Exploring the Peak District resort of Grindleford
- Credit: Archant
Mike Smith visits a favourite destination for those seeking escape from urban life
Imagine the anticipation felt in 1894 by the first people to board a train that would take them from Sheffield to Grindleford through the new Totley Tunnel, finally completed after five years of arduous burrowing under a wide expanse of moorland on the border between Yorkshire and Derbyshire. As Bulmer’s Directory of 1895 reported, ‘By the construction of this line the wild and romantic scenery of Peakland is thrown open to the admiring gaze of visitors and tourists.’
When those first passengers emerged at Grindleford Station, they would have found themselves in glorious countryside that must have seemed a million miles from the grime of the city. They would have seen the clear waters of Burbage Brook flowing between thickly wooded banks as it emerged from the wild moors that they would have recognised as the setting for Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; and a short walk would have taken them to romantic Padley Hall where two Catholic martyrs, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam, had been captured during a raid in 1588.
In no time at all, Grindleford became a popular country retreat for Sheffielders. Some of the city’s wealthier citizens even chose to leave the smoky atmosphere of the city and take up residence in new villas on the wooded hillside above the village, from where they could easily commute by train.
The village remains a favourite destination for those seeking escape from urban life. Trains still halt at Grindleford, but the original station buildings have been converted into a café, where Phillip Eastwood sells natural spring water that emanates from the hillside above the building and serves up hearty breakfasts and king-sized chip butties which are greatly appreciated by the many ramblers, climbers, cyclists and day-trippers who are drawn to the area.
The construction in 1908 of a large new hotel called the Maynard Arms was a sure indication that the arrival of the railway had firmly established Grindleford as a resort. The hotel’s current operations manager, Hugh Skelton, told me: ‘The majority of the people who stay or dine here are still drawn from the Sheffield area, although a good number now come from further afield. We have also become a very popular venue for weddings and civil ceremonies.’
The beauty of the Grindleford area is reflected in the hotel’s extensive collection of paintings by local artists. A dramatic landscape picture by Kristan Baggaley greets visitors as they arrive at the reception desk and one of his other paintings decorates the ceiling of the AA rosette restaurant, where head chef Mark Vernon makes creative use of local produce. Each December, he also invites the children from the local primary school to make Christmas puddings under his expert tuition.
One year after the opening of the Maynard Arms, work began on new church buildings to accommodate the expanding population of the parish. When the new buildings were consecrated in 1910, they consisted of a south chapel and a tall chancel, but the long, low nave of the old church was retained as an interim measure. Despite the wealth of Grindleford’s incomers, the money was never found for a new nave or for the tower and spire that had also been planned.
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That interim nave is still there but, despite its incongruity, it is greatly cherished by today’s parishioners, who believe it contributes to the unique character of the building. Their affection for the church has been rewarded by the generous gift of the vestry as rent-free accommodation for a new community shop that has replaced the village store, which closed four years ago. The shop is staffed by a team of volunteers overseen by a small team of managers, including Sarah Batterbee, who told me: ‘Our jam, marmalade, honey and home-baked bread are all produced by local people. We also market books written by local authors and CDs by local musicians.’
The Grindleford community is also well served by a large recreation area and cricket field overlooked by a fine pavilion that also accommodates a play group. These facilities stand alongside the River Derwent, crossed hereabouts by a fine triple-arched bridge. Close by the crossing, there is an attractive former toll house with a distinctive two-storey bulge that was designed to give the toll-keeper an early view of approaching traffic. During the coaching days, Grindleford stood at the junction of two important turnpikes. One route ran along the main road to Calver and Bakewell, while the other turnpike ascended the Sir William Road on its way to Tideswell and Buxton.
Although the main road has lost its shop, it still retains the longest-established commercial art gallery in the Peak District. Founded two decades ago by Robin and Julie Ashmore, the gallery is a wonderful exhibition space for some of the finest landscape paintings of the Peak District, all of which are framed by the gallery’s framing service. Featured artists include Colin Halliday, Gareth Buxton and Kristan Baggaley. Sadly, Robin has been forced by ill-health to put the gallery on the market, but he is hoping that a buyer will be found who will retain the business in its present form.
A right turn from the main road gives access to the Sir William Road, so called because Sir William Bagshawe passed this way on his journey between his house at Norton, near Sheffield, and his other residence at Wormhill, near Buxton. Despite being hidden behind the main road, this little enclave looks like the focal point of the village. A war memorial stands in a little square surrounded by picturesque cottages and the road is flanked by the Sir William Hotel and the primary school.
The pupils at the primary school are particularly lucky in having great indoor and outdoor spaces. Headteacher Leonie Hill showed me around the bright, airy classrooms and a kitchen supervised by Emma Pyrah, an award-winning cook. The school’s outside spaces include a ‘quiet area’, a vegetable plot, a pond and a wildlife area, all largely designed by the pupils. At the time of my visit, the school’s Eco Group had just constructed a den covered with mock solar panels that they had made as part of a campaign to raise funding for real solar panels for the school.
The children are also fortunate in living in a beautiful locality. They have the use of Grindleford’s recreation ground for various sports and they have a dedicated patch of woodland where they can identify wildlife. They also make their own contributions to the village by dressing the float for the Carnival Princess and designing T-shirts worn by the 750 runners in the Grindleford Gallop, a 22-mile race which is organised by the Parent Teacher Association and raises £6,000 annually for the school.
Soup for all the participants in the Gallop is provided by the Sir William Hotel, which is managed by Helen and Terry Bedford, who took over last May. Explaining how delighted she is to have moved to Grindleford, Helen said, ‘This is a much friendlier place than Arundel where we used to live and work. People here have a great community spirit and they find time to talk to their neighbours.’
The new owners have already made their mark by putting in a planning application to convert an old barn into a bunk house and by organising a charity meal to raise money for a defibrillator for the village. The hotel has seven en suite bedrooms and a terrace that has wonderful views across the Derwent Valley to the wooded hillside where those grand Victorian and Edwardian villas were built after the construction of the Totley Tunnel had established Grindleford as a Peak District resort.