New Year in The Peaks – frost, Eyam, walks, dinners

First time in the Peak District – we stayed in the relatively gentle White Peak area, limestone lumps surrounded by two fingers of gritstone which reach down from the Dark Peak region where the big stuff is. We stayed near the small stuff because we didn’t run out of interesting walks. It was frosty for most of the week – unbelievably beautiful.

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We (12 adults, 5 young children and two small dogs) stayed at Haddon Grove Farm Cottages just outside Bakewell between the Bull’s Head at Monyash and the Lathkill Hotel at Over Haddon. I’d recommend them for a place to stay – cleverly converted stone barns with built-in cupboards providing a lot of insulation (noticeably colder inside them) and separate bathrooms and toilets which were so much more sensible than wasteful en suites. It was good have a decent amount of cupboard space. If you turned a blind eye to a few pieces of MFI-type furniture, the cottages also looked very winsome. The pictures on the wall were of things you actually wanted to look at, the floors were covered in nice carpets, rugs and laminates, and the former farmyard was prettily landscaped. There was also a safe play-area for the children with grass, rope swings and a slide. Returning to my favourite theme, staying warm, I loved the high wall-mounted fan heater in the bathroom – our bathroom had three outside walls and it was the single thing which stood between me and staying dirty. I could have done with a harder bed but appreciated the cushions and kitchen chair pads, the plentiful hooks and rails, the many tea-towels, the half doors, the draft excluder, clock radio, heaters and the task lights.

At night we drank and played games and in the day those of us who weren’t looking after children went walking on circular routes picked from the trusty, well-designed Jarrold Pathfinder Guide for the Peak District. Perhaps the most gorgeous – of all time, in fact – was The Roaches and Lud’s Church. The Roaches are one of those fingers of gritstone encircling the White Peak. That day it was minus two, foggy and yet bright and incredibly still. Our breath froze in our hair as we stepped through it and the water in my bottle had begun to ice over by dusk when we got back. Here are some pictures of the gritstone ridge.

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That day it happened that the dads came along while the mums took the children to Bakewell. Just by way of background, Matt went to university with everybody except me and a couple of the dads. I went to school with one of the mums who introduced me to Matt. We’ve been going away together for New Year since 2000 and have no plans to stop, although the children might have other ideas.

The day before some of us had walked in the hills round Eyam, the village most famous for its inhabitants’ collective act of self-sacrifice when plague broke out there in 1665. Importuned by their rector they agreed to quarantine themselves to prevent the infection from spreading in the North of England which had so far escaped the ravages the population of London was experiencing. For eighteen months the villagers remained isolated and steadily dying. Supplies were left for them at the parish boundaries and paid for with money they ‘sterilised’ in vinegar in the same location. Not only were they isolated from the rest of Derbyshire, they were also terrified of infecting each other and, avoiding enclosed spaces, used to worship in the valley of Cucklett Delf. Nevertheless, plague wiped out 260 villagers – not far off a third of Eyam’s population.

I was in a school production of Don Taylor’s The Roses of Eyam when I was twelve and vividly remember the sense of doom and captivity. I wonder how today’s residents feel about living in a place best known as “Eyam, plague village”. Commemorations to the dead appear in front of many of the houses – here a family of twelve lost their lives in the space of a year, here six members of another family with the father and two small children dying on the same day. It’s terrible to think about the ones who nursed their entire family as they perished in agony and ultimately fell ill and died themselves in an empty home without a loved one to comfort them. Thankfully – and we know this because they isolated themselves – some of the villagers were immune to the plague, or recovered, and so were able to care for those who had nobody left. A number of today’s villagers can trace their ancestry back to such surivors. There’s a museum we didn’t have a chance to visit – I’d like to go back.

Another open air place of worship we encountered beyond the Roaches was the aforementioned Lud’s Church – a deep chasm lined with velvetty emerald mosses and that day strewn with icicles, where local Lollards – heretics – worshipped in secret in the early 1400s. The Peaks are captivating – if you were a believer I’m sure you could feel very close to God practically anywhere there among the primordial rocks, hills and gullies bursting with trees.

New Year’s Eve itself was fun. After the religious respectfulness of the previous paragraphs I should probably pass over it. This year’s theme was the nativity.

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We had an Indian takeaway …

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… and played all the stupid games we usually play which crease us up, like squeak piggy squeak and the after eight game.

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There’s much more to tell but I’d better stop. Suffice to say that apart from the deep pleasure of returning to work, I’m sorry it’s over.

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