Why I love living in Ashbourne

Looking up St John Street, Ashbourne

Looking up St John Street, Ashbourne - Credit: Derbyshire Dales District Council/Phil Sproson Photography

Derbyshire Life writer Viv Micklefield on what makes the White Peak town of Ashbourne so special  

Naturally, at the time, we liked to think that the swathes of red, white and blue bunting bedecking the town centre were out in our honour.  

Six years on from extricating ourselves from the hurly burly of life in the Home Counties – where a rush ‘hour’ begins anytime from 2.30pm and lasts well into the evening – and, of course, I know otherwise.  

Yet the frequency with which Ashbourne exudes a celebratory atmosphere never fails to lift the spirits. 

This gateway to the Peak District punches well above its weight. The annual Ashbourne Festival for instance attracts big names from the world of literature, stage and screen.  

Listening live to historian David Olusoga a few summers ago was a joyous treat, so too laughing along with the late Tim Brooke-Taylor reminiscing about his Derbyshire roots.  

A big shout-out must go to the hard-working volunteers who pull-off this arts extravaganza.  

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I can’t wait for the coming weeks when among those drawing-in the crowds are Pottery Throwdown favourite Keith Brymer Jones and Countryfile regular Adam Henson, who himself has appeared occasionally in Derbyshire Life over the years.  

Many will turn out in force to enjoy the accompanying street festival, community participation being at the heart of the entire event’s ethos.  

My minor claim to fame is a contribution to the handmade ‘terracotta army’ of miniature figures for ‘Our Game’, a recreation in clay of Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide.  

Some of the listed buildings found on Church Street

Some of the listed buildings found on Church Street - Credit: Derbyshire Dales District Council & Phil Sproson Photography

And then, afterwards, trying to spot this personal sporting effigy, among over 5,000 others displayed within the nave of St Oswald’s Church; a remarkable sight.

I’ll always remember my first Shrovetide too, although this was not the year in which Prince Charles ‘turned-up’ the ceremonial football to commence a contest first mentioned in the 17th century. 

Nonetheless, it was with amazement, and admittedly some trepidation, that the sight of wooden barricades being fastened onto shop windows was witnessed, as the two-day showdown approached.  

Watching the ‘up’ards’ and ‘down’ards’ (depending on which bank of the River Henmore players were born) launch into a super-human effort to score the winning goal - and with this the bragging rights for the next 12 months - is, indeed, a sight to behold. 

If the rumours are true, something else set to appear before our eyes soon is the resurrection of Ashbourne’s cinema on Buxton Road, surely a positive addition to the town’s economy.  

Some long standing businesses still trade in St John Street

Some long standing businesses still trade in St John Street - Credit: Viv Micklefield

Like many, I’ve lamented the closure of some familiar high street names along with Bennetts, the department store.  

Yet thankfully, confounding the odds, independent shops survive, inspiring the confidence of knowing a designer label can be readily found should the occasion demand; along with the extra mile of service that delivers added crackling for my Sunday roast, or a ready dog treat whilst browsing for country clothing.  

And the Thursday market behind Shawcroft Car Park is also worth seeking out. Here you’ll find freshly brewed coffee on the hoof or a DIY ploughman’s lunch with cheeses, cured meats, pickles and sour dough bread to enjoy in the nearby park. 

As empty nesters the initial question was: Would our city-living family find visits here a little ‘dull’ Not a bit of it.  

Layers of history can be discovered in the town's architectural styles

Layers of history can be discovered in the town's architectural styles - Credit: Derbyshire Dales District Council/Phil Sproson Photography

They love the quirkiness of a cobbled jitty disappearing between buildings dating back over 400 years, when Ashbourne was on the old London to Manchester road – the Historical Centre being where you can peel back the years.  

And, of course, there’s the access to the great outdoors which they’ve shared with friends, including entering the Ashbourne half marathon. 

Yes, I’ll forever be considered a blower-in. But you’ll not see me running for the hills anytime soon.   

THREE THINGS TO DO 

Head for the Clayrooms in Dig Street 

Professional ceramists Sarah Heaton and Helen Cammiss sell their own designs, plus carefully curated makes from other artisans, whilst the on-site pottery studio offers one-off sessions and weekly classes.  

This summer’s ‘Our Town’ community project celebrates Ashbourne’s characterful buildings in clay, with everyone invited to get hands-on at free workshops.    

Enjoy some R&R  

Enjoying the sunshine in the Market Place

Enjoying the sunshine in the Market Place - Credit: Derbyshire Dales District Council/Phil Sproson Photography

Swap fast food for time out. Brunch lovers are well-served at Jack Rabbits; whilst the new Pavilion in the Park café offers a grandstand view from which to watch a quintessential game of cricket. 

Or why not take afternoon tea in style at Callow Hall where, for those wanting to linger longer, luxury treehouses lull you to sleep within an ancient woodland canopy. 

Explore!  

The Tissington Trail begins at the Leisure Centre right in the centre of town.

Exiting through the former station tunnel, Thorpe Cloud’s iconic slopes and the Dove Valley are visible just a short distance away by bike (available to hire in Mappleton Lane) or on foot.