Monyash- a curious White Peak oasis

Fere Mere

Fere Mere - Credit: Archant

Exploring the Derbyshire village of Monyash, where water is mysteriously hard to find...

Monyash nestling in a hollow in the White Peak plateau

Monyash nestling in a hollow in the White Peak plateau - Credit: Archant

Given Monyash’s location at the heart of a vast plateau where there is an almost complete absence of natural surface water, the discovery of a large pond near the centre of the village is like finding an oasis in a desert. Although plenty of rainwater falls on this upland area of Derbyshire, it disappears as soon as it hits the ground, because it is able to seep through a myriad of tiny cracks and joints in the porous limestone bedrock.

However, unlike other White Peak settlements, Monyash lies on a bed of clay, which forms a lining for the pond and makes it watertight. Fere Mere is the only survivor of five ponds constructed many years ago in the village. Overlooked on one side by the needle-like spire of St Leonard’s Church and on the other flank by a picturesque line of limestone cottages and farm buildings, the pond is the focus of a gloriously tranquil set piece.

Not content with the stunning beauty of the mere and its surroundings, the producers of the television series Peak Practice decided to introduce a colony of ducks to the pond for extra effect when one episode was filmed in Monyash. Once filming was over, the ducks resisted all attempts to capture them and they became a much-loved feature of the village scene. The birds have gone now but, as parish clerk Lesley Fitton explains, ‘They were not pro-actively removed. Some migrated to pastures new; some were thought to be the victims of foxes and at least two perished after being hit by passing vehicles.’

The Old Market Cross on the Village Green at Monyash

The Old Market Cross on the Village Green at Monyash - Credit: Archant

With or without ducks, Fere Mere is one of the two ingredients that give Monyash the flavour of an archetypal English village. The other is the triangular village green, located a few yards away from the mere. For the many cyclists and ramblers who come to recharge their batteries after travelling across the plateau, the green is the real oasis that draws them to the village, because it is overlooked by two well-known sources of refreshment: The Old Smithy Café and The Bull’s Head pub.

As its name suggests, The Old Smithy Café is housed in the former village blacksmiths. Opened in 1992 by folk musician Ed Driscoll, the café became famous for king-sized, all-day breakfasts and for helpings of delicious apple pie topped by Smith’s ice cream. Since Ed’s death, his son, David, has maintained these much sought-after offerings. He has also continued the tradition of allowing customers to try out the various musical instruments hung by his father on the walls of the café.

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When Sharon Barber became the licensee of the Bull’s Head at the age of 22, she was the youngest pub landlady in Derbyshire. Over the last three decades, she has been responsible for establishing the pub’s great reputation with locals and visitors. As Sharon says, ‘The Bull’s Head is a traditional British pub where we serve wholesome, homecooked food and offer a wide range of beers, a choice of contemporary lagers and a selection of ales supplied by the various micro-breweries based in the locality.’

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The beer garden of the Bull’s Head backs onto Monyash’s superb play area, designed in 2003 according to imaginative plans drawn up with the active participation of the village children. As Lesley Fitton reports, ‘The play park is now run solely by village members, who continue to maintain the equipment with the help of fundraising activities and the assistance of various grants, including recent contributions from Foundation Derbyshire and Tesco.’

The little primary school, located on the opposite side of the village green, was rated by Ofsted in their most recent inspection as ‘good with outstanding characteristics’. The inspectors found that parents were ‘fulsome’ in their praise of the education provided there, with comments such as ‘My child loves coming to school every day’ and ‘As a parent, I couldn’t be happier with the school’.

The four village lanes that fan out from the green are flanked by pretty and well-maintained stone cottages. Not surprisingly, many of these houses have been snapped up by former ‘townies’ seeking rural peace in beautiful surroundings; and even tiny terrace houses in the village are in demand as holiday lets or weekend cottages. As is the case in many of Derbyshire’s most attractive villages, property prices are prohibitively high for young people looking to set up home and remain in the place where they were brought up.

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There are two places of worship in the village. The Methodist Church originated in 1835 as a chapel for a group of Primitive Methodists before being enlarged in 1888 and transformed into the neat gabled building in use today. St Leonard’s Parish Church, set back from Church Street in a secluded churchyard, was built in the twelfth century and grew in size in the fourteenth century when lead-mining brought prosperity to Monyash. By the nineteenth century, the medieval structure was in such poor condition that both the porches and the north transept fell down.

A much-needed restoration, carried out by the celebrated Victorian architect William Butterfield, transformed the ailing structure into a fine building with a soaring spire that forms a landmark visible from a wide area of the White Peak plateau. The church has three notable thirteenth-century survivals: a sedilia (a triple seat for the clergy) with dog-tooth decoration, a piscina (a basin for washing communion vessels) and, most impressively of all, an enormous, iron-bound oak chest thought to have been used to store the altar plate and the priest’s robes.

Another notable building on Church Street is the Village Hall, built in 1984 as a modern interpretation of a traditional stone barn. The hall has an accessible meeting room available for hire to groups of up to 70 people. An information board outside the building carries a plaque commemorating an award given to the villagers by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England ‘for their contribution to the environment’. The board also encourages visitors to follow a signposted scenic route that takes in nearby places of interest, including Arbor Low and Lathkill Dale.

Located a couple of miles south of Monyash, Arbor Low is a Neolithic stone circle, known as ‘The Stonehenge of the North’. The atmospheric setting of the monument, on a remote stretch of high moorland, is captured to perfection in a celebrated painting by the Sheffield artist Harry Epworth Allen. As Allen’s painting shows, the limestone boulders on the circumference of the circle emit an unearthly light that contrasts with the darkness of the mysterious hillocks lying just outside the ring.

Lathkill Dale is a valley formed by a river which emerges from beneath a rock in a shallow dip in the limestone north of the village. Much of the dale is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and one section is a nature reserve containing several rare species of plants. Although the river running through the valley is one of the shortest in Derbyshire, it is one of the most beautiful. The writer and angler Charles Cotton described the Lathkill as ‘by many degrees, the purest and most transparent stream that I ever yet saw, either at home or abroad; and it breeds, it is said, the reddest and best trout in England’.

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