the Borderlands across the moors from Longshaw to Dronfield
PUBLISHED: 00:38 31 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:59 20 February 2013
Mark Smith takes us on a scenic journey across the moors road from Longshaw via Owler Bar to Dronfield
Fox House Inn stands in splendid isolation on a wide expanse of moorland above the villages of Grindleford and Hathersage. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the rambling, dark-stone hostelry was a welcome stopping place on the stagecoach routes that crossed the wild gritstone uplands. For Charlotte Bront, it was the location for Whitecross, the place where Jane Eyre was set down from her coach during her flight from Thornfield Hall. Today, it is a popular eating and drinking place and a favoured meeting point for ramblers.
This romantic moorland inn also marks a turning point. One option for motorists is to continue along the main road from Hathersage (Morton in Jane Eyre), which follows a right-angled bend around the building before beginning its long descent through Sheffields smart south-western suburbs to the city centre. The alternative is to leave the main road and take the B-road on a high-level journey across a vast stretch of ancient moorland that marks the border between Sheffield and Derbyshire. This will be our route.
The B-road begins its journey towards Dronfield by running along the edge of the Longshaw Estate, an area of heather-clad moors and woodland founded as a hunting estate by the Dukes of Rutland and now in the ownership of the National Trust, whose visitor centre and tea room is located in the former hunting lodge. The views from Longshaw Meadow of Padley Gorge and the iron-age hill fort of Carl Wark are spectacular, particularly when the landscape is coated with snow or covered in heather.
Sheepdog trials, which have been held annually on the meadow since 1898, are reputed to be the oldest in the country. They are said to have originated in an unofficial contest between the head shepherd and the head keeper, who issued a challenge to his rival after coming off second-best in a shooting match.
After crossing an apparently featureless stretch of moorland, but one that is actually punctuated by half-hidden burial cairns, old marker stones and 17th century plague graves, we reach Owler Bar, where several roads meet at a huge oval roundabout, 1,000 feet above sea level. From a cairn near here, it is possible to see Lincoln Cathedral, all of 50 miles away. A millstone marking the border of the Peak District National Park is located at the junction and two pubs stand on opposite sides of the long circumference of the traffic island.
The Peacock, built in 1818 as a coaching inn on the BaslowSheffield turnpike, is now a Chef and Brewer pub and restaurant, with bars and dining areas housed below timber-beamed ceilings. It is managed by Jane Young and Stuart White, a young couple who are delighted to have embarked on their first joint venture in this wonderfully scenic location. Owler Bars other pub, The Moorlands, serves a traditional carvery every day and has the additional bonus for families of a fine outdoor play area.
FANSHAWE GATE HALL
Shortly after leaving the oval roundabout and heading off for Dronfield, we can take a side road to Fanshawe Gate Hall, which dates back to 1260 and was the seat of the Fanshawe family until 1944. John and Cynthia Ramsden bought the house in 1959 and set to work on renovating the beautiful old building by exposing and restoring hidden stonework, beams, windows and mullions. They also replaced a lean-to with an extension sympathetically styled to blend with the original house.
Once they had restored the house to its former glory, the Ramsdens set to work on the garden. They created terraces on an embankment, planted a knot garden, added water features, renovated a dovecote, fashioned topiary and even clipped some yews to echo the shape of the stone acorns on the gateposts. The gardens, which are open to the public on National Gardens Scheme open days, are now among the most beautiful and most popular private gardens in Derbyshire.
After re-joining the main road, we cross another expanse of high land, with superb sweeping views towards the Peak District, before reaching Holmesfield, an attractive village with old stone houses, a primary school, a village hall, an authentic Thai restaurant at the Travellers Rest and several pubs, including the Angel, a popular, family-run pub and restaurant situated next to the parish church. Situated 800 feet above sea-level, St Swithins is a landmark that can be seen from miles around, not least because it stands on a large knoll at the centre of the lofty village. Although the present building dates from 1826, it occupies the site of a Christian settlement founded by monks in 641AD. Remnants of an early preaching cross are still evident in the churchyard.
An information board near the church celebrates two local worthies: Robert Henry Gilchrist and GHB Ward. Gilchrist was a writer of gothic horror stories and romantic novels, featuring characters who spoke in strong local dialect. He was born in Sheffield but lived in the village from 1892 to 1917. GHB Ward was a founder-member of the Labour Party and an indefatigable campaigner for access to the countryside. He founded the Clarion Ramblers, the first working-class rambling club, and led a mass trespass on Bleaklow Hill, a quarter of a century before the famous Kinder Trespass of 1932. Like Gilchrist, the pioneering rambler was born in Sheffield, but he moved to Holmesfield on his retirement in 1941 and lived there until his death in 1957. The village is obviously proud to claim this working-class hero as their own.
The next place on our route is Dronfield Woodhouse, an area of woodland, farmland and grassland until the 1970s, when the Gosforth Valley Estate was established as the largest privately-owned housing estate in Europe. Arranged in the manner of a garden suburb, the estate has a large green space which is known as Sindelfingen Park and is named after the German town that has been Dronfields twin since 1971. On the wide green of the park, there is a tall mast that supports a brazier. This is one of a thousand Beacon Europe monuments erected across the European Union to celebrate the official opening of the Single European Market. The beacons were lit shortly after midnight on New Years Day 1993, with each beacon being given a precise lighting-up time. Dronfield Woodhouses beacon was lit at 12.06 am.
Carr Lane takes us from Dronfield Woodhouse to the town of Dronfield, which is entered by a lane that chicanes around the Peel Monument, erected in 1854 to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws. Dronfields main street follows a serpentine descent from the monument to the River Drone, passing several fascinating buildings along the way. The Blue Stoops Inn has a sign that carries a picture of wine being poured into blue goblets, but Ann Brown, archivist of the Old Dronfield Society, believes that the name is a reference to the medieval practice of adding blue paint to doorposts or bollards to indicate the presence of an inn to travellers. A sign on the faade of Fishers Butchers is equally intriguing: it claims that the shop was established in the reign of Queen Anne, 1702.
The road takes a right-angled bend at this point, providing views on the right of the splendid Red House, built in 1731 for the assistant master of Henry Fanshawe School, and a second red-brick house, which now accommodates the parish office and a small second-hand bookshop. The view on the left of the road is dominated by the Church of St John the Baptist, which dates from 1135. Nikolaus Pevsner was totally perplexed by the lack of curved tracery in the churchs huge east window, but he should have asked the locals, who would have known that the curved tracery of the original window was destroyed when the roof of the chancel collapsed in 1563. Only verticals and horizontals could be salvaged.
The forge of Butler and Sons operated at the foot of the main street until 1968, but the premises have now been superbly converted into a precinct with smart shops set around a glass-topped atrium that contains an excellent caf. From here, it is a short drive to the main road that links Dronfield to Sheffield. The city could have been reached from Fox House Inn at the beginning of our journey, but our high-level diversion across the moors and through the settlements on the borderland between Sheffield and Derbyshire has been a richly rewarding experience, both historically and scenically.