Chard, Ilminster & District

2018 Holiday in Peak District

Peak District Holiday June 2018 - Derbyshire Discoveries

On a mid-June morning, shortly after sunrise, or so it seemed to some of us, an intrepid combined U3A party (Chard, Somerton, Martock, Crewkerne) set off for a five-day visit to Derbyshire's Peak District, the nation's first National Park.

To one who had never visited this area before, the Peak District, with its superbly wooded hills and valleys, its steep inclines, hairpin bends and extensive open moorlands, is totally an eye-opener. It is a paradise for walkers and climbers, and it opens up just fifteen minutes from the centre of Sheffield!

The one major stop on the outward journey was at the Wedgwood Museum at Burlaston near Stoke on Trent, home to a UNESCO-protected collection of historic and cultural significance. The workmanship of those creating these masterpieces was of mind-blowing high quality, as indeed were the prices of many of the articles on sale!

The lushness of the Peak District countryside was the perfect background and foil to our excursions.

Bakewell The Anglo- Saxon crosses in the churchyard and medieval features inside the church were worth the climb – and encouraged people to have a taste perhaps of the Bakewell Pudding – not tart!

Tideswell where the “petalling” was in progress – the delicate preparation for the traditional “well-dressing” to become public (be unveiled?) the following weekend at the start of Wakes Week.

Hathersage, with a steady pull up to the churchyard, where stands “Little John's” grave (if you are serious about Robin Hood and his Merry Men).

The fit and hardy members of the group descended the 245 steps down to the workings at the Blue John Mine – and back up again. The total annual output of this mine amounts to four wheelbarrows-full of this dark blue fluorspar, but because of its rarity, it is one of the world's most expensive semi-precious stones.

The great, and not so great, houses of the area were themselves impressive in different ways, and each memorable.

Chatsworth House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, is immense, opulent in the extreme, and testament to the art, the sculptures, the silver, and every possible expense housed here. The gilding of certain exterior window frames is new underway – to return them to their former 18th century style.

Renishaw Hall, home to the eccentric and somewhat dysfunctional Sitwell family, was a complete contrast – much smaller, compact, a warm friendly house, still occupied by the family and loved and protected by them.

Haddon Hall was in many ways the “piece de resistance”, dating back to the 12th century and, as it were, preserved in aspic. It had been forgotten and unoccupied for 300 years, and hence no Georgian or Victorian “improvements”. It is, as it was originally, a fortified manor-house. So real is it, that prior to our arrival a Netflix film company team had made it one of their central locations in a film being set in the time of King Henry V.

Perhaps the most poignant and human visit of all was to the village of Eyam. The story of how the bubonic plague struck the village in 1665-66 is well known. 260 inhabitants died while the village took the most self-sacrificing measures to prevent the disease from spreading.

The village primary school has a very significant pair of wrought iron gates at its entrance: three children are depicted skipping in a circle with the words, “Ring-a ring-of roses” woven into the pattern. The nursery rhyme we all know, had its beginning during the Plague, with a circular rash being one symptom of the illness.

The village church and the splendid little museum are “musts”. The museum not only deals with the Plague in Eyam but also how the men of Eyam fared during the First World War - “A Second Sacrifice”.

A truly enjoyable 5 days of discovery – friendly company and inter-U3A co-operation. A big thank you to Janet Brown and to Eric our driver.

John Saunders Somerton U3A