The villages of Coton-in-the-Elms and Rosliston

PUBLISHED: 16:35 17 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:05 20 February 2013

The villages of Coton-in-the-Elms and Rosliston

The villages of Coton-in-the-Elms and Rosliston

Ashley Franklin visits a corner of the county that is picturesque, peaceful and welcoming

Fascinatingly, the southernmost end of Derbyshire is very like its northernmost tip. Whilst big towns and cities lie conveniently close, the area itself feels remote and deeply rural. The advantage for the southern dwellers is that its even more central thats if you dont mind being the furthest point in the country from the seaside and villages like Coton and Rosliston tell you that not all of our countys prettiest places are in the Peak.

Furthermore, whilst northern dwellers lie in the Peak District National Park, Coton and Rosliston are snugly nestled in the National Forest, encompassing 200 square miles where woodland cover has been increased from six per cent to a remarkable third of the entire area.

Rosliston in bloom

Reaching Rosliston and Coton from Derby involves a drive down the A38 beyond Burton. One then has to gingerly negotiate a narrow, single-file Bailey Bridge across the Trent at Walton, as if one is crossing over to an island and one that is blissfully free of heavy lorries. The landscape certainly becomes more green than grey, especially as the country lanes to Rosliston and Coton are flanked by expansive, as-far-as-the-eye-can-see fields.

What makes Rosliston, in estate agent parlance, even more desirable and sought after is that its known as the village of flowers, having become the most successful Derbyshire place in the village category of East Midlands in Bloom. This is the 20th anniversary of Rosliston entering the competition. Its won a hat trick of Golds since 2009 and two Silver Gilt medals in Britain in Bloom.

Its pertinent to note that this recent success for Rosliston has been achieved since the judging criteria extended, with horticultural excellence being joined by environmental responsibility and community participation.

Rosliston can feel particularly proud, says East Midlands in Bloom chairman Jeff Bates, because the competition is not just about floral displays but also regeneration, making a village cleaner and tidier as well as more colourful. It also stimulates voluntary work and co-operation between community groups. In winning EMIB last year, the judges praised the tremendous levels of community involvement.

Its certainly brought the community closer together, confirms Rosliston in Bloom Secretary Caroline Alston. Its cultivated friendships and united the different organisations in the village with a common aim.

Its given us pride, adds Rosliston Parish Council chairman Paul Marbrow, and also boosted tourism, making us a more prosperous village. Key to Roslistons recent success is dedication, says Paul, thinking outside the box and saying we can do that, along with a will to succeed, a passion for horticulture and a care for their environment.

One really has to applaud the village for its hard work, resolve and passion, says South Derbyshire District Council Leader Bob Wheeler. Its made Rosliston a beautiful place to live, work and visit.

Driving through Rosliston, one can see how the various properties have supported the Bloom initiative with floral displays. Indeed, the Bulls Head pub itself has won individual EMIB awards for its flowers blooming out of beds and baskets. Fittingly, the pub has been run by John and Sheri Allsop ever since Rosliston entered EMIB. With village pubs still closing, managing one for 20 years is a remarkable testament to the Allsops. Its down to commitment, hard work, dedication, support from locals and surrounding villages, and a bit of luck, says John. Rosliston is also fortunate enough to have a second pub, The Plough.

The original Bulls Head is now an attractive cottage where Betty Satchell has lived for 38 years. I love it here, she says. Its quiet, private, and everyone is so friendly.

Yes, everyone seems so happy here, says Paul Marbrow who has spent virtually his entire life in Rosliston. It is virtually impossible to walk down the street without saying hello to somebody.

Asked how he feels living in what seems like splendid isolation, he replies: Yes, we are an out-of-the-way place, but Rosliston is only a quarter of an hour away from Burton and only six miles from the M42 and all the main arterial routes, very handy as I work in London. The best thing about the capital is the M1 and M40 northbound; and coming home to a place like this is a joy.

In spite of the farms that have disappeared from the village street and a tide of new houses along with the usual influx of dormitory dwellers, Rosliston proudly retains its rurality and can claim one of the most handsome churches in southern Derbyshire, whose spire and tower date from the 14th century.

That rurality was threatened recently by the proposal of an eco town called Grovewood, which would have ended up on Roslistons doorstep. The Parish Council is proud to have been the mainstay in the fight against its development, arguing that it would not only demolish swathes of The National Forest but also waste excellent farmland. When the government rejected Grovewood two years ago, South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler proudly declared that when South Derbyshire folk come together and put forward a good argument, we can fight to save what is special about where we live.

Chapmans Nurseries

A welcome presence on Roslistons doorstep is the 75-year-old Chapmans Nurseries, billed as the plant centre of South Derbyshire. Our relationship with Rosliston and In Bloom is very important to us, says owner Kevin Jenkinson. The nursery has itself won EMIB awards and one can see why from the explosion of colour at the entrance. In winning the Best Retail/Commercial Premises Award last year, the judges remarked: All the plants seen at the nursery were just begging to be taken home. Theres a wide range to take home: trees, shrubs, perennials and seasonal bedding. A wide price range, too: from a 99p plant to a 4,000 100-year-old Japanese Holly Bonsai tree.

Were a plant centre with a passion for plants, and its roots firmly fixed into everyday gardening, says Kevin. We try to cater for the collector, the gardener with a project and the customer who ambles around waiting to be inspired.

Kevin also lays on events and workshops, with a Garlic Seed weekend and fruit tree pruning demonstration in the month ahead. There is also a weekend where you will be shown how to prepare garden birds for the coming winter, with advice from well-known Staffordshire ornithologist David Tideswell. Chapmans also has a Topiary Tearoom and its own Garden Club, and Kevin has big plans for an apiary, including an observation hide.

Forest haven

Bird lovers are advised to flock just down the road to Rosliston Forestry Centre, the first visitor centre to be established within the National Forest in 1993. On this 154 acre site are birds of every feather, notably kestrels, kingfishers, owls and sparrowhawks, plus the occasional golden eagle, when centre manager Wayne Chesterman holds one of his bird of prey events.

It was an approach to Wayne to develop a falconry centre that eventually brought him and his wife Debbie to run the whole operation. When we were invited to act as caretakers for the Centre, this site was little more than a glorified dog walk, recalls Wayne.

He and Debbie and their team have worked wonders over the years and with the help of South Derbyshire District Council and the Forestry Commission, the Centre is now a glorious retreat comprising woodland and meadow, ponds and play areas where you can still walk your dog but also ride a bike, fish in the lakes, climb walls or have a go at archery, orienteering, crazy golf or laser combat. You can even get married here.

There is also an abundance of flora and fauna over 120,000 trees were originally planted here numerous trails including regular bat walks, and special areas like a herb garden, snowdrop and bluebell woods and a fox covert. Music and theatre events take place in the purpose-built outdoor Glade Arena, and a forest area is home to six timber lodges for family stays, with one wheelchair user describing her lodge as the most accessible accommodation I have ever stayed in.

Its little wonder this Centre attracts nearly 190,000 visitors a year. The wider picture reveals an amazing 7 million tourists a year visiting the National Forest, with over 4,000 jobs supported by tourism. And dont worry about expending your carbon footprint: the equivalent of the carbon given out annually by 10,000 family cars is soaked up by the 7.8 million trees.

Lake haven

At the opposite end of Rosliston is Beehive Farm where there is caravanning and camping and three excellently stocked fishing lakes. It was there I met Robert Broome, accompanied by Wendy Martin. He fishes while I read and do the knitting, says Wendy. Shes also here to admire my catches, quips Robert. There can be big catches, too. Its superb fishing here, states Robert, with a good variety including roach, tench, carp and perch. The British record for a roach is just over four pounds some here come close to that. Theres also a good set of rules, the owner Mr Chapman couldnt be more helpful, and youve got a lovely, peaceful and tranquil setting. What more do you need?

Farming stock

Bayleys of Rosliston has plenty in stock if you need to be reminded of the regions agrarian tradition. This agricultural superstore was founded just over 40 years ago by Ivor Bayley, whose family have lived and farmed in these parts for over 300 years. A tour of the store revealed an array of essential goods like animal feed, wormers, insecticides, poisons, electrical fencing, gate fittings, dairy equipment accessories, farm clothing and even toy tractors. Were a lifeline for the farming industry, states Ivor, who has just retired and handed over the reins to son Mark. Bayleys provides a special service to 500 or so dairy customers in Derbyshire and surrounding counties.

Cottage wine industry

Not far from Bayleys, further up the Linton road, is a farm you might not expect to see in these parts. At Sealwood Cottage, Roy and Elizabeth Goodalls produce ends up in bottles, though not of milk or water but wine. However, Roy believes we should not be surprised at seeing vineyards this far north. Indeed, there is a vineyard in the north of our county at Renishaw Hall, as well as four in Yorkshire, and Roy also points out that grapes were grown all over England back in Roman times.

The free-draining sandy soil and slightly sloping south-facing field make conditions here ideal for growing grapes, he affirms. Adding that new hybrid grapes have been created to suit more northerly climes and, as long as he pays particular attention to pruning, good quality wine can be produced, proven by two recent Highly Commended awards from the Mercian Vine Association, the most northerly of the UKs regional associations of vineyards and wine producing enthusiasts.

There is more to Sealwood Cottage than wine: the cottage itself, an 18th century hunting lodge, has been beautifully restored and is available as a self-contained holiday let. It may be unique in Derbyshire with its gothic doors, windows and slate fireplace, a pyramid ceiling, an original pull-out bed, geo-thermal underfloor heating and, of course, a view over a vineyard.

Coton in the Elms

Its a shame Coton in the Elms isnt currently competing in East Midlands in Bloom it won Gold once and Silver Gilt in the national finals as its village green alone is one of the finest in Derbyshire. There are even Aylesbury and Mallard ducks roaming free on the Green. In fact, Coton may be the only Derbyshire village where youre officially told to beware of the duck as there is a prominent Wild Fowl signpost.

Interestingly, Coton is the first village Ive written about in Derbyshire Life that Ive returned to the previous article was published six years ago and the first thing to report is that the signpost needs a clean! More positively, I was pleased to hear that Gillian Pratt still lives in a cottage overlooking the Green as she was so enthusiastic about life here when I met her in 2006. Its a village blessed with fresh air, peace and quiet, and more friendly people than weve ever known elsewhere, she remarked, adding that every time she comes off the A38 and drives down the country lanes towards Coton it feels as if Im coming on holiday.

That wouldnt be a seaside holiday, though: Coton is officially the furthest place from the sea in Great Britain which is deeply ironic considering the hamlet of Botany Bay is close by. I returned to that spot and it is still the same mundane patch of field marked by a telegraph pole, though it still attracts media interest, Paul Heiney of ITVs Countrywise being a recent visitor.

Much more attractive is Coton Wood where I also returned with the resident who introduced me to it in 2006, Jo Lang. She told me then it was the fastest-growing wood in the National Forest owing to its rich soil and, sure enough, its even more verdant today with increasing wildlife, too. I also reacquainted myself with the eerie shroud of wizened, tangled trees that wouldnt have looked out of place in Tim Burtons film Sleepy Hollow. Its ethereal appearance is heightened by its name: Devils Arches. Also, this walkway is known as Corpse Road as this is the coffin trail along which Cotonians had to transport the deceased to the nearest church in Lullington.

On a more lively note, its good to report that there is more for youngsters to do in Coton. There wasnt even a Brownies in the village six years ago but there is now, along with a new Sure Start Childrens Centre and a refurbished playing field.

When resident Karen Bradford was a youngster growing up in Coton, she remembers the exhilarating freedom of playing in the fields and coming home with shoes covered in buttercup dust. Six years on, Karen remains Chairman of the Parish Council and still regards Coton as like a large extended family.

Looking back on my 2006 feature, I smiled at the words of Coton newcomer Gary Bristow. He had just moved from Essex where serious crime was forever on the front page. He sighed with pleasure at the realisation that he had moved to Shangri-La when the first headline he saw in the newspaper local to Coton was Cow escapes from field.

Gary had just moved in to The Queens Head. Alas, that has closed, though its now a well regarded Indian restaurant. The Shoulder of Mutton has shut, too, but the one remaining pub, The Black Horse, thrives under Adrian Leese, especially pleasing as its remained a drinkers pub. Its a social haven for adults, says Adrian, a conversational pub with a big welcome, good beer and no loud music, machines or swearing. The pub has prospered on this policy, winning Burton and South Derbyshire Country Pub of the Year 2011.

Although Coton has lost two pubs since I last came, it now has two significant additions. I doubt if well ever see a shop again, said a parish councillor six years ago, recalling that their last store was literally blasted out of existence 15 years before when an explosion ripped it apart. Last year, 20 years on, a store returned. Its currently run by a most amiable couple from South Africa, Clive and Julia Rollings. They tell me the shop quickly became a social hub. Some people pop in to buy a paper and stay for half an hour, says Clive, and weve made more friends in a year than we have in a lifetime. I have a saying: Weve got three customers and a hundred friends.

Who are the three customers, I ask? Theyre a bit miserable, says Clive, but theyre not from Coton.

Typical of a village store, most of the items on the shelves are what Coton residents have a need for. That second recent addition to the village is what every Coton resident would have wished for. Six years ago, I referred to the village as Coton in the Elm, as all but one of the villages elm trees had been lost to disease. Back in April, new elm trees were planted at the villages four main gateways. Coton once again more than lives up to its name.

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