Exploring the Peak District village of Grindleford
- Credit: Mike Smith
Why Grindleford is the Peak District place of pilgrimage.
Emerging at Grindleford Station from the 3.5 mile-long Totley Tunnel, rail passengers travelling from Sheffield suddenly find themselves in the midst of a glorious Peak District landscape.
The station, located a few yards from the western portal of the tunnel, is situated at the foot of Padley Gorge, where Burbage Brook tumbles through thick woods on its descent from the wild moorland that inspired Charlotte Brontë during her visit to Hathersage when she was writing Jane Eyre.
A short walk from the station, along a rough track, leads to the ruins of Padley Manor, where two travelling Catholic priests, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam, who were staying with John Fitzherbert, were discovered when the building was raided in 1588.
The pair were arrested and taken to Derby, where they were found guilty of High Treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, in a cruel demonstration of the religious intolerance prevailing at that time.
Although much of the manor was demolished in subsequent years, a gatehouse survived. In 1933, this fragment was restored and converted into a small Catholic chapel.
Since 1892, an annual pilgrimage in memory of the two martyred priests has been held in the grounds of the chapel, among the scattered remains of the manor.
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Another place of pilgrimage, frequented by people who come to Grindleford to take advantage of some of the best walking and cycling routes in the Peak District, is the Station Café.
This well-known countryside institution was established in 1973 by Philip and Margaret Eastwood, who had acquired and converted the original weatherboarded station buildings.
After Philip’s death in 2007, his son, also called Philip, took over the running of the café and continued to provide the outsize helpings from the ‘greasy spoon’ menu for which the café had become famous.
On my recent visit, Shannon Crouch, one of Philip’s assistants, showed me a new machine that has been installed to enable ‘real coffee’ to be added to the café’s traditional offerings.
The new Grindleford
The long incline linking the café to the main road from Sheffield leads to a part of Grindleford where considerable development took place after the railway arrived in 1894, when the village was regarded as somewhere that offers healthy country living within easy commuting distance of the city.
Large villas erected for incomers at this time have given this section of the village the rather incongruous appearance of an affluent suburban street in Sheffield.
A large hotel in the vicinity, called the Maynard Arms, which obtained its first full licence in 1857, has attracted visitors to Grindleford from far and wide over the years.
After its sudden and unexpected closure in 2019, the hotel was acquired by Rob Hattersley, who has refurbished it as a contemporary ‘boutique hotel’. Re-branded as ‘The Maynard’, it re-opened in February 2020, boasting a new restaurant, bar, ballroom and garden area.
The hotel is already reviving its popularity, not only with visitors to the Peak District, but also with couples looking for a suitably romantic wedding venue.
To accommodate the rapid growth of Grindleford’s population which occurred after the arrival of the railway, work took place to extend the parish church of St Helen’s.
When the new buildings were consecrated in 1910, they merely consisted of a south chapel and a tall chancel, with the long, low nave of the old church being retained as an interim measure until money could be found, not only for a new nave, but also for a tower and a spire that had been planned. The money was never found.
The towerless church, with its tall chancel and low ‘interim’ nave, remains to this day as a charming architectural oddity, much cherished by the villagers, who benefit from the generous gift of part of the vestry for use as a community shop, set up to replace the village store that closed down over a decade ago.
Since last August, the shop has been managed by Peter Ragdale, who used to work at Caudwell’s Café and Shop at Rowsley. Peter is supported by a team of up to 30 volunteers, who serve in the shop on a rota basis.
One of those willing volunteers is John Wood, who has cheerfully given his time to the shop throughout the last eight years.
Explaining what the not-for-profit grocery store has to offer, John said: ‘We stock a range of homemade jams, chutney, marmalade, pies, cakes and biscuits, as well artisan bread, which is particularly popular with our regular customers.
‘During recent lockdowns, we provided a delivery service that was a lifeline for vulnerable people in the area. We also have a small outside seating area, where people can enjoy snacks and a cup of tea under a spreading oak tree.’
Across the road from St Helen’s Church, there is another charming architectural oddity. This is a former toll house, situated close to the Grade 2-listed bridge which carries the main road over the river Derwent.
The building is unusual in featuring a prominent two-storey central bay designed to give the toll-keeper an early view of approaching traffic. During the coaching days, Grindleford stood at the junction of two important turnpikes that ran across the Peak District.
Wooded hillsides and wild moors
Behind the toll house, there is a cricket ground and a large recreation area overlooked by yet another distinctive building, in the form of a two-storey stone pavilion, topped by a clock.
The backcloth to this traditional English scene is a beautiful wooded hillside dotted with substantial buildings, including the village school and the Sir William Hotel, whose terraced beer garden offers wonderful views over the equally beautiful wooded hillside on the other side of the valley.
This popular place to eat, drink and stay stands alongside the Sir William Road, so-called because Sir William Bagshawe passed this way on his journey between his house at Norton, near Sheffield and his other residence at Wormhill, near Buxton. In Sir William’s estimation, this road was on the shortest route he could take across the Peak District.
There is no better representation of the countryside that Sir William passed through than the paintings of Kristan Baggaley, one of the featured artists at Grindleford’s excellent Derwent Gallery, established by Robin and Julie Ashmore 26 years ago and still one of the best places to see some of the finest landscape paintings of the Peak District.
Kristan employs an unusual method to capture the appearance of the rocky outcrops, the play of light on the flora, the wildness of the moors and the various moods of the everchanging weather.
As he stands at his easel, he attacks his canvas with small pieces of gorse, heather and gritstone, building layer upon layer of these components until his paintings become a textural depiction of the wonderful Peak District scenes that were opened up to rail passengers when the Totley Tunnel was completed in 1893.