Root and Branch - Family Ties to Derbyshire

Derbyshire's role in family history was the excuse for our first visit to this gently beautiful county in the English Midlands. But it has been the warmth of our welcome and the many attractions of the Peak District that have ensured our frequent returns.

Root and Branch - Family Ties to Derbyshire

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BawBaw on June 30, 2004

On a purely personal level, Derbyshire represents a touchstone to one branch of my family tree. Discovering Derbyshire has thus given substance to aspects of family lore that had been all but lost. When my husband and I planned our first visit in 1998, our objectives were to stand on the soil of my ancestors, to imagine what life might have been like had they not emigrated, and to experience the sights and sounds of a countryside that could have been my home. The three return journeys, however, have been inspired by the region itself, by the quality of life we found there, by the warmth of its people, and by a wide range of attractions.

For visitors seeking peace and beauty, Derbyshire offers the quiet grandeur of the Peak District National Park. The park comprises more than 550 square miles of hills, dales, streams, meadows, woodlands, and moors—roughly three-quarters of which lie in Derbyshire. It is quite literally a natural location for a wide spectrum of outdoor pastimes, including hiking, rock climbing, biking, camping, fishing, caving, and bird-watching.

Visitors looking for remnants of the ancient past will find more than an echo in Derbyshire. Stone circles and henges, passage graves, and barrows are all part of the landscape. Many of the region's principal towns trace their origin to settlements that were already present as far back as the Roman occupation of Britain. In several of these—including Bakewell, Buxton, and Matlock—visitors will find warm springs (or wells) long believed to contain healing waters. Market towns still flourish, and rural life has accommodated itself to the requirements of the modern world.

Village life in Derbyshire is still vibrant and perhaps more attractive than ever. The countryside is peppered with dozens of communities that have not forgotten their links to the past. Though today’s villagers are more apt to commute to nearby cities and towns than to work the land, local traditions and festivals are still observed and visitors are welcome to join in the merrymaking.

Visitors may also choose to visit elegant country estates, patronize the local pubs and restaurants (many of which are absolutely excellent), or attend a country auction or hot air balloon rally. There is even a reasonable facsimile of urban nightlife to be found in Derby and some of the larger towns. The options are limited only by time and imagination.${QuickSuggestions} Derbyshire is spectacular at any time of year, but in my opinion, late spring is best. Spring flowers are magnificent on the Peak, helping to make woodland strolls both interesting and beautiful. The Peak District National Park is the world's second most visited national park (right after Japan's Mr. Fuji), which means that summer visitors will have to compete for resources and, quite simply, space.

Don't forget your brelly. Derbyshire is, after all, still England and that means rain is always likely. If your wanderings are apt to take you out into the countryside, you might also take along your Wellies (or another high-quality brand of waterproof trail boots).

For more information, check out Derbyshire UK, which provides an impressive web guide on the county's attractions. ${BestWay} Public transportation in Britain is generally better than in the States and can probably get you to your lodging in Derbyshire.

Once there, if your wanderings are limited to one small area, you may be able to get by on footpower alone. If you’re based in town or village, you’ll probably be within strolling distance of shops, at least one pub, and a handful of historic attractions.

If you find driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car problematic, ask the host at your lodging about hiring a driver. Such arrangements are possible, but expensive.

By far the best way to ensure flexibility is to rent a car. Indeed, visiting some of the county’s out-of-the-way corners can only be accomplished by car and often by a respectable hike once you reach the carpark. Keep in mind that driving in the English countryside can be a challenge. Narrow roads (sometimes consisting of single tracks), sharp turns, and blind corners are common hazards. Moreover, drivers should be prepared to share their pavement with herds of livestock and groups of walkers, particularly elderly walkers who may be using frames or wheelchairs.

The Dower House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BawBaw on June 30, 2004

The Dower House—a three-story, 16th-century country house that is Grade II listed for its architectural and historic interest—is located in the Derbyshire village of Winster. Once belonging to the nearby Kedleston estate, the front windows of the house look directly down Main Street. The property is adjacent to and shares a wall with the village churchyard. Operated by Mrs. Marsha Foster-Biggin as a five-star, Gold Award-winning bed-and-breakfast establishment, the Dower House offers large and pleasant rooms, a variety of breakfast options, and an attractive walled garden complete with a small fish pond and a cat named Percy.

Our stay at the Dower House was for three nights, and our party consisted of a group of four women, including my mother, sister, younger daughter, and myself. We were looking for a comfortable base for exploring the Peak District, and we were willing to pay for something with charm as well as comfort. The Dower House proved an ideal choice.

Only one of the Dower House's three spacious guestrooms is en suite, but private baths for the other two rooms are close by and comfortable, with old-fashioned fixtures that are entirely appropriate for the setting. Each guestroom has its own eclectic decor, including antique furniture—one room has a four-poster bed—comfortable seating (upholstered chairs and, in one room, a full sofa), and carefully selected wall and window treatments. All guestrooms have color television, full tea and coffee service, and hair dryers.

Our party lodged in the two "private" rooms, and our two baths were located immediately across the hall within an aesthetically charming alcove. Especially given that we shared our rooms as if they were a single suite, the dash across the way to our baths was not an issue. Given our circumstances, "private" served well indeed. For the usual party of two, however, travelers uncomfortable with anything less than full en suite should request the third room.

The Dower House is thoroughly guest friendly. Except for the fee paid on departure, it is altogether possible to believe that one is truly an invited visitor in Marsha's home. The garden and three large rooms on the ground floor--foyer, sitting room, and dining room—are all fully accessible. An honor bar located in the stairwell is generously stocked with a variety of labels and mixers. During our stay Marsha and her husband John provided our party with over-the-counter cold relief from the family medicine cabinet, impromptu lessons on local lore, "celly" tape to wrap a parcel, directions on how to reach various nearby points of interest, and a full measure of courtesy and hospitality.

At its current rate of £85 per room per night, double occupancy, the Dower House is relatively expensive for B&B-style accommodation. Nonetheless, based on the quality of the services provided and of the surroundings, such a rate is more than justified. When you call for reservations, don't forget to ask after Percy—who, of course, is the true owner of the house.

Dower House
Main Street
Winster, Derbyshire, DE4 2DH
+44 (0)1629 650931

The Old Bowling Green

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BawBaw on July 2, 2004

In March 2002, my mother, sister, younger daughter and I settled on the Derbyshire village of Winster as our base for exploring the Peak District. Given the perils of the narrow country roads that connect Winster to the outside world, our group had no wish to travel after dark. The solution for where to find dinner thus became The Old Bowling Green pub, which was within easy walking distance of our B&B. In fairness, there is a second pub in Winster, the Miner's Standard, which enjoys a comparable reputation. But we were on foot, and the Standard was up a steep hill and further away than the Bowling Green. After our long days of touring, we opted for ease.

Located next to the historic Market House on East Bank, the Bowling Green offers a lounge area with a large fireplace, plus restaurant seating in the Parlour and Conservatory dining rooms. (Guests accompanied by children are asked to select tables in one of the non-smoking dining areas.) The décor is simple and attractive, in keeping with the building’s historic character.

As a traditional free house, the Bowling Green offers a varied selection of free ales and keg beers from a wide range of brewers, as well as a goodly number of malt whiskies and other spirits. Yours Truly took quiet notice of the largest bottle of Jameson (a personal favorite) she's ever seen. Mounted upside down behind the bar and specially fitted to facilitate dispensing its contents, the Jameson reassured me that the Bowling Green is a serious pub—despite, or perhaps in accord with—the gentle and oft-practiced humor of its proprietors.

The food was tasty and wholesome, easily exceeding standard pub fare. After taking our meals at the Bowling Green for three nights running, our party managed to sample a fair percentage of the menu. The fish and chips won high praise all around. I loved the baked stilton, which was created from a medley of fresh vegetables with a generous addition of wonderful English stilton. Mother appreciated the potato-leek soup, though she longed for another option after the second night. My daughter highly recommended the steak-and-ale pie. And on our third and final night, my sister persuaded us all (in honesty, with scant resistance) to indulge in an exploration of the "pudding" list. Dishes we didn't try include peppered pork, a lamb casserole seasoned with Mediterranean spices, and for the adventurous at heart, black pudding. Our evening's tab for four people was always under £30, a bargain by any reckoning. Though I should add that our party went very light on the ales and spirits.

The Bowling Green's advertisement promises a warm and friendly welcome. Based on our experience, owners David and Marilyn Bentley followed through admirably in delivering on that promise. David chatted with us at length, putting us at our ease and giving special attention to Mother. Marilyn kept busy behind the bar, making sure our orders were handled efficiently.

Old Bowling Green
East Bank
Winster, Derbyshire, DE4 2DS

The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BawBaw on July 4, 2004

In 1860, a misunderstanding over cooking instructions in the kitchen of Bakewell’s White Horse Inn led to the accidental creation of the world’s first Bakewell Pudding. With an ingredient list featuring short crust, strawberry jam and fresh eggs, Bakewell Pudding resembles what we Americans would call a custard pie. In England, it’s a pudding (not a tart--a frequent error, even in the U.K.). Ideally, it should be served hot and smothered with soft custard or cream. The recipe has been kept secret ever since that long-ago happy accident, though naturally there are countless attempts at duplication.

If one should wish to sample this delicacy, there is no place better to do so than in The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop on the town's Market Square. The pudding shop is housed in a 17th-century structure long used as a chandlery. As the story goes, the chandler’s wife recognized a good thing when she saw it (or, perhaps, tasted it), obtained the recipe, and set up her own business selling these worthy sweets. Puddings have been sold on the premises pretty much continuously ever since.

The ground floor of the Pudding Shop as it currently exists contains a gift shop and bakery counter. The gift shop features china, stoneware, and tinware intended for kitchens and dining areas, plus a goodly variety of jarred preserves. The bakery, aside from--what else?--Bakewell Pudding, offers cakes, biscuits (or cookies, as we Yanks would say), and a respectable assortment of breads.

The first floor (that would be the second floor to the Yanks out there) houses the restaurant. After climbing a set of stairs that decidedly would not meet fire code in the U.S., diners are presented with a charming room laid out under an arched roof with enormous exposed timbers. Plasterwork, stonework and exposed beams, not to mention tablecloths and china, make dining in the Pudding Shop an entirely civilized experience. Happily, the food itself serves to enhance the overall effect.

Beyond the restaurant’s namesake pudding, the menu features sandwiches made using its own gourmet breads, plus salads and soups. Although the luncheon menu includes a complete three-course meal, it’s entirely acceptable to pop in for just tea and pudding. On the whole, both service and food are very good, though a wait should be expected at the busiest hours. The restaurant uses as much local produce as possible.

The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop is currently operated by Don and Christine Holland. Open seven days a week, the hours are 9am to 7pm from May through October and 9am to 6pm from November through April.

Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop
The Square
Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1BT
(+44) 01629 812 193

The Miners Standard

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by BawBaw on July 11, 2004

The Miners Standard is one of two excellent free house pubs in the Derbyshire village of Winster. Built in 1653 as a farmhouse and converted to a turnpike inn in 1753, the Standard has a rich and colorful history—up to and including ghostly hauntings. The structure in which the pub is housed clearly bespeaks its origins, with guests moving from room to room exactly as they might in a rambling farmhouse or country inn. An outdoor dining area behind the pub is available for use during fair weather, complete with the appropriate pastoral surroundings. During our visit, a very large, very powerful, very proprietary-looking bull patrolled behind a fence that suddenly seemed very frail.

As its name suggests, The Miners Standard identifies most directly with Winster’s mining past and with the miners who worked the pits. Mining dominated Winster’s economy through the early 20th century, and its echo is still barely muted throughout the region. The pub’s name is derived from the Henry VIII "standard," which equaled about 16 pints and was used to measure lead-bearing ore. These days, the Standard has found a way to maintain its link to the region’s mining and working-class tradition: The pub has become a favored meal- and rest-stop for cavers, walkers, and other outdoor enthusiasts visiting the Peak District. In keeping with the needs of this "new" clientele, camping and caravan sites are available adjacent to the pub.

Himself and Yours Truly have sampled the Standard’s fare only once, during our visit to the area in June 2003. Driving over to the peak with friends from Lincoln, we detoured through Winster on our way from the Nine Ladies stone circle to Arbor Low and stopped for a late lunch at the Standard. The menu was fairly standard for a country pub, though the food itself was well above average. Our party ordered fish and chips, burgers, and sandwich platters, plus a sampling of locally available ales for the passengers among us. Service was good, the food was excellent and came in truly generous portions, the ales were refreshing, and the prices were low—never a bad combination.

As the day of our visit was truly fine, we took our meal outdoors within full view of the bull, who maintained a careful vigil of our activities. Given that the Standard is located on Winster’s Bank Top (that is, on the rise above the village), the views were lovely, showcasing the rolling upcountry meadows of the Peak District. Taking our lunch late ensured that we could enjoy the peace and beauty of these surroundings in splendid isolation—except for the bull, of course.

Our visit was far too limited to permit a thorough review of The Miners Standard, but we were impressed and hope for a return engagement in the near future. We’d like a better opportunity to sample the kegs, a chance to evaluate the dinner menu, and perhaps a bit more information about those ghosts.

The Miners Standard
Winster, Derbyshire, DE4 2DR
+44 (01629) 650279

Haddon Hall

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by BawBaw on July 1, 2004

Haddon Hall is a gift from the past. A marvelously preserved medieval manor house situated in the lush Derbyshire countryside, the hall was built over several generations by scions of the Vernon family. Late in the sixteenth century, it passed to the Manners family through the marriage of John Manners to Dorothy Vernon and thus became a secondary residence of the Dukes of Rutland. I sought out Haddon Hall because the Vernons who build it are counted among my mother's forebears, and I wanted the opportunity to touch my family's past.

Standing behind its medieval curtain wall, the hall is familiar to moviegoers as the backdrop for such films as The Princess Bride, Moll Flanders, and Jane Eyre. In part due to its status as a secondary residence, it was never subjected to the kind of modernization that destroyed much of the character of similar houses elsewhere. By the early decades of the twentieth century, when the Ninth Duke of Rutland decided to begin restoration of the hall, the emphasis was truly on restoration—not renovation. As a result, the medieval kitchens, banqueting hall, and minstrels' gallery have survived largely intact.

The oldest part of the hall is the fourteenth-century chapel in the southwest corner of the lower courtyard. With its fourteenth-century wall paintings, fifteenth-century painted glass, and seventeenth-century organ, the chapel still serves the Parish of Nether Haddon, one of England's smallest parish communities.

Two of Haddon's most striking rooms are the sixteenth-century dining room, decorated with family crests and Tudor paneling, and the Long Gallery, begun by Sir George Vernon in the late sixteenth century and completed by John Manners a few years later. The design of the Long Gallery features large banks of windows alternating at opposing intervals along its length. The diamond-shaped panes of glass in these windows were set at angles to catch and reflect light in different directions. The result is a large, airy room in which natural light bounces off wood and painted surfaces with dramatic effect.

The gardens at Haddon Hall are simply stunning. When I wander about these gardens, my thoughts turn to my mother and grandmother, and to all the women of my family who have loved and tended gardens—sometimes under primitive and harsh conditions. If not a Vernon trait, perhaps this impulse to create gardens is part of their English heritage. The gardens at Haddon combine terraces, formal pathways, and carefully tended informality into a setting that is perfectly comfortable and easily accepted as natural. And in truth, the magnet that draws me back again and again to Haddon can be found in the gardens more than in the hall itself.

Haddon Hall and its gardens are still privately owned by the Manners family and are open April through October. The price of admission is currently £7.25 for adults. (For those of you who may be wondering, there is no family discount and no frequent visitor plan.)

Haddon Hall

Bakewell, United Kingdom, DE45 1LA
+44 (1629) 812855

Market Town of Bakewell

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by BawBaw on July 3, 2004

Bakewell holds the key to the search for my family’s Derbyshire roots. The Vernon branch of the family tree is deeply rooted in Bakewell’s soil—there is even a Vernon Chapel in the local parish church. Personal connections aside, Bakewell is famous for its healing baths (or "wells"), its magnificent medieval bridge (which is still in use), and an unusual local custom known as "well-dressing,"

Bakewell was already a settled community when Rome occupied Britain. It received a royal charter as a market town in 1330 and still has the largest cattle market in Britain. Since the Norman Conquest, Bakewell has served as a political and social center for the lords of nearby Haddon Hall. The 16th-century elopement and marriage between Dorothy Vernon of Haddon and John Manners, the heir of Rutland, is the stuff of local legend and national folklore. For me, the tenuous family connection to the beautiful and strong-willed Dorothy makes exploring Bakewell all the more exciting.

The town itself is simply lovely. Spreading down Derbyshire hills and along the River Wye, most of its buildings maintain an authentic patina of age. The town carpark is located along the Wye, which invites riverside strolls on the banks of one of England’s most pristine rivers. Bakewell's post-Victorian additions are off to the edge of town, thus preserving a sense of integrity in which modern intrusions are limited. The A6, A619 and B5055 (modern roadways that run through the town center) represent unhappy exceptions.

Bakewell's collection of notable buildings and landmarks is really too large to treat justly in so small a space. Highlights include:

~The centuries-old Church of All Saints, hands-down the town's most outstanding feature. It has an unusual octagonal spire and an overall Gothic design, with occasional remnants of Norman and Saxon workmanship.

~The Old Market Hall, a magnificently ugly early 17th-century stone building that easily betrays its original purpose. It now serves as a Tourist Information Centre for Bakewell and the Peak District National Park.

~ The Old House Museum on Cunningham Place, a 16th-century stone structure that was probably superimposed over an earlier wooden building.

~ The Old Bath House (circa 1697), a great place for learning about the peculiar Bakewell practice of "well dressing"—consisting of elaborate displays erected near local wells and resembling floats in a holiday parade.

When we visit, I'm always intrigued by the town's network of narrow streets and closes. Excursions off the beaten path can be rewarded by finding small shops tucked into quiet corners or rows of terraced cottages with flowers bursting from unlikely places.

As befits a market town, Bakewell has a number of shops offering a wide range of merchandise. It lacks a local Marks & Spencer, but otherwise it’s a great alternative to shopping malls and supercenters.

And naturally, a visit just wouldn’t be complete without a stop at The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, which makes its namesake confection using the original secret recipe.

Bakewell Market Town

Bakewell, United Kingdom

© LP 2000-2009