50 things to see, do, eat and experience in Derbyshire, UK
Having lived in Australia for 4 years now as a temporary resident and having only been ‘home’ once in those 4 years I am starting to get pangs of homesickness for the things I miss. To overcome the mourning for things like watching live Saturday afternoon 1–1 draws at the football in driving rain or the ability to buy a proper portion of freshly made fish and chips, where the chips are hand cut and you don’t get a strange look when you ask for extra ‘bits’ and salt and vinegar on top, I have taken to adopting local customs. For example I support the Adelaide Crows who play the fast paced and action packed Aussie Rules Football or go out to brunch at weekends where quinoa and rocket leaves are more prominent than bacon and eggs. Though enjoyable it’s not the same and you realise that there are some things that just cannot be replaced.
It’s strange, but true, that when you do live abroad, become an expat, you realise how much you didn’t see or experience of your own town or country whilst you lived there. You look back and think I never did that, went there or wish I’d done more of that when I lived just round the corner and with increasing use of social media this #FOMO is growing. Many Australians at some point in their life will do the big ‘Europe’ trip and this will often include a few days in the UK. When asked you dutifully tell them all the great places they should visit, places you long for, places you missed out on. However when they say they are visiting the UK what they actually mean is they have a 3–4 day layover in London where they stay and never see what else this great country has to offer but it gets you thinking, what am I missing.
Now I was not born in Derbyshire but I spent most of my childhood, teenage years and subsequently a few of my ‘professional’ years living, working and playing is this wonderful and very historic county so do call it ‘home’. When people ask where do you come from I will often reply Chesterfield, Derbyshire… the one with the Crooked Spire. But I look back and realise even though I enjoyed Derbyshire in my ‘growing up’ years there is still a lot more to do and go back and do as an adult. Amazing things to see, do, eat and experience in a county only a few hours north of London yet often missed by the regular traveler. So I compiled a list of my top 50 (in no particular order) things to get you excited about Derbyshire, the true heart of England (no seriously look at its shape on a map) so that hopefully it will inspire you to visit whether your reading this as an international traveler going beyond London or you’re British and getting out and about in your own backyard before you miss it.
1. Visit Chesterfield on market day, specifically a Thursday when its flea market day and experience the thrill of finding an old Panini Sticker from 1988 for 50p. A market town since 1204 the fruit and veg stalls still shout out ‘How much for my Plums?!’
2. Staying in Chesterfield you cannot miss the Crooked Spire. An iconic church and its steeple that due to the ‘Devil’… is twisted and can be seen so for miles around.
3. Chesterfield has a pretty cool footballing history. Up until a few years ago the ‘Spireites’ -Chesterfield FC played at one of the oldest grounds in England known as Saltergate. The Recreation Ground has now been replaced by the B2Net Stadium just out of the town. Staying with football did you know Chesterfield seems to spawn goalkeeping greats? Both John Lukic and Bob Wilson were born in Chesterfield and the great World Cup winning keeper of 66, Gordon Banks, started as an apprentice with Chesterfield.
4. Continuing with famous people you could try and spot in Chesterfield (well they were born there but may not live there anymore) — John Lowe (Darts), Jason Statham (Actor), Jo Guest (P3 stunner from the 90s), Phil Taylor (Motorhead drummer), Paul Burrell (Princess Diana’s Butler) and John Hurt (actor) the War Doctor from Doctor Who.
5. George Stephenson renowned as being the “Father of Railways” spent the winter years of his life in Chesterfield and Derbyshire finishing off the North Midland railway. He now rests in peace in Chesterfield and a number of buildings and streets in the town bear his name. Legend has it that “The Rocket” is buried beneath the altar of Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield.
6. Florence Nightingales family home was at Lea Hurst, near Matlock and even though not born in the county is celebrated with numerous statues and buildings in Derby dedicated to her.
7. Olave Baden-Powell was born in Chesterfield and lived on a local estate called Stubbing Court. Olave’s husband was Robert, founder of the Scouts, and herself was Chief Guide for most of her later years.
8. Derbyshire and politics almost go hand in hand though often not quietly. One of Labours longest serving female politicians Barbara Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn was born in Chesterfield. Labour MP for 50 Years and Anti War Campaigner, Tony Benn was MP for Chesterfield for 17 years and who can forget ‘the Beast of Bolsover’, ex-miner, ex-NUM leader and all round Royal heckler Dennis Skinner was born in Clay Cross and has been MP for Bolsover since 1970. Other political connections include Edwina Currie (still resident) and Margaret Beckett (MP Derby South)
9. Want to see where firebrand Dennis Skinner and I were educated, visit Tupton Hall School… (Though current School was built around 2001). Others schooled there include TV actor Ben Miles and stage actress Savannah Stevenson.
10. Matlock — Former Victorian spa town, county town and home of Derbyshire County Council this town has some amazing Victorian buildings, many used by the council as County Hall. Home of designer label John Smedley and YHA UK.
11. Bakewell — Pudding not tart… tart is a touristy southern concoction that Mr Kipling has forced in our mouth. Visit the beautiful town of Bakewell and try some traditional stuff at the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop.
12. Chatsworth House — Probably the best kept privately run stately home in the UK with amazing gardens, fountains, parklands and of course the big pile the Cavendish family call home. It’s quite probably you will bump in to the Duke or Duchess of Devonshire on a visit as they are always about. Recently seen as the horsey ladies home in the BBCs Peaky Blinders. Visit in September for the popular annual Country Fair. Just don’t forget your Hunter wellies.
13. Hardwick Estate — National Trust maintain this grand estate once home to the 2nd most powerful woman in Elizabethan England, Bess of Hardwick. Visit the new and old halls and if you have money even stay in East Lodge of the old hall which was once my actual teenage home. The new hall known locally as ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall’ was also home to the Malfoy’s in the Harry Potter films, though dressed with trickery.
14. Whilst at Hardwick you have to visit the Hardwick Inn one of Derbyshire’s best kept Elizabethan Inns and probably the best Sausage and chips you will ever eat.
15. 1 mile out from Hardwick is Ault Hucknell. At Ault Hucknell Church you will find the grave of 16th century Political Philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Author of Leviathan and teacher to Bess’s children, I believe Mr Hobbes still haunts the long gallery in the new hall… trust me I felt his presence whilst working there!
16. Castleton and Peveril Castle — Castleton is home to Speedwell Cavern a show cave with some of the best Stalactites and Stalagmites you will see but also Peveril Castle a Norman Conquest castle overlooking the Peak District.
17. Bolsover — Famous for the ‘Beast’, Dennis Skinner who I mentioned above, Bolsover is very much a mining town of old. It has a model village, referring to the fact that the lower part of the town was a planned village by the mining company. Originally it was another Cavendish family strong hold and this is shown by the most magnificent castle with large riding school built by the Duke of Newcastle now open to the public by English Heritage.
18. Cromford — home of the start of the Industrial Revolution, Richard Arkwright used fast flowing streams to power his factories and built Cromford as a workers village. Homes with workrooms in the attic so his workers could literally take their work home with them. Visit some of his early factories which still stand.
19. Blue John — Derbyshire’s very own gem stone, a form of fluorite mined only in the county. Buy some of the stone from the Blue John Cavern or in jewelry from local shops.
20. Heights of Abraham — A cable car and cave attraction in Matlock Bath, even the Olympic torch rode the cable cars in recent years.
21. The Derwent Reservoir — The Derwent reservoir was used by the RAF’s Dambusters 617 Squadron to practice its low flying and use of Barnes Wallis’s famous bouncing bomb. Visit and pretend to be a Lancaster bomber… The Ladybower Reservoir which is fed by the Derwent and not as famous as its sister is still worth a visit for its strange L shape but also if the summer is hot and the water low, the eerie appearance of the villages, including ringing church bell, that were flooded to make way for the dam.
22. Stainsby Folk Festival — who needs Glastonbury when you have Stainsby?? Almost a rite of passage for teenage North Derbyshire folk the festival takes place normally on the final weekend of the School summer term in July and marks the start of summer holidays for many. Great British folk music, real ale and well other things that happen at festivals all in 3 small fields near the M1, Jct29.
23. Little John — reputedly a Derbyshire boy, John was Robin Hood’s right hand man and is buried in St Michael’s Church graveyard, Hathersage.
24. Plague stones at Eyam — Eyam was hit by the Plague in 1665 and chose to isolate itself from the world. Some say only a ¼ of the village survived. Setting up boundary stones around the village, at least one stone still remains, the stones are where coins soaked in vinegar to kill infection would be left in exchange for food and medicine.
25. Kinder Scout — Derbyshire’s highest peak. Hike up and reach the large plateau on top and on a good day you can see as far as Manchester and Bolton. Watch you don’t trip over the plane wreckage's of a number of crashed planes that miss judged the peak, often in fog.
26. Thorpe Cloud an isolated limestone hill which dominates the skyline of Dovedale and worth a trek for the amazing 360 views.
27. Ilam Hall — Probably one of the best YHAs in the UK, the old hall is also a National Trust site and once a Tudor house and site of a Benedictine Abby.
28. Haddon Hall — a seat of the Duke of Rutland this place has been in more Hollywood films and TV shows than you’ve had hot dinners…
29. The Pennine Way — The Pennine way, one of the UKs great walking trials starts in Edale and heads North.
30. Buxton — originally a Roman and then Victorian spa town. It has a Crescent of houses similar to Bath and you can still bottle your water from a free Buxton water spring.
31. Of course whilst there you can also buy a bottle of the famously branded Buxton Spring Water.
32. Royston Vasey — Fans of the ‘League of Gentleman’ will know all about the ‘locals’ that inhabit Royston Vasey but did you know that Royston Vasey is actually Hadfield in the High Peak. Just be careful if you buy your sausages from J W Mettrick and Son’s Butcher shop, it was the shop portrayed in the TV series of alternative butcher, Hilary Briss!
33. Mary Queen of Scots jailer was the 4th husband to Bess of Hardwick (mentioned in no. 13) and when under house arrest is rumored to have spent time in many of Derbyshire’s famous spots including Hardwick Hall, Chatsworth, Buxton and Wingfield Manor. Wingfield is now a ruin and was used in the 90s film Jane Eyre.
34. Stilton Cheese — even though Stilton is in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire is one of on 3 counties (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire) under European law, made according to a strict code that may call its blue vein cheese “Stilton”. Visit the town of Hartington for a try.
35. So sticking with food who loves ‘Love Hearts’ and Drumstick lollies from their childhood… that’s right they are made by Swizzles Matlow of Derbyshire.
36. Sweets again and this time Chocolate. Derbyshire is now home of Thornton’s, which until recently, was the largest independent chocolate and confectionery company in the United Kingdom. Now owned by Ferrero, it has great fudge, make sure you buy some.
37. Denby Pottery — If you want a nice dinner set then this is where to get proper English pottery. A factory shop and museum can be found just outside Derby.
38. Royal Crown Derby — on the same theme but feeling a bit more flush buy some Crown Derby. The oldest remaining English porcelain manufacturer in England they recently designed a dinner service for the newest Royal couple.
39. Derby is a city with a cathedral but not originally a cathedral city. Burial place of Bess of Hardwick, home of Derby County FC (the Rams) and was very much at the heart of the industrial revolution with many original mills still visible today. Home of Bonnie Prince Charlies retreat after an attempt to seize the crown in 1745, Derby oozes with history.
40. Rolls Royce (engines) — Famously based in Derby. Originally home of the Cars, the factory now specialises in large jet engines for military and commercial planes. Controversially the factory also builds nuclear reactor cores for military submarines. I played hockey for them.
41. Derby is home to Lara Croft… well the company that made the Tomb Raider game. A new section of the inner ring road is named after her.
42. Derby Arboretum — the first public park in the country and is thought to have been one of the inspirations for Central Park in New York. It is still quite a nice park but now seems to draw some salubrious characters from its surrounding poor suburbs.
43. Love this one — Derby’s Bold Lane Car Park has been listed as one of the most secure places in the world…(source Wikipedia so you know pinch of salt and all that) not being funny but how many National Bank vaults in the world are now quaking in their boots!
44. The drive from Derby to Matlock is well worth the 45 minutes as it will take you past Victorian mills, beautiful canals and probably the most the landlocked village in England, Whatstandwell, which is home of Ellen Macarthur the fastest woman to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a yacht.
45. Ashbourne — each Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday Ashbourne is the scene of a very famous football game. The tough, kind of a free for all match with goals three miles apart can last for days between two halves of the town. Its origins are believed by some to be medieval and the rules state murder and manslaughter is prohibited.
46. Derbyshire’s Stonehenge — Arbor Low is a Neolithic henge monument atmospherically set amid high moorland. Made up of 50 limestone slabs, all now fallen, would this have been the Stonehenge of the North?
47. Alcopop Vodka Kick or VK is from Chesterfield… quaff one at the local Wetherspoons
48. Derbyshire is famous for its Well Dressings a custom dating back to the 14th Century and probably the Black Death when the purity of water was celebrated as a saviour in Derbyshire villages. Each year villages around Derbyshire will dress their local well with bright pictures made of fresh flowers. Visit around May/June to see them.
49. As your travelling, whilst in Derbyshire, you could visit a Thomas Cook travel agents and book your next visit after all the Thomas Cook in the shops name was born in Melbourne, Derbyshire and is seen as the father of modern paid travel excursions.
50. And finally no visit to Derbyshire is complete without a visit to the Peak District. Either the lower lying White Peak or the limestone hills of the Dark Peak. Highlights include Dovedale and its stepping stones, Mam Tor home of 4 show caves, trails such as Tissington and one of the UKs most dangerous roads, Snake Pass. Just go for a walk, you won’t regret it.
Which ever season you choose to visit Derbyshire you’ll never fail to find something to see or do whether it be food festivals, music, country shows or sport and what’s more if you live in the UK its right on your doorstep. Think of any more add them in the comments. So when you going??
Author: Andrew Coulson, Adelaide