PUBLISHED: 12:50 13 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:07 05 April 2013
Mike Smith visits a popular Peak District 'honeypot' for a taste of... cheese
In 1203 Hartington became the first settlement in the Peak District to obtain a market charter, but it is many years since stall markets were held in the market place, which is now sub-divided into a large duck pond, two small greens and a free car park. Although the market is long gone, the range of goods and services available on the perimeter of the picturesque market place and along the main street is quite remarkable and far more comprehensive than in most villages of comparable size.
Long-established businesses in the village include: a newsagents and general store; the award-winning Beresford Tea Rooms, which accommodate a post office; Hart in the Country, a magnet for tourists with its gifts, leather goods, clothes, maps and books; Hartington Picture Framers, which now operates from a private house and via the internet; Hartdale Motors, which has been offering its services for 30 years; an antique shop and two famous pubs. Four other well-known shops could easily have disappeared in the last year but they have all been acquired by new owners who are helping to preserve the vitality of this charming village with their enterprise and cheery disposition.
Much of the charm of Hartington stems from its ambivalence. Seen from the surrounding hills, it appears to be a picturesque huddle of stone cottages in a cosy hollow of the White Peak, but a close-up view reveals that it has the most spacious market place imaginable. The overall dimensions of the settlement are those of a village but many of its finest buildings have an urban look about them. And even though the tower of Hartingtons parish church seems to be far too squat for the size of the rest of the building, it manages to dominate the village because it occupies an elevated position.
Hartingtons fame rests on several connections which have contradictions of their own. It is known as a gateway to Dovedale, one of Englands most sublime river valleys, but many of the attractive valleys on its doorstep have no visible river at all because their streams run underground. The village is associated with the writers Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton, neither of whom was actually a native of Hartington. Above all, the village has long been celebrated as a source of Stilton cheese, even though the village of Stilton is 100 miles away.
This king of English cheeses was popularised at the Bell Inn in the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton, but it acquired a certification which limited its production to Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Until recently, Hartingtons creamery was responsible for the production of a quarter of the worlds supply of Stilton, but the factory was acquired in 2009 by Long Clawson Dairy, which promptly closed it down and transferred production to Leicestershire. One hundred and eighty people lost their jobs and the factory site is now the subject of a planning application for the erection of 42 new houses.
The planning proposals have produced a mixed reaction in the village, but the loss of the creamery has been met with unequivocal dismay. To everyones relief, the famous Old Cheese Shop, which stands between the factory and the market place, has been acquired by Garry and Claire Millner, who hope that they will soon be licensed to sell Blue Stilton cheese made at a new creamery established in former agricultural buildings at nearby Pikehall by Alan Salt and Ady Cartlidge, who both worked at the old creamery, and Simon Davidson, who ran a cheese shop in Chesterfield.
In the expectation that they will acquire Stilton accreditation, the group is experimenting with various versions of Peakland Blue, and the shop is already selling their Peakland White and Cromford White. Also available are chutneys, relishes, cheese biscuits and locally-brewed beers. Explaining why her group has resurrected the production and retailing of cheese in the village, Claire Millner said, We have a passion for good, honest, traditionally-produced food and we are keen to preserve the cheese reputation and history that has been synonymous with Hartington over the years.
The revitalised Old Cheese Shop is attracting lots of customers, which is not surprising given the popularity of Hartington as a tourist destination and as a starting point for rambles and excursions into Dovedale. Tracey Goodwin, who serves in the shop, likens the market place on a sunny Sunday afternoon to the front at Blackpool. Her simile is reinforced by the fact thatHartingtons own version of Blackpool rock, suitably stamped with the name of the village, is now on sale in the market place.
The outlet for these sticks of boiled sugar is the Cocoa Grove, which opened three days before Christmas in the former Sticks and Stoves store. The new shop is the brainchild of Jen Dixon and Leon Goodwin, who have re-vamped the interior in a very tasteful way and created a chocolate and confectionery outlet that sells mouth-watering products not generally available in supermarkets.
Another Hartington building that has been given a new lease of life is Rookes Pottery, which was run for two decades by David and Catherine Rooke. New owners Jess and Jonathan Hind have cleverly retained brand recognition by simply dropping a vowel from the name and transforming the building into The Rook, a caf, shop and gallery, where local artists can display their work in a spacious exhibition space and customers can feast on home-made food in the caf and enjoy takeaway food on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. There is even a ping-pong table and a childrens corner.
The Village Stores, which occupies one of those grand, urban-like buildings on Hartingtons main street, has also been taken over by enterprising new owners. Emma Doak, Anna Healey and her daughter Laura have given the interior of the shop a bright, spacious look, whilst retaining the old wall fixtures, which are listed. Their range of produce includes wine, pet food, delicious home-made cakes, sandwiches and a selection of pies. The introduction of take-away coffee has proved to be a hit, as witnessed by the number of people enjoying a cup at the tables on the forecourt of the shop.
On any sunny day, visitors can also be seen enjoying alcoholic drinks at tables on the forecourts of Hartingtons two public houses. The Devonshire Arms is a popular 17th-century pub with a traditional atmosphere and a welcoming log fire. David and Dale Mullarkey offer snacks, lunch and evening menus with home-cooked food. The patio of the nearby Charles Cotton Hotel has a new Continental Terrace with extensive seating and great views across the market place.
Thanks to the enterprise and good taste of new owners Alan Shanks and Judy Dyer, this is not the only change to take place at the Charles Cotton. Judy showed me the superbly refurbished restaurant, tea room and bar areas, where a fabulous painted frieze depicts the stunning Derbyshire countryside and illustrates the life and times of Charles Cotton, the writer who introduced Izaak Walton to the River Dove, where he was inspired to write The Compleat Angler, one of the worlds most reprinted books. As Judy explains, Weve put Charles Cotton back into the Charles Cotton.
The hotel caters for business and charity events and has recently been licensed for weddings. Alan and Judy have also introduced Sunday stop-overs, enabling guests to enjoy afternoon tea, a three-course dinner, an overnight stay and a full English breakfast. At the time of my visit, eight members of one family were enjoying a two-night stay at the hotel, having variously travelled to this wonderful location from Leicestershire, Bromsgrove, Guernsey and Dublin.
Hartington has a wide range of other accommodation options, including self-catering cottages, B&Bs and a youth hostel that is set high above the village in a 17th century manor house. With en-suite rooms, a restaurant that caters for wedding receptions, an adventure playground and a history trail, it is more like a country hotel than a youth hostel, and its grounds have great views of the village and the parish church, which is well worth visiting for its gargoyles, murals and brasses, as well as an unusual 13th century effigy of a lady who lies in her coffin with only her head and feet showing.
With its fine buildings, multitude of shops, wide choice of accommodation and beautiful setting, Hartington is one of the honeypots of the Peak District. As Jane Bassett, owner of the Hayloft, a popular B & B business, said, As well as being a wonderful place to visit, the village is a great place to live. Thanks to the enterprising people whove recently taken over several premises, weve retained a range of shops and services that make Hartington almost self-sufficient.