Derbyshire's Lakeland - the villages of Bradbourne and Carsington
PUBLISHED: 09:25 10 November 2014
Mike Smith explores Carsington, the county's combination of countryside and 'coast', and Derbyshire's only 'Thankful' village, Bradbourne
In a county with an almost complete lack of natural lakes, it is surprising to find that two of Derbyshire’s top visitor destinations are based around large expanses of water. The area surrounding three vast reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley has become so popular that traffic management schemes are in force during summer weekends; and Carsington Water, a reservoir completed in 1992 on 741 acres of land near Ashbourne, now attracts over one million annual visits.
These artificial ‘lakelands’ have made contrasting impressions on the countryside. With the drowning of the old villages of Derwent and Ashopton and the planting of conifers around the shores of the Derwent reservoirs, a large tract of the High Peak has mutated into a ‘Little Switzerland’, whereas the area around Carsington Water has been left largely undisturbed as a piece of green and pleasant England, where unspoilt hamlets shelter in the folds of a gently undulating landscape.
Of course, Severn Trent Water’s vast new lake has changed the wider context of the local hamlets, but the water board has made amends by creating a watery playground for all ages. On the shores of the reservoir, there are footpaths, cycle tracks and hides for watching wildlife. A visitor centre provides information and refreshment facilities, while the lake is a venue for all manner of water sports, including windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and bell-boating.
Invented by David Train, an Olympic canoeing coach, bell-boating involves using two long canoes linked by a robust platform that provides reassuring stability. As well as offering a safe activity for the many school parties that come to the reservoir, this novel form of paddling is even being advertised as a sport that can be enjoyed by end-of-term revellers as part of their school ‘prom’.
Dave Horner is one of the many people who revel in sailing on Carsington Water. He says: ‘Given favourable weather conditions, I try to make trips every week to the reservoir from my home in Langwith. It is the perfect place for me to enjoy sailing my Merlin Rocket, which I have spent many hours restoring.’
Close to the shores of the reservoir, there is a popular pub called the Knockerdown. With its panoramic views over the lake and its indoor and outdoor dining areas, together with a play area and an adjacent caravan and camping park, the Knockerdown is a particular favourite with families.
Another pub that has benefited greatly from the influx of visitors to the area is the Miners’ Arms in the village of Carsington. After taking multiple orders for food and drink from members of a coach party, Debbie Moorhouse found a few minutes to expand on the pub’s appeal. She said, ‘We serve great food, with a carvery on Sundays, a Steak Night on Wednesdays and a Fish and Chip Night on Fridays, and our beers include local ales from microbreweries. We even have a cycle-hire scheme.’
The Miners’ Arms has the additional advantage of being located at the heart of a delightful hamlet which nestles cosily at the foot of a steep wooded hillside that rises to the heights of Carsington Pastures, an area once extensively exploited for lead and now labelled on the village information board as ‘a spiritual place for reflection and a place to make you feel as if you are top of the world.’
Another spiritual place is to be found squeezed right up against the hillside, as if reaching up to the heavenly pastures above. This is St Margaret’s Church, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘a nave and chancel in one’. Despite its simple geometry, the church features an impressive west gallery and several stained glass windows dedicated to the memory of various members of the Gell family.
Since 1995, when the last of the Gells left Hopton Hall, their ancestral seat on the edge of the village, Carsington has seen lots of changes, not least the conversion of several cottages and farm buildings into holiday lets, thereby halting the likely deterioration of much of the village’s fabric and helping to preserve its old-world charm. Another recent development has seen a £50,000 enhancement of the village green, thanks to contributions from the Carsington Reservoir Fund and the Exton Trust. The green now features delightful sculptures of three animals madly chasing each other around a tree.
Carsington and Hopton C of E Primary School is located just beyond the green. As a grammatically suspect inscription testifies, ‘The school was built and given by Temperance Gell of Hopton for twenty poor children of Hopton and Carsington to read, write and other proper works, AD 1726.’
Temperance Gell was one of several distinguished members of the Gell family. John Gell was well rewarded by Cromwell for his advice and unfailing support; another John Gell was an admiral who captured a Spanish ship with a cargo valued at £935,000; Sir William Gell was an archaeologist and chamberlain to Princess Caroline, the wife of George II; and Philip Eyre Gell was the builder of the famous Via Gellia, a road designed to link his mines at Wirksworth to a smelter at Cromford.
Hopton Hall, the ancestral home of the Gells, is a magnificent country house: Elizabethan in origin, but largely Georgian in appearance. Bill Thomas, a retired Senior Vice President of Hewlett Packard, and his wife Julie acquired the hall in 2010, with the determination to restore the building to its former glory, whilst modernising its heating system, converting its outbuildings into holiday-lets and realising the full potential of its stunning gardens, which now attract visitors from far and wide who come to enjoy a dazzling summer display of 2,000 roses and a winter snowdrops spectacle.
Another country house dating back to Elizabethan times is located at Bradbourne, a village four miles from Carsington. Although it sits shyly behind a high stone wall on the edge of the graveyard of All Saints’ Church, this handsome stone mansion is a key element in a surprising conglomeration of distinguished buildings and monuments to be found at the heart of this tiny hamlet.
The church is approached along a wide track, whose entrance is marked by an elaborate lamp on a stone podium, erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. A wall to the right marks the boundary of the Old Parsonage, a building that manages to look good despite a façade that is a mishmash of stone and brick work punctured by a mixture of sash and mullioned windows.
Within the church grounds, there is one of the finest Saxon crosses in Derbyshire, and the church is rightly celebrated for one of the best-preserved Norman doorways in the county. Rather than giving access to the nave, this richly-carved entrance stands at the base of a square Norman tower that seems semi-detached from the main body of the church. Within, there are two striking images: a large painting of ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ by an unknown artist and a wall-mounted biblical quote framed by an unusual mural painting of what appears to be the gateway to a great house.
Churchwarden Jean Castledine describes All Saints as ‘a church that takes your heart’. Aside from its intrinsic merits, the building stands on an elevated site that commands a glorious view across the Derbyshire Dales towards Parwich. Nat Gould, a much-travelled and prolific novelist, chose Bradbourne as his final resting place after declaring, ‘I have travelled in many lands but never have I seen a more beautiful place.’ (Peter Seddon wrote about the author in the February 2013 issue of Derbyshire Life.)
More recently one of the country’s finest actors, Derbyshire-born Alan Bates, made his home here, finding a welcoming and peaceful retreat from the bright lights of Hollywood and the theatre. Someone who never lost his love of and loyalty to Derbyshire, there is a memorial fountain to him at the top of the lane to the church where he rests with his wife and son.
Bradbourne - A Thankful Village
Bradbourne is known as ‘A Thankful Village’, the only such place in Derbyshire. With its architectural beauty and its tranquil setting, the place has much to be thankful for, but its official designation actually commemorates a very different reason for the village to be thankful.
In common with just 51 other villages in the country, Bradbourne was grateful for the safe return of all local men who fought in the Great War, a fact recognised on a plaque delivered to the village last year by Medwyn Parry and Dougie Bancroft, two motorcyclists who visited all the ‘Thankful Villages’ on a 2,500 mile trip designed to raise funds for the British Legion. The plaque now has pride of place on the plinth below the Victorian lamp at the heart of the village.
With the assistance of Canon Hubert, Jean Castledine spent many hours delving into the backgrounds of the servicemen so that she could invite some of their descendants to the official unveiling of the plaque and to a memorial service that took place in August on the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Her efforts were rewarded by the attendance of members of the Hodgson and Trafford families.
The plaque was unveiled by Lt Chris Bermingham of the 2nd Mercian Regiment, with Sgt Watts of the same regiment also in attendance; British Legion branches from Ashbourne and Brassington, Hognaston and Bradbourne were also represented.
Jean Castledine is now hoping to prove that Bradbourne may well be one of only 15 ‘Double Thankful Villages’, where all the local men who served in the Second World War were also lucky enough to return home.