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Familiarity, but not contempt - The Derbyshire Peak District

A familiar expression but I’m not sure that many of us would really embrace the contempt part. Perhaps what familiarity brings is an inclination to take for granted, to ignore because something is there constantly.
I live on the outskirts of Chesterfield, and therefore also on the outskirts of the Derbyshire Peak District, and I am guilty as charged in that I overlook and ignore the wonderful area where I was born and have lived most of my life.The Peak District is too near to home for us to consider a holiday there, but many people do travel to my area for casual and main holidays, and so I thought that I would share a little bit of local knowledge with you.
It would be good at this stage to better define what I think of as The Peak District, there are two main areas, The White Peak which is the southern part of Derbyshire and is soft, gentle, and more luxuriant than The Dark Peak in the north including such well known areas as Ashbourne, Dovedale and The Manifold Valley.
My local knowledge of the county however is of the northern part, The Dark Peak and this is really what this blog is about.

The Peak District National Park, in total, covers 555 square miles and in 2010 it became the fifth largest national park in England and Wales. The picture here shows some of the typical landscape, from rugged areas to softer and more rural parts, and the characteristic dry-stone walls. In 1951, the Peak District was the first area to be designated a National Park, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland, and Brecon Beacons have all since been established as National Parks.

The Caravan and Motorhome Club are well represented in the area with no less than six main sites:

This site is only about 1 mile from where we live and has been developed, with great imagination from a disused colliery location. There is a lake (to walk around takes about 25 minutes) that attracts many birds and provides good fishing facilities, and apparently the dog walking is particularly good here., Covid restrictions permitting also a small café and good children’s playground. The site has also easy access to the Pennine Trail and the lovely bluebell wood below is within a mile or so of the caravan site.
In terms of location, the site is a little remote (comparatively) from the main and best-known Peak District areas of attraction, it is about 30 minutes drive, through Chesterfield to reach the Park. Whilst this is a minor negative, the counterbalance is that there is a major positive, extremely easy access from junction 29a on the M1.
Image: Bluebell Woods, very close to the Poolsbrook Site. 

Chesterfield, of Crooked Spire fame, is an appealing small Market town with a great central Market Square, it is also the occasional home of Derbyshire County Cricket Club when they play at the beautifully scenic Queen’s Park. As a cricket fan and Derbyshire member, I have spent many happy hours at Queen’s Park. A long time ago, as a boy, I used to spend what always seemed to be sunny days here including one memorable occasion when I saw the great England player Tom Graveney, playing for Worcestershire, deposit the cricket ball straight into the adjacent boating lake 3 times on his way to a wonderful double century. Sadly, Derbyshire cricket at Queens Park now is restricted to just one week each season, usually in July.

Queens Park, Chesterfield, the occasional home of Derbyshire County Cricket Club

Image: Queens Park, Chesterfield, the occasional home of Derbyshire County Cricket Club. 

The Crooked Spire, actually St Marys and All Saints, is an extraordinary sight for the first-time viewers. It is thought that the problem results from using unseasoned timber when the spire was constructed in the 14th Century, but there are many other more lurid and fanciful versions on offer locally!

Image: The famous and unique Crooked Spire.

Chesterfield is an extremely friendly and interesting traditional Market town, for more detail visit the highly informative Destination Chesterfield website.

A dominating feature of the skyline in relation to Poolsbrook is the spectacularly situated Bolsover Castle, sited on a ridge overlooking a great sweep of valley through which now runs the M1. Open to the public and managed by English Heritage, Bolsover Castle is well worth a visit, there is a typically predictable Wetherspoon establishment, The Pillar of Rock, right by the Castle entrance and only about 50 yards further on, an extensive and interesting antique emporium.

Picture: The Majestic Bolsover Castle.

For eating options around Poolsbrook, there is a really good pub/restaurant at Middle Handley, The Devonshire Arms and its Stag restaurant, a personal favourite. About 10 minutes drive from the Poolsbrook site and situated in a small hamlet, The Devonshire Arms is consistently good (01246 434800 – S21 5RN). Of possible interest to caravaners, they started doing takeaway meals during lockdown and this has continued to date.

Whilst thinking of takeaway food, there is a very good Indian in Staveley less than a mile away from the site, The Curry Leaf is well established and good in our experience 01246 280155. Charley’s Chippy is a walkable distance from the site at Poolsbrook, and worth a visit. For excellent fish and chips, and other things, go to Chesters in Chesterfield. This modern and good quality restaurant is either eat-in or takeaway and is easily accessed on the way into Chesterfield (01246 233344 – S41 7JH) About 10 minutes drive again.

See also The Bulls Head at Holymoorside in next section.

Image: This is a quiet corner of Baslow, showing one of entrances from the village into the Chatsworth Estate, by the side of The River Wye.

This site is delightfully situated right on the edge of the wonderful Chatsworth Estate, there is a small gate directly from the site allowing access straight into The Estate Grounds. Access to the site is along a long quite narrow road from the adjacent village of Baslow, where there are many places to eat and drink. Baslow itself is an extremely attractive, mainly stone built village, the main road from Chesterfield to Bakewell runs through the village which can get quite busy at popular times. 

Image: Baslow, a picturesque village with lots of character. 

The lovely old market town of Bakewell is always worth visiting. It sits in a sheltered position on The River Wye and is full of character, the Monday morning market is always popular. Bakewell is about 4 miles from Baslow, famous for Bakewell Pudding (generally not tart locally) and best bought from The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop in the main street. You will also find a great fish and chip restaurant/ takeaway here, The Bakewell Fish Restaurant on Water Street.
Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1549. It stands on the east bank of the River Derwent, across from hills between the Derwent and Wye valleys, amid parkland backed by wooded hills that rise to heather moorland, they certainly knew how to choose their building locations!! The house holds major collections of paintings, furniture, Old Master drawings, neoclassical sculptures, and books. But spectacular Chatsworth is much more than one of the grandest country houses in England, there are extensive gardens (including a Garden Centre), Farmyard and playground, high quality retail units and catering for most tastes.
Just to drive through the Estate is a great experience, from Baslow the road drops down past the Estate Offices on the left and soon reaches the tiny village of Edensor (pronounced locally as Ensor).

Image: The main house at Chatsworth with The Emperor Fountain in the foreground.

Much of the village of Edensor is privately owned, by the Dukes of Devonshire, the Cavendish family, and most of the deceased of the family are buried in the churchyard of St Peter's Church. This is also the last resting place of Kathleen Kennedy (sister of JFK) who married into the Devonshire family.

There are fantastic views of the main house from the road running through the Estate and generally good sightings of herds of deer, lambing time is particularly good fun also as there are many sheep free ranging the Estate. The Chatsworth Estate Farm shop at Pilsley is well worth a visit, here can be found meat and all kinds of produce from the Estate and many other quality goods, including a fantastic cheese counter! (DE45 1UF).

Where to eat from Chatsworth site?  Well, you are in the more popular tourist area here so there is lots to choose from, just three perhaps in Baslow and one just a few miles away. The full spectrum in Baslow would start with the budget option of The Wheatsheaf, a Marston’s pub with an extensive menu, good outside space, ideal for parents with children. Mid-range in Baslow, we can recommend Il Lupo, a small Italian restaurant right in the centre of the village (01246 583164 – DE45 1SE) But if you want a real treat (and have won The Lottery!!) go to The Cavendish Hotel.

Just away from Baslow, in fact off to the right from the road back into Chesterfield is the small village of Holymoorside. An old attractive village with a great pub/restaurant The Bulls Head. The food here is consistently good and imaginative, beautifully cooked by the Chef/owner, we particularly enjoy the locally sourced steak here. Highly recommended and worth finding, a regular place for us (01246 569999 – S42 7EW)

This is the place for you serious walkers.

Castleton Club Site is situated within a bowl at the heart of the Peak National Park and boasts beautiful views, and is ideally suited for all interests and seasons, with each pitch being all-weather and local shops open all year round. The Christmas period is particularly spectacular, with town streets awash with festive lights and late-night shopping for those last-minute treats. There are a variety of pubs to choose from in the local village and endless lovely landscapes to stroll in at your leisure, including the dramatic Winnats Pass, Mam Tor and Ladybower Reservoir.

 The village of Castleton, dominated by the ruins of William the Conqueror's Peveril Castle from which it gets its name, is a convenient half mile away and is not much more than one long main street. The small houses and shops huddle together on each side of the street as though to provide mutual support against potential bad weather. There are several speciality shops selling the uniquely original Blue John in the form of jewellery and decorative pieces. A good idea for a rainy day would be to visit the caves at Treak Cliff, Speedwell and Peak caverns which can be found on the Winnats Pass road.

Image: The road through Winant's Pass.

Blue John (also known as Derbyshire Spar) is a semi-precious mineral, a form of fluorite with bands of a purple-blue or yellowish colour. In the UK it is found only at Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern at Castleton in Derbyshire.

There are several really attractive villages near to Castleton, Hope, Edale (at the southern end of the Pennine Way), Hathersage (Little John’s grave), Eyam (the scene of amazing tragedy and discipline arising from the plague in 1665. The self-imposed isolation of the village so that the disease would not spread, was probably the very first lockdown) Grindleford and Bamford, all lying in The Hope Valley.

 Just beyond Bamford lies the Derwent Dam, well known for its part in developing the bouncing bomb used during the second world war, the pilots of 617 Squadron used the Derwent dams to practice low level flights in their Lancaster bombers in preparation for operation Chastise, more widely known as the Dam Buster raids which were carried out on German dams on 16th and 17th May 1943 led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

The Derwent Water dam near Bamford, where The Dambusters, 617 Squadron, honed their skills before the 1943 raid on the German dams. 

So, there you have my personal take on The Dark Peak, but to the South, and not to be ignored, but less familiar to me are the 3 further Caravan Club sites and the surrounding area

There are some extremely attractive locations in the south of the county, places like Dovedale, made famous by Isaac Walton’s fishing tales, his name is continued by The Isaac Walton Hotel, a genuinely nice place to recharge the batteries.

Come to Derbyshire, there is so much to capture your imagination.

I hope to see you in my familiar and, appreciated, much loved home county soon.

Michael Varley
Published on 24-06-2021
Michael is a 76 year old caravan enthusiast living in Chesterfield. Michael owned a business, Insurance Brokers, for 25 years and now works as an Independent Training Consultant providing training and compliance support. He, alongside his wife of 47 years Lynn, have enjoyed being part of the community ever since they bought their first caravan in the mid 1970s. Their last caravan was a twin-axle Bailey Senator Wyoming. Michael enjoys most kinds of sport, football and cricket principally, naval history (in the Nelson era), cooking, eating and drinking!