Steeped in local history the villages of the Peak District are renowned for their character, quirky traditions and warm welcome
Dwarfed by some of the highest hills of the Peak District, the village of Castleton in the Hope Valley sits in a landscape pitted with caverns. Directly above Castleton is Mam Tor, also known as the ‘Shivering Mountain’ – a perennial favourite with keen walkers who scale its 1696ft heights for the fantastic views at the summit. Nearby is an equally exposed crag, dominated by the ancient remains of Peveril Castle. Built in the 11th century by the knight William Peverell, said to be the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror, the fort is mentioned in the Domesday survey and is one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses.
Over the centuries the castle was modified by successive monarchs and played an important role as the administrative centre of the Royal Forest of the Peak, a royal hunting preserve, until the 14th century, when the castle was converted into a prison.
In 2005 English Heritage opened a visitor centre for the castle in the village, with displays explaining the story of castle, as well as an assortment of items that have been excavated in the castle grounds. During a stroll around the ruins to admire the views, take time to explore the remains of the keep, which was built by Henry II in 1176 and still has its original garderobe (medieval lavatory)!
Beneath the hillside on which Peveril Castle sits is Peak Cavern, also cheekily known as the ‘Devil’s Arse’, which boasts the largest natural cave entrance in Britain. The semiprecious and beautiful stone Blue John has been mined here for centuries and can be purchased in ornament or jewellery form in the village. You can find out more about the local mining heritage at a number of other show caves in the area including Speedwell, Treak Cliff and Blue John.
Before leaving the village, call into the Castleton Visitor Centre (which also doubles up as a museum) to learn more about life here through the centuries.
Situated 1,000ft above sea level, the remote upland village of Foolow is one of the highest in the Peaks, rewarding those who make the journey here with plenty of charming features, including a pretty village green, pub, bull ring and duck pond.
The village name derives from its 13th-century title ‘La Foulowe’, which translates as ‘the hill frequented by birds’ suggesting that it was uninhabited at that time. People were first drawn to the area to exploit its natural riches along with its springs, which made Foolow a natural resting place for medieval travellers on their way to more established settlements at Tideswell and Eyam.
Lead mining became big business in the area in the 18th century. The remains of the abandoned mines, including Slaters Engine Mine and Bradshaw Mine, can still be seen to the north of the village. Even during its heyday Foolow would not have been an easy place to live. Until 1932 residents had to trek to a pump half a mile away to attain fresh water, and it’s only in recent years that a modern sewage system has been installed!
Beyond the mines, farming was also an important business but has since depleted; the old custom of bringing cattle to drink from the pond or ‘mere’ is now almost forgotten. Yet some traditions still hold: children continue to trick or treat households on ‘Mischief Night’ in November as they have for centuries, and the Wesleyan Reform Church, built in 1836, still recognises its anniversary day. The custom of well dressing, in which the locals give thanks for the springs, is still proudly upheld, with colourful artworks decorating the sites of the water sources. For other refreshment, stop at the Bull’s Head, which also offers a handy guide to local walks.
Today, life tends to revolves around the church, tea room and two pubs – the Bull’s Head, a former coaching inn, and the Ashford Arms, both found on Church Street. Weaved in among the Georgian properties there is an assortment of other independent businesses, including the ‘corner shop’ which has been open for over 100 years currently trading under Ibbotson’s of Ashford.
While tourism is the main business today, the village was built predominantly on the wealth generated in the mining of Ashford black marble. The material was popular in Victorian times, used in the construction of local buildings, furnishings and jewellery.
For anyone needing a reminder of the importance of water in Ashford, there are six wells dotted around the village, some with pumps in working condition.
One of the finest buildings in the village is the 18th-century country house, Ashford Hall. Although the house itself is not open to the public, it is possible to explore the gardens on special open days during the summer, along with the grounds of the nearby Thornbridge Hall.
Situated on the boundary of the Chatsworth estate, Baslow’s mellow beauty is enhanced by the River Derwent which babbles past the ancient streets on its course through the Derwent Valley. However, this is no sleepy backwater thanks to the constant flow of tourists passing through. Although the village is divided into five areas – Bridge End, Far End, Nether End, West End and Over End – most visitors gravitate to Nether End, which is the hub of village life, complete with shops, restaurants, hotels and the picturesque bench-lined Goose Green.
One of Baslow’s finest pieces of heritage is its Old Bridge, which was built in 1603 and has survived war, flooding and a constant flow of traffic, to provide safe passage over the river. An unusual feature of the bridge is the tiny Watchman’s Hut in which the men of the village would spend many an uncomfortable hour taking their turn to survey the passing traffic, to ensure that weight restrictions weren’t exceeded. Those that did go over the strict limit were promptly issued with an on-the-spot fine. Further downstream is another, younger bridge that was built shortly after the First World War and helps to share the burden of traffic on its way to Chesterfield.
During the 1800s Baslow set its sights on attracting spa tourism and the village’s Hydropathic Hotel at Over End was an all-singing, all-dancing mock-Gothic building, featuring a ballroom, massage rooms, croquet lawn, sports facilities and 120 bedrooms. It dominated the village for some 50 years before visitor numbers declined, and was demolished in 1936 leaving only the gateposts as a reminder of its existence.
Thankfully the stately Baslow Hall on Calver Road was spared from the same fate. Built in 1907, it bears many features typical of the 17th century, with its gabled wings and mullioned windows. In 1913 the house was bought by electrical engineer Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, who waited until the end of the First World War to install power to the house in 1919. Today it has been reincarnated as a beautiful hotel and restaurant.
Another fine aspect of Baslow’s architecture is the Church of St Anne, which was built in the 13th century and has a number of special features inside, including an unusual sun dial and a glass case containing a dog whip that was last used in the 18th century to discourage stray canines from roaming into services (it was also rumoured to have occasionally been applied to certain snoozing members of the congregation!).
For more restless visitors Baslow makes an ideal base, with a number of great walks from the village and rock climbing sites at Curbar and Froggatt Edges. A short walk from Baslow leads to the Chatsworth estate, renowned for its stunning interiors and rolling acres of parkland.
Nestled on the banks of the River Wye, Ashford-in-the-Water is one of the most photographed Peakland villages, with many architectural delights, including the medieval Sheepwash Bridge and the elegant Riverside House Hotel on the banks of the River Wye. It was the river that brought the first settlers, while the lead mining business provided a lucrative reason to stay. Beyond the mines, the industrious inhabitants have made their living from wool, corn and the local marble mills, as well as candle-making.
For more information visit www.visitpeakdistrict.com