I think we’ve fallen a little in love with Derbyshire.
Hilaire Belloc may have described the Midlands as “sodden and unkind” but he clearly wasn’t thinking of the Derwent Valley when he wrote those words.
We were visiting the area for the Bakewell Baking Festival and only had a few days to explore so we didn’t get to hike the hills, take a nostalgic trip on the Peak Railway, marvel at the grandeur of Chatsworth House or delve deep into the many caverns that dot the area.
But here are three things we did do:
Bakewell is a small town on the banks of the River Wye with a beautiful old bridge and weir, a more modern bridge, which has recently become festooned with ‘lovelocks’, a superb and vibrant community church and a delightful museum, tracing local history from Elizabethan times through the industrial revolution and up to modern day.
Lovingly preserved by volunteers the exhibitions are packed with fascinating and homely items and the stories behind them. Do stop and read the sad tale of the Bakewell elephant -personally I blame the little boy with the toffee for the whole tragedy.
By day Bakewell bustles, especially on a Monday which is market day, and in high season a steady stream of tour buses disgorge their passengers for a whirlwind trip.
Almost every other shop is a café, bakery or delicatessen selling light bites and snacks. The biggest draw is the famous Bakewell Pudding – the historic dessert created at the Rutland Arms in the 1880s – and two shops vie for the title of having the “original” recipe.
In the end it boils down to personal taste. Pork Belly tried three in a row, in the interests of public service, and declared the one from the Bakewell Bakery to be the best.
By night it’s a different matter – plenty of pubs to choose from but the cafés and wine bars close early. Even the chippy (excellent fish and chips – best we’ve tasted for years) shuts at 9pm so clearly people head off elsewhere for any night-life.
Or perhaps everyone gets to bed early to prepare for another day’s cycling or hiking – almost everyone we met in the town was equipped with backpacks, walking boots and Nordic poles!
Whatever the reason the town is quiet and peaceful – perfect for night-time photography.
Just south of Bakewell is this gorgeous Tudor manor house, still in private ownership but open all year round for visitors.
Drivers whizzing by on the A6 won’t even know it’s there, so well hidden is it among the trees, but once inside the grounds, a short walk brings the house into view, south-facing and tucked snugly in below the heather moor that gives it its name.
A path up the sloping bank brings you to the main gate which opens out into a beautiful courtyard, all mellow stone and sunlight. Movie buffs might just recognise it as the setting for Prince Humperdinck’s castle in The Princess Bride, where Buttercup is introduced to the common folk before her wedding. It’s also the location for Zefferelli’s 2011 version of Jane Eyre and has had cameo roles in the recent Pride and Prejudice remake and The Other Boleyn Girl.
It’s easy to see why location scouts choose it. Although renovated and improved over the years, the whole house remains faithful to its Tudor origins and the fact the same family has lived there for centuries gives it a feeling of permanence and continuity.
The rooms are sparsely furnished but historically perfect and the information signs packed with facts not just about the house and its residents but also the times they lived in and the reasons for the architecture.
The old kitchens, used for regular re-enactments, smelled strongly of herbs, spices and wood-smoke adding to the atmosphere.
We were a little late in the season to see the garden at its best but it’s a wonderful and slightly wild set of terraces. In the hot and blustery summer wind, wafts of lavender and rose perfume assaulted my nose and the traditional knot garden of rosemary was a joy to breathe in.
Beautiful views over the Wye and distant hills greet you as you stroll along the terraces and you can see why it makes a grand wedding venue.
Crich Tramway Village
History of a different kind awaits you at Crich. When trams began to be phased out of British cities somebody had the forethought to start saving them for posterity and so the National Tramway Museum was born.
Vintage electric trams transport you on a short journey through a traditional village street and on, through the rolling countryside, to the nearby deserted mine. A brisk walk at the end of the line brings you to the War Memorial for the Sherwood Foresters, the regiment of the Counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. A modest sum of 20p allows you to climb to the top for magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.
With indoor and outdoor adventure playgrounds, an old-fashioned sweet shop and ice-cream parlour and a huge array of vintage trams to look at in the sheds, there’s plenty to amuse families for a whole day.
We loved being given an old fashioned penny (how many sweets could you buy with one of those in the sixties?!) to exchange for our tickets on the tram, letting us ride all day long on a variety of vehicles. There is an additional charge for riding the oldest, horse-drawn tram, but I guess Dobbin needs his extra hay and oats which don’t come cheap nowadays.
So if Brexit and the wobbly economy is leaving you planning a stay-cation we recommend putting Derbyshire on your list.
More information about Derbyshire
Plenty of guides and advice on the official Derbyshire Tourist Information website.
We based ourselves in a family run B&B in Bakewell – Melbourne House – where we were comfortable and well-fed.