Sunday, 31 January 2010


We have had a whole series of colourful sunsets here over the past week. I thought I would try hanging out of the bedroom window to see if I could capture a reflection. I'm not entirely sure that I like the result, but it is slightly out of the ordinary.

Interesting to note that, until about eleven days ago, I couldn't see these houses because of a large ash tree in my next-door-but-one neighbour's garden. How much can be 'achieved' by two men and a chain saw!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Dressing up

Derbyshire has a couple of traditions which are almost unheard of outside the county and, although it is completely the wrong time of year, I couldn't leave Tissington without reference to one of them.

It begins with this...

and continues with barrow loads of this...

to which is added a whole host of natural ingredients to create these..

Tissington is known as the mother place of well dressing. Tradition has it that wells were first dressed in Derbyshire, as 17th century villagers gave thanks for deliverance from the plague, which had so devastated nearby Eyam. There is also reference to successive years of drought during which the wells of Tissington never dried up. Either way, it is almost certainly a practice which has been adapted from earlier pagan water blessing rituals.
Around three quarters of wells are dressed with a religious theme. Preparation begins far in advance with decisions about the topic, design, colours and materials to be used (which should always be 100% natural, and are often flowers or plants grown and collected locally). In the final stages, the flowers are pressed into a puddled clay base which has been marked out with the agreed design. It can take a team of people up to a week to complete the dressing for one well.
The end results are always spectacular, which is why, every ascension week, Tissington is swamped with visitors who want to come see the offering for the year.
We were lucky enough to see the dressings being prepared. If you're interested enough to read more about well dressing or want to browse a gallery of completed wells from all over Derbyshire, follow this link:
A little tip though. If you decide to come to Tissington and see for yourself, park in Mapleton or Alsop and walk up the trail. It's 3 miles each way, but probably still quicker than queuing to get the car out!

Friday, 29 January 2010


Tissington is one of many villages around Derbyshire with names containing the Saxon word 'ton', meaning an enclosure or village and/or the Saxon 'ing' meaning the place of. In the original Saxon, it would have been Tizinctun, but, during my childhood, I remember it being most often referred to as Tissen; as part of the triplet Tissen, Brassen & Carsen (Brassington and Carsington).

The village figures in the Domesday book, where it is reported to have had a population of 100. It's not much bigger now!

Primarily, Tissington is an estate village, having been built around Tissington Hall - the seat of the FitzHerbert family for the past 500 years. The present hall is Jacobean and dates from the 17th Century. It replaced an Elizabethan Hall in a slightly different location.
Close up, the Hall looks very impressive, but I particularly like it in this setting, nestling in the hollow below the field and framed by the trees.
Not a bad place to live!

Thursday, 28 January 2010


Tissington village, after which the trail is named, is a local honey pot which attracts a sizeable number of visitors each year. That being the case, you might expect the local livestock to be a little more blase about large groups of people wandering by.

It would appear not! These particular locals seemed as fascinated by the twenty-four children, as the twenty-four children were by them!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Tree Tunnels

The Cromford and High Peak Railway coped with the awkward Derbyshire countryside by running up a series of inclines, serviced by engine houses and winches to haul up the loaded wagons. In the first five miles of its route, it climbed a series of four inclines, rising over 1,000 feet.

In contrast, the London and North Western Railway Company who built the Tissington line selected to map or engineer a route level enough for a steam locomotive to pull carriages unaided. So, after emerging from the Ashbourne tunnel and passing over the Seven Arches viaduct, the route to Tissington is predominantly enclosed, running through a series of cuttings and over tree lined embankments.

In early summer, it can seem like walking through a tunnel of fresh green foliage with occasional glimpses of the landscape beyond.

(Best viewed large)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Benefitting from Beeching? : 'How the Trail Became'

The Peak District National Park (incidentally, the oldest in the world!) is divided into two distinct regions. The White Peak has a limestone base and is characterised by it's rivers, dales and rocky outcrops. Further north, the grit stone based Dark Peak is a land of wild moorlands and wide open spaces.

Traversing the White Peak, the Cromford and High Peak Railway was opened in 1831 as a link between the Cromford Canal at High Peak Junction and the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge. At the time it was a feat of engineering, being one of the first long distance routes (33 miles) and climbing to a height of 1,266 feet. In comparison, the highest working railway summit today is Ais Gill on the Settle-Carlisle line at 1,169 feet. C&HPR was built as an alternative to a canal and served to carry coal, stone and eventually cotton.
In 1899, it was joined by a second line, the Tissington Railway, which ran from Parsley Hay, 13 miles south to the market town of Ashbourne; from where there was a link to the main line at Rocester. At one time, milk from Derbyshire farms was transported down the Tissington line, onto the main rail network and from there to Finsbury Park in London.
Unfortunately, neither of these lines survived the Beeching axe, closing in stages through the 1960s. In 1971, however, the lines were given a new lease of life, being re-opened - in a joint venture between the Peak Park Planning Board and Derbyshire County Council - as trails for walkers, cyclists and horses. And so 'became' the Tissington and High Peak Trails.
Last May, I had the pleasure of walking a section of the Tissington Trail with a class of Y3 children. It rained (no surprise there then) and the back stragglers complained more and more with every step (awww! - we did a whole 3 miles!), but we had a great time, found loads of evidence of the trails original usage and, because it was a weekday, didn't even have to dodge many cyclists.

Almost the last section of our walk took us down the dip where once stood the Seven Arches. Sadly, the viaduct was demolished, but at least the new path took us right down to the level of the brook and the wooden bridge which crosses it.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Towering over Derby

From the top of the cathedral tower, the view east over Derby is quite impressive, but isn't it interesting how height can give you those little insights into things which are normally hidden from view? I've never spotted this sub station from ground level!

Derby's river is the Derwent, nearing the end of its 50 mile course from the moors above Bamford Dams to its confluence with the Trent. The new bridge looks very smart, though I have yet to meet anyone who has actually crossed it (not that I often ask) and am not quite sure what criteria the council used when deciding where to place it. I'm sure they had their reasons.

With its historic buildings, narrow streets and more traditional shops, the Cathedral Quarter is definitely the more character-filled part of town; though it is suffering somewhat from the advent of the super-sized Westfield Centre just a short walk away. (Yes Bradfordians, we have a Westfield Centre, not just a Westfield hole!)

At 212 feet, Derby Cathedral tower is the second highest Anglican tower in England. I'm guessing that the highest is York Minster, though I am quite prepared to be corrected.

My eldest son and I were lucky enough to abseil from here in September. It was an amazing experience which I would love to repeat. Derby Mountain Rescue Team were professional, reassuring and quite happy to accommodate someone daft enough to want to climb the 189 steps for a second time, just to take some photos! (As long as I was also prepared to go back down the long way this time - shucks!)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Pheasant Biryani

Last October (and, if I'd been there, probably every other October) the colours around the Melbourne Hall Estate were beautiful. The trees were in varied stages of the Autumn change and the fields were a mix of ripened crops or newly ploughed soil. Some of the soil was a rich dark loam, while other fields were bordered by the kind of stuff which superglues itself to the bottom of your boots and makes you feel like you're lifting half a hundredweight with every step!

As we walked, however, we kept spotting these curious blue-barrel shapes on tripods - up the far hillside, over the thick hedge or in the distant corners of fields. It wasn't until we made an accidental diversion (wrong side of the hedge, full lap of the field looking for a non-existent stile - oops!) that we came across one close up. BIRYANI PASTE???

Closer examination revealed the hanging hose full of grain. Home-made pheasant feeders! I'm thinking that the estate manager must have some kind of arrangement with a local curry-house supplier! And the really clever thing - as a friend pointed out - is that the birds come ready curry flavoured!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Melbourne... where?

Back over the border from Leicestershire into Derbyshire, is Melbourne. Believe it or not, the Australian city was named after this small town.

Melbourne Hall began life as the Rectory for the Norman parish church (right next door), was taken over by Sir John Coke in 1628, had formal gardens added by Rt. Hon. Thomas Coke in the early 18th century and is still home to the family descendants today.
The Hall can be visited only in August; the gardens are open only in summer...

... but there's no restriction to the Pool!
Just remember your bag of bread and prepare to be popular!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Breedon on the Hill

Breedon Hill is not enormously high but, because it is surrounded by relatively flat countryside, it can be spotted for miles around and is a well known local landmark. The name Breedon on the Hill derives from the Celtic word bre (meaning hill) and the Anglo Saxon word dun (also meaning hill), so I guess you could say it is named 'Hill Hill on the Hill'.
Sad person that I am, I had a low hanging branch of my sycamore tree lopped in order to be able to see this church from my bedroom window. And this is only the last in a long line. There has been a place of worship here since the founding of a monastery in about 676, and before that it was a hermitage! The present church of St Mary and St Hardulph dates back to the Middle Ages and has original Saxon carvings built into its internal walls.
Last October, I walked around the area with a friend and we were delighted to find the church door unlocked. It is beautiful inside and has a tangible air of the sacred.
Definitely worth a return visit.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Mercia Marina

I think it's true to say that Derbyshire is an under-rated county, often-most viewed through the windows of a car as travellers race on to 'more exciting' destinations. South of county, Derbyshire borders with Leicestershire and Staffordshire. The countryside is rolling, with a mixture of arable and livestock farming. The river Trent winds its way from west to east, being joined in turn by the Dove and the Derwent and loosely followed by the line of the Trent and Mersey canal.

The idea of a link between these two great rivers came from engineer James Brindley and the canal opened in 1772. Once used to transport fragile porcelain from the Potteries, it is now almost solely recreational. There are, however, those who choose to live on the water, including one of the cashiers from my usual supermarket. The Mercia Marina was opened in 2008 to meet the growing demand for narrowboat berths.

In the background are the five cooling towers of the now decommissioned Willington power station. Lined up like a V of skittles in a giant bowling alley, they dominate the surrounding countryside and, although there is a move towards their demolition, I would be sad to see them go. They were always there, in the background of my childhood.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Dawn of a New Day

Some days, I find getting out of bed a real drag. OK, I admit it -most days, but it is especially true of the cold, dark days of winter, when even the birds don't bother with a wake up call. How strong is the urge to curl up snug, ignore the insistent alarm and drift off back to sleep? But - things to do, people to rouse...

It was on just such a day in November, that I drew back the curtains to reveal this glorious sunrise. What a welcome surprise!

A light in the darkness and a promise of things to come.