A517 Road Trip from Hulland Ward to Ashbourne
- Credit: Ashley Franklin
Meeting people and visiting places along the A517
Part Two of my journey along the A517 linking Belper and Ashbourne takes me beyond Turnditch and points up even more the verdant legacy of the Duffield Frith with its dense woodland interspersed with stretches of open countryside where farms grew up.
A century ago there were almost 100 farms in this area. However, the 20 or so that remain shows that this is still, essentially, agricultural land.
I move away from Windley on to yet another small village, Cross O’Th’ Hands, apparently named after its public house which in turn came from the illegal bare-knuckle fights held in the adjacent gravel pits. Here in 1851, there was a famous grudge match between two of England’s finest pugilists Harry Paulson and Tom Paddock which, remarkably, drew a crowd of over 1,000. The fight reached an astonishing 71 rounds before police arrived. As the fight was unfinished, a second bout took place soon afterwards, this one lasting 86 rounds. Police intervention this time led to crowd violence, and Paulson and Paddock received a gaol sentence of ten months with hard labour.
History becomes even more fascinating as we move into Hulland Ward. Research by local resident Wendy Whitbread has revealed that in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie rode along this very road when it was an old packhorse ridgeway. More than half a century later, there are two sound reasons to believe that a carriage carrying Jane Austen may have come this way while the author was staying in Bakewell prior to publishing Pride and Prejudice in 1812. It’s almost certain that Austen’s visit to Chatsworth inspired Darcy’s Pemberley but, also at this time, the De Bourgh family lived at Hulland Hall. Did Austen possibly encounter an incumbent as autocratic as Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh? When one considers the novel that quickly followed the publication of Pride and Prejudice, it’s also plausible that Austen came across the house that is now called Mansell Park but which was known in the author’s time as Mansfield Park.
In more recent times, one of the most famous figures of the 20th century made a special secret visit to Hulland Ward – twice. Beatle George Harrison came to the workshop of Northworthy Guitars, run by Alan Marshall. He spent the whole day on both visits, too, even on one occasion picking up a finished guitar and treating Alan to an impromptu concert. However, George was there not to discuss the making of a guitar but of a ukulele, his pet instrument. Ironically this is the only ukulele Alan has ever made.
Alan is one of the country’s leading acoustic guitar makers with the distinction of making a guitar for John Renbourn. In the folk world, that’s the equivalent of making a violin for Nigel Kennedy. You only have to see Alan’s workshop with its dizzying array of chisels, clamps, pliers and cutters to appreciate why he only makes 10 to 12 guitars a year. It’s an ever-refining craft, too, says Alan, and one that fascinates his apprentice Jacob: ‘I’m getting a masterclass in craftsmanship,’ he says.
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Alan loves Hulland Ward: ‘Here, it feels quiet, private and relaxing and, when out in the village, it’s warm and friendly.’ There was certainly a warm welcome for me in The Flower House, run by Alison Abbott and her son Oliver. With credentials as both a florist and interior designer, Alison set up shop 18 months ago to offer a wide range of blooms as well as tasteful gifts of candles, cards, cushions, scarves, jewellery, glassware and artwork. ‘We provide quality with personal service,’ says Alison.
‘It’s still a gamble running a business like this in a small village,’ says Oliver, ‘but we are constantly being recommended because of the work we’ve done.’ Alison is flushed with pride that she can add ‘flowers for royalty’ to her CV: she was commissioned to make up a classical posy for presentation to the Countess of Wessex last month during her visit to JCB in Rocester.
While in The Flower House, villager Susan Donnelly bought a vibrant painting of cows by Peak District painter Lynne Wilkinson. It was a gift for her husband, David. This led her to tell me about his prize-winning Simmental bulls, which in turn led me down Moss Lane to the Donnelly’s Hulland Ward farm to photograph their splendid Supreme Champion bull Barnabus. I discovered that David is a major figure at agricultural shows as both judge and competitor and that he is soon to be awarded the presidency of the British Simmental Society. He’s certainly a vigorous advocate of the breed: ‘Simmentals produce the tastiest Sunday roast, and milk so fine they make ice cream from it.’
After bulls, I saw horses... and more paintings, this time on the walls of The Black Horse pub, a distinct landmark on the A517. Another painting, of a Nag’s Head, indicated Hulland Ward’s other pub. Close to the Nag’s is another florist Tineke – which is owned by Kerry Wilkinson and has won Wedding Industry Awards for 2012, 2013 and 2014 – – and The Little Paper House, a cosy craft and gift store that runs courses in mosaics, scrapbooks, card-making and both needle and wet felting.
As well as two age-old inns, Hulland Ward has two long established garages, with Hulland Ward Garage trading as a bicycle maker as far back as the late Victorian era before evolving into the selling and repairing of cars. Research by Shell indicated that this could be the oldest garage in the country. The shops that grew up servicing the farms are long gone, including Harry Dale’s ironmongers where Jean Redfern said ‘you could buy everything from a nail to a steamroller’, and a blacksmith’s that lasted right up until 1975.
Curiously, the older village of Hulland – strung out along an adjacent country lane – and Hulland Ward are in separate civil parishes. In parish council terms Hulland Ward is tied with nearby Biggin and Atlow.
Local historian Wendy Whitbread invited me to Biggin where she has lived all her life. She showed me why by taking me up to the ‘Gorsey Mountain’, which is a paradisiacal place for walking and picnicking with sweeping panoramic vistas of dense green countryside. Driving around this area reminded me of deepest Devon with its narrow, snaking, tractor-muddied lanes flanked by high hedgerows. To emphasise its rurality, there was even a ford in the road. Wendy recalled her childhood spent cycling along these roads and whizzing through the ford fast enough to make the water spray up high. How many youngsters experience that thrill today? Wendy would also explore the woods and waterways, as she does even now.
‘It’s timeless here,’ she explained. ‘Even with the development of Hulland Ward, this landscape with its rolling hills, hidden valleys and far-reaching views has changed little over hundreds of years. One of the things I love about Biggin is that, Brigadoon-like, it disappears when the mists lie low across the countryside; strangers to this area will pass by totally unaware of our existence. When I lived in London, Biggin was always a welcome bolt-hole from the stress and noise of the capital.’
Driving back to the A517 at Hulland Ward, I was reminded of the supreme effort by the Parish Council and others which in 2000 brought the parish a new village hall, where I had the pleasure recently of giving a talk to the thriving and very active WI.
The modern lines of the brick-built village hall contrast with the quaint, traditional stone of Hulland Christ Church next door. Although its tower isn’t very tall, it is said that from it one can sometimes see the Wrekin in Shropshire, 40 miles away. The church also has an enormous font, ‘one of the biggest’ travel writer Arthur Mee saw on his travels across Britain. It stands over four feet high with a bowl over ten feet round.
I saw another dainty church as I made my way out of Hulland Ward, turning left off the A517 into more lush countryside: Bradley’s 14th century All Saints’, a church without either aisle or tower, even though it has a bell turret – the original wooden bell tower was struck by lightning. It could do with some bells to reach the ears of its flock: like Biggin, Bradley is a sizeable yet scattered village with an assortment of houses along several narrow lanes.
All Saints’ Church itself is in an idyllic spot. On one side sits the large duck-filled Lady’s Pond and on the other is Bradley Hall, once the residence of the Meynells who enjoyed visits from Dr Johnson. Bonnie Prince Charlie stopped off here, too, en route from Ashbourne after proclaiming his father James III.
This part of the county contains still more of ‘hidden’ Derbyshire. It is unspoilt and little seems to have changed since Arthur Mee wrote in 1937: ‘Bradley. With its beautiful bowers of trees and winding bluebell lanes, it knows the stillness of the dreaming countryside.’
Into this dreaming countryside guests regularly visit Holly Meadow Farm, which is run by Tom and Babette.‘It’s like being at the end of the world,’ Babette comments about this snug, splendidly isolated green and pleasant land.
On Holly Meadow Farm’s Trip Advisor site, comments note the ‘tranquil’ and ‘peaceful’ surroundings with ‘breathtaking’ views from the bedroom window. The view includes some 3,000 trees that Tom and Babette have planted, which have attracted plenty of wildlife. Indeed, go to the Visit Peak District website and under ‘Things To Do’ in Bradley, it simply states: ‘Listen to the bird-song – it is usually very quiet around here’, adding that there is ‘some easy walking along field paths’.
One other oft-mentioned attraction at Holly Meadow Farm is the ‘hearty Full Derbyshire’ (which is actually a full English Breakfast with oatcakes), with ‘Babette’s Feast’ also including homemade jam, marmalade and chutney and eggs you can pick out yourself in the farmyard. My exit from Bradley, prior to re-joining the A517, is through the Hole in the Wall, an archway separating two parts of a house with a bedroom above.
Back to the A517 and near the turn off to Bradley is a private house that, when taking our daughter Helena to Mulberry Bush day nursery in Ashbourne in the 1990s, we always called the pub with two names. It is now a private residence but the sign on the Hulland side once said The Jinglers while on the other side it was The Fox & Hounds. Local historian Wendy Whitbread has managed to unearth both the origin of the Jinglers name and the possible reason for the two names. The pub used to stand at the end of a track leading to a lead mine. Pack ponies were used to transport the lead and it was said that the leading pony wore a bell so that its jingling sound would tell the mine workers propping up the bar to down their pints and be ready to deal with the laden ponies. In later years, The Jinglers became a tied house and Offiler’s Brewery of Derby insisted on a new name, Fox & Hounds. The double sign was either a compromise with Offiler’s or a false front to please the new owners without upsetting the locals!
My last port of call along the A517 had to be the aforementioned nursery. So, it was here we go round to The Mulberry Bush again, still run with verve and compassion by founder Liz Sread. When Liz opened in 1990, our Helena was one of 25 youngsters here. The current intake is 117, which makes it one of the biggest day nurseries in Derbyshire. It must be one of the happiest, too: of her 27 staff, most have been with her for more than ten years. ‘It means we can show a high level of commitment, loyalty and experience,’ states Liz. ‘Continuity, too. A family’s third or fourth child placed with us can be looked after by the same staff who cared for their first or second. In fact, six children we looked after have gone on to work for me!’
In spite of its size, the nursery is made up of seven units – ‘each one with its own ethos and personality’ says Liz – and every child has an individual play plan. ‘We also make it our job to get to know every child inside out,’ adds Liz, and she aims to make it her job for a while yet: ‘I have no plans to retire, certainly not with a 25th anniversary to celebrate next year!’