Road Trip from Buxton to Ashbourne

Mike Smith finds fascinating places to stop along a familiar route

The high-level road (A515) which links Buxton and Ashbourne is arrow-straight for long stretches because it follows the course of an old Roman road for much of its length. There are views, both left and right, of a vast network of drystone walls, extending to far horizons and broken only by occasional copses planted as shelter belts or as a cover for old lead rakes. The landscape can seem rather bleak and lacking in scenic variety, particularly in bad weather, but the attractions that lie within a couple of miles of this old Roman road are legion!

King Sterndale

King Sterndale, 1.5 miles east of the A515, is a cul-de-sac hamlet, comprising just ten houses and terminating at a large village green on which there is the stump of an old butter-cross. The little Victorian church at the entrance to the hamlet must have the most cherished and pristine interior of any place of worship. Carol Gratton and her son Ben are members of a dedicated group of volunteers who keep the nave and its furnishings spick and span by regular washing, dusting and polishing.

Country Bookstore

With Amazon and Kindle capturing so much of the book market, bookshops are becoming an endangered species, but David McPhie’s Country Bookstore at Brierlow Bar, three miles from Buxton, is a rare survival. With some 20,000 titles in stock, including an extensive selection of books on Derbyshire, and 5,000 square feet of floor space, there is ample opportunity for browsing in a relaxing atmosphere, with hot and cold drinks, cakes and biscuits being provided for refreshment.

Parkhouse Hill

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By diverting from the main road at the Country Bookstore and following signposts to Longnor and then to Earl Sterndale, motorists can obtain magnificent views of Parkhouse Hill and Chrome Hill, two razor-sharp hills rising dramatically from the upper Dove Valley. Despite its name, the Peak District has few genuine peaks, but two of them are to be found here, side-by-side. Known collectively as the ‘Dragon’s Back’, they were once part of a coral reef formed when White Peak was covered by a shallow sea.

Earl Sterndale

The nineteenth-century church in the remote little village of Earl Sterndale had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed in the Second World War by bombers who misfired when trying to hit the munitions depot at nearby Harpur Hill. Across the green from the church is a pub known as the Quiet Woman. Its inn sign depicts a lady who is very quiet indeed, simply because she is headless. According to legend, a previous landlord of the pub chopped off his wife’s head because he could no longer stand her nagging.


Chelmorton, to the east of the main road, is a one-street village that terminates at the foot of Chelmorton Low (‘Low’ refers to a summit in Derbyshire!), where the pub and the parish church, which is the highest in the county, stand on opposite sides of the road. The village is noted for its remarkable field patterns, with the land behind the cottages being divided by a series of parallel limestone walls into thirteen long, narrow, rectangular strips, which mark the subdivision of a medieval open field.

The Duke of York

Despite its relatively isolated position on the high plateau, the Duke of York is a very busy pub, thanks to real ale, a 60-cover restaurant and home-cooked food prepared by chef Steve Brook. There is a motor home and caravan park next to the pub and landlord Derek Kenney and his team, including Rebecca Beresford, Bonnie Foulds and Lucy Robinson (L to R) play host to people who meet for car, motorbike, caravan and backpacking rallies. Helicopter flights are another occasional treat.

Bull i’th’Thorn

First sighting of the Bull i’th’Thorn brings two surprises: a mock half-timbered fa�ade, which is a rarity in this upland limestone area, and a gallery of gargoyles, some of which closely resemble those on Notre Dame. The inn has facilities for caravanners, motor-homers and campers, with some 900 tents being erected when a huge scooter rally takes place each August. Landlord Michael Coleman offers bed and breakfast accommodation and, in keeping with the inn’s ancient appearance, stages medieval banquets. Other excellent inns along the route include: the Jug and Glass, with fine home-made food and B&B accommodation; the Blue Bell, popular for events and with a restaurant serving home-made food; the Coach and Horses, a former coaching inn with real ales and tasty bar food; and the Bentley Brook, a large inn with eleven rooms of accommodation and a good restaurant overlooking a terrace and garden.

Parsley Hey

The Parsley Hey cycle-hire centre is situated near the junction of two routes which follow former railway tracks through spectacular countryside: the High Peak Trail, a 17-mile route along the former Cromford and High Peak line, and the Tissington Trail, a 10-mile path to Tissington. Almost 100 cycles are available for hire, including machines suitable for families and disabled people. Some are offered for sale, such as the machine which cycle-hire assistant Kate Tranter is demonstrating to Julie McManus.


The village of Biggin is a mere 0.5 miles west of the main road. Its pi�ce de r�sistance is Biggin Hall, a stunning 17th century house, which is Grade II* listed. Over the last 40 years, James Moffett has sensitively restored and extended the hall and its out-buildings and converted them into a superb 20-bedroom country house hotel. For the last 14 years, Mark Wilton has been overseeing the preparation of food for the restaurant, which serves lunches, dinners and cream teas in beautiful surroundings.


A lane dips down from the main road and follows a narrow valley to the secluded hamlet of Alsop-en-le-Dale, where there is a tall seventeenth-century hall of great beauty and a little church with an exquisite Norman south doorway with zig-zag decoration. There is a colourful ‘Millennium Window’ in the chancel and the churchyard contains a line of 19th century headstones, which stand in surprisingly close proximity and, even more unexpectedly in this region of abundant stone, appear to be made of slate.

Mill Dale

The tiny hamlet of Milldale is squeezed into a deep hollow at the head of Dovedale. Like thousands of other walkers, the four members of the Collins family have walked up the dale, crossed into the picturesque hamlet over a narrow packhorse bridge, dubbed the ‘Viator’s Bridge’ in Izaak Walton’s ‘Compleat Angler’, and paused for refreshment at the hatch of Polly’s Cottage. John and Sally Housley moved from Norfolk to run this little takeaway, which serves drinks, cakes, sandwiches and ice cream.


The ancient Derbyshire art of well dressing originated in Tissington. When this year’s dressings are put on display for seven days from June 2nd, they will attract visitors from far and wide. With its neat cottages, village pond, church of Norman origin and photogenic 17thcentury hall, Tissington is a gem. The present incumbent of the hall, Sir Richard FitzHerbert, also ensures that it is a place of enterprise, with B&B accommodation, a butchery, a plant nursery and shops selling furniture, gifts, handmade glass-jewellery and candles. The hall is available for weddings and is open to the public for 30 days per year.

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