The High Peak village of Hayfield

PUBLISHED: 12:04 09 December 2016 | UPDATED: 12:08 09 December 2016

The village of Hayfield in the High Peak

The village of Hayfield in the High Peak

Mike Smith

Derbyshire Life takes a walk through Hayfield

Cottages on the banks of the River SettCottages on the banks of the River Sett

To fully appreciate the dramatic setting of Hayfield, walk up Highgate Road, at the southern entrance to the village, until you come to a footpath sign. The mound on which the sign stands commands a view extending from the deep valley of the River Sett to Kinder Scout, a high plateau that stretches across the eastern horizon like an enormous beached whale, unable to move because it has been weakened by a weeping wound. The weeping wound is Kinder Downfall, a waterfall that varies from a trickle in dry weather to a cascade that blows back on itself in wet and windy weather.

Another striking feature in the sweeping stretch of countryside visible from Highgate Road is an isolated copse of beech trees flourishing against all odds on a vast windswept hillside that is otherwise devoid of trees. Known locally as ‘Twenty Trees’, this iconic landmark is a favourite subject, in all seasons, for the many photographers and artists who live in Hayfield.

Far below Twenty Trees, the gritstone houses of Hayfield occupy ledges on both sides of the Sett Valley. The oldest dwellings were constructed with wide mullioned windows designed to illuminate the attics where woollen weaving was carried out, whereas the slightly later houses were built in terraces to accommodate people who worked at the printing and cotton-spinning mills that replaced home-weaving as a source of local employment.

These 18th and 19th century dwellings still make up a large proportion of Hayfield’s housing stock. No mills remain, other than Clough Mill, a former cotton mill in the hamlet of Little Hayfield that has been converted into up-market apartments, much sought-after by people keen to move to a beautiful area that is now industry-free. The old weavers’ cottages are equally in demand.

Former weavers' cottages on Kinder RoadFormer weavers' cottages on Kinder Road

After passing some very picturesque cottages, Highgate Road provides a first glimpse of the tower of Hayfield Church silhouetted against the dark green hills that surround the village. The road then gives way to Church Street, where the first building is the former emporium of the Hayfield Co-operative Society. On the façade of this imposing structure, there is a fine carving that is said to represent the Trade Winds blowing a sailing ship speedily on its way across the oceans.

Nine years ago, David Roger Gee and his wife Connie bought the former Co-op. Largely using their own labour, they began converting the interior into a beautiful contemporary home, where gleaming stainless steel bannisters line new stairways that lead to the former grain store in the vaulted uppermost floor, now transformed into a spectacular living room and kitchen area. Throughout the house, white walls are hung with colourful paintings, and every room contains examples of Connie’s striking sculptures, some inspired by Arthur Rackham’s book illustrations.

David and Connie rent out one part of their building to Simon Jones, who runs S J Design, a practice specialising in plans and building control submissions for both domestic and commercial premises, often for conversions of existing buildings. Several former commercial premises in Church Street have been changed into dwellings in recent years. The Old Bull’s Head has been converted into a house that still carries the name of the pub over its fine Georgian doorway and retains the inscription ‘George and Ann Hobson 1788’ on its façade. And a former newsagent’s has been transformed into a self-catering holiday cottage, still labelled as ‘Mary Miller’s Paper Shop’.

Aside from these historically respectful conversions, Church Street still possesses a healthy number of shops and businesses. These include: an antique and pine shop; Clippers hair salon; a traditional fish and chip shop; the 17th-century George Inn; Dean Taylor’s village store, which declares whimsically that it is ‘open all hours, eight days a week, but mainly seven’; the popular Millie’s Tea Rooms, where a cup of coffee is accompanied by a complimentary chocolate made by the owner and chocolatier Steve Lee; and the Elephant Stone Gallery, owned by Simon Bridges.

Fox HallFox Hall

At the end of his second year as a student of Biochemistry, Simon abandoned his degree studies in favour of becoming a photographer of bands and pop groups. These days he takes photographs of the stunning landscapes found within walking distance of the village, including Twenty Trees, one of his favourite subjects. As well as exhibiting and selling his own photographs, Simon sells abstract paintings by Harry Ousey and highly original Scandinavian ceramics and crafts. He also uses the Elephant Stone as a base for Carbon Six, his marketing company and consultancy.

Another enterprising businessman, Matthew Dutson, has opened a new business on Steeple End Fold that is a café and delicatessen by day and a bar and restaurant by night. With offers of food that is beautifully presented and drinks that include beers from the local Torrside Brewery, Dutson’s looks set to match the success of the Dutson’s run by Matthew’s brother at Marple Bridge.

Steeple End Fold is adjacent to St Matthew’s Church, rebuilt in 1818 as a tall, slab-sided building, which was made even taller by the addition of a tower in 1894. The tower’s large clock, said to have been modelled on Big Ben, was donated by Albert Slack, a local mill owner. In times past, the church was vulnerable to flooding from the River Sett, which runs alongside the building. It is said that a flood in 1745 caused corpses to rise up from their graves, but it is advisable not to think about this eerie story when walking towards the church, because the path is paved with ancient grave stones.

A bridge carries Church Street over the River Sett, which has charming rows of restored cottages on its banks. A cenotaph alongside the bridge marks the entrance to the car park of the Royal Hotel, a large building that began life as a parsonage. The green area beyond the hotel is the idyllic home of the village cricket club, where the late Arthur Lowe of Dad’s Army fame was a keen member.

Twenty Trees in autumnTwenty Trees in autumn

After crossing the river, Church Street becomes Market Street, which contains Wellsprings, a building that is said to be the oldest house in the village. This sensitively restored dwelling stands next to the Pack Horse, a traditional country pub with an interior that has been given a contemporary make-over. Market Street also possesses a long-established newsagent’s, a pharmacy, and an attractive new interiors shop, opened recently in a former butcher’s shop by the highly creative husband-and-wife team of Garry and Sharon Lomas. Sharon creates stylish handmade cushions, lampshades and wallpapers, and Gary produces evocative photographs of local scenes, a number of which have already been snapped up to adorn the walls of Dutson’s.

As is obvious from this walk along Church Street and Market Street, Hayfield not only has an abundance of creative and enterprising people, but also has far more shops than most villages. Adding further to the number of shops, a short alley called Bank Street, to the right of Market Street, has a butcher’s shop situated in a quirky little back-to-back structure that also contains a laundry and dry cleaner’s in the side of the building facing Kinder Road, a long street on a ridge above the River Sett. The road begins with a fine row of old weavers’ cottages and the twin-gabled Fox Hall, and it ends, shortly after passing the Sportsman’s Inn, at Bowden Bridge, at the foot of Kinder Scout.

Our village walk began at an iconic landmark called Twenty Trees and it is finishing at an equally iconic location, because Bowden Bridge is the place where a group of ramblers gathered on 24th April 1932 to walk up Kinder Scout in defiance of the landowners who reserved this huge expanse of high land exclusively for grouse-shooting. The direct action of the ‘Mass Trespassers’ was a pivotal moment in a long access campaign that would lead to the establishment, in 1951, of Britain’s first National Park in 542 square miles of the Peak District, including Kinder Scout.

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