The lovely village of Ashford-in-the-Water nestles on the banks of the River Wye as it slowly meanders its way south towards Bakewell. It lies on the route of the ancient Portway, one of the Peak District’s oldest trackways which has been used for many centuries.
The beautiful low arched medieval Sheepwash Bridge, overhung by willow trees, was built on the site of the ford across the river. In the 17th century it was crossed each week by hundreds of pack horses usually carrying malt from Derby. It has been widened at least twice and takes its name from the attached sheep pen. Sheep were driven into it before being thrown unceremoniously into the river to be washed prior to shearing. The bridge is no longer open to traffic and is a favourite spot where visitors can either feed the ducks, or gaze down into the clear waters to see if they can spot a rainbow trout.
Lead mining was carried out in the area, but the chief industry used to be marble polishing. Impure forms of limestone mined locally when polished, turned jet black; this was then cut and used for ornamental purposes. Henry Watson founded what were known as the Ashford black marble works in 1748, at a site now acquired by the Water Board, the business having finally closed in 1905. The marble was very popular in Victorian times and was exported all over the world. A table in the church is inlaid with pieces of Ashford Marble.
In the 19th century a stocking industry was set up in Ashford and by 1829 there were 80 frames being worked. The part of the village where the machines were located was called ‘Rattle’ because of the noise created! One of the stocking frame cottages still remains on Hill Cross.
Hanging in the aisle of Holy Trinity Church are four ‘virgin crants’, which were once carried at the funerals of unmarried girls. These are garlands made from white paper, cut to form rosettes, fixed to wooden frames, which were later hung above the pew where grieving relatives sat. On Trinity Sunday, Ashford celebrates the founding of the church. Following the service, there is a procession to bless the six wells that are dressed annually.
Out of all the charming houses in the village, the one with the finest location must be The Rookery. Lovely spacious lawns front this imposing residence with its origins in the 16th century and just to make the picture complete the River Wye flows through the grounds in a great majestic loop. In 1941 it became the first home of the present Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
On the old bridge near Ashford’s attractive little cricket ground is an inscription carved simply in the stone ‘M HYDE 1664’. This relates to a tragic incident when a man was blown off his horse and drowned in the river. Originally, the road on which the bridge stands was built to give access to the Corn Mill from the village. There has been a corn mill at Ashford since at least 1086, when its existence was recorded in Domesday Book. The present day building, parts of which go back 400 years, is passed by leats from the Wye on either side of the building which used to have two water wheels.
Ashford, unlike most Peak villages is set in a beautiful valley setting, rather than in a hollow on a plateau, or on the side of a valley like Youlgreave. Its mainly 18th century cottages are built of smoothly textured limestone, light brown in colour, giving a warm and cosy feel to the village.
There have been times in the past when the village has lived up to its name, and as recently as October 1998 most of the village was flooded. Debris swept down the river as a result of heavy rain, became blocked at the Sheepwash Bridge and caused the Wye to overflow. A Royal Manor at the time of the Domesday Book, Ashford eventually passed by succession to the Devonshire family, before being sold off in the 1950s to pay death duties.
The Parish Pump and The Top Pump are at opposite ends of Fennel Street, the pumps have been removed and a shelter was erected over both wells in 1881. A medieval Tithe Barn stands close to Sheepwash Bridge, as does the Riverside Hotel and Restaurant, the Cottage Tearooms and a small craft shop. At the far end of Church Street are the Parish Rooms where the Post Office is now housed, close by is the Ashford Arms and across the road the Village Stores and the Bull’s Head.
Places of Special Interest in the Locality
Bakewell the capital of the Peak; an historic little market town packed with shops, pubs and cafes alongside the beautiful River Wye. The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop offers you the opportunity to sample this famous local delicacy.
Old Market Hall, Bakewell (Tel. 01629 813227) an impressive building that dates back to the 17th century and now accommodates the Tourist Information Centre. Goods produced by members of the Peak Products organisation are attractively displayed for purchase.
Old House Museum (Tel. 01629 813165) built in Henry VIII’s reign, this splendid little museum is packed with interesting exhibits. Open 1 April to the end of October.
Monsal View Cafe: (Tel. 01629 640346) a genuine friendly walkers’ café with stone floors, large mugs of tea or coffee and a good selection of food. A section of the café sells craft goods. Open seven days a week from the end of March to the end of October. Reduced winter opening.
Cottage Tea Rooms: (Tel. 01629 812488) the owner’s of this smart little tearoom are members of the Tea Council Guild of Tea Shops. A range of set afternoon teas available, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday throughout the year.
An outstanding walk starting from the pretty village of Ashford-in-the-Water. The route crosses open fields with fine views of the countryside as it gently climbs up to Monsal Head.
From where you get one of the best views in Derbyshire, of the Wye slowly winding its way down the dale between meadows and the steeply wooded side of the valley.
For more information on this outstanding walk, click the link below.