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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…which is probably why the paved path doesn’t last for long…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
The sun greets my first sight of the moor and the signs are good. There’s heather and it’s purple!
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.
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…
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
The mood changes as I begin to notice all of the woodwork being applied to shop-fronts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A contingent of fluorescent Shrovetide Marshals lead a procession of VIPs through the streets amidst a small crowd of competitors and photographers, me included.
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.
Gone are the shoppers and cars of this morning. In their place await thousands of people all jostling for a view of proceedings.
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.
Few folks have the luxury of a window view.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
The sheep are less timid. They are everywhere and quite oblivious to any notion of danger.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
Land here has been farmed for many generations. I see several mostly disused outbuildings is a generally poor state of repair.
Once again this region is serving up a great variety of scenery over just a short walk.
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.
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.
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…
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.
There are few external clues of the building’s former use beyond the inscription above the side entrance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The room may still be a work in progress but you can see that it’s going to be magnificent.
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.
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…
…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.
The gloomy and oppressive cell corridor feels a million miles from the bright and airy office space upstairs.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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.
Through hard work by the volunteers the balconies have now been removed although the bar still remains.
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.
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.
The light streams through these large windows to reveal many old or original features in varying conditions, like the magnificent iron radiators.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beyond the hall roof I can see the Heights Of Abraham.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Acknowledgements to Save The Pavilion Ltd for much of the above information and thank you to all concerned for the presentation, guided tour and ongoing efforts to make the Grand Pavilion great again.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!