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During a recent stay in Derbyshire we decided to go on a random walk and see what we could find. We set off with some sandwiches, ready to walk miles in search of some little gem in the middle of nowhere. It turns out we didn't need to walk miles from our B&B in Bakewell; well, perhaps a couple of miles but Ashford in the Water is worth it.
We'd driven past this tiny hemmed in village several times during the week we'd been in Derbyshire but it can't really be seen from the road. In fact the only reason we spotted it while walking was because my partner, an avid fisherman, spotted a bridge over some shallow water and went carp-spotting.
The bridge in question is Sheepwash Bridge, named because this is where sheep were washed in olden times before being sheared, and the water turned out to be the beautiful River Wye. While gazing into the clear running water I noticed there was a village behind so we went off to explore.
It's a gorgeous little place, if I had to sum it up in one word that word would be 'quaint'. It's an old village with beautiful houses dating in some cases back to the 17th century, a village shop which sells absolutely everything, and a couple of pubs. Oh, and the prettiest church and yard I've ever seen.
The Church of the Holy Trinity is a gorgeous building, parts of which are 800 years old and fantastically maintained. I love graveyards and it was this which originally drew us to the church; the yard is extremely clean and well ordered with some very old stones to decipher as well as some more recent headstones.
I was surprised to see the church itself open as this was in the middle of the afternoon and no services were taking place, the vicar was nowhere in sight and this simple gesture of leaving the church open all day spoke volumes about the spirit of this village. It's so trusting; there's a small gift shop inside the church which is unstaffed and relys on an honesty box for your payment. Wow, I come from Birmingham where collection plates are nailed to the ends of the pews and openable only with a key! I chose a couple of items; a motorist's prayer card, a bookmark and candle which came to the princely sum of £1.49 and put my money into the box as loudly as possible so anyone within earshot would know I've paid!
Ashford Hall is where the lord of the manor would reside in times gone past and is now home to the Olivier family, it's one of the two most impressive buildings in the village and not one we could get too close to because of the boundaries of their land. From a distance it looks to be a beautifully old building which seems to loom in the background of Ashford in the Water. The second most impressive building is The Rookery. This is a huge 17th century building in a beautifully asymmetric design, the gorgeous lush green lawns and stone wall surrounding this wonderful house makes it look like a fairytale cottage and when you notice the River Wye runs directly through their back garden you'll yearn to live here.
After strolling through what seemed like the set of Emmerdale for an hour, I spotted The Ashford Arms pub and we decided to sample some local hospitality. I loved this pub so much we've booked a room here for a couple of nights this month. It's truly gorgeous; a very old building which is nicely upmarket inside. They serve food at reasonable prices for the area and I can vouch for the fact that their lager and lime is wonderfully refreshing after a long walk! The beer garden is great; a well maintained lawn and beautiful flower beds to look at while enjoying your drink.
Opposite the pub is a shop which immediately reminded me of Arkwright's Open All Hours. It's lovely and sells absolutely everything! I bought some humbugs in a jar, Ashford postcards and fresh cream éclairs which were given me in a traditional paper bag. I also had to have a coffee flavour ice cream to munch on our way back to the B&B.
I'm so glad we discovered this beautiful little village as it was one of those 'off the beaten track' places that you don't find very often. It's situated in a valley within the Peak District and there are hills and general greenness as far as the eye can see; as a village it's totally unspoiled and looks similar, I'd imagine, to how it would have done a couple of hundred years ago if you can ignore all the Land Rovers!
The residents of Ashford in the Water are friendly and obviously proud of their village. An elderly lady I was speaking to in the pub told me the village was the setting for the Vets in Practice TV series. She'd lived in Ashford all her life and said the majority of people who live here are of retirement age which makes for a friendly and neighbourly community.
I love the place. It's just so tranquil and quiet that it's quite hard to believe Bakewell, a bustling town, is not too far down the road and a main road runs directly along the outskirts of the village. Standing near the River and looking down you can see large fish cruising through the water, and if you can spot one of the gorgeously decorated wells you're in for a treat. We saw a couple dotted around the village but there are another four hidden away for people to find and enjoy.
Ashford in the Water is located between Buxton and Bakewell in Derbyshire and is most easily located travelling along the A6. When walking you'll definitely spot the medieval Sheepwash Bridge and the entrance to the village. By car it's a bit trickier as the bridge is well hidden when travelling at the high speeds allowed on the A6, there's a road sign telling you you're approaching Ashford but this isn't particularly obvious from the road. If I had to give a marker I'd say look out for the large fallen tree at the side of the road which has been there for a few weeks now but, hey, this is the countryside and that tree might not be there tomorrow!
The best thing to do is take a packed lunch, park your car in Bakewell and enjoy a leisurely walk to the village along the A6. You'll see some fantastic countryside on your way and have a couple of beers in the Ashford Arms without worrying about driving. Plus you'll feel a million times better for exerting yourself in the fresh Peak District air.
Ashford in the Water is such a little place, but it is also such a lovely place and it does warrant a review to put it on the map.
~~~WHERE IS ASHFORD?
Ashford in the Water is in North Derbyshire, about a mile and a half north west of the famous village of Bakewell, on the way to Buxton. It is in the Peak District and is beside the River Wye. It is also on the route of one of the oldest track-ways in Derbyshire ~ an ancient road called the Portway (which went from Nottingham to Castleton). Ashford in the Water means Ford by the Ash trees and it was because of the river crossing that the village was founded in the first place.
We generally either go on a CAMRA trip to Ashford (to visit the pubs in the area) or take a service bus. It is also walkable from Bakewell. The buses we get go from Beetwell Street in Chesterfield ~ there is either a Hulleys service that goes via Bakewell, or a Stagecoach/Trent service via Matlock.
~~~WHAT IS THERE TO DO IN ASHFORD?
To be really honest Ashford isnt the place to go if you want a wild time. There are a couple of pubs (Ill go into greater detail later), a cricket club and not a lot else. Quite a few houses do B&B; there are two hotels (the Riverside Country House Hotel and the Ashford Arms Hotel) and a caravan site near Bakewell (on the A6 called Greenhills).
Facility wise, Ashford has a Post Office, tea rooms and a General Store ~ these are pretty small and I would advise a trip to Bakewell for your souvenirs and provisions, although there is a small craft shop at the Riverside Hotel.
Ashfords main charm comes from the pretty buildings, scenery and sense of history. It is a nice place to visit on a sunny day and a great base for exploring the Peak District and surrounding towns and villages. There is also a Car Boot Sale on the Cricket Ground during summer months ~ a visit is recommended because some of the residents are quite posh and the sellers have some good stuff on sale!
There are many historic buildings and landmarks in Ashford. The main ones are:
***Sheep Wash Bridge***
This is a lovely medieval packhorse bridge that was used to wash the sheep in the area before they went for shearing. The bridge has a walled enclosure built into it where the sheep were held ~ a very unusual structure and Ive never seen another one. It is a very narrow bridge (the narrowest on the river) and is now closed to traffic.
This is now a popular tourist spot and a good place for trout fishing. Sheep washing doesnt go on there anymore but there are occasional demonstrations for tourists ~ ring the local tourist information offices to find out more (contact details at the end).
***Holy Trinity Church***
The church has areas that date back to medieval times and is a really nice looking church, although it was restored extensively in the late 19th Century. The west tower, the old font, the Jacobean pulpit and the south door (which has a Norman tree of life on it) are particularly noteworthy.
The guide books also mention the grave of Henry Watson ~ a local man who made Ashford Black Marble popular in the 18th Century (it is actually limestone that was quarried nearby and was a cheap alternative to marble). There is a table made of this in the church that is worth looking out for too.
Also look for the virgin crants ~ funeral garlands made of white paper rosettes that were used at the funerals of unmarried village women. The church also has some rather nice stained glass windows ~ some of which I found out were designed by William Morris.
Every Trinity Sunday there is procession form the church to bless six wells that are dressed as part of the Well Dressings (some of these wells are worth a visit at other times of year because they still have working pumps). This follows a service to celebrate the founding of Holy Trinity Church.
Many guide books tell you where to find these well dressings and many people do a trail around them each year in June. Well Dressings can be found in many parts of Derbyshire and are a celebration of Water. Ashfords Well Dressings are particularly good and get loads of visitors.
***The Candle House***
This house can found in Greaves Lane and is the site of an old candle factory. Candle making was one of the main industries in Ashford (the others being farming, quarrying of Black Marble, stocking making and lead mining. There has also been a Corn Mill in Ashford since the time of the Domesday Book) and Greaves is the old name given to the bits of melted tallow left during candle making. The only industry you will find in Ashford now is the Tourist industry and most of the old cottages are now holiday homes.
The two pubs in Ashford are The Ashford Arms Hotel (the one that I mentioned earlier) and The Bulls Head. The Ashford Arms dates from the 18th Century and was originally a coaching Inn. The Bulls Head has been owned by the same family since the 1950s and was called The Turks Head during the 19th Century.
Ive been in both pubs (surprise, surprise). The Ashford (on Church Street) serves decent real ales, has a disabled toilet, welcomes children (inside for meals and in the beer garden) and does really nice meals. The Bulls Head (also on Church Street) also serves Real Ales (this one is a Robinsons pub), a good range of food and accepts children. I prefer the Bulls Head ~ it is a bit more comfortable and less meal orientated.
ASHFORD HALL ~ Built by Joseph Pickford in 1785 and was once the home of the Cavendish family.
THE RATTLE ~ Not strictly a building, but the name given to an area of Ashford where the looms for the stocking making could be found. They apparently made such a racket when they were in full swing that the people called it the Rattle! There is just one of the original cottages still standing and it is worth going to see from a historical perspective. Ashford is so quiet now that it is very hard to believe it was once a hive of activity.
THE ROOKERY ~ The Rookery was the first home of the old Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, in 1941, when they were married. This is of particular significance from a tourist (and local) point of view because the old Duke died earlier this year. He was a really nice man and passing The Rookery now is quite poignant. The Rookery is quite an imposing house with large lawns and the River Wye cutting through the grounds.
For somewhere so small there is a surprising amount to make a visit to Ashford in the Water worthwhile. I really recommend it as a place to tour around and also as an excellent place to stay if you want a holiday in the Peak District (its even close enough to come over and see me in Chesterfield).
If you want a good and easy to follow route around the village I recommend you visit http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~bajset/ashford.html and look at the suggested tour of Ashford. We printed this route out and found it gave us some good background to the village too.
I am extremely lucky because I live so close to this lovely village (and many others too).
Ashford is full of pretty buildings, has a great sense of history and is in such a gorgeous part of the world. I suppose Im guilty of not appreciating my surroundings as much as I should so I have, just recently, been getting out and about to explore places like this one.
Im so glad that I did!
~~~USEFUL CONTACT NUMBERS.
Bakewell Tourist Information Centre
Old Market Hall
Bakewell DE45 1DS
Chesterfield Tourist Information Centre
Matlock Bath Tourist Information Centre
The Pavilion South Parade
Matlock Tourist Information Centre