National Park. It was a long drive so our tour guide made it abundantly clear, “If. You. Need. To. Stop. Speak Up.” Every word was a sentence, but we didn’t have to make any unplanned stops thankfully. Our first stop of the day was at Buxton. Buxton is known as
the capital of the Peak District. The town had its beginnings with a spring. The natural spring attracted settlers and one group was the Romans. The Romans founded copper mines in the Peaks and out of those mines came a precious stone, Blue John. Today Blue John is extremely hard to get a hold of because there is only one strain left. At Buxton, the Duke of Devonshire in the 18th century, decided to make the town into THE spa town, and modeled it after Bath. There are replicas of the Royal Crescent, Victoria Park, and the Roman Baths within the town. But what many tourists and locals like to do when visiting is to fill up water bottles at the St. Ann’s Well.
Ann was a sickly girl who had an incurable disease. On the day that she was sure to die she
dragged herself out of her bed and to the spring. There she drank the water and had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and boom! She was cured. She became a saint and the spring became famous and people traveled from all over to taste its waters. The water is refreshing and has a clear, fresh taste with little minerals. It was also free, so much better than buying the same Buxton water in a prepacked bottle for a few quid.
We then headed further into the Peaks. The Peak District was once a hunting ground in the times of the Saxons, but when the Normans took over they made the Forest Laws. Hunting was now only for the aristocracy and not the common man. If caught poaching you would lose a hand, or if they were in a bad mood and found your hunting as an act of treason your head would roll. Of course this didn’t stop the people from hunting. They created the Greenman. The Greenman belongs to the realm of feary; he is constructed out of leaves and has a long beard. The people spread the story of the Greenman who would protect the land and would grow angry at any who trespassed. They then hung wood chimes on branches and when Norman soldiers heard them they would start to panic because that Greenman had come. This is the Forest of the Peaks. In 1227 the Forest Acts were revised, and they helped to inspire tales of Robin Hood. In fact Sherwood Forest is located in the Peak District.
We then stopped in the small village of Castleton. Castleton maybe small but it is filled with history and natural beauty. There in the Forest of the Peaks lays the ruins of Peveril Castle, the Castle of the High Peaks, which rises high above the village on a steep ridge. The castle was first constructed in the 11th century and the thick curtain walls made an effective defense. However later generations mainly used the castle for ceremonies, residence, meetings for local government and later it used as a favorite hunting lodge for kings. The backside of the castle is a ravine. A small line of water trickles through it and leads to Dale Cave. It also is a grazing area for sheep so I was able to get up close and personal. To the right of the castle is Peak Cavern. Peak Cavern was once a reef millions of years ago, and the entrance to the cavern is truly impressive. When you think of a large cave the first image to come to mind is probably a large hole on the side of a rock wall, and that is exactly what the entrance is. A underground river runs through the cave and down to the village. Today the cave is used as a concert and party venue and filming location.
The next location we visited was the Plague Village, Eyam. The Bubonic Plague is one of the most devastating epidemics in history. It was spread from animals to humans, humans to humans, humans to animals and all by a tiny flea. The outbreak in London resulted in over a hundred thousand deaths. The people living in the countryside believed that they were safe. They kept to themselves and chased strangers out. But at Eyam the plague still found a way in. It started off in what is now known as plague cottage. In the cottage lived Widow
Cooper, her two sons, and George Viccars a tailor who was lodging with them. Not knowing what the implications of his actions would bring, George ordered cloth from London where the plague was raging out of control. The cloth was damp on arrival so he put in front of a warm fire to dry and the dormant germs came alive. A few days later George came down with a strange fever and soon passed on. No suspicions were aroused until fifteen days later when Widow Cooper’s son died followed by near neighbors. Opposite the Cooper cottage was the Sydall family who lost seven members. The village was terrified. Some families fled and took refuge outside the area of contamination. But a hero would arise from Eyam. William Mopesson, the local Rector, decided to quarantine the village so that the plague would not spread elsewhere. The boundaries were declared: to the north a natural spring now known as Mompesson’s Well and to the south a large boulder on a hilltop. William wrote to the Early of Derbyshire for help. The Earl himself arranged for food and medication to be left at boundary points. With goods that villagers had to pay for, they would disinfect their money with vinegar and leave it at the appointed spot. To help stop the spread of the deadly plague William and his wife helped to treat victims and closed the church and held services outdoors.
William begged for his family to leave and seek sanctuary in a nearby town, but his wife refused to go. They sent their children off to safety and his wife, Catherine, continued to work by his side. Tragically one day she contracted the symptoms and died two days later. William bravely continued on and worked tirelessly to save the village. Many tragic tales like this abounded in the village. The churchyard ran out of room to bury the dead so that villagers had to result to burying family members in their gardens or even within their homes. After many casualties the village was free of the plague and today it is one of the most visited parishes in England and every year on the last Sunday of August a service is held to remember all those who lost their lives to the plague.
The last and main stop of the day before we reached Lincoln was Chatsworth Estate. Chatsworth is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has seen 16 generations, a history expanding over 500 years. The estate was acquired by the Cavendish family in 1549. Sir William Cavendish, was one of Henry VIII’s commissioners during the Reformation, along with his young wife Bess of Hardwick sold the estates given to him by the Crown and bought land in Derbyshire near Bess’s childhood home. Thus they began the project of building an ambitious new house. Around the Elizabethan house was a central courtyard with a great tower, great hall, and chapel. Later William and Bess added a hunting tower to their grounds and a fishing platform known as Queen Mary’s Bower for when Mary, Queen of Scots, was sent to Chatsworth. Bess was married four times and her last husband, George Talbot, was appointed Shrewsbury custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was held at Chatsworth.
The later generations at Chatsworth continued to expand and build on the home. Royal State Apartments were created for King William III and Queen Mary II and the young men
of the family who came back from their Grand Tours brought home many furnishings, books, artwork, and artifacts that still fill the home. The gardens also had many expansions and changes throughout its life. Walking through today you can view the rockeries, a maze, through waterfall, a grotto, a fountain shooting water up 200 feet in the air and so much more. I had two hours to explore so I spent my first thirty minutes rushing through the network of rooms in the estate, taking pictures of everything, and spent the rest of my time in the gardens. To really see Chatsworth you need an entire day but this gorgeous site is a must see stop in the heart of England.
In recent history Chatsworth has been a popular filming location. You might recognize:
- The Duchess (a drama about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire)
- Pride and Prejudice
- The Wolfman
- Jane Eyre
- A Royal Night Out
- Barry Lyndon
- Death comes to Pemberley
- And many TV series and a BBC documentary
We finished off the day by arriving in Lincoln and I was able to see a little of the city, but I would do most of my exploring the next day.
Helpful Hint: Many public restrooms in Europe have a fee to be able to use them, so when you have the chance use them when they are free and clean.