A portrait of Rowsley - art, heritage, shopping and much more

Riverside cottages in Rowsley

Riverside cottages in Rowsley - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith enjoys a day out at this lovely village on the edge of the Peak District National Park

Rowsley Post Office and General Store

Rowsley Post Office and General Store - Credit: Archant

It was David Naylor, the painter and co-owner of Derwent-Wye Fine Art in Rowsley, who reminded me of the village's connections with the distinguished artist Dame Laura Knight. Throughout her long life, Dame Laura, who was born in Long Eaton in 1877, retained memories of idyllic childhood holidays spent with her mother and two sisters in the village of Rowsley, where they would stay on a farm and have a daily routine of packing a picnic and going off to sketch in the nearby dales or at Haddon Hall.

In 1933, Laura was invited back to Haddon Hall to paint a portrait of Violet, 9th Duchess of Rutland. On her way to the hall, she passed 'the fields and winding stream never to be forgotten' and during her stay at Haddon, the Duke and Duchess took her on a nostalgic trip to Rowsley to see the places she had visited as a child and remembered so vividly throughout her life.

David Naylor has a similar affection for Rowsley, where, in partnership with Steve Earnshaw and John Basford, he established Derwent-Wye Fine Art over 20 years ago. Although John is no longer a member of the consortium, David and Steve continue to organise displays of Modern British paintings in their welcoming exhibition space. Collectors of the much sought-after work of the Sheffield artist Harry Epworth Allen are particularly drawn to the gallery, which also offers an expert framing and restoration service. At the time of my visit, David was putting the final touches to his fine painting of his wife Diane, who has worked for many years at the picture library at Chatsworth.

Rowsley's other popular art gallery is Gallerytop, located alongside Mandale Memorials and a fireplace centre on the road leading to Chatsworth. It was founded in 2004 by Keith Logan, a former Head of Creative Skills at Derby College, and Jill Wilson, a paper-maker and creator of sculptural art work. Their wonderful exhibition space contains contemporary art sourced from far and wide, but also features work by Derbyshire artists such as Kristan Baggaley, Mark Preston and Richard Barrett.

East Lodge from the Water Garden

East Lodge from the Water Garden - Credit: Archant

With their collections of painting, ceramics, glass and jewellery, Keith and Jill have built up a very strong base of returning customers, not least because, as Keith explains, 'We offer the Art Council's "Own Art" scheme, which allows potential buyers of contemporary art to purchase on a no-deposit, interest-free loan basis spread over ten months. Our Christmas Show will be a chance for visitors to select from examples of work that has proved popular throughout the year.'

In addition to Dame Laura Knight, another artist associated with Rowsley is the painter and sculptor Sir Edwin Landseer, who is said to have stayed at The Peacock Hotel, a very picturesque example of a classic Derbyshire manor house, which was built in 1652 as Rowsley Manor and became a Dower House for Haddon Hall until it became a hotel in 1832. The Peacock is a luxury hotel with 15 individually-styled bedrooms, an atmospheric bar with an open fire and a 3AA rosette restaurant.

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Manager Laura Ball said, 'Local roast beef served nice and pink is a favourite dish and many of our vegetables are grown on site. We provide day passes for fishing in the River Wye; our guests are able to enjoy our extensive garden, designed by the award-winning designer Arne Maynard, and they can follow a path that leads from the hotel all the way to Chatsworth.'

Another Rowsley hotel with extensive landscaped grounds is East Lodge, a former hunting lodge for Haddon Hall and now a four-star country house hotel and restaurant established 21 years ago by the Hardman family. Iain Hardman says, 'Our aim is to offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere, coupled with outstanding hospitality, in a haven of peace and tranquillity at the heart of the Peak District. Our hotel has gained a reputation as a special place for special occasions, especially for weddings, when couples have the exclusive use of the hotel, which effectively becomes their own country house for the duration of their stay. They also have the option of the ceremony being held in the water garden. Our venue is so popular that we have hosted 78 weddings in a single year.'

The Country Parlour Café and the former flour mill

The Country Parlour Café and the former flour mill - Credit: Archant

The Grouse and Claret, occupying a prominent position alongside the A6, is a hotel and diner-pub set in a large 18th-century building owned by the Marston's brewery chain. Trainee assistant manager Sarah Wood, who was preparing for the usual lunchtime rush of customers seeking the pub's great-value meals, said, 'We have eight double rooms and we can serve 150 people in the hotel and a further 150 in the garden area. We have a Festive Menu that will operate between 27th November and 3rd January, and we have special menus for Christmas Day and Boxing Day.'

The brewery chain also owns the caravan site located immediately behind the Grouse and Claret. All the pitches have electric hook-ups. This popular holiday facility is a caravanner's idea of heaven because all the 28 pitches have picnic tables, the site is located close to Haddon Hall and Chatsworth, and it has easy access to glorious countryside, the adjacent pub, Peak Shopping Village, the Post Office and all the other village amenities.

Peak Shopping Village was developed on a large area of land formerly occupied by marshalling yards and engine sheds. When these were demolished, only the station building was left standing. Designed by Joseph Paxton in 1849, it features the prominent overhanging eaves found in most former Midland Railway station buildings. Now occupied by a shop supporting Ashgate Hospice, the building stands in the centre of the shopping village, where there are almost 20 outlets, ranging from shops selling clothing, bedding, shoes and bags and to shops selling home furnishings, gifts and books. There is a School of Dancing and a 'Peak Adventure' indoor soft play centre, as well as a large restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and a Doggy Bistro. 'Makers' Markets' are held on six occasions per year and there is ample free parking. It also hosts the Rowsley salesroom of the excellent auctioneers Bamfords, who hold regular valuation days and twice monthly antique furniture, interiors and collectors' auctions here.

A different shopping and visitor experience awaits visitors to Caudwell's Mill on the opposite side of the A6. Built by John Caudwell in 1874, the water-powered flour mill operated for 104 years. Owned by the Haddon Estate and run by a trust, it has pulleys, belts, sifters and other machinery stretching over four floors. Although the mill has been restored, flour production no longer takes place here but lots of speciality flours obtained from mills elsewhere in the country are on sale.

The garden at the Peacock Hotel

The garden at the Peacock Hotel - Credit: Archant

The buildings alongside the mill accommodate a wood studio and provide premises used by a jeweller, a glass-maker and Bob Brown's blacksmith business. Bob has been responding to commissions for window frames, curtain rails, brackets, door hinges, latches and fire tools for 22 years. One of his very popular speciality products is a poker with a head fashioned in the shape of the Derby Ram. Although Bob, who is aged 70, took on an apprentice six years ago, he has no intention of retiring from the work he loves.

In 1987, Richard and Pat Priestley opened a craft and homeware shop in the old grain store of the mill. Given the quality and range of products on sale, it would be hard to find a better place to shop for Christmas gifts. Richard also built the adjacent Country Parlour Café using recycled materials from a Scottish mill and he installed pews and a counter salvaged from Crich Carr Chapel. The windows of the café, which serves delicious homemade and locally-sourced food, provide a view of a bucolic scene where kingfishers, dippers and wagtails can be spotted.

The paths leading from the café run alongside a meandering stream and rows of picturesque village houses, before giving access to unspoilt Peak District countryside. It was here that the young Laura Knight, her two sisters and their mother would spend halcyon summer days enjoying picnics and making sketches of the scenes that would stay in Laura's mind throughout her life.

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