The ancient former lead mining village of Bonsall was once described by the Daily Mail as ‘the healthiest village in England’, because of the long life spans of its inhabitants who were kept fit by climbing its long streets. From The Pig of Lead to the upper end of the village it is a climb of 450 feet. The Pig of Lead public house at the foot of the Via Gellia valley closed a few years ago and is now a private house.
Little groups of cottages huddled together on odd plots of land along winding streets add to the charm of this attractive scattered village. The only well known architect to have contributed to Bonsall was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who designed Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea power Station, Waterloo Bridge and the telephone kiosk outside the Barley Mow – now a listed building! At the centre of the village is an interesting group of stone houses and the King’s Head a delightful 17th century inn, which surround a much-photographed market cross with a slender circular shaft topped by a ball and surmounted by 13 steps.
The old centre of the village was close to the church where many ancient pathways met. An unusual feature of the Parish Church of St James is the presence of a bullring, which was referred to in the following story from the Derbyshire Courier of the 2nd August 1834. In an article about bull baiting, it said, ‘At the Bonsall wakes on Monday last, thirty to forty men had gathered with dogs and clubs….the worthy clergyman remonstrated with the men in vain…..finally he purchased the release of the animal for one guinea!’ Apart from saving the bull, presumably the vicar’s purchase included the bullring itself, which if this story is correct accounts for its presence in the church.
The first Carnival and Well Dressing took place in 1927, although there have been some breaks notably during the Second World War. Wells are now regularly dressed usually on the last Saturday in July. Flowers are very plentiful at that time, ‘only things that grow’ being the traditional rule for well dressing in the village.
Bonsall sprang to prominence at the start of the new millennium when a national newspaper proclaimed it has ‘the UFO capital of Britain’. This followed numerous sightings of UFOs over the village by what were considered sober and reliable sources. But it was the six and a half minute video, shot by local residents Sharon and Hayden Rowlands, that gave credibility to the UFO story. They were at home one night watching television, when Sharon spotted a bright light in the sky and rushed outside with her camcorder to record the event. The press got hold of the story and it even reached Los Angeles, where Fox Brothers were reported to have acquired exclusive rights to the film. No documentary has appeared as yet, but UFO enthusiasts from all over the world have visited the village and the landlord of the Barley Mow conducts UFO walks every Bank Holiday Monday for interested parties.
The road from Grangemill to Cromford was given the name Via Gellia by the Gell family, who had the road constructed to facilitate easier access from their lead mines to the smelter at Cromford. The trade name Viyella originated from the fabric that was produced at one of the seven textile mills set in the valley. From this point, the centre of the village is reached by the delightfully named Clatterway, which was built by the community to improve trading links, payment being in the form of strong ale.
At the foot of The Dale is The Fountain, a prominent local landmark. The Bonsall Brook that once provided the waterpower for the mills at Cromford flows alongside the road. Further up, past the Barley Mow, is the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, built in 1893.
There are several reminders in the village of its former prominence as a centre for framework knitting, but all that remains of what once was a self-sufficient village, is the shop and post office at Hollies Farm with a small nursery alongside. In what is a stone built village, The Mount, in High Street, constructed of red brick brought in from outside the area is unusual.
Bonsall is a village full of surprises - not only does it have connections with UFOs, but every August in the pub car park of the Barley Mow, it holds the World Hen Racing Championships. Add to this Stepping Lane was resurfaced by German Prisoners of War in the 1940s, but that does not seem at all unusual when you learn that a skull thought to be that of a mammoth was found in a cave nearby. Oh yes, and millions of years ago Ember Lane was the site of a volcano!
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
Mining Museum and Temple Mine (Tel 01629 583834) where you get a very realistic impression of what the conditions used to be like for men who worked underground. After completing your absorbing tour of the museum, you can visit Temple Mine that has been worked since 1922. The museum is open daily throughout the year. Temple Mine is open on a reduced basis in the winter
The Heights of Abraham (Tel 01629 582365) where you can take a spectacular journey by cable car to explore two show caverns, follow woodland trails and enjoy the magnificent view from the Treetops café and restaurant. Please telephone for opening details or visit website.
Arkwright’s Cromford Mill the world’s first successful water powered cotton-spinning mill. It is now a world heritage site and guided tours are available. There is a whole food restaurant, a number of shops and free car park. A not to be missed attraction, along with Masson Mill situated about a quarter of a mile away on the A6 that has been converted into a shopping village and working textile museum. Open daily (Cromford Mill tel 01629 823256, Masson Mill tel 01629 760208).
Barley Mow, Bonsall (Tel. 01629 825685) this friendly little pub is well worth going out of the way to visit. It is full of interest and provides excellent food at reasonable cost. Open all day at weekends but only in the evenings during the week. Meals available in the evenings every day. At the weekends and on Bank Holidays lunch time meals are also served. Closed all day Mondays.
Treetops Café (Tel. 01629 582365) set in a superb location at the Heights of Abraham, looking down on the Derwent Valley. Walkers may use the café, but if it is their intention to explore the country park and caverns, they must pay the entrance charge. Identical opening times to those of the park.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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It takes a little while for this walk to really inspire, but when it does, outstanding views over the Derwent Valley make the effort of climbing Ember Lane well worthwhile.
The Heights of Abraham is well worth a visit and across the valley is the spectacular High Tor, and behind that the village of Starkholmes. Distant glimpses can be had of Riber Castle, built by John Smedley as his retirement home, which until recently housed a wildlife sanctuary.
The return journey is along the Limestone Way.
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