Is Parwich ‘one of the best places to live in Britain’?

The village from the pond, known as 'The Dam'

The village from the pond, known as 'The Dam' - Credit: Archant

Until very recently, the village of Parwich had been one of the Peak District’s best-kept secrets. But this shy and unassuming village suddenly shot to national fame when it was named by the Sunday Times as ‘one of the best places to live in Britain’

Parwich Photo: John Fuller-Sessions

Parwich Photo: John Fuller-Sessions - Credit: Archant

Until very recently, the village of Parwich had been one of the Peak District’s best-kept secrets. Tucked away in a quiet green valley in the gentle limestone foothills of the White Peak, the settlement had never attained, or sought, the celebrity status of Derbyshire’s ‘show villages’, despite its undeniable picture-postcard prettiness. But, in March of this year, this shy and unassuming village suddenly shot to national fame when it was named by the Sunday Times as ‘one of the best places to live in Britain’.

Needless to say, this accolade will not be going to the heads of the villagers. Rather than erecting new boundary signs or selling knick-knacks inscribed with self-congratulatory slogans, they will be carrying on as normal with their quiet and contented lives as residents of their rural idyll. This is not to say that the villagers are in any way unfriendly or unwelcoming to those visitors who come across Parwich when they venture away from the main tourist routes through the Peak District.

I found a good example of the villagers’ attitude towards strangers when I called on Peter Trewhitt, a local historian. Peter was uprooting a large gooseberry bush, which he was about to give to Sandra and Michael Coy before they returned to their home in Stevenage. Sandra and Michael first came on holiday to Parwich 15 years ago and they have been making annual pilgrimages ever since. It is not simply the beauty of the place that has dragged them back time and time again, but also the friendliness of the villagers. Sandra said, ‘When we returned one year after our first visit, we were amazed to find people had remembered our names and were greeting us as though we were locals.’

Flaxdale - a Georgian farmhouse

Flaxdale - a Georgian farmhouse - Credit: Archant

Peter Trewhitt moved recently from his former village home to Church Farm on Creamery Lane, a road whose name is a reminder of the creamery that operated in Parwich until the 1920s. Peter has found much of interest in his new home to excite his enthusiasm as a researcher of local history. He said, ‘I have uncovered a blocked-up window of uncertain origin in the house and I have unearthed a wall in the garden that suggests that the property had a different configuration in former times.’

Commenting on the appearance of other dwellings in the village, Peter said, ‘Most of what you see is Georgian or later, but many buildings show evidence of earlier structures. Parwich Hall, a large brick building that stands on a prominent site above the limestone village, was constructed on top of the ground floor of a Tudor Hall. At least four properties in the village still retain cruck-beams, and thatched roofs were once commonplace until they were replaced when improved transportation allowed Staffordshire slate to be imported into the village.’

Peter told me that the villagers had relied almost exclusively on farming for their livelihood until Parwich became a favoured place of residence. Although no working farms remain, the old farmhouses retain much of their original appearance. And because many of the present occupants work from home, the village has managed to preserve its sense of community.

'The stairway to heaven' - church and cottages

'The stairway to heaven' - church and cottages - Credit: Archant

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The timely arrival of Ian Pitts provided confirmation of this observation. Ian runs a website business that provides advice on family history but, as on this occasion, he escapes from time to time from his home computer by working as a gardener and stone-waller. Like Peter, he is also fascinated by the history of the village and he is pleased to live in a place that supports a wide range of clubs and interest groups, many of which meet in the community hall, re-built recently with the help of a Lottery grant. Parwich also has a particularly active branch of the Royal British Legion.

The village pub, The Sycamore, is another vital community hub. As well as putting on a wide variety of popular special events, from quiz evenings to fancy dress parties, landlady Janet Gosling runs the village shop from a room adjacent to the bar, where her impressive stock of provisions is supplemented by a laundry service and a facility for collecting prescriptions. Janet says, ‘The presence of a shop is important in a village which is seven miles from the nearest town (Ashbourne) and has an infrequent bus service. And, of course, many people are simply pleased to pop into the shop for a chat.’

One villager who popped in for a pint of milk at the time of my visit was John Fuller-Sessions, a keen amateur photographer, who told me that he is particularly fond of capturing images of swallows as they swoop down and feed at one of the village ponds. He was more than happy to share one of his photographs with Derbyshire Life readers.

Cottages alongside the village green

Cottages alongside the village green - Credit: Archant

On winter evenings, the regulars appreciate the pub’s seasonal Old Tom bitter and its roaring log fire. In the summer months, The Sycamore is a favourite with ramblers who gather in the beer garden to enjoy Janet’s home-cooked food and a fortifying drink before tackling the next leg of their journey. On the day of my visit, a U3A rambler group from Sheffield had stopped off for refreshment. One of their members remarked that they had chosen to walk through Parwich because ‘it is a real village, rather than a place with an artificial atmosphere designed for tourists.’

Paradoxically, the village school in this real village is housed in a picturesque building that looks as if it has been taken straight out of a children’s fairy tale. Headteacher Fiona Tomblin, who took up her appointment earlier this year, is delighted to have secured her first headship in such a wonderful place, not least because she has already realised that she has great pupils and the support of a very dedicated staff.

Fiona said, ‘I am really looking forward to the challenge of building on the school’s strong tradition of providing a stimulating environment where ideas can flourish and children can realise their full potential. As my standards are high, I wish to nurture and improve on the good standards that already exist here.’

Serving a village of fewer than 500 inhabitants, the school has slightly fewer than 50 pupils, which means that classes are composed of children with ages that range over a couple of years. However, Fiona firmly believes that this is one of the school’s strengths. She says, ‘The younger children are inspired by the older pupils in their class and they gain maturity from working alongside them. For their part, the older pupils learn to lead by example.’

The names of all the village children who were under the age of 14 at the time of the millennium are etched on a window that was designed for the village church by David Pilkington. The building also has a much older carving in the form of a tympanum, which was discovered below a layer of whitewash and now forms a striking external feature at the foot of the building’s prominent tower.

The church is the centrepiece of a beautiful village-scape consisting of well-proportioned limestone houses, some of which overlook one or other of Parwich’s two ponds, whilst others extend along the perimeter of a large village green. One terrace of three cottages which stands at the very heart of this heavenly village has a roofline that rises step-by-step, leading the eye to the summit of the church’s broach spire, as if it were a stairway to heaven.

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