Category Archives: Derbyshire

Ashbourne

Ashbourne, by John Bennett. Image used under Creative Commons, click image for link.

Ashbourne, by John Bennett. Image used under Creative Commons, click image for link.

If I ever found myself in my own, personalised Hell, it would probably be something like the Edinburgh Festival. Large crowds of non-purposefully-walking visitors, lots of people handing me leaflets and (ugh) street performers everywhere, trying to talk to me and trick me into having fun using theatrical whispers and exaggerated movements. Possibly pink tutus and a boombox. I recognise my own misanthropy, but I don’t feel the need to apologise for it: that would be hellish.

Regrettably, we turned up in this Derbyshire Dales town on the second day of the annual Ashbourne Festival, a miniature version of this sort of street art event. And yes, ugh, I didn’t like it. Being on the return leg of a journey to Manchester to see The Boss (I had to get that in), I feel like I know a thing or two about talented performers. Nevertheless, I am strong-willed enough to try and put my prejudices aside and see the town for what it is, and thankfully, what it is is very nice. Reading the Wikipedia article for the town is like reading a 9 year old’s school project; in reality, the town is a cute market town like many others, the central shopping area surrounding a triangular market square. There are many quaint cafes and delis, a market (although this isn’t really worth writing home about) and, of course, plenteous charity shops.

You know you’re in for a competitive afternoon when there are sandwich boards around town pointing you to Mind as the town’s best charity shop. It’s not all that, although not a bad place to start. It competes on St John Street with British Heart Foundation (who need to sack their interior designers stat), and on Buxton Road with Salvation Army and Cancer Research, both of which earn their keep on the main drag. Following the pedestrianised market area around brings you to a large Lighthouse Hospice shop (this time around a welcome relief from some prancing numpties just outside) as well as a monster bakers shop. Yum.

Turn down Dig Street (steering around the be-tutu’d man and the wardens) for a very reasonable selection in Oxfam Books & Music, then towards the new-looking Waitrose where you’ll find Treetops Hospice and AgeUK.

We didn’t make any purchases (excepting a bunch of bananas from Derek’s fruit and veg to get change for the car park) (and a coffee) (and cake) on this visit to Ashbourne, but would certainly return. The frugality is more enforced than by choice, but come with a ready wallet and you’ll certainly find something worth stopping for in this little town. If nothing else, you’re at the edge of Dovedale and the Peaks, with some of the country’s finest scenery on your doorstep. Go look.

Find: Ashbourne Google Maps
Get there: Another one with no station, but plenty of car parking by the looks of things. Alternatively, trek here via the Tissington Trail or the Limestone Way.
Consume with: There are many cafes and coffee shops – we chose Costa (because it was closest).
Visit: no doubt there’s plenty in town, but I’d recommend striking out – you’re soon in Dovedale and the southern edge of the Peak District – there’s Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and other towns close by, and more than sufficient viewpoints. You could also pick your moment and arrive for the annual Shrovetide football, a melée more than a match.
Overall rating: four Steig Larssons.

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Filed under 4/5, Derbyshire

Glossop

English landscape: Pennine foothills Glossop England

English landscape: Pennine foothills Glossop England

Traditionally, a weekend away for the wife away involves a significant amount of precipitation, and so it was an unsurprisingly grey and damp Saturday when we found ourselves in Glossop, on the top edge of the Peak District national park. Whatever the delights of the town, there’s little argument that what makes Glossop so exciting is its location. Head 15 miles East and you’re in the centre of Manchester; the same distance South and you pass along the high Hayfield Road to the spa delights of Buxton. Due North and you’re into the disputed trans-Pennine territory that is partly in Greater Manchester but, with placenames like Slaithwaite, Tintwistle and Mytholmroyd will be forever Yorkshire. This way lies the infamous and bleak Saddleworth Moor, famous for all sorts of wrong reasons. Head East and you’re in really dramatic territory, and one of the reasons I wanted to explore this region – it’s traffic report territory. You can keep your Forth road bridge and your Scotch Corner, I’ve always wanted to drive along the Woodhead and Snake passes. They’re the first to get snowed in, the first to cause massive delays between Manchester and Sheffield, and in the latter case, maybe the best name of any geographical feature ever. So head slightly North-East and you’re up on the smooth, high tarmac of the Woodhead Pass towards Penistone and Barnsley. Slightly South-East and you’re in the craggy ridges and looming hills of the Snake Pass, emerging at the Western edge of Sheffield. These are wonderfully barren, isolated places, and give charity shop shopping a run for its money in the tourism stakes.

However: a sniffly nose and a soggy day do not great Peak walking make. So we toured by car and stopped for coffee and a poke in Glossop. We got in into Costa just in time before the rain started again, and before the crush started in the small shop. From here we could look out onto the Norfolk Square with what I presume to be the Town Hall opposite. The main shopping area extends along the High Street, up and East, and down and West of here, and can be cheerfully covered in an hour.

On the square itself you’ll find twin Oxfams next door to each other, one standard, one for books. You’ll also find AgeUK, Debra, and Cancer Research along the main drag – while none of these are revelations, it’s a fair haul for charity shops. There’s also a miscellaneous style shop with some young staff utterly enthralled by a robotic dog, and possibly a furniture shop housed in an old Connexions branch. There may be others, but these weren’t apparent.

Glossop itself isn’t a particularly exciting town, compared to the likes of Manchester or Buxton nearby. But it’s a decent stop-off and, given a bit of time to explore its industrial history and gorgeous surroundings, you wouldn’t regret a visit.

Find: Glossop Google Maps
Get there: Glossop is very well connected from Manchester, though if you can, come in through the mountains somehow.
Consume with: Costa is a safe bet, can’t really elaborate I’m afraid.
Visit: get walking – head up Kinder Scout for an authorised trespass.
Overall rating: three silver spoons

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Filed under 3/5, Derbyshire

Matlock

Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, under creative commons by Duncan Harris. Click pic for link.

Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, under creative commons by Duncan Harris. Click pic for link.

Although just outside the bounds of the Peak District national park, you won’t run short of scenery in and around Matlock. The River Derwent, which winds down from the middle of the park, through Bakewell, Matlock, Belper and Derby before meeting the Trent, has carved out an impressive path through the Derbyshire Dales, and the Matlock area is where you find some of the most dramatic parts. Maybe the best way to approach the town centre is from the South, from Belper direction – you’ll follow the Cromford Canal and the Derwent through a UNESCO World Heritage Site of mills and industrial history (I’m pretty much in love with all that at the moment, you’ll have to forgive me) and then pass into the really dramatic gorge around Matlock Bath – stop here for the Heights of Abraham with its cable car – and into Matlock town centre. If you fancy, you can walk all the way, or you can come from the opposite direction on the Peak Rail.

Matlock and its environs were a collection of unimportant villages until the discovery of thermal springs there at the close of the 17th century. With the industrial revolution just a few years after, and Victorian hydro-tourism, Matlock became the bustling county town of Derbyshire, and remains a busy rural town today. What that essentially means for our intentions is that there’s a pile of charity shops, plenty to look at, and something to eat.

If you arrive in Matlock from Cromford direction, you’ll find an Oxfam Books shop as your first charity shop on Dale Road. You’d be well advised to embrace the non-charity sector as well – although there’s one or two smartly priced antiques shops, we’ve found some excellent bargains in Second Time Around, just over the road from Oxfam, including books, blankets, maps and all sorts. Cross over the river and stop to admire the view towards Riber Castle along the Derwent and once again thank your lucky stars that you can come to such a beautiful part of the world. Chuck a penny in the oddly-coloured water of the wishing well, if you’re very grateful.

At the Crown Square roundabout you’re faced with three variably fruitful options. Turn left for the road to Bakewell, Youlgreave and into the Peaks. Along here you’ll find a handily located Wetherspoon’s for breakfast, the Railway Inn for other liquid refreshment (sadly, they seem not to do the breakfasts any more that we enjoyed on our first visit, watching England embarrass themselves in the Rugby World Cup over a plate of sausage and egg), and the slightly odd, crammed-full Lighthouse charity shop. There’s plenty of bargains in here including small electricals, if you can negotiate the over-stuffed room and inconveniently-placed staff.

Go straight up the hill from the bridge, on Bank Road, and you’ll find the majority of Matlock’s civic or historic buildings; importantly, you’ll also find Save The Children, British Red Cross and AgeUK, although you may not find much in them. Alternatively, right onto Causeway Lane will take you along the parks by the river and just round the corner to Firs Parade, home to Mind, Sue Ryder and British Heart Foundation. So that’s a fair haul of eight charity shops in a little town which happens to be one of the prettiest I know. As you can see, I’m in a generous mood, but I’ve no doubt we’ll be returning to Matlock any and every time we’re in the area.

Find: Matlock Google Maps
Get there: you’ve many options – walk the Derwent Valley Heritage Trail, catch the Peak Rail steam train, or get the normal train from Derby.
Consume with: I would have said breakfast at the Railway, but there’s plenty of other options, including the ‘spoons.
Visit: plenty round here! Masson MillsHeights of Abraham, Riber Castle
Overall rating: five china face dolls

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Filed under 5/5, Derbyshire

Bakewell

Bakewell Street, by Dave Pearson, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Bakewell Street, by Dave Pearson, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

One of the glories of moving away from the all-consuming monetary monster of the South East is that other places are so much closer. There’s a reason it’s called the Midlands – it’s in the middle, making so many places so much more accessible. I never really noticed at first: it’s easy to get caught up in a London bubble, but try and get out and it’s hard work. Negotiate the clogged arterial roads and you meet the more-clogged M25. Find your way out of that and you’ll likely be on a roadwork-heavy M1 or a thronging M4. Travel for half an hour in London and you’ll be half a mile from your starting place. Travel for half an hour in the Midlands, even at rush hour, and you’re halfway to your weekend holiday destination.

Hence a pleasant weekend away in the Peak District, just over an hour away. Typically for an October weekend, this was not the best time for sightseeing – the fog rolled in on Friday night and little could be seen. We pressed on boldly though: while the Peaks are undoubtedly prime hiking territory (on clearer days), we weren’t sure where to begin, so this little time away afforded an opportunity to scope out the area and make some plans for next time. Staying (on a Travelodge cheapie deal) at Alfreton, Bakewell was on our journey into the peaks, and was a worthy stop.

There’s a general rule of thumb when you’re visiting a town: if it’s a bit scenic; if it’s set in beautiful countryside, ripe for walking; if it’s raining: try somewhere else. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bakewell, but on a foggy, damp early October weekend, it was heaving. Nestled into the White Peaks, Bakewell is very much the quaint English country town. Now replete with Edinburgh Woolen Mill and copious walking shops, it caters to the sensible trouser-clad hiker and the epicurious as well – it’s not every town that can lay claim to its own pudding.

Let’s get the pudding out of the way. A Bakewell pudding is not a Bakewell tart. The tart so familiar through Mr Kipling‘s marketing endeavours is a shortcrust pastry filled with jam and a ground almond-based sponge. The pudding, which will take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it, is a hot thing served with custard or cream, a puff pastry base containing  a little jam and a pile of almondy egg custard. The variants are served up by the main competitors in town: the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop and the Bakewell Tart Shop and Coffee House. We ventured into the former and eagerly awaited our hot snack, but confess disappointment – slimy and odd. I’ll be sticking with the wife’s homemade version, which is a pile better. (To be fair to the Pudding Shop, it was a gorgeous building with a lovely deli downstairs which sent us away with a locally-brewed South Pacific Pale Ale.)

If you don’t fancy that strange confection, there’s plenty of tea-room/coffee-house based choice, whether you want modern funky cafe, or Austrian-themed coffee rooms with chaffinches in the rafters. These fit comfortably into the gaps between chunky jumper shops and stout walking shoe shops and, of course, charity shops. The first you’ll see is Mind which featured, if nothing else notable, Rupert Bear Christmas cards. After this, tucked away in the back are an Ashgate Hospice shop, Derbyshire Air Ambulance and AgeUK. These shops were packed out (and poorly laid out…), but still we got a nice velvety jacket (we both, apparently, are suckers for a brown velvety jacket).

Bakewell is pretty lovely really, if you’re not of the violently misanthropic variety: be warned, it’s a tourist town but it’s very pretty, very tasty, and in unbeatably lovely surroundings.

Find: Bakewell Google Maps
Get there: no train link, thanks Dr Beeching – it’ll have to be bus.
Consume with: while the many coffee shops were lovely, I was sorely tempted by the excellently-named Pizzakebabwell.
Visit: You’re right in the heart of the white peak district here, so take your pick. Monsal Dale is a regularly-recommended walk.
Overall rating: three chunky jumpers

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Filed under 3/5, Derbyshire