Murray Gilchrist

The Peak District

Published by Good Press, 2019
EAN 4064066150884

Table of Contents




Table of Contents

In Peakland one marvels most at the strange variety of scenery—illustrations of all English inland beauty seem to have been grouped there for man’s delight. There are tender meadows, streams such as must have meandered through Arcady, fantastical hillocks, mountains that cut the skyline with dog-tooth edges, moors that change colour every day of the year; there are two of the most notable houses in existence—houses famous all over the civilized world—and two spas unlike each other and unlike any spas in England.

The folk are genial and ever willing to pass the time o’ day; they show themselves, as in the days of Philip Kinder, the eighteenth-century historiographer, “courteous and ready to show the ways and help a passenger. The women are sober and very diligent in their huswifery; they hate idleness, and obey their husband.”

Kinder also asserts that they are much given to “dance after the bagpipe, and almost every town hath a bagpipe in it”. To-day the Peaklanders are as fond of dancing as ever, and although no piper produces eerie music, at feast times they can still make a very pretty show. The hill country has endowed the youths and maidens with suppleness and they trip it with exceeding grace.

Peaklanders are shrewd, lovable, and unspoilt, somewhat distrustful of foreigners—all unrelated folk who dwell on the farther side of the moors are foreigners—yet quite as hospitable as the more reserved natives of Yorkshire. Old customs are tenaciously preserved—in some places the wells are dressed with flowers for the festival of the patron saint, and in one of the most remote villages every Royal Oak Day a quaint and pretty pageant enlivens the irregular grey streets. At such times the kin from far-distant towns return to the old home and spend a few hours of happy merrymaking.

To my thinking the most satisfactory entrance to the Peak Country is by way of Scarthin Nick, a gap through which the old London-to-Manchester coaching road passes on its way to Matlock Bath. Throughout the year this valley never fails to suggest a foreign country: in the blackness of mid-winter one might believe oneself in Norway; in spring and summer one is curiously reminded of Switzerland; in autumn, when the foliage glows marvellously, one might be looking upon some fanciful picture done by a southern painter with a passion for vivid colour. To the right flows the Derwent, with clear waters tranquil before the crossing of a white weir, or churning merrily between great boulders.

From the Black Rocks near by may be seen one of the finest views in all Peakland—the Matlock Dale with its High Tor and its quaintly named Heights of Abraham, its grotesque sham mediæval castle, its pleasantly situated mansion of Willersley, which was built by one of Derbyshire’s best-famed men, Sir Richard Arkwright. Farther away lie Dethick—with a quaint church that was built by the grandfather of Mary Stuart’s Anthony Babington—and Lea Hurst, the Peakland home of Miss Florence Nightingale. The Via Gellia, a narrow valley, well-wooded, opens not far from the old posting house; in May the traveller is assailed there by rustic children who offer bunches of greenish lilies of the valley.

Matlock is crowded with holiday-makers in summer-time, and progress along the road becomes somewhat difficult; nevertheless it is impossible even then to deny the strange beauty of the place. There is an air of pleasant freedom; life moves briskly; the valley might be threaded by a great highway. No watering-place has a greater wealth of lovers’ walks, of caves, of petrifying wells, and other objects of interest well-calculated to amuse and delight the tripper. The visitor is happy, albeit feverish, and there is to be seen little aping of the manners of fine society.

Onward through Darley Dale one sees to the left Oker Hill, with its solitary tree—the survivor of two planted by the brothers Shore, collateral ancestors of the Lady of the Lamp. Wordsworth wrote a pathetic sonnet concerning the separation of these young men. In Darley churchyard is one of the most famous yews still existent. Centuries ago much of the land about here was owned by the Dakeyne family, whose motto—“Stryke, Dakyns, the Devil’s in the Hempe!” still puzzles the student of heraldry. Sir Joseph Whitworth’s Institute—surely a boon to the young countryfolk—rises near the road, as does his Cottage Hospital, and, farther, his house, Stancliffe Hall, now shorn of much of its dignity by rough quarries.

Just beyond Rowsley Bridge may be seen the old Peacock Hotel, perhaps the most picturesque hostelry in all England. Above the porch of this gabled, creeper-covered house stands a stone peacock in his pride. This bird is the badge of the Rutland family—one finds inns bearing the name in many Derbyshire villages. The sheltered garden is well worth seeing; it might be the glory of some ancient well-beloved mansion. Quaint flowers thrive there, and beside the Derwent stretches a pleasant well-screened walk, where one may rest with some “well-chosen book or friend”, and hear the tranquil susurrus of the smoothly gliding stream.

Then, beyond Fillyford Bridge over the Wye, which joins the Derwent not far from the inn, debouches one of the strangest and most beautiful vales of Peakland. To the left of this is the village of Winster, with a fine old mansion that was once occupied by Llewellyn Jewitt, the well-known Derbyshire antiquarian, and a singular Market Hall with walled-up windows. The place lies in a backwater. One expects to see naught modern at Winster; the inhabitants should wear eighteenth-century garments, and should carry lanterns and pattens to their tea parties. Near by are the grotesque Rowtor Rocks, Robin Hood’s Stride, and Cratcliff Tor. One is continually reminded of the weird and charming Vivares engravings that may be found embellishing the coffee-rooms of conservative inns.

Then Haddon is passed, and the old story—ill-founded to be sure—that Mrs. Radcliffe sought inspiration there for her glowing romances comes to mind. Even in the richest sunlight the wonderful house suggests mystery and romance. The Wye glides, clear as morning dew, almost level with the green surface of the water meadows. There is, within a stone’s throw of the white road, a little footbridge of the kind that one crosses in happy dreams.

Bakewell, which owes part of its fame to the luxurious pastry known as “Bakewell Pudding”, has perhaps the most beautiful situation of any Peakland town. It is eminently quaint, there is an aristocratic air about the place, and the principal streets are kept wonderfully clean. At fair times may be seen crowds of booths reaching from the “Rutland Arms”, to the post office—booths where are sold gaudy pots from Staffordshire, gingerbread flat and curly, fried fish, and the sticky sweetmeats beloved by children of country and of town. In the marketplace are galloping horses, swings, shooting galleries, and everything that from long usage appeals to the innocent rustic mind.

There are many handsome old houses here, but the finest, Holme Hall, is not visible from the highway. The church is a graceful building, admirably placed, with a tall slender spire, which looks its best when pricking through a golden December mist.