converted to create a beautiful picnic spot, cafe and two National Trust Holiday Cottages. There are still some remnants of the old mill to be seen, with a few old limestone buildings, a section of the mill pond now impounded by the river, the millstream and a grindstone. The bridge that gives access to the mill yard was built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1805.
The tearoom, housed in one of the former grist buildings at the mill, provides welcome refreshment to visitors who come to walk in the valley, or just want to relax and admire the superb countryside. The valley has some of the most spectacular scenery in the Peak District and is rich with wildflowers, butterflies and birds.
The Leek and Manifold Light Railway used to run through the valley. Lack of sufficient business forced the early closure of the line and it has subsequently been turned into a trail for walkers and cyclists, only two miles of which is not car-free. In total, the trail runs for nine miles from Hulme End Visitor Centre to Waterhouses Old Station car park.
Surprisingly, the river beds of the Manifold and Hamps that flow through the valley are frequently dry, as the waters soak away into the porous limestone rocks below and only reappear in wet weather. During dry weather, the Manifold disappears at Wetton Mill and re-emerges from its underground journey from a boil hole at Ilam.
Wetton is a compact little village of limestone cottages that seem to huddle together in an exposed position against the cold at an altitude of about 1,000 feet. Winters are now much milder, but some of the older residents still recall the times the village has been cut off from the outside world.
Denis Eardley's new book 50 Gems of the Peak District is available for purchase now.