The Villages of the Bradford and Lathkill Dales
PUBLISHED: 01:16 25 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:17 20 February 2013
Mike Smith dons the guise of a day tripper and spends an afternoon in a beautiful part of the county
With their clear blue waters, which cascade over a succession of small weirs, and their abundance of wild flowers and water-based birdlife, Lathkill Dale and Bradford Dale are two of the most beautiful valleys in the Derbyshire Dales. And the rivers that flow through them are two of the most elusive, because they have a habit of disappearing underground for long stretches and even drying up altogether in times of severe drought.
The cascading streams meet near Alport, which sits cosily alongside the water. However, the narrowness of the dales leaves no room for any other riverside settlements. The village of Over Haddon clings to a ledge high above Lathkill Dale; Middleton-by-Youlgrave occupies an upland location close to the source of the River Bradford; and Youlgrave, the largest of the villages, is strung along a ridge that separates the two dales.
The charming riverside village of Alport is tucked away below the main road. A hump-backed bridge crosses the river, which is flanked on its northern side by a huddle of pretty cottages festooned with roses, wisteria and clematis. On the southern flank of the river, a partially-ruined corn mill stands next to a weir that becomes an impressive waterfall when the waters are high. This scenic spot was used as a location in the film version of DH Lawrences The Virgin and the Gypsy.
Old kilns, partially obliterated by vegetation on the hillside behind the mill, are a reminder of the lead-smelting industry which operated here until 1890. The tumbling waters have now been harnessed in a micro-hydroelectric plant, installed in 2009 by the Haddon Estates as a source of power for 30 homes. As most of the mechanism is underground, the beauty and tranquillity of the village remains undisturbed. Given its position close to the confluence of the Lathkill and the Bradford, Alport is the perfect starting point for walks along the two dales, both of which can only be accessed on foot, although motorists do have a brief glimpse of the Lathkill at Conksbury Bridge on the road to Youlgrave.
In his book on Derbyshire, Roy Christian described Over Haddon as seemingly suspended in mid-air when viewed from the terraces of Haddon Hall. Set on the summit of the steep hillside that flanks the River Lathkill, the settlement certainly occupies a lofty site. The village pub, which is also a four-bedroom hotel, takes full advantage of this spectacular location, with a huge picture-window in the lounge bar providing diners and drinkers with a grandstand view over the steep-sided dale. In good weather, customers can enjoy the panorama by sitting in the beer garden or on the flat-topped perimeter wall.
Called the Miners Arms when it was first established in 1828, the pub has long been known as the Lathkil Hotel, with an insistence on the use of the old spelling for the name of the area, despite the modern preference for Lathkill. After running the free house for the last three decades, Robert and Helen Grigor-Taylor handed over the responsibility to their daughter Alice last November. Although Alice has a degree in History, she is delighted to have been given the opportunity to become a pub landlady at the age of 29. When I called at the hotel, she was busily refurbishing the guest rooms for the season and planning a series of events that will continue the pubs long tradition of raising money for charity.
A large building located immediately behind the hotel is the brand-new village hall, which makes good use of sustainable-energy technology, including an air-source heat pump and a neat array of photo-voltaic panels that take advantage of the south-facing site. The hall is run by a management committee of local people.
Another group of volunteers looks after the churchyard and helps to maintain the fabric of the villages little Victorian church, which is always kept open for visitors. One of the Friends of St Annes, Roger Truscott, who is also a church warden, showed me the interior, which has a spectacular timber-beamed roof set against a deep blue ceiling. He also pointed out the new kitchen and toilet area that has been fashioned out of the vestry. Moving to the churchyard, Roger took me to see the grave of Sir Maurice Oldfield, who was the head of MI6 and was known as C. On the outside wall of the chancel, there is a sundial in memory of Janet Wadsworth, an education officer for Granada Television. Janet was the daughter of AP Wadsworth, a local man who was a distinguished editor of the Manchester Guardian. The lofty village seems to have produced more than its fair share of people in high places.
The panoramic view from Over Haddon takes in the large tower of Youlgrave Church, set majestically on the long ridge that separates Lathkill Dale and Bradford Dale. The church contains stunning stained glass windows designed by the eminent pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, as well as several highly unusual memorials, including an alabaster panel depicting the kneeling figures of Robert Gilbert and his wife Joan surrounded by their 17 children, an effigy of Sir Thomas Cockayne, with a lion cub at his feet, and a tomb topped by an effigy of Sir John Rossington, who is holding a heart in his hands. Legend has it that Sir John was hunting a hare that ran into the church, where it promptly changed into a beautiful woman. The knight was so surprised that his heart popped out and landed in his hands!
Notice of church events, together with news from the many thriving groups and organisations in Youlgrave, Alport and Middleton, is to be found in the Bugle, a monthly publication that is delivered, free of charge, to every household in the three villages by an army of 20 volunteers. The magazine is edited and put together by Andrew McCloy, who is also chair of the parish council and represents the parish on the Peak District National Park Authority.
Andrew, who writes articles and books on walking and outdoor recreation, moved to Youlgrave 15 years ago in order to live in the midst of one of the best walking areas in the country. When I spoke to him at his home near the summit of the steep rise above Bradford Dale, he told me that he is never short of contributions for the magazine and he stressed the importance of the Bugle as a means of tackling rural isolation. Elderly people who spend much of their time confined indoors are especially appreciative of the chance to keep in touch with what is going on in the area.
The Bugle also acts as a forum for debate. Traffic problems are always a major talking point in Youlgrave because the village is strung along one narrow main street where there are few pavements and where through traffic has to weave its way past the parked cars of both residents and visitors. Another worry is the tendency of the River Bradford to dry up or to find alternative underground courses via old mine soughs. This is of particular concern in a village that taps its water from a spring in the dale and has the rare distinction of having its very own water company. Andrew told me that villagers are calling for research to be carried out as a matter of urgency into the reasons for the rivers erratic behaviour. Back in the nineteenth century, the villagers celebrated the first arrival of piped water with a series of tap dressings, known elsewhere in the Peak District as well dressings. Youlgraves flower pictures are always superbly executed and they once included a dressing designed by the celebrated artist John Piper. When water was first piped into the village, a massive cylindrical conduit was constructed. The structure still stands in Fountain Square, a small triangular space near the seventeenth-century Old Hall, a gabled and mullioned building that looks as if it has been lifted out of the Cotswolds.
In the small village of Middleton-by-Youlgrave, there is a much bigger triangular space, which has a large tree at its centre and picturesque cottages on its perimeter. The slim-towered Church of St Michael and All Angels dates from 1820, when the village was rebuilt in traditional style by Thomas Bateman, whose grandson, also named Thomas, was the noted archaeologist and excavator of almost 40 ancient barrows in Derbyshire and Staffordshire.
The village was also the home of Sir Christopher Fulwood, who gathered almost 1,000 local men to fight for King Charles I in the Civil War. When the Parliamentarians got news of his plans, they despatched a company of Roundheads, who mortally wounded Sir Christopher after tracking him down to a cave in Bradford Dale.
The beauty of Bradford Dale is captured in many of the paintings produced by Diane Kettle, who has lived in the village for 30 years and runs a gallery-cum-studio called Kettles Back Yard, wittily named after the famous Kettles Yard gallery in Cambridge. Diane studied Geology and Geography at Matlock College before taking a degree in Fine Art in Sheffield. As the fabulous display in her gallery demonstrates, Diane is a prolific and highly accomplished painter of this beautiful corner of Derbyshire. She also runs weekly life-drawing classes in Bakewell and Ashover, gives personal tuition in painting and offers landscape-painting sessions en plein air. And where would it be possible to find a better location for outdoor painting than the beautiful valleys of the Bradford and the Lathkill?
Diane Kettles website is www.dianekettle.com. She can be contacted on 01629 636763.