Along the A52 from Brailsford to Ashbourne
PUBLISHED: 14:02 13 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:05 13 June 2013
A photographic road trip from Derby to Ashbourne... words and photographs by Ashley Franklin
My A52 road trip from Derby to Ashbourne (see May’s issue of Derbyshire Life) was intended to be one feature, but by the time I reached Brailsford page space had been exhausted on an eye-opening assortment of out-of-town enterprises. Part two, from Brailsford to Ashbourne, has brought to light as many surprises and delights.
The countryside on this stretch becomes more hilly as the Peak beckons, and sitting serenely in this verdancy are two ‘chocolate box’ villages – Osmaston and Shirley – various thriving businesses, three successful pubs, 13 acres of fishing lakes, an 8-acre site selling every conceivable species of tree, a country house, and a photographer who attracts bookings for portrait shoots because of the beauty of the world on her doorstep.
1 Plenty in Store
We begin and end our trip at a newsagent, just so you know where to pick up a copy of Derbyshire Life if you commute along this road! The owner of Brailsford Stores & Post Office, Keith Cragg, was a London commuter for many years and says he wouldn’t have endured his 6am to 8pm work days without such a lovely village to come home to. Then redundancy gave Keith the opportunity to stay in the village. Ironically, running a store means even longer hours but with the help and hard work of his family – wife Jennifer and son and daughter Jonathan and Jessica – and ‘loyal, trusted’ staff from the locality, Keith has enjoyed building up a fully-stocked and thriving shop and post office service. ‘We pride ourselves on reliability, availability and excellent customer service,’ says Keith, ‘and we don’t sell anything we are not proud to use, eat or drink ourselves.’
The food provision is better than ever since Keith purchased Ashbourne Filled Rolls, supplying both the store and many local businesses with locally-sourced, freshly-made baguettes and cobs and full buffet services for any occasion.
Derbyshire’s Lake District – for anglers
A few hundred yards from the bustle of the A52 is a place where the only sound you’ll hear is the whirl of a spin cast reel. Twenty-one years ago local farmer David Goodall decided to diversify. Birch House Lakes started off with one small pool and now has eight lakes with 13 different species of fish, including carp, bream, tench and roach, fished from 200 pegs. Most of the waters are suitable for disabled anglers and there is a refreshments lodge and toilets. As one angler told me: ‘Even if I don’t catch anything I’m away from everything and everyone here. It’s a lovely, tranquil spot.’
Ednaston Home Farm
The popular trend of converting farm buildings into business units is exemplified by the work done by Stan Derbyshire at Ednaston Home Farm. It was a ‘perfect’ location for Becki Evans of Red Square Photography when she decided to move out from her Ashbourne premises: ‘It’s very accessible, with plenty of passing traffic and free parking. It’s also a very sympathetic conversion with exposed brickwork and white wood panelling giving a comfortable, rural feel to our studio.’
The move has been inspirational for Becki’s portrait shoots: she has eschewed a studio base and uses a spacious garden and scrapyard in the grounds, also offering clients backdrops such as Markeaton Park, Ilam or, even closer, Osmaston village.
Fortuitously, Becki’s studio manager Caroline Scott is also business development manager at another Home Farm business, Ego, which offers website development, graphic design and marketing. ‘As most design agencies are in towns or cities, our location sets us apart from the competition,’ states Jo Clarke, Ego’s Designer/Web Developer. ‘Clients love to escape the chaos when they call in to see us and the open space helps with the creative process.’
Working with Jo and Caroline is designer Rachel Markham and associate marketing consultant Sarah Ainslie. ‘Our other USP is that we are a full service agency,’ says Jo. ‘Our services extend to design, print and advertising.’
Also based at Home Farm are: Turnaround, a company which helps provide care for vulnerable children; personal stylist Louise Redfern; and Mansells Furniture, run by Chris and Kath Mansell who have been trading in quality solid timber oak furniture for nearly 40 years. ‘For our kind of goods, this attractive countryside setting is so much better than a town industrial estate,’ says Kath.
Further up the lane from the Mercaston Tree Company lies the hamlet of Hollington, the home of Heldreich, a name that has been associated with high quality French polishing and
antique furniture restoration for four generations. Neil Heldreich has established his name locally for 27 years, his reputation soaring since he renovated his Hollington farmhouse three years ago. ‘It’s an ideal location,’ says Neil. ‘I live and work here. I have plenty of space, yet have stayed small and personal. These traditional skills belong to the countryside, so this is the sort of place you would want to bring your treasured pieces of furniture to.’ Neil’s craftsmanship involves refinishing, restoration and conservation, plus upholstering and bespoke cabinet making. ‘I have passion and respect for antiques,’ states Neil. ‘I love working on furniture that requires thought, skill, time and patience, and there’s great satisfaction in restoring my customers’ pieces to their former glory.’
Temptation by Design
Someone who moved out of Ashbourne last month after 13 years is Tania Potter of Temptations By Design. Moving her bespoke bridal gown design shop to her home, Mill Dam Farm, just off the A52 in Bradley, makes perfect sense both for her and her customers: ‘I have a nine-year-old boy and I want to be at home with him in school holidays. Working from home also means I’m not constricted to shop hours, and don’t have to divert my attention away from a customer if someone comes in off the street. Now I can stagger all my appointments.’ Tania is confident business will prosper from home as she has a great reputation for her elegant, original and contemporary award-winning gowns. ‘I have a good eye for detail, I can fit extremely well and I know how to make brides look good,’ she says.
The Company of Trees
There are probably more species of tree here than anywhere else in Derbyshire. Within eight acres of land by the side of the A52 are trees from across the world. The Mercaston Tree Company, run by Madeleine Thacker and Paul Smith, is one of the UK’s largest importers and producers of mature and semi-mature trees, shrubs and topiary. ‘You name it, we get it,’ promises Paul.
As well as supplying, delivering and planting trees for domestic through to corporate customers, they offer expert advice on suitability, preparation and care. They also run a garden design and landscaping service.
Why buy a tree? ‘Many reasons,’ insists Paul. ‘It makes a great impression, it’s decorative, it’s good for the environment, attracts wildlife, reduces road noise... and think what a delightful, different gift it is.’
Just down the road from Neil is the Red Lion. In an age when two pubs a week are closing, it’s heartening to see a traditional tavern in a secluded rural location being invigorated by a new landlord. For Dan Lyle it’s been a Victor Kiam moment: he’s a former drinker at the Red Lion and also a member of the pub’s football team. ‘Of all the drinkers’ pubs in the area, the Red Lion has enjoyed the best following so, in taking over, it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” although I’m looking to push our traditional pub food more and open more frequently.’
A former chef at the Red Lion, Robin Hunter moved seven years ago to the late 18th century Saracen’s Head in neighbouring Shirley, creating one of the most highly regarded gastro pubs in the county. I have twice relished the high quality food here, enjoying at the same time the country inn ambience. This is a place where real ales are as important as the wines.
‘We are not a stuffy restaurant,’ insists Robin. ‘We offer fresh, locally-sourced, homemade, high quality food in a relaxed and friendly pub environment and our great consistency brings people back time and time again – and from far and wide. It’s also a lovely drive to an attractive village.’ You can stay the night, too: there is also accommodation.
‘We’re friendly and knowledgeable here,’ added Robin, and so it proved when I returned to enquire about the massive yew tree in the churchyard. The pub keeps the Shirley Village History Book compiled for the millennium by Joe Johnson, which informed me that the yew is reputed to be 1,000 years old and has a maximum girth of 18ft 9ins.
St Michael’s Church was built in the 14th century, though the village was well established pre-Domesday. The ‘valiant Shirleys’ were applauded for fighting by Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Pt 1. Just as famously, the 19th century vicar of Shirley, Rev. Charles Powys, had four literary children, one of whom was the prolific author John Cowper Powys.
While one expects to see more rural and home-run businesses in this technological age, it’s surprising to find an internet company successfully selling clothes. Rupert Bowling runs suitsmen.co.uk from his Shirley Common home, selling a wide range of men’s suits, jackets, coats, trousers and accessories. Key to his success has been his vast experience of e-commerce – Rupert’s was the first website to sell suits in the UK over 12 years ago – and it has enabled him to branch out into offering bespoke suits online as Rupert the Tailor.
‘Clicking through a webpage is much easier than rifling through endless store racks,’ says Rupert. ‘As for the material, we send swatches through the post and hardly any customers return their order.’ As Rupert’s stock is stored in outlets across the UK, the suitsmen team operation only needs a converted upstairs room at his house. ‘It’s beneficial that around us is quietness, greenery, fresh air and space,’ says Rupert. ‘Better still, my accountant lives here – my wife Sue – a second team member, Theresa, is only a mile away and the third, Debbie, lives virtually opposite.’
Yeldersley Hall is run by Andrew and Catherine Bailey. In the late 90s these two city solicitors with a background in property fancied a different way of life. A family inheritance allowed them to buy Yeldersley Hall and begin renovation work – of which there’s been more than Andrew expected, ‘We had a five-year plan. It’s now in its 15th year!’ The result is four tastefully refurbished self-catering apartments, sleeping up to 14, and hiring the hall for weddings has been so successful that they are fully booked for the next two years. ‘We offer the great attraction of a Derbyshire country house wedding together with a “Your Day, Your Way” flexibility,’ says Andrew. ‘We essentially hand over the venue for the wedding party to organise whatever they want, with our guidance. They can have everything from a sumptuous occasion with four-course meal to a fun-style event involving a vintage tea party. We also have 12 acres of grounds with fabulous gardens.’
The manor house at nearby Osmaston has long gone – demolished in 1966 – but its site is a very popular venue for weddings and corporate events through the provision of a state-of-the-art marquee house with flooring, carpets, glazed windows, lighting, luxury loos, 3-phase generator, heating, tables, chairs and catering annexe. It can seat up to 200 guests.
The venue also has glorious views of the estate which lies in a picture postcard village with charming cottages, resplendent perpendicular church, traditional pub with its own post office and store, Victorian-age primary school and village green with duck pond. Is there a village more quintessentially English than Osmaston?
Osmaston is a magnet for cyclists and walkers, all of whom will be entranced by the ornamental lakes and the old sawmill with its Swiss chalet roof and a waterfall straight out of a fantasy film.
MSR & St Mary’s
Shortly after the turning to Osmaston, the A52 by-passes Ashbourne and takes us down to Waterside Retail Park which houses major names such as Homebase, Halfords, Majestic Wine and M&S Simply Food. However, we shall finish where we started: at a newsagents, the MSR Newsgroup store on The Compton. It’s a fitting end as the manager Lee Hanstock has driven to and fro along the A52 for the last eight years, commuting from his Nottingham home. ‘I always enjoy the journey. All around it’s lovely and green and the road is never too clogged. What I also like is that the A52 is so well-cared for. It’s well tarmacked and always well gritted in winter – I have never missed a day’s work when it has snowed.’
Finally, is there one sight that Lee enjoys most? ‘Yes, I am always taken by St Mary’s Nursing Home, nicely set back and shrouded in greenery.’ This comment greatly pleased the manager of this Ednaston residential home, Janet Gibson. ‘We have here,’ says Janet, ‘a place of comfort, care, compassion and peace offering a positive experience for both the residents and, importantly, their families.’