Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Things to do in Derbyshire

First of all let me apologise to TGO Magazine - they very kindly name me as "Number 1 Lake District Blog" and the first thing I do is write a blog about Derbyshire.  I'm sorry.  Very, very sorry.  Thing is when they told me the news we were already on hols and it would be very rude not to write about such a lovely break.

We liberated Delores from her winter hibernation and spent 9 nights on a site near Bakewell.  On the first night one of those pesky winter storms hit meaning the van was a-rockin' for all the wrong reasons; we didn't get much sleep, plus it lashed down the next day, so we'll pick up the story on the Sunday...

Sunday - Monsal Trail

View from Monsal Trail
The Monsal Trail is a beautiful 8.5 mile trail along a disused railway track.  It runs from Bakewell to just outside Buxton and is perfect if you don't like your cycling too hilly.  There's a gentle uphill gradient most of the way to Buxton but at least that means you get to coast most of the way back.

Entering Monsal Trail tunnel

There are several good sized tunnels along the way which add to the interest of the journey - but be prepared to be dripped on!  You also get to cross several magnificent bridges, though it's hard to appreciate the architecture when you're on top of them.  The perfect excuse to head back for a valley walk later in the week.

Monday - Bakewell

River Wye Bakewell
Bakewell is a pretty little market town that still has a thriving market.  Well, several of them to be exact.  On the Monday we visited there was a cattle market which was a great experience as the closest I'd previously been to one was a Blue Peter special in 1978.  It was just like it was on the telly, though John Noakes was sadly missing.

On the lookout for Shep...
Clearly the high point of any visit to Bakewell is the sampling of the Bakewell Puddings and there are plenty to choose from.  We take our job as bloggers very seriously so forced ourselves to sample as many as possible, purely in the interests of scientific research you understand.

A perfect pudding.
While 2 shops battle it out in their claim to produce the "original" pudding, we both agreed that there was one clear winner in the taste stakes - Bloomers.  Their puddings had by far the best balance of flavours plus the staff in the shop were friendly, helpful and happy to give tips on the best way to eat them.  (In my experience "quickly" is the best way to eat them, before someone else gets their mitts on them - I'm watching you Steve!)

Tuesday - Monsal Head Hike

We took advantage of a break in the weather on Tuesday and headed out on a 10 mile hike.  It wasn't meant to be 10 miles but we took an unexpected detour due to me being "navigationally challenged"...

View from Monsal Head
Our route wound along the Wye Valley giving us the opportunity to admire some of the bridges we'd hurtled across on Sunday.  Well, not so much hurtled as puffed, panted and paused for tea on.

As well as the natural scenery there were some lovely old buildings along the way too - this disused mill sent my imagination into overdrive as I mentally renovated it and moved in, keeping a few chickens for good measure.

And then there was Holy Trinity church in the very aptly (considering this winter) named village of Ashford-in-the-Water.  Church - check, large yew tree - check, honestly, do church views get more quintessentially English than this?

Wednesday - Heights of Abraham

The Heights of Abraham has something to suit you whatever your phobia - from a nerve jangling cable car ride to a claustrophobia inducing cavern tour, but if you can keep your neuroses in check you'll have a fabulous day out.

Going up!
The prices, like the cable car ride, seemed pretty steep at first but once you're up the top your ticket gets you into the various caves and exhibitions and we found 4 hours flew past.  There's also a couple of adventure playground areas for the kids, including one with a historical explorers theme which I thoroughly approved of!

To be honest we didn't explore much more of Matlock but there looked to be several nice river walks and a few lovely parks for those days when the weather is a little less arctic.

Thursday - Castleton

We had several adventures in Castleton and they began on our drive in.  As well as being buffeted by the wind we found a road marked with a highly subjective "light vehicles only" sign.  Light compared to what exactly?  We were in Delores and, as she is lighter than a bus but heavier than a car, we decided to give it a go.  I think we surprised a few people on the way down but no lasting harm done...

We stopped to let the clutch cool down at Speedwell Cavern - if you're just coming out of therapy for claustrophobia then this is the place to check if you're cured.  After descending 100 or so steps you climb aboard a boat for bonce bumping 450m ride to the main cavern.  

I'll be honest, the boat ride was the most interesting part, but the guides are entertaining and full of useful information, like how often the caves flood.  Just the sort of thing I want to know about when I'm stuck several hundred metres underground.

Speedwell Cavern 
After a brief glimpse of the sun we headed over to Peak Cavern where we learned about the history of rope making before viewing more impressive caverns and being told, again, about how high the caves flood.  Why do they always wait until you're deep inside before telling you that part?

If you're going to Castleton and you only have the time or money for one cavern then go to the Blue John Caverns.  By a country mile they are the best caverns.  If I try to do them justice I will very quickly run out of superlatives.  Keep looking up - the rock formations are magnificent and you can really get a feel for the forces that created this truly spectacular natural cavern system.  Our tour guide was delightful and incredibly knowledgeable and my only gripe is that it only lasted an hour - I could honestly have spent the day down there.

Blue John Caverns
Of course the star of the show is the Blue John which they still mine and there are plenty of well priced samples to be bought from the gift shop - sadly they don't let you hack your own out of the rock face.

Friday - Cromford

Friday was one of those "we need to nip to Sainsbury's, what else can we do while we're there?" kind of days.  Having spent the previous day gazing at natural wonders we now decided to head to Cromford - the birthplace of the industrial revolution.  Well, one of them anyway, depending on what you count as "birth".

Cromford Mill
Cromford Mill was the first cotton mill to be powered by water and the guided tour is cheap enough and well worth every penny.  For £5 each we spent 2 hours with a knowledgeable guide learning about the history of the village and mill.  If history at school had been this interesting I may have paid closer attention.

Mill workers cottages with special upstairs windows for weaving.
We also got to see a grade 2 listed pigsty and if that isn't worth £5 each, then I don't know what is.

A very special pigsty.
Saturday - Buxton

Our last day.  After a quick visit to the farmers market in Bakewell (well worth a visit) and loading ourselves up with Bakewell Puddings from Bloomers (How long do they keep?  Not long in our house apparently...) we thought it was time to take in the health giving waters of nearby Buxton.

First stop was the wonderful Art Deco pavilion and botanical gardens where there was another local produce market (more food!) and a french horn player running through a medley of Boomtown Rats hits.  Odd but strangely enjoyable.

Buxton Bloom
St Ann's Well was next to fill up our water bottle. Fortunately the man ahead of us let us jump in while he took a pause in his mission to fill 10 or so of those giant water bottles you find on top of water coolers.  You think that "Buxton spring water" is bottled in a factory, I have my doubts.

The water pours forth at a consistent if everso slightly odd 28C and, having drunk a bottle, I felt pretty much the same afterwards as I did before.  Perhaps I need to drink more I thought, eyeing the 10 now full bottles in the boot of the gentleman's car...

St Ann's Well

We were then fortunate enough to stumble upon one of those rare gems of a place that are all too easy to miss.  Buxton Museum and Art Gallery was an absolute delight - imaginatively put together, interactive, informative and fun.  Very well worth a visit even if it isn't raining outside.

Blue John window, Buxton Museum

So there you have it - a wonderful week in Derbyshire.  Normal Lake District blogging will be resumed next week - but you can always take a look at the blog index in the meantime if you fancy something a little hillier.

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