Under the Edge: Froggatt, Calver and Curbar
The gritstone edges to the north-east are one of the county's most distinctive features. Mike Smith explores the villages of Frogatt, Calver and Curbar which lie beneath...
Froggatt Edge and Curbar Edge form part of an almost continuous gritstone escarpment which runs for a dozen miles from Stanage to Chatsworth. The edges are a playground for people of all ages: children scramble among the boulders on the summit; climbers test their skills on the vertiginous rock-faces; ramblers follow the path that runs along the lip of the escarpment; and day trippers drive out from the city of Sheffield to stare at the fabulous view over the green and pleasant valley of the River Derwent.
The prospect from the escarpment takes in an expanse of rolling fields, patterned by a complex lattice of limestone walls stretching to a far horizon. It also embraces the vast estate of Chatsworth and a host of small villages, including the settlements of Froggatt, Calver and Curbar, which are located immediately below the edges and look like toy towns when viewed from the gritstone summits. The three villages are some of the most desirable places of residence in the entire Peak District.
The village of Froggatt clings to wooded slopes above the Derwent, which is crossed by a 17th-century road bridge of unusual design. Its two arches are different in both size and shape, with the smaller arch being round-headed and the larger arch being decidedly pointed. The residential properties of the villages show similar differences in size and shape, with simple cottages that were built 200 years ago by the Duke of Rutland coexisting with grander, more elaborate residences. However, these disparate elements combine to make a very satisfying whole in a wonderful sylvan setting.
The Chequers Inn is located on the high road that runs between the village and Froggatt Edge. Sixteenth century in origin, this famous hostelry has been owned since 2002 by Jonathan and Joanne Tindall, who have received an AA Rosette for the quality of their food in every year since 2004 – one of their specialities is Fresh Haddock in Bakewell Beer Batter. Local real ales available at the bar include Peak Ales from Chatsworth, Farmers Blonde from Bradfield and Kinder Downfall from Buxton. The inn has six en-suite rooms for guests looking for a ‘get away from it all’ break in a traditional country inn in an idyllic location.
The Chequers even has a ‘secret garden’ hidden in the wooded slopes behind the building, where customers can take their food and drink and experience peace and quiet coupled with magnificent views. It was here that I encountered John and Jan Stratford, who were enjoying a Peak District holiday based at the Chatsworth caravan park. Their special reason for visiting Froggatt was to seek out possible connections between the village and Jan’s uncle, who was called John Froggatt.
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As we were chatting, John received news on his mobile phone that his grandson, Harry Barclay, had been accepted for Lancashire Cricket Club’s under-11 team. This came as great news because Harry’s twin sister Evie had already been selected for Lancashire’s under-11 girls’ team.
Calver Sough, which is named after the sough (underground channel) of an old lead mine, is the area around the busy crossroads at the intersection of the A623 and the A625. The junction is the location for a hive of commercial activity that attracts swarms of visitors.
The crossroads are overlooked by the Eyre Arms, a large and popular public house named after a well-known family of gentry whose members owned several manor houses in the area. Given that Charlotte Bront� was staying in Hathersage with her lifelong friend Ellen Nussey while she was writing Jane Eyre, it is almost certain that she named her heroine after the Peak District family.
The Eyre Arms is flanked by a petrol station and a Spar convenience store. Across the road, there is an ‘Outside’ store, which stocks a wide range of equipment, clothing and footwear for walkers and climbers. The outlet has an adjoining caf�. Another extensive selection of footwear and clothing is on offer at ‘Peaklander’, based in the former Heginbotham boot factory on the opposite side of the crossroads. Two further businesses are to be found immediately above the junction, on the road to Hassop. These are a tiny ice cream and sweet shop, with the appropriate name of the ‘Little Shop’, and the Calver Sough Garden Centre.
Former housing officer Sue Heeds took over the Little Shop six years ago and is very proud to have gained a five-star food rating from the Food Standards Agency. As well as selling Bradwell’s famous ice cream, she stocks almost 200 varieties of traditional sweets, from Poor Bens and Dolly Mixtures to Pontefract Cakes and Jelly Babies. Her business has been so successful that she is thinking of opening an additional shop elsewhere in the Peak District.
Calver Sough Garden Centre is managed by Vicky Shaw and her brother Jim. The business was founded 29 years ago by their father and has gained an excellent reputation for its wide range of quality plants, trees and shrubs. Indoor facilities include a gift shop and the recently-opened Garden Room Caf�, which serves locally-sourced food made on the premises. The new caf� is already proving to be very popular.
Although the old village of Calver is located only a short distance from this busy crossroads, it is one of the quietest and most peaceful villages you could wish to find, largely because it is entirely by-passed by the A623 and the A625, which form two sides of a triangle of land which has the village street as its hypotenuse.
The centrepiece of the little square at the heart of the village is an iron lamp standard, supported on a base comprising three stone plinths, all of different dimensions. Various inscriptions on the plinths celebrate the Coronation of Queen Victoria, the Coronation of George V and the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II. One of the old stone buildings surrounding the square accommodates the village post office, which sits at the foot of a steep mound, where buildings rise, one above the other, to the Derwentwater Arms, whose high-level terrace provides a perfect view over the village cricket field. The cricket club is one of the oldest in the country and once entertained Princess Victoria (as she then was) as a spectator.
The village street, flanked by stone cottages, both old and new, vaguely follows the meanderings of a stream, which plays a game of hide-and-seek, making unexpected appearances at the foot of cottage gardens, first on one side of the road and then on the other flank. Along with the collection of idyllic cottages, there is a chapel of 1860 and a modern village hall. This blissful vision of Old England comes to an abrupt halt when the village street meets the busy A623.
However, the village of Calver continues on the far side of the main road, where a line of pretty cottages terminates in the Derbyshire Craft Centre, home to a wonderful collection of crafts and pottery, as well as a very popular caf� with delicious home-baked food. Now one of the Peak District’s top attractions, the centre was founded in 1981 by Christine Lowe. A former post office in the line of cottages immediately beyond the craft centre has been converted into the Calver Mill Gallery. It was founded in 2004 by Peter Gill as a showcase for his dramatic landscape and townscape paintings, which are unusual in being painted with a decorator’s filler tool rather than a brush.
This part of the village is overlooked by Calver Mill, which began life as a cotton mill, became a store for the Ministry of Supply in the Second World War, went on to become a factory for the manufacture of stainless steel goods and has now been converted into a block of luxury apartments. Thanks to its austere fa�ade and massive bulk, the building was able to masquerade as the notorious Colditz prisoner-of-war camp for a popular 1970s’ television series.
The boundary between the villages of Calver and Curbar is the River Derwent, crossed by an old triple-arched bridge and a modern road bridge that acts as a by-pass for the A623. The first building in Curbar is the Bridge Inn, the very epitome of a picturesque country inn with its creeper-clad walls. A large beer garden to the rear of the pub is a huge attraction on sunny days because it overlooks the River Derwent.
The lower part of the village has two buildings which serve the communities of Froggatt and Calver as well as Curbar: St Paul’s Church, with its prominent open belfry and clock-tower at the pinnacle of a neat, symmetrical fa�ade that was unkindly described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘rock-faced’, and Curbar School, housed in a Victorian building with sensitively-designed modern additions. The school has received a glowing Ofsted report.
Curbar Lane makes a long climb from the valley floor to the heights of Curbar Edge. The road is flanked on both sides by highly desirable properties, with older, smaller cottages set by the roadside and newer, larger houses set back from the road behind high hedges. A diversion to the left along Pinfold Hill leads to the village well, marked by a structure that historian Louis McMeeken has likened to ‘two sentry boxes’. The odd little building is fronted by seven oblong slabs of stone set vertically in the ground.
This vertical arrangement of stone slabs seems to be a local speciality because it has also been used to construct the garden wall of a cottage on Curbar Lane. After leaving the last of the cottages, the lane follows a steep hairpin bend to Curbar Gap, a V-shaped gash in the great gritstone ridge of Curbar Edge, where all the world seems to be at play.