Reasons to visit the Peak District village of Baslow

Baslow Hall

Baslow Hall - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith visits a village with a remarkable collection of specialist shops, architectural curiosities and quality eating places

The seventeenth-century bridge across the Derwent

The seventeenth-century bridge across the Derwent - Credit: Archant

In 1956, the artist Richard Hamilton produced a collage entitled ‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’. The title of this iconic work comes to mind whenever I visit Baslow, a place that is so different and so appealing, because it has a remarkable collection of shops that would be hard to find in any other village, together with a range of superior accommodation, special drinking and eating places and several architectural and sculptural curiosities.

From Baslow Hall to Bakewell Road

Max Fischer at Rowleys

Max Fischer at Rowleys - Credit: Archant

Fischer’s, set high above the main road at the western end of Baslow, sets the tone for our journey through this distinctive village. The celebrated Michelin-starred hotel and restaurant is housed in a building that looks like a typical 17th-century Derbyshire manor house but is actually an early 20th-century pastiche. The restaurant has won many awards and its founder Max Fischer was recently given the accolade of an honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University. Much of the seasonal produce used in the restaurant’s exceptional dishes is sourced from the hall’s garden, which has just seen the introduction of half a million bees from the Sheffield Honey Company.

The Rutland Arms, a large public house close to the centre of the village, is another popular venue for accommodation, food and drink. The pub has a beer garden on the bank of the River Derwent, which is crossed by a 17th-century, triple-arched bridge, guarded in former times by a watchman’s hut that still stands at its entrance. The restrictive height of the hut might suggest that Baslow’s watchmen had to be carefully selected for their diminutive stature, although a less fanciful explanation is that the hut was truncated when the carriageway was heightened.

There is also uncertainty surrounding the position of the broach spire of St Anne’s Church, which rises from the north aisle rather than from the head of the nave, possibly suggesting that the aisle could have been the original axis of the church. The church’s second unusual feature is a clock face where numerals are replaced by the eight letters and four numerals of the slogan ‘Victoria 1897’.

The forecourt of Avant Garde

The forecourt of Avant Garde - Credit: Archant

Across the road from the church, there is a wonderful row of shops that makes Baslow a magnet for discerning shoppers. The row commences with the two showrooms of Avant Garde, where there are extensive displays of innovative gifts and interior fittings, including a stylish mix of old and new furniture. Owners Gavin Thompson and Tracey Harrison have every right to claim that they can ‘source gifts that are that little bit different – gifts that would be hard to find anywhere else.’

The two showrooms are separated by Charlie’s, a restaurant and al fresco eating area run by Charlie and Becky Cartledge, who serve breakfasts, morning coffee, lunches, afternoon teas and evening meals. All the dishes are freshly prepared using locally-sourced seasonal ingredients and Charlie’s is known for its delicious range of homemade cakes. ‘Five Little Ducks’, immediately beyond the second Avant Garde showroom, has an enchanting collection of puzzles, puppets, dressing-up outfits and toys which are, like Avant Garde’s furnishings, ‘that little bit different’.

Church Farm Gallery, housed in the former waiting room of retired dentist Norman Tomlinson, has a collection of paintings by local artists, including very accomplished works by Norman himself. At the time of my visit, two Norwegian tourists had just bought a painting that he had whimsically called ‘Jane Eyre’s Pad’ because it depicts a building in a part of the Peak that inspired Charlotte Brontë.

Norman Tomlinson with his painting 'Jane Eyre's Pad'

Norman Tomlinson with his painting 'Jane Eyre's Pad' - Credit: Archant

Sarah Copley’s Vintage Living occupies premises on the other side of the gallery. Sarah first acquired the antique-buying bug from her grandmother and now trawls Britain and Europe for unusual gifts and vintage and antique furniture, including one-off originals. The result is a unique treasure trove that is a favourite destination for discerning collectors. Boosted by the success of her Baslow shop, Sarah is now launching an extra outlet in Bakewell for their Autentico chalk paints.

Just around the corner from the Vintage Living emporium, School Lane begins its climb to the gritstone escarpment of Baslow Edge. Timothy James Henderson’s outlet for superior hand-cut clothes is located at the foot of the road and a spar shop and Post Office are to be found in its higher reaches. Rowley’s stylish bar and restaurant is the final building on the main road before it reaches its intersection with Bakewell Road. Owned by Max Fischer of Baslow Hall, Rowley’s serves beer from local microbreweries and food that is sourced, as one would expect, from Max’s garden.

Sam Smith of Vintage Living with a mohair throw

Sam Smith of Vintage Living with a mohair throw - Credit: Archant

From Bakewell Road to Nether End

Baslow is a place of two halves, with the first half of the village being followed by an equally substantial second half located beyond the large roundabout at the traffic intersection. And the second half of the village is no less different and no less appealing in character than the first half.

Cavendish Hotel

Cavendish Hotel - Credit: Archant

After passing the junction with Bakewell Road, the main street of the village runs alongside the perimeter of the Chatsworth Estate, which makes a wonderful setting for two contrasting, but much sought-after, forms of tourist accommodation. A site for touring caravans run by the Caravan Club is splendidly located in one of Chatsworth’s former walled gardens, while the large and sumptuous Cavendish Hotel commands a sublime view right across the grounds of the great house.

It would be hard to find a better place than the Cavendish Hotel for people seeking to unwind in peace and solitude. The travel writer Arthur Eperon summed up the appeal of the hotel when he said that ‘It is possible to look out from the Cavendish and dream that you are a duchess’. A group who celebrated the dawning of the new millennium at the hotel were even moved to mark the occasion by the erection in the grounds of a novel depiction of ‘Time’ by sculptor John W. Mills.

After passing the Cavendish Hotel, the main road dips to a green surrounded by eating and drinking places. Il Lupo is a restaurant run by Luigi and Lilliana, who serve authentic Italian food prepared by their son Gabriele. By way of contrast, the Devonshire Arms is a traditional country inn with three-star accommodation and a restaurant serving classic English food. The Café on the Green is a popular tea room known for its friendly service, all-day English breakfasts, huge sandwiches and awesome cakes. Gene’s is a little shop founded 40 years ago by the grandmother of the present owner Julie Birch. It serves hot and cold takeaway drinks and food, plus traditional sweets and ice cream.

Beyond this point, the main road has yet more buildings that make an important contribution to the distinctive and appealing nature of Baslow. A beautiful building known as Ivy Cottage contains a gallery and studio which is run by Ray and Doreen Grindley, who display ceramics by Ray and other local potters. The Wheatsheaf Hotel is an 18th-century former coaching inn run by Shane and Debbie Watson. Its large and superbly designed beer garden contains two surprises: a very large yurt and a sculpture that replicates one of those famous sculpted heads found on Easter Island.

A shop across the road is a mother-and-daughter double act, featuring Darling Buds, a fine floristry run by Liz Hall, a very experienced and respected floral designer, and The Stage, a sumptuously decorated hairdressing salon run by her daughter Lucy Chapman. Next to their double-fronted premises, there is a large and distinguished double-bayed Victorian mansion that is the home of Izzi’s, founded 27 years ago by Izzi Bennett, a former fashion buyer at Harrods.

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Izzi’s famous Baslow shop sells ladies’ clothes from a wide range of top designers, including Marc Cain, Emporio Armani and Max Mara. Working according to the motto ‘Love Clothes, Love Life’, the knowledgeable sales staff give expert advice to their customers, whom they describe as ‘wanting to look fantastic and feel great in fabulous fashions’. A recent doubling in the size of the showroom is evidence of the continuing success of a shop that attracts regular customers from near and far.

This remarkable village ends at Nether End, in a little lane that runs from the green and crosses a stream to a path leading to the Chatsworth Estate. Along the way, there is a picturesque group of quaint buildings, including a line of thatched cottages and a number of very desirable holiday lets. A fitting end to a village that is ‘so different, so appealing.’