Matlock, Matlock Bath and Cromford

PUBLISHED: 09:43 20 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:27 20 February 2013

Matlock, Matlock Bath and Cromford

Matlock, Matlock Bath and Cromford

Ashley Franklin goes on a retail trail in one of the county's tourist hotspots

As the Matlock corridor through Cromford, Masson Mills, High Tor, Heights of Abraham, Gullivers Kingdom and Matlock Baths seaside-style promenade is popularly on the tourist trail, one can lose sight of the fact that its a trading place like any other in Derbyshire. As a dog is for life and not just Christmas, so Matlock is a town for the year and not just for the summer... or autumn Illuminations!

This is an area like any other for throwing up individuality, idiosyncrasy and surprise, which actually occurred with my first port of call. Two Dales, just north of Matlock, houses Grossi Wines, run by Carlo Grossi along with his daughter Gianna and product manager Gemma Adams, which grew out of Carlos fervent passion for wine: his Italian father made his own. Grossi has flourished, becoming in 2 years the UKs leading specialist importers of Italian wine.

Our wines are exclusive because we handpick only small artisan producers, explains Carlo. We deal in wines that are unique, diverse and unusual. Grossi is operating at a fruitful time: global sales of Italian wines rose 48 per cent last year and of the 37 wines entered by them in the last International Wine Challenge, 28 won medals, three of which were gold. Their produce is on some exclusive restaurant wine lists, too, in the county as well as the capital. They love the Matlock location: All our visiting suppliers comment on the beauty of this area, says Carlo, and they love us because were smack bang in the middle of the country.

Coincidentally, while researching this area on the internet I chanced upon writer Wendy Holdens blog, where she mentions a fondness for The French Wine People, run from a Matlock courtyard by Jean-Claude Schmitt and his wife Suzanne. Similar to Grossi, they have a reputation for sourcing fine wines from small vineyards.

Summoning up the sweeping vineyards of European climes leads me to Byrons moniker for Matlock Bath: Little Switzerland. Its ironic, really, because entering Matlock, I am completely in England and reminded of Roy Christians view of the town as one of this countrys best preserved pieces of municipal Victoriana.

Its a regenerated Matlock, too. The arrival four years ago of a large Sainsburys coincided with a facelift which has seen improvements to its splendid Hall Leys Park, as well as pavements, with street furniture and lighting more befitting a Victorian town, says Cllr Geoff Stevens, Deputy Leader of Derbyshire Dales District Council. Geoff points out that Sainsburys has brought back shoppers who had drifted away from Matlock and, although some of the retailers I spoke with are concerned that cars travelling through Matlock from the south can no longer turn right into the town centre, Geoff argues the town centre is now less congested. The town has also just seen the opening of Arc Leisure Matlock, a state-of-the-art leisure centre.

Hall Leys Parks position right within the heart of Matlock lends the town a special atmosphere and its also pleasing to see a town bristling with individual shops, with hardly an empty outlet.

Pertinently, Geoff Stevens recently retired and closed up his women and mens outfitters shop after over 30 years, but there was an instant taker for his attractive Tudor-fronted premises: a delightful gifts and interiors shop called Bow, run by the effervescent Susanna Ash. Why Bow? Its short and sweet, says Susanna. Its all about the finishing touches here, and a bow completes a gift.

Susanna believes she has found the perfect location and, nine months in, has already made Bow the talk of the town, stocking a wide range of artistic and tasteful gifts. I sell the things I love, states Susanna. I am my own demographic, selling to people within my own income budget. She also prides herself on good personal service and actively promotes Derbyshire-based craftspeople.

There are other contemporary shops in the town like The Real Computer Shop, Silvarious and Peli-Deli but traditional names still flourish, like Haydn Stanley Furniture and the two thriving family-run butchers: Wilsons, which specialises in poultry and game their Christmas queues are legendary, Im told and Hambridges, where behind the giant cuts of meat in the window, the staff serve you in straw hats and with a real zeal for meat. Steve Hambridge can talk up his pork pies with a passion that will leave you slavering to buy one.

The diversity of Matlocks retail landscape opens up even more with a walk down Dale Road. Indigo Furnitures unique chunky wares bring customers from all over the country to the town. Famous ones, too: celebrity buyers include Charlie Dimmock, Kate Humble, Trudi Mostue and Darren Gough. Also enviable is Indigos 15-year guarantee on its hard-wearing, high quality designs. Tables, cupboards, cabinets and beds are all fashioned from oak beams recycled from old mills and factories. Their Morpheus bed is especially eye-catching: named after the god of dreams and sleep, it looks more like a berth for a Viking warlord.

Opposite Indigo, the Matlock Antiques and Collectables Centre houses around 70 dealers. Lovers of railwayana can purchase everything from a station sign to an engine plate. Back over the road, Janine Wheeldon of The Leather Shop will remind you that a good leather purchase be it a bag, belt, wallet or purse is like an antique in that it improves with age and can last a lifetime.

Elsewhere on Dale Road, valuable antiques arrive constantly at the Matlock branch of auctioneers and valuers Bamfords. Although specialising in antiques and fine arts, Bamfords has just had an auction of Elvis memorabilia.

For budding Elvises, there is a rhythm of coloured guitars in Tony Rodgers Music Shop as well as reflections of high class inside Matlock Kitchen and Bathroom Centre, with further bespoke kitchens and bathrooms plus bedrooms and study furniture in Pre-Eminence.

There is also a riot of colour in Elliot Carpets where store manager James Simpson points to the employment of their own fitters as a major plus point of their service along with the high quality and affordable value of their carpets, rugs and hard flooring. Trade is quite brisk with low footfall but high order value, comments James.

Footfall could well increase once the scaffolding comes down on an old building that will soon yield a new retail unit and apartment block. Added to this is the brand new bar Moca named after owners Paul Moseley and Sharne Castle. Uniquely, Moca is both a coffee bar and a freehouse pub, with both freshly ground roast and one of four real ales always on tap. Its rock star posters on the walls are sure to attract a young crowd, who will also perhaps take in the Monk Cellar Bar further down the road. Theres plenty of eating places around, too, including Stones which offers a cosy and eclectic restaurant with a stylish and welcoming decor and a superb modern British menu. Theres also a variety of foreign cuisine Thailand No 1, Viva (Italian), Lemon Grass (Vietnamese) and Maazi (Indian) which has a tuk tuk Indias renowned auto rickshaw on its roof, with another one in working order that makes deliveries.

Matlock has as much to offer the shopper as it does the tourist. Matlock Bath, however, maintains the feel of a landlocked resort, offering gift shops, chip shops, ice cream parlours and amusement arcades, though its worth visiting on any bright day in winter, when on the one side the river sparkles and the limestone crags inspire, while on the other the brightly-coloured houses and hillside glow.

My latest visit revealed a Fish Foot Spa Experience and a revitalised Chocolate Shop, set in a Grade II listed 150 year-old building. The new owners Richard Tucker and Alison Ashley saw a Victorian-style chocolate emporium that had long been neglected but still possessed potential. We got back to filling it with chocolate and customers, smiles Alison, increasing the range from bars to truffles to novelty shaped chocs and also declaring the place as the home of hot chocolate with 13 different flavours on offer, including banana, mint and amaretto.

For a genuine step-back-in-time experience, I would urge you to go through the doors of the deceptively plain-looking Hodgkinsons Hotel. Little wonder owner Dianne Carrieri said it was love at first sight when she first cast eyes on it. Dating from 1770, it was Job Hodgkinson who converted the Grade II listed hotel in the 1830s. It must be one of the best surviving examples of authentic Victoriana, with its elegant, wood-lined, 20-cover restaurant, cosy firelit sitting room and eight individually designed and beautifully furnished bedrooms. It must also be the only hotel in the world with its own caves!

There isnt just a piece of The Alps in this area: there is also a slice of Scotland. A few miles out of Matlock near Tansley is Scotland Nurseries, so named because the original owners of the land planted acres of heathers and rhododendrons, giving the place a Caledonian feel. This could be one of the oldest nurseries in the UK as historical records point to the growing of nursery stock 250 years ago. Since the Reynolds family of Two Dales and the Carr family of Ashover revived an ailing nursery 25 years ago, it has blossomed, especially in the last ten years under the ownership of Peter and Yvonne Reynolds. Within its 50 acres, there is a garden centre, outdoor plant and sales section, an aquatic centre and a landscaping business. There is even a woodland walk. Greatly impressive is the extensive gift shop, 55-seater restaurant, chocolate shop and caf and a farm shop replete with locally sourced produce. They also sell vast numbers of Christmas trees!

A short hop south of Matlock Bath and youre at Masson Mill Shopping Village which, together with the mill museum, has seen a significant rise in visitor numbers in the last 18 months. Around half a million now flock here every year. The shopping experience is certainly a full one with four floors, a riverside restaurant and easy parking. Dont forget Cromford Mill which houses specialist outlets like the textile craft shop Quiltessential and the recently-opened Heritage Antiques & Collectables.

Drive up the Via Gellia from Cromford and youll see another Arkwright mill which was home to Viyella, so called because of this valley road. Since the early 80s, Via Gellia Mills have been gradually converted by Wildgoose (Bonsall) Ltd into an industrial centre and there are now 34 businesses occupying all 46 units. Its been a boon for many small businesses, including Simon Densham of RS Joinery who speaks of a close-knit camaraderie amongst the businesses. Its like a little community where everyone shares and helps each other, says Ian Daisley who runs a thriving photography studio, specialising in portraits, both of people and their pets. He has also just launched Pro Bike Art, where the mill facilities allow him to wheel in motorcycles for professional image capture. Ian also produces beautiful landscapes of the area around.

Its a pleasure to work in a place with such character and sense of history, says Sandra Mitson of Matlock Textiles. The next time you see Leicester, Sale and the Barbarians rugby teams, youll also see shirts made by Matlock Textiles. Philip Walmsley and his workers have built up a fine reputation for their strong, wear and tear-resistant rugger shirts.

Back into Cromford, and there are fabrics of fine, exclusive quality inside Ellies fashion house, run by Helen Smith. After 15 stressful years in the furniture trade, Helen has found a greater quality of life in providing classical clothing largely for the discerning mature woman. My job now feels like a pleasurable hobby, she says, selling clothes and accessories that are smart, stylish and classy.

Finally, no visit to Cromford is complete without a look inside Scarthin Books, bibliophile heaven in 13 rooms with over 95,000 books, new and old. Visitor numbers here are on the increase, and as New Books Manager Guy Cooper told me, some visitors spend days on end in the shop. Guys favourite story is of the customer who wanted a book on how to build a wooden narrowboat. Amazingly, Guy located a publication about just that, but after browsing the pages, the customer handed it back to Guy with the words: Actually, this isnt quite what I am looking for...

Scarthin Books, and indeed all trading places in Matlock and Cromford, can be thankful that most customers are not so hard to please!

Latest from the Derbyshire Life and Countryside