Exploring the gardener’s paradise of Parwich in the Derbyshire Dales
PUBLISHED: 16:53 14 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:53 14 September 2020
Mike Smith explores the charming, rural Peak District village of Parwich
Leave the busy A515 seven miles north of Ashbourne to enter a narrow lane which begins a long meander through a pastel-green dry valley. After 2.5 miles, where the lane comes to an abrupt end, you will find yourself in one of the most beautiful villages in Derbyshire. Parwich is a settlement of pretty cottages, some arranged spaciously alongside a series of wide green spaces, others huddled on the slopes of the low enclosing hills.
Almost all the buildings in the village are fashioned in the white limestone of the locality, with slightly darker sandstone being used for quoins and lintels. However, there is one significant exception. Parwich Hall, a stately three-storey house, standing high above the western end of the main street, was constructed in the eighteenth century in red brick, presumably to emphasize its status as the most important residence in the village.
There are several other notable buildings in the village. Rathbone Hall, almost as grand as Parwich Hall but without its pretentious cladding of brick, lords it over the village from the summit of a hillside on the other side of the settlement. Parwich Primary School, which educates according to the principle Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM), occupies a prominent corner plot and is surmounted by a large clock-tower. The Sycamore Inn incorporates a well-stocked village shop and is fronted by an extensive beer garden. Popular with residents and visitors alike, the inn is overlooked by the parish church of St Peter. The church was rebuilt in 1873, when its rare pre-Conquest tympanum was salvaged and grafted onto the outer wall of the broach spire.
Aside from the presence of these distinctive buildings, the beauty of Parwich is enhanced by the existence of several greens and by scores of lovingly-cultivated cottage gardens. The parish’s website cites the enthusiastic gardening undertaken by residents as a major factor in maintaining the attractiveness of the village.
Susie White lives in a rose-clad period cottage on the perimeter of the largest of the village greens. When Susie moved to Parwich forty years ago from Holme Hall, near Bakewell, she brought with her a stone font, which forms the centrepiece of her colourful garden. Passing walkers, who are invariably stopped in their tracks by the beauty of the garden, are also distracted by a selection of second-hand books, which Susie displays outside her gate and makes available for free.
A few yards away from Susie’s cottage, there is a terrace of three buildings known as Church Gates. The rooflines of the group rise in echelon towards the spire of the adjacent church like a ‘stairway to heaven’. The gardens that front the properties are equally heavenly because their neatly-planted bushes make a fabulous kaleidoscopic display of pink, yellow, purple and red.
Lynette Coyne, who lives at nearby Church Cottage, is responsible for designing and planting her own stunning cottage garden, which includes topiary and a parterre which would not look out of place in the grounds of a stately home. In 2007, pictures of this colourful garden featured as an eight-page photo-spread in the magazine ‘The English Garden’ and even made the front cover of the American edition. A reporter from the magazine made a return visit this July with a view to writing a follow-up feature for an upcoming issue. Lynette’s partner, Richard Tresidder, cultivates Church Cottage’s very extensive vegetable garden, which is highly visible to passers-by and could well inspire them to adopt this traditional way of obtaining food.
Lynette was tasked with drawing up plans for a parish council initiative to develop a woodland walk at Pump Hill, a sloping area of land the council acquired from Parwich Hall in 2005. In 1990, Dorothy Littlewood of Stable Cottage had been given permission to create a wildflower garden on the land, which became overgrown after her death. The garden suffered from a further disadvantage as a public amenity because it could not be accessed from the village street.
Describing her plans to restore the area, Lynette said, ‘My idea was to create a woodland glade entered from the top of the site by a gate wide enough to allow access by prams, wheelchairs and mobility vehicles. A new path through the glade would be bolstered by stone taken from footpaths laid out by Dorothy and would end, for safety reasons, in a ‘squeeze’ exit at the village street.’
Expressing gratitude to the many people who have helped to bring her plans to fruition, Lynette says, ‘Robert Shields of Parwich Hall contributed gravel and stone; Maurice Foot donated four limestone gate posts for the two new entrances; many local people helped to clear brambles, nettles and bushes or provided refreshments for the labourers; others made bird-boxes or constructed benches fashioned from logs. I am also full of praise for the diligence and politeness of the young people of Derbyshire’s Community Payback Team who gave 415 hours of labour to dig out the new paths, lay membrane and remove large amounts of soil.’
The project was completed by the erection two of ‘totem-poles’ at the new entrances. Each of the poles, financed by the Parish Council and expertly crafted by wood-carver Melvin Savidge, is topped by a carving of an owl and bears an inscription indicating that the new public right of way is a ‘permissive path’. Recalling one of the pleasures of working on the woodland project, Lynette said, ‘As we worked, we heard lots of birdsong.’
The woodland birds of Parwich feature on a superb stained-glass window in the Lady Chapel of the parish church. The window was commissioned in 2009 by Rosemary Chambers as a memorial to her father Joseph Thornton, a member of the family who founded Thornton’s Chocolates, and to his great grandson, James Hetherington, who died at the age of two. Rosemary says, ‘I wanted the window to have a theme relevant to children, as well as being a way of remembering my father, who spent the final years of his life in Parwich, when he made many generous donations to the village.’
The window is a beautiful composition designed by David Pilkington, a very creative stained-glass and lettering artist, who was responsible for engraving the names of all the children in the parish who were under fourteen in 2000 on a millennium window in the Lady Chapel. David says, ‘At Rosemary’s request, I wanted the new window to be celebratory, rather than sad. It is meant to reflect James’ love of nature and features many species of birds circling the sun. I hope the children of the village will be able to identify all the birds which are depicted.’
The children who attend Parwich Primary School should have a good chance of doing so, because their school garden is located adjacent to the new woodland glade on Pump Hill. The garden is used as a learning area and a place where pupils can gather at lunchtimes. Earlier this year, the infant pupils planted sunflowers, potatoes, peas and carrots. Hoping for some extra colour, they also planted orchids, irises and gladioli.
Whilst gardening, the pupils looked at the functions of the various parts of plants and conducted experiments to see what conditions are needed for plants to grow. In particular, they were able to make predictions as to what might happen to plants if they are deprived of water or light. Thanks to their teachers, these children are learning to be the parish’s gardeners of tomorrow and to carry on the wonderful gardening traditions that contribute so much to the beauty of this Derbyshire village.