Derbyshire and the Peak District
Trip Start Apr 30, 2006
12Trip End May 14, 2006
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Countless movies and TV shows depict life in the English countryside as consisting of gentle, rolling hillside farms dotted with farm animals. All Englishmen and women live in villages where one can step out the front door and head down the street to the local pub to grab a pint of beer.
I did not think that English countryside life could really be that simple and tranquil. However, it would not take long during my recent visit to the Derbyshire village of Castle Donnington to discover that, for the most part, all this was true.
My vacation at my aunt's home in central England would be the perfect launching pad for visiting the English countryside of Derbyshire and the Peak District. From here, I would hike, bike, drive and drink (moderately) my way through the many sights.
Walking and Biking
Hiking (or walking to the locals) is a huge thing in England. Footpaths seem to be everywhere and often cross farmer's fields to link one village to another. Tony Blair passed a law that opened up the countryside and provided right-of-way access to farmer's fields and other private lands. Helped by this initiative, the countryside now contains a network of footpaths that can take you from one coast to the other.
The English do love their country walks, as witnessed by a two-week walking festival in the Peak District that coincided during my visit. My aunt did offer to sign me up for a morning walk at a nearby abbey. However, upon inquiry, I leaned that the walk started in the pre-dawn (at 4am) so that the walkers could listen to the morning birds sing. Unfortunately, I lacked the desire to hear the garble of morning doves and the like so I politely declined and decided to stick to midday walks.
An unseasonably sunny day (by English standards) greeted me on my first full day in England. I laced up my hiking shoes and started out on an afternoon walk from Castle Donnington to a couple of nearby villages. My walk led me along the road to the village of Hemington where I encountered a chap cleaning the windows of a traditional thatched house. He stopped to say hello and realizing from my accent asked me if I needed directions. After stating that I was out for a country walk, he kindy suggested an alternative, more scenic route to get to the next village. He suggested I turn back 100 metres, go through the clatter gate (which I would later figure out was a metal swing gate that 'clattered' as it closed) and over the hillside to Lockington. His only warning was to look out for the bulls at the bottom of the hill and to run if they started to stare and grunt loudly.
This recommendation proved rewarding as my walk took me over a farmers pasture, past the gentle bulls (whom paid no attention to me) and into Lockington. On my return, I 'stumbled' upon the Jolly Sailor pub where a pint of the finest bitter was consumed. A fitting reward for my fine afternoon walk!
Church ruins in Hemington
Feeling more adventourous a few days later, I decided to bike to the Peak District. After borrowing a bike from my aunt's friend, I boarded the train at Derby for the half-hour ride to Matlock. Exiting the ting station at Matlock, I headed towards Bakewell and the home of the famous Bakewell Pudding.
Enroute, I encountered many wonderful sights. I had to stop every mile or so and get off my bike to gaze in wonderment at the beautiful countryside before me.
After stopping at Haddon Hall to view an old manor with amazing gardens I stopped at a pub in the town of Bakewell for some pudding topped with custard (I also had a pint of bitter). I would later realize that consuming beer halfway through my bike ride might not have been the best idea as the alcohol combined with the blazing sunshine rareity in England) left me a little dehydrated and snoozy on the ride back.
The Peak District - Pride and Prejudice Country
Derbyshire and the Peak District have served to inspire many famous novels including Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. My bike ride a few days earlier gave me a sense of this but it would be an afternoon drive into the heart of the Peak District and Chatsworth House that would reveal what that inspiration was.
Chatsworth has to be one of the most beautiful estates in all of England (granted this is the only one I visited and I am sure the Queen has a property or two that are nicer). Some scenes from the latest Pride and Prejudice movie were filmed within Chatsworth House. The gardens and fountains, statue gallery and main entrance all depicted Mr Darcey's mansion in the movie. So go rent the movie and you will see the splendor of this mansion.
The Peak District backdrop to Chatsworth is what really makes this place a real gem. Yes, the multitude of gardens, water fountains and walking paths are wonderful but the surrounding Peak District hills are it crowning jewel.
As I was sitting on a bench after a few hours of visiting, I gazed across and had to shake my head twice as the scene before me did not look real. It seemed just too perfect like a classical English countryside painting. Stoned walls divided the green rolling hills with its rows of trees on the hilltops, where cattle and herds of sheep roamed freely. What a perfect ending to my visit in the Peak District.
English Village Life
My aunt lives on a street called The Biggin, so named, as it was the original beginning of the village of Castle Donnington. A two minute walk down the hill from The Biggin is the street where the main conveniences of Castle Donnington - the Post Office, Fish and Chip shop, corner store, bakery, Indian take-away (take out) etc. - are located. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the nearest local pub is a further 30-second stumble down the hill. The stores are owned by local folk where other local folk came into shop and chat. The whole scene reminded me a bit of Coronation Street but much more civilized.
After spending a week here, I came to appreciate the proximity of these services and the accompanying lifestyle. I made good use of the 'main street' either by having take-away food from the fish and chippie, mailing postcards at the postal office or enjoying a pint at the local. I could get used to this relaxed village lifestyle. Unfortunately, I was heading back soon to North America and the big box store culture with its impersonal Good Day and Please Come Again greetings. I would certainly miss this easygoing lifestyle in the English countryside.