The Two Faces of Calver in the Peak District

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 March 2018

A cottage now called Pink Shears, but formerly known as Sykes Cottage

A cottage now called Pink Shears, but formerly known as Sykes Cottage

mike smith

Mike Smith describes the hidden side of the village as well as the better-known settlement alongside the A623 in this picturesque area in the heart of the Peak District.

The Derwent Valley from Curbar EdgeThe Derwent Valley from Curbar Edge

On its path through the Peak District, the Derwent Valley is framed on its eastern boundary by a high gritstone ridge stretching from Stanage Edge to Baslow. The continuity of the jagged frieze of rocks on the summit of the ridge is broken by a small V-shaped gash at the point where a road that has travelled over the moors from Sheffield’s suburbs reaches the edge of the escarpment. As the road leaves the rocky hilltop and begins its descent, one of those wonderful ‘downward’ views that are so characteristic of Peakland opens up. The panorama embraces a large expanse of the Derwent Valley, as well as a more immediate overview of the village of Calver, where a huddle of limestone buildings shines like a collection of pearls that have fallen onto the green carpet of the valley.

On the last stage of the descent, immediately before the road arrives at the ancient river crossing that marks the boundary between the villages of Curbar and Calver, there is an unexpected view of a massive, slab-like structure. After starting life as a cotton mill in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, the building masqueraded as the notorious Colditz prisoner-of-war camp in a television series screened in the 1970s and is now enjoying a further lease of life as a luxury apartment block.

Equally unexpected is the first close-up view of the village, which is not the huddle of cottages that could be seen from Curbar Edge, but a ribbon development set alongside the A623. The first line of cottages, located in a slight hollow below the roadside, terminates in the Calver Mill gallery, where Peter Hill creates and showcases his pictures, many of which are painted with a decorator’s filler tool, rather than a brush, and depict dramatic gritstone edges set against equally dramatic skies.

A track next to the gallery provides a view across the fields towards Stocking Farm, which includes an unusual barn-like building with an open belfry. The bell was used to summon child workers from Calver Mill to lessons held in the upper room, where the curriculum involved a great deal of Bible-based study, made no mention of arithmetic and included the teaching of writing for only the very brightest pupils. Nowadays, the farm contains facilities for a caravan and camping site set in the idyllic landscape between Calver and Curbar Edge.

A return to the main road brings us to the Derbyshire Craft Centre. Founded 35 years ago by Christine Lowe, this very popular tourist attraction boasts one of the largest collections of crafts and pottery in the county and has an adjoining Eating House where coffee, lunches and teas are provided and entice many repeat customers with delicious home-baked food.

The busy crossroads where the A623 intersects the Bakewell to Sheffield road is surrounded by further tourist attractions and shopping facilities. A large convenience store, much used by locals and visitors alike, a Post Office Local and a coffee shop on one side of the road and a filling station and another convenience store on the other side of the road are all owned by Edward White.

Edward said: ‘I am proud to be a member of the third generation of a family that has served the local community for over 90 years, initially as the owners of a coach company. My vision for the larger of the two stores was to give it a farm shop feel. It became the first Spar in the country to integrate and promote products from local companies – we now stock 37 different products sourced from suppliers in the Peak District, including cakes, preserves, artisan bread, beers and ice cream. Our coffee shop, which is covered by the overhanging pitched roof of the original filling station, was one of the first to be established in England by the Irish Insomnia chain, which serves Fairtrade coffee.’

The large Marston’s pub which overlooks the crossroads is named after the Eyre family, who owned several manor houses in the area and provided Charlotte Brontë with the name of the heroine in the novel she was writing during a visit to Derbyshire to see her friend Helen Nussey. Another well-known attraction located near the crossroads is the Calver Sough Garden Centre, where there is a large selection of plants, trees, shrubs, aquatics and gifts. It is managed by Vicky Shaw and her brother Jim, whose father founded the business 36 years ago. The centre has a Garden Room Café, where all the food is homemade.

Calver Mill, a former cotton mill, now an apartment block and once used to represent Colditz in a television seriesCalver Mill, a former cotton mill, now an apartment block and once used to represent Colditz in a television series

The aptly-named Little Shop adjacent to the garden centre is run by Sue Heeds, who sells Bradwell’s ice cream and no fewer than 200 varieties of traditional sweets, from Poor Bens and Dolly Mixtures to Jelly Babies and Pontefract Cakes, known as ‘Pomfret Cakes’ by those of us who loved these sweets when we were children. The former Heginbotham Boot Factory on the other side of the garden centre contains High Peak Cycles and an outlet for Regatta outdoor clothes and footwear.

As our survey of all these businesses shows, modern Calver has become an important and much-valued commercial hub at the very heart of the Peak District. But where is that huddle of limestone buildings that is so clearly visible from Curbar Edge? The answer can be found by taking a side road from the A623 that leads to the old centre of the village, which is a hidden nook quarantined from all that frenetic passing traffic. A long, winding village street, known as Main Road, despite its merciful quietude and complete absence of yellow lines, is flanked by charming stone cottages and is criss-crossed by a meandering stream which seems to play a game of hide-and-seek.

This old area of Calver contains a large village hall, tucked away behind Main Street, as well as Calver Methodist Church, founded in 1869 as the Jubilee Primitive Methodist Chapel to commemorate the Jubilee Conference of the Primitive Methodists held in that year. Unfortunately, the façade, with its tall arched windows, is partially obscured by an incongruous box-like porch with a flat roof.

With most commercial activity having moved to the A623, there are now only two businesses in this old part of the village. A tiny building at the entrance to Main Street houses Gary Shepherd’s bespoke tailoring business. Gary, who was born in Chesterfield and learnt his trade with a tailoring firm in Sheffield, set up his own business in 1979 before moving in 1993 to Calver, where he works with his wife Carolyn. He says, ‘Many of my clients have found out about my business by word of mouth, and I am on first name terms with lots of them because they are repeat customers who appreciate that my hand-made clothing is made in-house in response to their specific requirements.’

The Derbyshire Craft Centre and Eating HouseThe Derbyshire Craft Centre and Eating House

The only other business in this area was established last September. This is Gemma Love’s hairdressing salon, known appropriately as ‘Hair with Love’. Gemma learnt her trade by working in salons for 16 years before acquiring the former village post office, which she has tastefully converted into a place where she has used her expertise and engaging personality to fulfil her aim of creating ‘an elegant, relaxed, friendly and welcoming salon’ which caters for ladies, gentlemen and children.

Gemma’s salon overlooks the village cross, which takes the form of three stone plinths, all set at different heights, with the uppermost plinth supporting a lamp-standard. Three inscriptions commemorate the coronations of Queen Victoria and George V and the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The cottages on the hillside behind the salon are stacked up in the manner of a French hill village and rise up to a tall structure with a prominent semi-circular window in its top floor.

This stately building is a holiday-let owned by Kat and Tom Keogh, the landlord and landlady of the adjacent Derwentwater Arms. Founded in 1708, this well-known pub serves homemade food, including pies which Tom claims are ‘among the best steak and ale pies to be found anywhere’. It hosts the local W.I. and is the headquarters of Calver Cricket Club. A large picture-window in the lounge and a projecting balcony provide customers with a perfect downward view of the matches that take place on the cricket field located below the pub. This much-used spectator opportunity is a fitting finale to our tour that began with that great downward view of Calver from Curbar Edge.

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