The dark and light of Castleton

Looking down at Barber Booth

As an occasional day walker my trips into the Peak District don’t tend to extend beyond Bakewell due to constraints of time. While there are countless wonderful day walks to be had in the White Peak I have recently been pining for the striking landscapes of the Dark Peak further north where the edges become rougher and everything is turned up a notch.

My original plan was to start from Eyam, traverse Froggatt Edge, pass by the Chatsworth estate down to Bakewell before heading down the dales of Lathkill, Wolfcote and Dove, ending at Ilam on the third day. A lack of accommodation in Bakewell (of all places) put paid to that idea. Another plan involved the rugged delights of Snake Pass and Ladybower but the options for stopping over were even worse.

Decisions decisions...
Decisions decisions…

Eventually I threw away the notion of a linear walk and booked YHA accommodation in Castleton and Edale from where circular day walks could give the fix I was after. Now why was that so hard?



Youth Hostels have changed. Gone are the days where you have to contribute to communal cooking and washing up. The facilities have improved and there is a wider appeal, which is a good or bad thing depending on your outlook.

Lord of the manor
Lord of the manor

Castleton YHA has a baronial feel about it. With the first chills of winter on the way I’m grateful for the open fires that dot grand stone fire places of this old country manor. I’m less grateful for the screaming groups of school kids who are running amok in what must feel like a scaled down version of Hogwarts.

No sign of Harry Potter
No sign of Harry Potter

If I was them I would be just as excited.


Saturday morning is purpose made for walking. Breakfast is coffee and a bite on the green watching folk come and go beneath the Celtic cross, before frittering half an hour chatting with the encyclopaedic proprietor of an outdoor shop on the subject of boot makers of the Dolomites.

This is too relaxing
This is too relaxing

Finally I drag myself out of the shadow of Peverel Castle up a village road which almost immediately hints at the scenery that will define this walk. Rustic cottages frame the sort of scene you might expect to find to in the Yorkshire Dales or Lake District

Peak views
Peak views

The topography of today’s route is guaranteed to provide some dramatic sights – weather permitting. Before long the tarmac runs out and those views begin to reveal themselves.

Looking good!
Looking good!

If half of the visitors to Castleton are here to walk, cycle or hang glide then the other half have come to see the caves the town is famous for. I pass Peak Cavern and then Speedwell Cavern at the head of Winnats Pass.

I was prepared for every climatic condition except sunshine
I was prepared for every climatic condition except sunshine

The path ascends steeply to Treak Cliff Cavern where new seams of Blue John have recently been uncovered decades after the last major find. The landscape is really starting to open up and the sun finally makes an appearance as I ascend to the mouth of Blue John Cavern, which seems to be attracting cave enthusiasts by the bus load.

Looking down at Barber Booth
Looking down at Barber Booth

The foot of Mam Tor provides richly rewarding views north over the valley to Barber Booth. I wait awhile to absorb the rather unexpected scale and colour of this scene, plus the unexpected warmth of the winter sun. Then it’s a long gradual climb uphill for myself and the 100 other day walkers.

One of several trig points in the area
One of several trig points in the area

This section of path is attractively paved. It is hard to imagine the effort required to build and maintain a path like this, let alone one at a higher altitude beyond the range of any vehicle.

I'm guessing its this way…
I’m guessing its this way…

…which is probably why the paved path doesn’t last for long…

Easy walking, paved or unpaved
Easy walking, paved or unpaved

The ridge path towards Hollins Cross is a dream to walk, serving up outstanding views for minimal effort. The cross in question was removed a little over a hundred years ago and apparently, in even earlier times, the route was used to transport coffins from Edale over to Hope.

I overhear a group making call to the emergency services about an injured party member. Various parties are engaged with Duke of Edinburgh awards activities so perhaps this is an exercise? Fifteen minutes later the thumping rotors of an air ambulance suggest otherwise.

Black Tor
Back Tor

If I had ever followed up on my passing interest in Geology I might be able to explain the forces of nature that formed Back Tor. It certainly provides a great photo opportunity and a Japanese group are taking full advantage. Castleton has an international appeal I hadn’t expected with Americans, Russians and Italians amongst the other groups up here today.

Taking it all in
Taking it all in

I have really enjoyed this walk. This straightforward Peak District route has served a up rich variety of sights and points of interest. It has also been great to see such a diverse spectrum of people out on the hills.

Navigation has been a no-brainer and the weather has been kind. My march back down into Castleton is well timed as a heavy dark cloud threatens to put a dampener on things.

Making mud pies
Making mud pies

Not that weather is going to stop many people from getting out and enjoying themselves. After all, if you are going to make the effort of visiting the Dark Peak you aren’t going to be put off by the elements.

Tonight I’m going to enjoy the hostelries of Castleton. Tomorrow I’m going to take in the altogether more rugged landscape of Kinder. And the weather rarely does any favours there…

Purple Reign

What's the hurry?

The fight back has begun. The allotment doesn’t own all my time. It starts this weekend with my first (!) proper walk of the fast receding summer. But this will be more than a walk – I need to right a wrong…


My encounter with the Cleveland Way national trail three years ago was specifically timed to coincide with the flowering of the heather that dominates the North York Moors. Inspired by the accounts of other walkers I visited in September when the hills were supposed to be awash with colour only to find that I had missed the party by a week or two. Today’s route crosses Stanton Moor where, rumour has it, the heather is in bloom.

I'm doing gardening wrong
I’m doing gardening wrong

The sun is ablaze as I set off from Rowsley at an improbably early time. There’s nobody to been seen and I’m feeling smug, even though the folk of Stanton Woodhouse Farm are probably on their second breakfast by now.

What's the hurry?
What’s the hurry?

Twenty minutes sat on a log admiring the view over the Derwent valley is time well spent. Especially since a dirty black cloud decides to latch onto me for much of the rest of the day. Fortunately the trail heads off into woodland where the rain is heard more than it is absorbed.

Woodland retreat
Woodland retreat

A tree-engulfed ruin has an industrial feel to it but what can it be? This is a former quarrying area but without signage its former life is left to the imagination.

Going nowhere
Going nowhere

Further down the track I come across an old quarry face. Four millstones, so emblematic of the Peak District, lie abandoned nearby. I imagine they were destined to grind flour before the business closed. Or were they employed to grind sandstone hewn from the rock face? Today they seem as immovable and permanent a part of the landscape as the ground on which they sit.

Not lost for once
Not lost for once

The rain eases off obligingly as I leave the cover of the undergrowth for Stanton Moor. When I planned this route the map contours suggested panoramic views from the edge over to Darley Dale but the dense foliage has left me with just brief glimpses. Now if only I could climb to the top of this tower…

Closed today
Closed today

The Reform Tower was erected by local benefactor William Pole Thornhill to commemorate the 1832 reform act which set out to democratise electoral representation and do away with the so-called rotten boroughs. We are long overdue another such revolution…

Encouraging...
Encouraging…

The sun greets my first sight of the moor and the signs are good. There’s heather and it’s purple!

...very encouraging...
…very encouraging…

Soon it gets better and the path is lined by flowering heather. Numerous bees hover and perch around the plants as they industriously strive to produce heather infused honey that may end up on toast for some lucky soul.

Purple reign!
Purple reign!

As Stanton Moor opens up into a treeless plateau I finally get to experience the carpet of colour I missed out on in North Yorkshire. The vivid heather is everywhere! I was pleased when I managed to barely keep 4 tiny heather plants alive in my front garden for a couple of seasons but mother nature does this sort of thing so much better. Although mother nature doesn’t have to contend with my dad coming around to mow not only the lawn but 4 abused plants I had fought to nurture while working away in London…

Standing in a painting
Natures work

It’s not just the colour but also the contrast with the verdant carpet of fern and moss speckled outcrops of rock that create such a dramatic effect, not to mention a sweet smell of heather that lingers in the light moist breeze.


My trip has been well worth it and I’m not yet at the half way stage. The ascent down into Birchover leads through a very well-kept campsite that I stayed at many years ago with friends. I seem to recall visiting during the village fete at which we won a tin of spam.

Curious creatures
Curious creatures

I don’t recognise much now and certainly not the Llamas that adapt so well to the English landscape. These are curious, charming creatures with no apparent fear of humans. They share a slightly startled look that I can only interpret as confusion. “How did we end up here?”

Tempting
Tempting

The Druid Inn alludes to a local folklore that I will expand upon when I return to Stanton Moor after lunch, if you can call a slice of cake on a bench lunch. The drizzle intensifies and I watch from beneath a tree as a growing trickle of people head into the Red Lion for proper Sunday lunch.

No entry
No entry

Why do walks always resume up hill after lunch? A steep climb out of Birchover rejoins the main road and takes me past Birchover Quarry which continues the long-standing local tradition. They know how to keep vehicles out of the site – this car sized rock must weigh 20 tonnes.

Just imagine the size of the bottle...
Just imagine the size of the bottle…

Returning to Stanton Moor the surreal Cork Stone looks as if somebody has carved it and deposited it here. In fact it is one of many weathered sandstone oddities to be found in and around the moor although not all of them have had iron climbing handles hammered into them in the 19th century. Last time I was here I climbed to the top (ahem) so there’s no need to do it again.

4,000 years of ritual
4,000 years of ritual

A short walk through light woodland leads to an opening where … things get spiritual. The Nine Ladies stone circle dates back 4000 years to the bronze age where it was believed to be the centre of rituals and ceremonies for people who lived and farmed in the area. The Druid Inn in Birchover alludes to the mystical draw of this place which still attracts druids and pagans on the solstice.

Ancient monuments like these will always capture our imagination – perhaps even inspire song. (You know you have to click this link)

When can I move in
When can I move in

A short walk north brings me to the attractive village of Stanton In The Peak. Presumably “In The Peak” was a suffix added to boost tourism at some point but it is well worth a visit regardless. A minor stately home here is off-limits and I wonder if the high walled garden promises more than would be delivered if I had a ladder to find out.

Stanton In The Peak
Stanton In The Peak

The church is very attractive and appears to be well maintained. There are some beautiful gardens, thriving allotments and a field of hens roaming at their leisure in return for free range eggs. Not to mention a pub that I can’t believe I didn’t know about.

Real ale in the peak
Real ale in the peak

The Flying Childers is that scarce and precious entity – an historic village pub serving real ale in a country village that hasn’t been converted into housing. A pint is so so tempting but on this occasion I settle for a glimpse inside, and it’s everything I was expecting.

Sunday dominoes
Sunday dominoes

My return to Rowsley has a different feel to it, crossing farmland and passing herds of sheep and cows. There are calves and I’m always a little wary passing through fields in case I’m seen as a threat. Fortunately they don’t seem to be aware of my visits to the farm shop.


Back at my car the drizzle instantly dissipates and out comes the sun. Typical, yes, but I really don’t care because I have closure on my heather disappointment of three years ago. Yet there have been so many highlights in this leisurely 8 mile walk – panoramic views, dramatic rock formations, abandoned ruins, ancient and not so ancient monuments and pretty country villages.

You can’t beat the Peak District for variety and drama. From here I could walk 50 yards to the water powered Cauldwells Mill where they still grind flour, or I could drive 10 minutes to the magnificent Chatsworth estate but instead I find myself raiding the M&S food hall in Matlock for a meal whose timing defies categorisation. Besides, the allotment needs me…

Shrovetide Football

Mick with this year's custom built balll

Shrovetide football has been played in Ashbourne in one form or another for at least 350 years. Late to the party as usual this is my first visit. In case you aren’t familiar with the fineries of this longstanding tradition here’s a flying overview:

  • Up’ards and Down’ards compete to goal a ball 1.5 miles from the start at Shaw Croft in Ashbourne
  • Anyone born north of the river Henmore is a Down’ard, south and you are an Up’ard
  • The game starts when a “turner upper” throws the ball into the air from Shaw Croft Plinth
  • The game is played over Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

Think of it as a mass participation game of rugby fuelled by beer that lasts for 2 days. If you want to know more I can recommend the internet

Eerily quiet
Eerily quiet

As I enter the town this mid-morning the empty bunting-lined streets allude to a genteel affair, if indeed I have got the right day.

Trouble brewing
Trouble brewing

The mood changes as I begin to notice all of the woodwork being applied to shop-fronts.

Getting out of town
Getting out of town

Most businesses warn that they will be closed in the afternoon. In my experience this behaviour is the prelude to a tornado or the visit of Clint Eastwood on horseback.

We don't want no trouble
We don’t want no trouble round here

I wander over to the epicentre of forthcoming action at Shaw Cross in the Waitrose car park. Shoppers are shopping and only a line of sand bags beneath the raised plinth suggest anything out of the ordinary.

Calm before the storm
Calm before the storm at Shaw Croft Plinth

Due to my lack of research I’m not sure what to do for the next 3 hours until the ball is turned up so I decide to follow other people and see where they are going. To the leisure centre it turns out for the traditional pre-game lunch and speech. All comers are welcomed by Mick Pepper who is this year’s esteemed “turner upper” – ie: the one to start the game by throwing it into the crowd.

Meeting and greeting
Mick (right) meeting and greeting

Many people arrive and they all seem to know Mick and he seems to know them all. There is no sense of competitive rivalry as Up’ards and Down’ards mingle without differentiation.

I gather that an external caterer will be feeding 500 here this lunchtime. Since I’m not one of them I do my own thing until they re-emerge fired up and ready for action some 2 hours later.

Some of the many volunteers
Some of the many volunteers

A contingent of fluorescent Shrovetide Marshals lead a procession of VIPs through the streets amidst a small crowd of competitors and photographers, me included.

Mick with this year's custom built balll
Mick with this year’s custom built balll

The crowds are waiting at the Bridge on Dig Street where, in accordance with tradition, Mick is picked up and carried through to the plinth at Shaw Croft.

For he's a jolly good fellow!
For he’s a jolly good fellow!

Gone are the shoppers and cars of this morning. In their place await thousands of people all jostling for a view of proceedings.

SO many people
SO many people

Any elevated position is a viewing point. This years event almost didn’t go ahead due to difficulties in obtaining insurance. I’m starting to see why.

They never read Humpty
Don’t they know what happened to Humpty?

Few folks have the luxury of a window view.

Watching in comfort
Watching in comfort

Shrovetide football in Ashbourne has received international attention for several years, attracting film makers and foreign tourists. The BBC are here amongst others but they face the same struggle to find a good viewing position.

Destined for the screen
Destined for the screen

There’s a rendition of Auld Lang Syne and then God Save The Queen plus a speech I can’t hear. Then Mick follows in the footsteps of Brian Clough (1975) and Prince Charles (2003) by launching the ball into the throng.

On your marks, get set...
On your marks, get set…

Despite appearances as a free-for-all there are rules. Most notably murder and manslaughter are forbidden. The ball disappears into the scrum and barely surfaces for 10 minutes.

GO!
GO!

It is around this time that many onlookers decide they have ticked the Shrovetide football box and head off to wholeheartedly commit themselves to ticking the Shrovetide drinking box.

The other competition
The other competition

There must be 10 pubs in the this little town and people are spilling out of each of them this sunny afternoon. It’s sorely tempting to join them except I feel that the game itself deserves a little more attention.

Fuel for footballers
Fuel for footballers

I return to the fringes of the action and decide to set up my tripod on the banks of the river in case the action returns towards town. A gentleman named George tells me that he comes every year on behalf of his truck company to network with clients. Apparently this event is a significant draw for corporate types and the friendly informal nature of Shrovetide is ideal for developing relations. The minimal cost of attendance is shadowed by the potential profit in selling a lorry.

Wait and they will come. (They didn't)
Wait and they will come. (They didn’t)

Runners for each side loiter strategically on the periphery of the scrum ready to receive the ball should it break free and sprint off with it. Unlike other variants of football played around the world Shrovetide football recognises the position of “in the river” as that’s where the ball will inevitably spend some time.

One of the subs
One of the subs

Progress, if that’s the word, is slow with the crowd lumbering slowly around the park. There’s an impasse in the children’s playground which at least makes for some interesting spectator viewing opportunities.

The Up'Ards getting on top
The Up’ards getting on top

Then like the slipping of some tectonic plate the pack darts south back down the slope again and through Henmore Brook. The surrounding crowd rushes out of the way to avoid being trampled and there are shrieks from youngsters as they play their part in this rite of passage.

Who can say what's going on in there
Who can say what’s going on in there

It’s clear that this is going to carry on for a long time yet. The Up’ards are vaguely on top but there’s another mile to cover if they are going to goal at Sturston Mill.

Time to leave them at it
Time to leave them at it

As the seething mass inches eastward people gradually peel off the core and traipse back towards town to replenish empty plastic pint glasses. With the shadows lengthening and the cold drawing in I make my own escape.

I’m sat at home by the time Vincent Brayne adds his name to the 124 year old Roll Of Honour with a goal for the Up’ards at 7:53pm. Can the Down’ards respond? It all kicks off again tomorrow.

Walking in the new year

The hills are alive with the sound of bleating

What do you do with January? The Christmas and New Year hubbub has receded, people are back to work and the weather reminds you why other species migrate or hibernate. Fortunately I’ve no pressing work to distract me and there’s a chink in the Peak District weather to exploit.


My circular walk starts in Baslow, often driven through but never explored. The river Derwent to the west of this seemingly large village flows south to Derby and beyond. There is a church, a few tasteful craft and interior shops plus a school that is producing a riot of noise this playtime.

Long shadows
Long shadows

Setting off south and keeping to the east of the river a footpath opens up into the ample grounds of the Chatsworth estate although the fierce low winter sun prevents me from seeing much of it. A smattering of ramblers aside it is quiet as expected on this weekday morning.

Winter stops play
Winter stops play

Beside the path a blue plaque commemorates the significant contribution of Capability Brown to landscaping the estate in the eighteen hundreds. The undeniable natural beauty of Chatsworth is far from natural. Beyond a thicket of trees I come across a thatch roofed cricket pavilion which transports me back to a balmy summers day a couple of years ago when I dropped by here to watch my cricketing buddies in action, only to turn up precisely as they filed into the pavilion for lunch. It will be four months and hopefully 15 degrees celsius until the new cricket season begins.

The constant gardener
The constant gardener

The pitch looks immaculate as does the rest of the estate. Groundsmen down by the river are dredging up tree branches from the water. It must take a small army of staff to maintain the 30,000 acres of Chatsworth.

Stately pile
Stately pile

As one of the country’s premier outdoor tourist attractions the crowded weekends here can be off-putting but on a cold Wednesday in January the uninterrupted views are delightful. I wonder how many big budget period dramas will be recorded here this year.

Red deer. Or maybe fallow.
Red deer. Or maybe fallow.

No visit to Chatsworth is complete without a glimpse of roaming deer. Their population includes red and fallow deer. I think these are the red ones…

Not the least intimidated
Not the least intimidated

The sheep are less timid. They are everywhere and quite oblivious to any notion of danger.

Sheep - oblivious to road safety
Sheep – lacking in road sense

Car horns make little impression upon sheep in the road. Eventually, when they are ready, they sidle over to the verge and the traffic can pass. I suspect they are licking the gritting salt off the tarmac.

Out of sight
Edensor – out of sight

The village of Edensor (pronounced Enzer) was relocated here around 1840 as it was “spoiling” the view of the Duke Of Devonshire as he gazed out of his stately Chatsworth House windows. He was a fool – it’s very pretty. It is also a tourist draw in itself and I myself am powerless to resist tea and cake in the quaint tea room opposite St Peters Church, resting place for many of the Devonshire clan not to mention JFK’s sister.

Edensor cottage
An Edensor cottage

This 6 mile walk is part of my physical rehabilitation. Six weeks ago I returned from my curtailed Norfolk coastal path walk with 2 injured knees. Since then my only exercise has been the 5 mile annual Christmas day ramble which they survived but complained about. You can imagine what a paucity of exercise during the eating season means to one’s wellbeing. The good news is that both knees are fine – so far.

The hills are alive with the sound of bleating
The hills are alive with the sound of bleating

The climb out of Edensor unfolds into a picture postcard panorama. Even this marginal increase in altitude has preserved the morning’s frosting of snow on the hillside. Quite breathtaking!

Lightly frosted
Lightly frosted

The highest section of the walk tops out at a modest 250 feet above sea level. Here above Pilsley the demarcation of snow and thaw is clear. Beyond Pilsley and perhaps 70 feet lower there is little trace of snow or frost.

In need of roofing
In need of roofing

Land here has been farmed for many generations. I see several mostly disused outbuildings is a generally poor state of repair.

In need of rebuilding
In need of rebuilding

Once again this region is serving up a great variety of scenery over just a short walk.

Baslow in the distance
Baslow in the distance

The final agricultural third of the route becomes increasingly muddy as the afternoon sun melts the icy fields into soggy ones. Boots I so meticulously cleaned are back to their soiled norm.

Stick in ground 1 - Anquet 0
Stick in ground 1 – Anquet 0

I have been using the Anquet mapping application on my phone to sense-check the route. The 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map data is first-rate but the phone app stinks. Fortunately the original signpost firmware en-route has proven to be more user-friendly.

The swollen Derwent thunders beneath a robust old stone bridge that returns me to Baslow. Church bells chime for 2pm on my second encounter with the school, where the children continue to kick up a racket. Surely they have been indoors since I set off this morning…


Rain is on the way. The high winds that uprooted 4 of my fence panels earlier this week are due to return. I have been lucky to enjoy clear skies and a low sun on this peaceful weekday. And my knees feel OK! 2015 I declare you officially open.

Justice done

Here we go again – I couldn’t help myself. Somebody tweets there’s a behind closed doors tour in Derby and two hours later I’m wearing a hard hat and a high viz jacket. Previously such curiosity has led me into Friar Gate Square and Sadler Bridge Studios, this time it’s the former Derby Magistrates Court…

A grand entrance
A grand entrance

Part of the appeal for me is that unless your have been a member of the judicial system or criminal fraternity (or commonly both) your chances of looking around the building would be slim. And you would want to look around it if, like me, you like the art deco style of architecture.

Full Street
Full Street

There are few external clues of the building’s former use beyond the inscription above the side entrance.

In through the back door
In through the back door

Entry on this occasion is via the back door. I’m part of a tour that is pitched primarily at prospective businesses with an eye on the new office space that will result from the redevelopment work.

There can be no illusions that this is anything other than a building site. High quality wooden flooring is protected from the crude abuse of builder’s boots and wheeled appliances by floor coverings. I poke my head into a room piled high with desirable parquet bricks and pray these are going to be cleaned and re-used.

Worth a pile on eBay
Worth a pile on eBay

The ground floor is crawling with tradesmen who seem a little bemused by our safari tour. A subdued atmosphere suggests they have been told to be on best behaviour while there are visitors. We are rapidly whisked up to the top floor where the selling points of the new offices soon become clear.

Quad, market place and Guildhall
Quad, market place and Guildhall

As our host describes the amenities to an attentive arc of listeners I peel off towards the window to catch the views outside. I’m less interested in floor space and whitewashed walls than the spectacle of Quad and the market hall across the other side of Full Street. This really is a prime central location for offices.

Council House
Council House

Out of another window the recently refurbished council house looks grand and imposing. With the re-opening of the former Magistrates Court the Exeter Bridge corridor is certainly on the up.

Exeter Bridge with Brewery Tap to the left
Exeter Bridge with Brewery Tap to the left

And there is Exeter Bridge. You can see the Brewery Tap also. The chances of my being productive in such a work environment drop with each new vista.

Up river to the Silk Mill
Up river to the Silk Mill

The proximity of the river has been a concern for neighbouring buildings like this in these times of increased flood risk. Did I mention the view east along the Derwent to the Silk Mill? At this point I’m standing on an ornamental balcony hoping they have repaired the crumbling supports I recall seeing from ground level while previously strolling along the river path.

So the views are magnificent and that’s not surprising given the location. Best of all there is no sight of the monstrous omnipresent breeze block that is Westfield/Intu.

Alien invasion?
Alien invasion?

We all shuffle on down the corridor. What appears to be a spaceship is in fact an art deco skylight. There is more of this subtle elegance to be witnessed in the panelled meeting room.

Refined working space
Refined working space

The room may still be a work in progress but you can see that it’s going to be magnificent.

Pre-war styling
Pre-war styling

The period fireplace is being preserved and I wonder how many other interiors of this quality in Derby buildings have been stripped bare over the years in a misguided drive for modernity. The irony is that in 1935 this building replaced the demolished 17th century Exeter House which was in itself a magnificent building of great historical significance.


If upstairs was mostly about the outside then downstairs is all about the inside.

They don’t build these any more
They don’t build these any more

When the building re-opens this simple but classy spiralling staircase is going to make for a grand entrance. There remain a few signs (literally) of a former existence that is hard to imagine today…

Old signage
Old signage

…until the skeletons come out of the closet as we enter the business end of the building. Now things are getting interesting! The prisoner holding cells are an integral part of the history (and structure) of the building.

Jailhouse Cellfie
Cellfie

The gloomy and oppressive cell corridor feels a million miles from the bright and airy office space upstairs.

The inmates have escaped
The inmates have escaped

At this point I realise that I am alone in the catacombs as my party has moved on. Spooky. What do you do with prison cells in an office redevelopment?

No Sky TV
No Sky TV

The site plan I’m clutching tells me that you make the cells into WCs and storage space. Seems sensible. The Local History Museum is lined up to occupy the ground floor apparently.

The tour is over, or at least I assume it is as I’ve lost the party. It’s quite a maze down here but eventually I retrace my steps to leave the ghosts behind before stumbling out into bright daylight. Only the site foreman’s portacabin breaks the view to the Silk Mill across the gravel strewn car park.

Former police station
Former police station – now gone

A few months ago the dilapidated old cop shop stood here awaiting merciful dispatch by the demolition crews. Next up for this site is a hotel, which can’t be as hideous. Can it?

We will see, but today I’m left feeling that the redevelopment of Derby Magistrates Court does it justice.

Grand Designs

Why do we fail to notice extraordinary things when they are right in front of us? Is it just human nature to take for granted that which we see every day? In the nineties I worked in Matlock for the best part of three years and each day I drove past a building that I knew by name and reputation without a turn of the head or a nudge of the brakes. I must have subsequently walked past countless times without pausing to investigate further. Today all of that changed.

The other famous building in Matlock Bath
The other famous building in Matlock Bath

Today I’m in Matlock Bath to take a look around an historic building that has assumed legendary status in these parts and beyond. No – not Sir Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills, a key player in the industrial revolution. I’m at the Grand Pavilion, a leisure facility that owes its existence to the employment revolution that was spawned by the industrial revolution.

Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion
Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion

I know precious little about “The Pav” as it is commonly known, beyond its 90’s incarnation as a night club. Overheard Monday morning conversations at work were often sprinkled with non-too-pretty tales from the Pav. Notorious rather than legendary. The night club has closed and the Pav has been nursing a hangover as it prays for some fresh new start under more sympathetic custodianship. Those prayers have been answered…


The Grand Pavilion is open to visitors today with the Save The Pavilion Group sharing their plans for the building and laying on guided tours. There are perhaps 20 equally curious attendees to the initial presentation which presents a history of the building and the following information is largely brought to you courtesy of authoritative and engaging local historian Charles Beresford and augmented by a little of my own research…

A brief history of the Grand Pavilion

The warm spa waters of Matlock Bath had already been drawing in visitors for a long time when the railway arrived in 1849 creating a massive surge in tourism. Despite this popularity the council decided that the town needed to broaden its offer and provide more reasons for day trippers to visit and perhaps stay. They commissioned the building of the Grand Pavilion with the intention of hosting a diverse range of entertainment that would appeal to the masses.

Architect John Nuttall led the £11,000 construction of the Grand Pavilion in 1910 on the site of a former stables and blacksmiths yard next to the river Derwent.

Pavilion in context
Pavilion in the distance

Early events held at the Pavilion included theatre and (with surprising popularity) roller skating! The inaugral theatre production in 1911 was The Cingalee followed by Charlie’s Aunt. Later that year the Matlock and District Operatic Society performed The Belle Of Brittany and the group are still performing today under the name of Matlock Musical Theatre.

Other early entertainment included military bands, dances, silent films and community events. The ample ballroom with its polished dance floor, arched roof and gas lighting must have provided all the ingredients for a striking venue. The venue was certainly attracting many new visitors to the town with records showing a peak of 17 excursion trains arriving in one day from conurbations like Derby and Manchester. Matlock Bath still has one of the longest railway platforms in the Derbyshire Dales.

Tiger Tractor built by John Fowler and Co in 1917 during while soldiers were billetted here
Tiger Tractor built by John Fowler and Co in 1917 during while soldiers were billetted here

Within a few years of opening First World War soldiers were billeted on site. Canadian soldier Willian J Cowan spent time here recuperating from injury and he led a remarkable life. Military career aside (he was awarded the Military Cross and later left Russia after being sentenced to death for alleged spying) Cowan went on to forge a career in Hollywood as a writer and director, with credits including Oliver Twist. His wife made a fortune writing the caption cards used in silent movies and Spencer Tracey was a close friend.

Other early visitors of renown include Jesse Boot (he of Boots The Chemist) and scouting movement founder Lord Baden Powell who held the first ever scouting conference at the nearby Royal Hotel in 1917.

Baden Powell in 1935 (with thanks to Girl Guides of Canada)
Baden Powell in 1935 (with thanks to Girl Guides of Canada)

Another notable early performer at the Pavilion was Marie Hall, considered one of the finest violinists in the world at her time. She had been a pupil of Edward Elgar and fellow composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams dedicated his composition “The Lark Ascending” to her. Thirty years after her death her 1709 Stradivarius violin sold at auction for almost half a million pounds!

After the disruption of WWII the Grand Pavilion saw a variety of events including the Miss Derbyshire competition, boxing matches and darts tournaments. The building continued to host music performances and was a primary venue for the town’s popular music festivals that attracted up to 3000 performers and many more attendees.

Some of the more famous acts to perform at the Pavilion include Phil Cool, Ken Dodd, Warren Mitchell, Kenny Ball, John Tams, Mike Reid, Freddie And The Dreamers, The Searchers, Cream, Elvis Costello and Deep Purple, not to mention local lass Isy Suttie. Apparently Long John Baldry played here with his pianist Reg Dwight (now better known as Elton John).The venue struggled to get by in later years and while the insensitive refit of the ballroom into a night club kept it on life support the prognosis was terminal and closure was to follow, until…

Mike Reid next to his Runaround (with thanks to Julep67)
Mike Reid next to his Runaround (thanks Julep67)

The Present

…the Save The Pavilion Group was set up by local people towards the end of 2009 with the stated aim of safeguarding the future of the Grand Pavilion for the community and surrounding areas. Stemming from this group an organisation called The Grand Pavilion Ltd was formed to oversee renovations and run the building as a Charitable Trust.

the main hall with the original curved roof obscured by a suspended ceiling
the ballroom with the original curved roof obscured by a suspended ceiling

As Charles led us on a guided tour of the building it became clear that while plenty of work needed doing there didn’t seem to be any major structural issues. During the Pav Night Club era a number of charmless features had been added – balconies, a mixing desk and a bar.

The Pav has left its mark
The Pav has left its mark

Through hard work by the volunteers the balconies have now been removed although the bar still remains.

Last orders
Last orders

The thing that immediately strikes you about the hall is what a great space it is and how the large arched windows on each side accentuate the interior.

Windows to the world
Windows to the world

And what a view! To the south are the riverside gardens with the Derwent in heavy flow today following recent rainfall. To the north an elevated view of Matlock Bath reminds me why it earned the moniker of Little Switzerland. I can clearly see the cable cars at the Heights of Abraham.

Little Switzerland
Little Switzerland

The light streams through these large windows to reveal many old or original features in varying conditions, like the magnificent iron radiators.

Not just any old iron
Not just any old iron

There are plenty of rough edges. This scene concerned me but when I asked about the state of the roof Charles assured me that it was watertight.

Not as bad as it looks
Not as bad as it looks

Under the renovation plans the building would be restored to a very high level and I believe the ballroom especially has the potential once again provide a breathtaking venue.

Faded glory
Faded glory

Standing on the stage it’s not hard to mentally strip away the modern accoutrements and get a sense of the drama this place has experienced before and could experience again.

Build it and they will come
Build it and they will come

For now there are only echos but what echos they are. I wonder if Lord Baden Powell addressed an audience here. I wonder if Elton John tinkled these ivories…

Place of wonder
Place of wonder

We exit stage left and alight a stone staircase with ornate iron railings and a solid wooden banister. An oval window reveals another select view not normally seen by the public. I love the detailed design and quality workmanship that went into old buildings – even the areas largely unseen. Modern buildings are built down to an ever-diminishing price and the wealthly few for whom craftsmanship is an affordable luxury seem to have a nagging tendency to commission soulless concrete/glass/chrome warehouses instead. Rant over.

Were Deep Purple responsible for this?
Were Deep Purple responsible for this?

A series of rooms upstairs have been employed as dressing rooms and storage areas. They may be chaotic but I like the fact that they appear to have been left relatively untouched since their last employment.

That’s show business
That’s show business

The dressing rooms can hardly have been plush even at their best. Much of the remaining detritus appears to have been left over from the days of The Pav nightclub.

Hangover from The Pav
Hangover from The Pav

Looking around it would seem that I’m the only one transfixed by this odd car boot sale of a mess. A left turn and we are on the balcony at the opposite end of the hall to the stage. This place is a rabbit warren.

Under the spotlight
Under the spotlight

Just when we seem to have exhausted the rooms we are presented with the unmissable opportunity to climb up a wooden ladder into the cupola – the iconic dome atop the Grand Pavilion. Everyone wants to experience this and who can blame them.

Under the dome
Under the dome

The first thing that I notice is the intricate wooden design of the roof. It looks to be in superb condition. What a special place this is! I feel like I’m in a tree-house for grown-ups. A finial rests here and I presume it was originally fitted on top of the cupola. Again this looks to be in great condition.

I never thought I would get to use the words Cupola and Finial in a blog
I never thought I would get to use the words Cupola and Finial in a blog

Of more dubious provenance is the curiously enscribed WC that reads: Payment in loo: Bank of England – I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of 100 pounds. Payable at Nat West bank, Matlock Bath.

This is a party I wish I had been at
This is a party I wish I had been at

A rabbit warren of a building. Discarded drinks glasses everywhere. A wooden ladder leading up into a hidden room containing a WC. Those of a certain age and computer gaming disposition may understand while I feel like I’m inside a game of Jet Set Willy.

There’s a hobbit sized wooden door onto the roof. Well, you can’t come this far and not venture outside.

I want a cupola with roof terrace on my house!
I want a cupola with roof terrace on my house!

There’s a view in every direction. The river Derwent flows below, still adorned with the riverside illuminations – a previous blogging muse of mine.

The view south
The view south

Beyond the hall roof I can see the Heights Of Abraham.

The view north
The view north

There’s a heron’s view of The Fishpond pub in the street below – a popular pre/post performance watering hole with performers and audience alike.

Forget Everest, less people make it up here!
Forget Everest, less people make it up here!

If I’m making the most of my temporary elevation it’s because I know I’ll probably never be back here. Legally. They seriously need to install a 360 degree web cam up here.

The Future

So we have learned something of the past and witnessed the current state of play. What of the future? Since partially re-opening in 2012 a limited number of events have already been held here. The most successful of these was a wildly popular Half Man Half Biscuit gig which attracted hordes of loyal fans who proceeded to drink the bar dry forcing the staff to leg it over to Sainsburies for more stock. As a HMHB fan I was unaware of this gig and really wish I had attended.

Grand Pavilion Ltd bought the freehold for £1 from a relieved council and have submitted a bid for £3.2m of Heritage Lottery Funding which, if granted, could be topped up by conditional income from other sources. Proposed designs for a refurbishment are listed on the GPL website and there’s an animated YouTube fly-through to help with the visualisation. Somebody has had some fun with this!

Plans on display within the Grand Pavilion
Plans on display within the Grand Pavilion

A central feature planned for the ballroom is retractable seating that would enable seating for 250 people to be collapsed away when the entire floor space is needed. Needless to say there’s much work to be done before then, assuming that funding can be secured.

I’m hopeful that everything is in order to make this important project a success. There is a team of professionals and volunteers in place to drive things forward supported by joint patrons – acclaimed Derbyshire wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering and former Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom. I would love to get involved myself in some way.

Once the work is completed the Grand Pavilion will boast the largest theatre space in the Derbyshire Dales but it isn’t destined to become some elitist arts venue. According to the mission statement the intention is to host a diverse range of activities that will appeal to a wide range of people and also extend the Matlock Bath tourist season. Which sounds to me like the original mission statement of the Pavilion in 1910, and we know how successful that was.

Footnotes

Rising Expectations

Sometimes you question your motivation. Why am I standing in a site-foreman’s porta-cabin clutching a hard hat and tabard? When I booked a place on a tour of One Friar Gate Square as part of the Open Doors scheme – a building industry initiative to enable public to visit buildings under construction – it was an act of opportunism. I decide to fabricate my rationale later in the hope that it would all come together.

Friar Gate Square
Friar Gate Square

The first thing that strikes me about FGS is that it is neither a Square nor does it reside on Friar Gate. Not wanting to start the tour on a sour note I keep these observations to myself and scan the CAD elevation diagrams on the wall as we await the arrival of final participants. What can be said of FGS is that is a 7 storey office scheme targeting small businesses which is quite timely given that the successful Friar Gate Studios across the road have this week reached a full quota of small business occupants.

Can you dig it?
Can you dig it?

There’s a line of thought that this building will cast an insensitive modern shadow over the quaint old Friar Gate buildings that adjoin it and inappropriately dominate the area. There’s another line of thinking that says it’s mostly bordering the ugly inner ring road, has some design merit and will attract the kind of small organic businesses that this side of Derby needs in the fight back against the big corporate baddy Westfield at the other end of town. For me the jury is out, for now at least.

The tour finally starts and it becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be an interactive learning experience. There’s no script as such and the questions asked elicit short answers. There’s a photographer amongst our number and as we climb the levels it occurs to me that the main focus of today’s event is a publicity photo-shoot for Clegg Construction as evidenced by the attendant besuited managers. It later turns out I have been caught in one of the pictures. The cheque hasn’t arrived yet.

What's HE doing here?
What’s HE doing here?

I ask the genial site foreman whether security is a problem here, especially given the epidemic of metal thefts in recent times. He casts me a look and insists there is no copper onsite and I wonder whether he now thinks I’ve only come along to case the joint for a copper heist. Time to shuffle off and take more photos before he has me ejected

Agard Street
Agard Street

There’s no doubt the views are of some interest to a Derbian like me because while 7 storeys may not sound like much it represents a notable protuberance in a relatively undeveloped flat city like Derby. Also of interest to me is the relationship between this building and a previous muse of mine, the former Friar Gate Station. A planned second phase of FGS development includes steps up to the wonderful Friar Gate bridge although this would clearly be dependent on development taking place on the other side of the road.

Bridge to nowhere
Bridge to nowhere

Somebody is certainly going to have some unique views once these offices are complete and one of the interesting features of the construction is that window and wall come entirely as prefabricated units. The “builders” need to be trained up on assembly technique by the unit suppliers. I put it to one of the workers that this is one big Lego kit and the building project is as much about assembly as construction. He tentatively responds “yes” with the look of somebody who has been told to put in an appearance for the managers on a Saturday morning that had formerly promised better options. There was a period of my childhood when such an occupation would have seemed like a busman’s holiday but that dream has now lost its polish. This is something I realised when re-introduced with lego recently only to discover that the creative sparks that once flew when presented with so many options had been replaced by a desire to find the instruction booklet.

Windows for dummies
Windows for dummies

Finally we ascend to the skeletal top floor and it feels like the end of some platform game in cheat mode minus the baddies. It has been interesting to note that the air conditioning and lifts are in place (the lifts are installed very early on but not enabled for safety reasons) while the rest of the building is a concrete shell without walls or windows. The view – well – in truth I’m a little disappointed. It’s still Derby but just higher up. What did I expect? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain? If the management are disappointed with the view they aren’t letting it show.

Village People tribute band
Village People tribute band

I snap wildly with the abandon of somebody who doesn’t know how to frame a photo before giving in and asking the guy with the 35mm to capture me on what used to be film. Irritatingly yet predictably he proceeds to do what all strangers do when wielding my camera and take a better photo than I would have done.

I knew that one day I would reach the top
I knew that one day I would reach the top

We are heading back down now and with time running out I try to find out about any historical finds that may have been unearthed during the excavation work. Apparently there was nothing but mud, which is clearly untrue given the wealth and diversity of finds that have been unearthed in neighbouring plots over the years. One suspects they weren’t looking too hard, given the delays and costs commonly associated with uncovering artefacts on a building site. One man’s historical jackpot is another man’s loss of car park revenue. And so I take solace with a final snap of the tram lines that trace a path to nowhere in the cobbled plot of land reserved for phase 2 of development

Still here - for now...
Still here – for now…

As I understand it these lines were nothing to do with the railway but were for use by a horse drawn tram along what was once known as Short Street prior to demolition when the railway was constructed. It would provide a classy touch to leave at least some of the cobbles and track on display through a glass bottomed floor when they build the next phase. I’m not holding my breath.

The morning has been surreal and yet uninformative. I’m none the wiser as to the history of the site, my appreciation of the building industry remains pretty much unchanged and the views are OK but, well, it’s Derby. Sometimes you have to be thankful for the small and unexpected things – I got to wear a hard hat!

Friargate Station – All Change

One of Derby’s largely forgotten treasures is on the verge of a renaissance some 50 years after it was abandoned. Under plans lodged for the redevelopment of the Friargate station area the imposing old warehouse will become home to retail outlets while industrial land along the old approaches will be used for new housing.

This brownfield site has been earmarked for redevelopment for a number of years but the completion of Derby’s neighbouring inner ring road (I wrote about this last year) was always a prerequisite for reasons of access. With the ring road complete the plans have been lodged and it is only a matter of time before the transformation begins.

Goods warehouse
Goods warehouse
Out of bounds
Out of bounds

While I am happy to see life breathed back into the area I remain concerned about the manner in which the site is revitalised. Of course it has to make commercial sense but all too often our heritage has been irrevocably lost or besmirched by insensitive redevelopment. With redevelopment imminent I wanted to capture the Friargate goods yard as it is today before the builders move in.


I have been visiting the derelict site for a few years now to poke around the outside of the warehouse and follow the path of the lines past the old platforms up to the top of Friargate bridge.

The end of the line
The end of the line

An area once characterised by the soot and machinery of the railway industry had been almost completely reclaimed by nature in the manner of some forgotten Mayan city.

Urban decay
Urban decay

The crumbling brick and rusting iron of a decaying infrastructure had been subsumed by an urban jungle of saplings, bushes, grass and flowers.

Peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly

Birds, bees and butterflies thrived in numbers here oblivious to the noise and bustle of the city centre close by, yet a world away. You could walk into this undergrowth on a sunny day and lose yourself. The foliage was so dense that it took me a couple of visits to find the platforms.

Platform before clearing
Platform before clearing

I’m using the past tense because on my return last month I discovered that the entire platform area had been cleared of undergrowth in preparation for the next stage of work. The loss of this habitat is a huge shame but inevitable and now the general layout of the site is much clearer.

Platform after clearing
Platform after clearing

On the day I visited a fashion shoot was exploiting a graffiti covered wall of the warehouse and some students were sitting in the sun reading and talking.


Art and nature
Art and nature
Very wild life
Very wild life

My mediocre research into the history of the line has turned up some interesting nuggets of information. The station opened 1878 and was called Derby Station but subsequently renamed as Derby Friargate Station in 1881. The line was built by the Great Northern Railway primarily to enable coal to be moved more cheaply in the face of Midland Railways’ transportation monopoly. It is ironic that construction of the line was carried out with minimal consultation of local Derbeans who saw swathes of land lost as the line was dispassionately carved though the heart of the town. The iconic iron bridge over Friargate built by Handyside & Co of Derby was one of the few decorative concessions to the affluent residents of the Friargate area who were vocal in their opposition to the new line. For all of our reservations now about public consultation on planning laws it seems that the wider public interest holds more weight than it once used to.

Friargate Bridge
Friargate Bridge
Bridge detailing - Derby coat of arms
Bridge detailing – Derby coat of arms

The route of the line has long captured my imagination and this interest has increased since I moved to the nearby Rowditch area in 2002. I vaguely remember the brick bridge that spanned Agard Street prior to it’s demolition in the 1970s and the line continued on past the spot now occupied by Radio Derby and then into a tunnel not far from St Helens House.

It then emerges near the river Derwent where you can still walk across the iron bridge that led to Chester Green and through Breadsall to the east. An excellent map courtesy of Andy Savage (who also has a related blog) illustrates the route and highlights a number of points of interest.


Perhaps more than anything it is the social history of Friargate station that has drawn me in. From another time but in touching distance – the echoes still resonate. The line closed before I was born but there is a living history for people of a certain generation who fondly remember catching the train to Skegness from Friargate station. I have come across individual recollections of the final years of the line but a book called “Memories of Friargate Station” by local author Susan Bourne tops my reading list and ought to provide more substance. Hopefully it is still in print.

Open plan living
Open plan living
Absolutely floorless
Absolutely floorless
Fire damage
Fire damage
Basement on view
Basement on view

The station would have been at the peak of its importance in the late 19th and early 20th century from a strategic point of view and in terms of local employment. I took it upon myself to explore my local cemetery in Uttoxeter New Road on the off-chance of finding some memorial to former workers. I love poking around cemeteries – you can learn a lot from them. Amidst this modest sized plot I predictably found memorials to war casualties, church ministers and successful locals – solicitors and the like – but railway workers were proving elusive. This came as little surprise to me as I presumed they would be low in status and wealth but all the same I expected to find a few small headstones in a corner. Finally I found what I was looking for, and I was amazed when the two memorials in question…

Gone...
Gone…
...but not forgotten
…but not forgotten

…turned out to be amongst the tallest on the plot. That in itself raises more questions than it answers, although some subsequent research on John Holloway Sanders and Matthew Kirtley reveals that they were not run of the mill railway employees but Locomotive Superintendent and Company Architect respectively.


If the redevelopment of Friargate Station and it’s surroundings pans out anything like a typical Derby construction project then it will be a long time before anything actually happens but I would implore you to visit the site as soon as possible to appreciate a piece of our industrial heritage before it is completely sanitised by the developers. From a personal perspective the more I learn about the history of this site the more I want to know.

Light Fantastic

When you have spent most of your life in and around a particular area you get a feeling when genuine change is afoot. I’m not talking about the change sometimes espoused by high profile local figures – rhetoric heavy top-down campaigns lacking in sustained conviction that may have more to do with personal agendas than the common good. I’m referring to the change instigated by or at least widely bought into by the general public.

Derby has had a reputation for being something of a shy inward looking soul. I feel it has previously defined itself largely in terms of an industrial past and perhaps falsely aspired to be like its’ “big brother” Nottingham. Fast forward 20 years and things are vastly different. There has been a massive investment in industry with the likes of Pride Park, retail (Westfield) and infrastructure with the new bus station, modernised train station and (after a 40 year wait!) the imminent completion of the inner ring road. There has also been a notable shift in the city demographic with a great influx of national and international young students swelling University numbers, feeding the economy and driving a creative small business culture. Derby is reclaiming its crown as the city of ideas.

The City has come of age, it has the new found confidence to stop following and start leading. Nowhere is this more evident than in a growing programme of cultural events that is attracting national attention, such as the maturing Derby Feste – now in its third year. And now a new addition to the local calendar is attracting national media interest. The inaugural staging of the week long Derby Gleam festival of light ended last night. I headed out on opening night to take in some of the light shows projected against local city landmarks and returned to see last nights festival finale in defiance of the near freezing fog.

Light Trail projection in The Strand
Light Trail projection in The Strand

The Cathedral Quarter light trail is attracting a diverse range of people who, like me, clutch the glossy trail guides that are being handed out around the route. I join the trail on The Strand where rural scenes are being projected against the white walls of a building. Interesting yes, but it’s a little ineffectual due to the surrounding street lighting.

Court like an Egyptian?
Court like an Egyptian?

A short stroll to the old Magistrates Court reveals a more convincing display. It’s a peaceful setting – normally this street would be deserted in the evening – and there is little light pollution. It’s tough getting any decent photos as the images scroll across the building but it works when you are there…

A courthouse projection
A courthouse projection

…although some of the images escape my understanding.

Illuminati grafitti?
Illuminati grafitti?

The strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata emanate as I walk towards the next projection against the Cathedral tower on Iron Gate. This is my favourite yet with spheres of colour gracefully rotating to good effect against this timeless structure. The music is becalming and it is striking to see young groups dressed up for a night out stop a second in temporary appreciative silence to watch before continuing onto the local pubs.

The big screen on drugs
The big screen on drugs

The Market Place has been billed as the main event tonight. The big screen has been given over to what I can only describe as a kind of Incredible Hulk hallucinatory figure. There are roaming spotlight projections against the market hall and the surrounding buildings.

Market place under the spotlight
Market place under the spotlight

Articles in the media this week have concentrated on the interactive light displays of Seeper whereby projected animations bring alive or accentuate the natural features of the targeted buildings. The building appropriately targeted here is Quad and a regular 5 minute sequence sees glowing blocks of light dance their way around the glass windows in time to a soundtrack. It’s clever stuff, if not quite as dramatic as some of the incredible displays orchestrated against other buildings to be found via the Seeper website.

The Quad comes alive
The Quad comes alive

That’s as much as I have to share with you tonight. There’s a bit more – some confusing and missing video installations down the party street otherwise known as Sadlergate, but I have devised my own liquid trail starting at the Horse & Groom so that’s your lot for tonight.

Roll on a week to the final night of Derby Gleam and the closing parade. There is a thick blanket of fog and at one point I assume it must be called off. A twitter buddy assures me it is going ahead and I head out into the cold night. There’s a lantern parade to the market place that I have missed but the climax is due at Cathedral Green so I head straight there.

Before the advent of fire...
Before the advent of fire…

The gradually thinning fog rolls over the river derwent and as people start to assemble there is a real sense of expectation. Drumming marks the arrival of a modest entourage from the market place – how these people have endured the cold for so long I have no idea. A parade float heads the procession and shivering children swing home made lanterns.

Parade float
Parade float

Attention turns to a lively display of fire twirling which takes everyone’s mind off the cold.

Playing with fire
Playing with fire

It’s impressive fare at close hand with lit batons, burning hula-hoops and (intentional?) fire breathing.

River fire display team
River fire display team

The finale of the finale is marked by a bright fizzing stream of fireworks and firecrackers.

Derby Gleam 2010 finale
Derby Gleam 2010 finale

The last embers of the firework display blink out and an evocative smell of cordite settles on the fog as the appreciative audience disperses into the night. It’s tempting to join them in some welcoming hostelry but the show isn’t over. There is the 365 day light display for those who take the time to look on a night like this…

Cathedral Green foot bridge
Cathedral Green foot bridge
Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge
Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge
Exeter Bridge over the Derwent
Exeter Bridge over the Derwent
Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?
Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?
Gleam 365 at St Marys Church
Gleam 365 at St Marys Church

So the festival is over for this year. Like any new idea it needs to evolve and to improve. Some of the events ran late, a few aspects of the light trail were a little hard to fathom or mysteriously absent but broadly there were plenty of plusses and the public embraced it. It is a work in progress, like Derby itself. There’s more and better to come.

Hitting The Peaks

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trip to the Matlock Bath illuminations. This weekend I have returned to the area to look at other facets of local life.

My visit to Matlock a couple of miles up the road from Matlock Bath is a return to an old haunt. You see I worked there for a couple of years in the 90s after leaving university but while I have since driven through on many occasions I haven’t really stopped by to refamiliarise myself with the town. Not that I have much time this Saturday afternoon but already the changes are apparent. A bypass has improved traffic flow through the centre and a new Sainsburies now sits dwarfed in the shadow of an imposing limestone cliff face that is typical of this area of the Derbyshire peak district. I know that the building of the supermarket has been controversial but visually at least it sits in contrast to the surrounding landscape and in fact serves to emphasise it.

Bank Road ascends Matlock
Bank Road ascends Matlock

I’m a little disappointed by the number of charity shops in the streets (perhaps a consequence of the supermarket stealing local business?) and they seem ill suited for such a stately town with its rich history of affluent 19th century spa tourists and grand Victorian era buildings hewn from local stone. The steep arterial Bank Road climbs skyward past the grandiose county offices in Smedley Street towards the restored hunting lodge at the summit. In my previous existence as a council employee I worked in an historically interesting converted hydro spa nearby and at the time this hunting lodge was a derelict building, home to squatters and substance abusers, so some things have changed for the good since then.

This after all is Matlock, continuously evolving and moving with the times sometimes leading the way and sometimes following the trends. I would love to know more of its history, about the industrial times, about the long departed cable tramway inspired by San Francisco’s cable drawn cars that first ran up Bank Street almost 120 years ago. Not today though as I have an appointment at the other end of the cultural spectrum.

Matlock Town FC – aka “The Gladiators” – have been in existence for over 130 years and their Causeway Lane ground occupies a prime location in the heart of the town. I wanted to reconnect with the matchday experience at a community club at a time when football clubs at all levels are labouring under dark financial clouds. Earlier this month Ilkeston Town FC down the road was wound up, while the fiscal woes of the big boys at Portsmouth, Sheffield Wednesday, Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Manchester United, etc have been well documented.

Non-league charm
Non-league charm

This feels like “proper football” and it’s clear that good things lie in store as I approach the turnstiles. The ground consists of an old covered stand that runs the length of the pitch plus a newer squat but loftier stand on the opposing side. There’s a healthy crowd of perhaps 300 here for today’s cup clash with Bedworth and a new club house in the throes of construction suggests that the finances here at least are in order. Best of all there is a very reasonably priced club café doing a brisk trade in pie and peas plus hot drinks. All part of the match day routine for the faithful. Oh – and did I mention the view? Riber Castle watches from on high in the distance beyond the eastern end goal mouth.

Riber castle overlooking Causeway Lane
Riber castle overlooking Causeway Lane

And then there’s the game itself – almost the icing on the cake it seems. It is played with zip and commitment with the home side perhaps a little fortunate to go in 2 goals up at half time. It is the intimacy that I love about football at this level. At times there is almost no line between the players and the fans. Friends and relatives shout encouragement and everyone is on first name terms. The players are all local lads – there are no egos, flash cars or celebrity WAGs, just endeavour and pride.

MTFC in the blue vs Bedworth in green
MTFC in the blue vs Bedworth in green

Without any warning the second half evolves into an “I was there” moment as the home side, pumped full of confidence, destroy Bedworth in an amazing 10-0 rout. It’s a fine all round performance with battles won all over the park but today can only be about one man – striker Ross Hannah who scores an incredible 7 (SEVEN) of the goals in a display of clinical tenacity. It’s the performance of a lifetime and at the final whistle Ross modestly smiles and applauds the crowd as they stand to cheer him off the pitch.

Ross Hannah strikes again
Ross Hannah strikes again

Needless to say I’ve had a great time and can thoroughly recommend a visit to see the Gladiators in action with an obligatory visit to the pie & pea counter. The only concern for me now as I anticipate the evening is whether the day has peaked too soon.

Bonsall. A deceptively large village in the hills overlooking Matlock and tonights destination of choice. In defiance of the “Road Closed” sign I approach the village from Via Gellia and head straight to the Barley Mow. I have been here a couple of times before but tonight I fulfil the promise I made to myself to come for the evening and stay over.

Barley Mow
Barley Mow

It is rather smaller inside than it looks from the front but at 6pm there are few about. There’s a tempting array of real ales on tap including award winning 5.9% Jaipur and Blue Monkey Evolution but landlord Dave persuades me to try the Binge Oil – an extremely rare ale from Abbeydale Brewery in Sheffield which is down to the last few pints. This turns out to be good advice as it’s a delightful refreshing beer and a bit different to the norm.

Bar heaven
Bar heaven

There’s a brief interlude as my B&B landlord Steve pops by to introduce himself and I follow him up the road to Hollybank to leave my bag and get a key. I can really recommend this place as it offers high spec lodgings in a great location, not to mention a friendly welome. Soon I’m back at the pub for a marvellous home cooked pie and another brew. Aside from the quality real ales, food, hospitality and charm, the pub is renown for its World Championship Hen Racing, UFO sightings and a regular stream of cultural happenings, including live music. There’s life in these hills.

Dave and Colette, who is serving behind the bar tonight, are very excited about tonight’s performer – Kris Dollimore, slide blues guitarist. The expectation is truly exceeded as Kris plays 3 sublime half hour sets to a comfortably full gathering of reverential listeners. Live music of any genre is all about performance and the passion, soul and virtuosity we have seen tonight from Kris will be remembered and cherished for a long time by those fortunate to be present.

Kris Dollimore
Kris Dollimore

With gritty, raw yet skilful and subtle reflections of Robert Johnson and Johnny Lee Hooker it’s hard to believe that he hails from the home counties and not the southern states. After the gig I caught up with Kris and was amazed to learn that he had driven all the way from his new home in Polperro Cornwall for tonight’s intimate performance, a fact made all the more impressive given his notable stature in blues circles at home and especially abroad. He says he really enjoyed playing tonight for such an appreciative audience at this unique venue.

Kris with a fawning fan
Kris with a fawning fan

My second “I was there” experience in one day makes for a happy 200 yard stroll up hill to Hollybank in the cold pitch black night.

It’s a treat waking up to find a stranger has cooked you a full English breakfast. I sit at the table leafing through a fascinating history of Bonsall as documented in a local history publication. Somebody has gone to great lengths to chart the lengthy history of the village. How did they find out for instance that the Rector of Bonsall in 1304 was John de Brentingham?

Time to walk off breakfast and it’s nice to look out and discover a blue cloudless sky. There was meant to be a frost but perhaps that came and went while I was scoffing sausages. There’s a definite chill in the air but nothing the brisk walk uphill through the churchyard won’t ward against.

Bonsall churchyard
Bonsall churchyard

The Sunday morning bells chime out and I wonder how different the scene was 700 years ago under the auspices of John de Brentingham.

Church window
Church window

A road continues uphill and there is nothing to hear except birdsong and the receding church bells. I chose this walk on the basis that it looked straightforward and because the elevation should make for fine views over the Derwent valley. It is becoming apparent that I’m going to be spending a lot of time on woodland paths with little view at all but at this time of year that is little sacrifice.

If you go into the woods today...
If you go into the woods today…

The seasonal golden browns and greens are accentuated by the morning shafts of sunlight to uplifting effect.

Canopy of colour
Canopy of colour

Eventually the path clears as I traverse the Heights of Abraham and there is finally a view over hewn chasm to Riber castle. The cable cars are in operation today and it occurs to me that I still haven’t been on them after all these years.

Riber, cliffs and cable car above Matlock Bath
Riber, cliffs and cable car above Matlock Bath

The path returns to rural serenity and the leaves carpet my way again crunching crisply underfoot. When it rains this will turn into slippery mush of foliage so I have been lucky today.

Follow the golden brown road
Follow the golden brown road

On a walk like this there are so many things to stop and look at. Ancient stone walls are rendered with thick moss, delicate wild flowers clinging to tiny crevices. Boundary stiles mark passage from field to field. The occasional stone cottage sits isolated along some sleepy single track road trapped in a bubble a dream away from the rest of the world. There are spring wells, gnarled stone gate posts, hedgerow nests and a million things to break your stride.

Not for drinking
Not for drinking

Such is my pre-occupation with the minutiae of this walk that I have become distracted and my descent back into Bonsall is greeted by a sign saying “Welcome to Snitterton”. Oops. I have walked a mile too far north down into a valley. It’s not an unwelcome detour as I get to catch a glimpse of Snitterton Hall which would make an ideal film set with it’s high walled gardens and colossal boundary hedges. There must be something exciting within these boundaries – a secret garden of some sort.

The climb back up hill takes me past a cave at Jug Holes that also has an air of mystery about it. The opening suggests an extensive cave system but I’m not inclined to find out today.

Cave at Jug Holes
Cave at Jug Holes

Finally after 8 miles rather than 6 I’m greeted back into Bonsall by the tall medieval market cross inscribed by the date 1687. The walk has been easy going with a mix of terrain and viewing interest.

Bonsall cross
Bonsall cross

I downloaded it from t’net and also traced the route with an O/S map which was only useful when I found myself in the wrong place. Sunday lunch is available from the Barley Mow & the Kings Head but it’s not for me – I’m about quits now after the dietary treats of last night & this morning. Home for autumnal soup methinks. And the laundry. And ironing. In fact my house really needs a tidy. Perhaps there’s a vacancy again at Hollybank tonight…

Everything is Illuminated

Derbyshire. Landlocked. In fact the best part of 100 miles from the nearest coastline. Despite this fact, or maybe because of it, my home county boasts it’s own unique waterfront attraction Matlock Bath.

Known locally as Matlock By The Sea this popular destination has much in common with the archetypal British seaside resort. Weekend crowds swell the population as young families mingle with leather clad legions of bikers, drawn into the town along the adrenaline soaked tarmac of the A6 that snakes it’s way along the beautiful Derwent Valley. For the sea there is the river Derwent. In place of a coastal vista there are towering limestone cliffs that dominate the skyline. The promenade is replaced by the under-cliff footpath, while the infamous “Pav”ilion plays stand in to a pier. Throw in the 10 or so chip shops crammed together along the 200 yard North Parade, sprinkle in a few tourist tat shops and garnish with amusement arcades and you have an inland seaside resort, of sorts.

The small town has a long and notable history. Sir Richard Arkwright built Masson Mill here at the inception of the industrial revolution. Wealthy Victorians travelled from far and wide to visit the “healing” spa waters. The echoes of Victoriana remain visible to this day in the local architecture but the last 40 years have seen a major shift towards popularist tourism with the addition of Gullivers Kingdom theme park and the installation of a cable car.

My visit has nothing to do with any of this. I’m here to see the famous Matlock Bath Illuminations, conceived in 1897 as a candlelit procession to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and held every year since. My mission is to do the whole shooting match short of getting a tattoo.

The train from Derby to Matlock consists of one old carriage that has never been cleaned before. This local service takes 30 minutes and the stops ring off the tongue – Duffield, Belper, Ambergate, Whatstandwell, Cromford and then Matlock Bath. On arrival I want to get a view of the town before dusk and this means yomping up the hill. Any road here other than the arterial A6 is guaranteed to be steep (as in cut-off-in-winter steep) and this road is no exception.

The roads here are steep
The roads here are steep

The views make it all worth while. It looks relatively quiet down below and I’m guessing many people have decided not to risk the weather tonight. The Victorian rooftops overlook the town and with chimneys gently puffing out white smoke I can imagine an almost unchanged scene 100 years ago.

A view over Matlock Bath before the sun sets
A view over Matlock Bath before the sun sets

The aroma of Fish and Chips is strong even at this distance, drifting on a light summer breeze that already carries the chill of autumn, just days away. Anyway, that’s enough dreamy flannel. I’ve got tourist things to do and what better start than a desperately required pint of Everards Tiger at The Fishpond, best known for it’s music line up and well kept ale (just don’t even dream of eating there).

Yours truly with a pint of Tiger outside The Fishpond
Yours truly with a pint of Tiger outside The Fishpond

There is almost literally only one choice of food in this town as it must have one chippy for every three residents. The only choice is which place to go to. I’m not that hungry so opt for £3 mini fish, chips & peas. They’ve run out of peas so the nice girl behind the fryer serves up beans plus double amounts of fish & chips to compensate. Lordy…

A "small" portion of fish and chips apparently
A \”small\” portion of fish and chips apparently

OMG – I can barely move after that. A podged waddle down the street is scant response to this cholesterol overload but at least I get to dabble with the slots.

Oh I do like to be beside the Derwent
Oh I do like to be beside the Derwent

It’s turning dark now and the smells, sights and sounds are just beginning to awaken the senses in an anticipatory way. If you have kids this is the time when they will start get excited, to realise that they are staying out late and doing something a little special.

They serve chips too
They serve chips too

Anyway, the show is about to get on the road, or river at least. You see the static illuminations are on show every night but tonight’s parade of illuminated river floats kicks off at 8pm so I need to find a decent spot to watch from.

Static illuminations
Static illuminations

I pass a very small fair of sorts plus a band playing in the bandstand on the way to the river. You can watch from the far bank or if you are early enough from the footbridge, despite the tannoy announcer wearily asking people not to stand still here. The scene is set for the parade to begin.

The scene is set
The scene is set

The floats are all designed by members of the Matlock Bath Venetian Boat Builders Association who have gone to great lengths to design and construct their craft. They slowly circle a length of river giving everyone a chance to see.

Anamatronic butterfly
Anamatronic butterfly

Each float is effectively a rowing boat with a superstructure decked out with lights and powered by car batteries. Some of the floats also play appropriate music.

Ghostbusters!
Ghostbusters!

In the dark it’s all very effective. Most of the floats are powered by oar but a couple have small outboards.

Pagoda
Pagoda

Most of the designs incorporate some sort of movement, with turning wheels, flapping wings, or in the case of santa moving reindeer legs.

Santa is early
Santa is early

There is a prize – the Arkwright Cup, donated by Sir Richard Arkwright in 1903 – for the best float. Another tradition is the inclusion of one candle lit float as a nod to the origins of this parade.

Toot Toot!
Toot Toot!

It’s getting cold and I have given up trying to get any really decent shots of the floats as you need a long exposure and the damn things keep floating off down the river making for blurred images. Just time for a warming pint of Jennings Snecklifter at The County Station before my night train home. All in all it’s been a bit of fun.

Thinking of going?
The static riverside illuminations run this year from September 4th to October 30th and, if I’m honest, are modest to say the least. The illuminated boat parade only takes place on Saturdays and Sundays during this period and I would strongly recommend you come at the weekend. In addition there are firework displays on Saturdays 2nd, 16th and 30th October this year. Click here for all of the details.

I took the train which not only enables you to avoid the heavy traffic but entitles you to 20% discount on admission (£4 adults, children free). As a final tip, pick up your tickets from the booth behind the pavilion as soon as you arrive so you can walk straight past the queue that builds up in the lead-up to the boat procession at 8pm.