A more peaceful and pleasant spot than Dale Abbey is hard to find in the whole of Derbyshire. Yet it is less than three miles from the suburbs of Derby to the west, and even closer to a vast area of housing and industrialisation on the eastern side.
The story of Dale Abbey, or Depedale as it was originally known, begins when a Derby baker had a dream -- the Virgin Mary appeared and told him to go to Depedale, to live a life of solitude and prayer. At that time it was a wild and marshy place and the hermit carved out a home and chapel in a sandstone cliff.
Here he continued to worship in solitude until one day the smoke from his fire was seen by a Knight, Ralph Fitz Geremund the owner of the land. Intending to drive the intruder away, he rode over, but on hearing the hermit’s story he was filled with compassion, allowing him to remain and bestowing on him the tithe money from Borrowash Mill. This enabled the hermit to build a small chapel and home on the site of the present church.
After the hermit’s death, word spread of the religious significance of the place and following several attempts, Dale Abbey was founded in about 1200 by an order known as the White Canons because of the colour of their habits. The abbey remained until 1538, when it was dissolved and the greater part demolished by the command of Henry VIII.
The stone from the abbey was eagerly seized upon by local builders. Little but the great 13th century east window remains, which probably has much to do with the ancient belief that if the arch fell the villagers would have to pay tithes. Today the abbey ruins are designated as an ancient monument.
Parts of All Saints Church date back to 1150, when the hermit started to build his chapel and house on the site, which is the reason why the church is the only one in England to share its roof with a farm. At one time it shared it with the abbey infirmary and later with the Bluebell Inn, when the connecting door from the church was said to lead from ‘salvation to damnation’.
The church is very unusual and nothing seems to quite fit, which is part of it charm. Despite its diminutive size it has reputedly the largest chalice in England; the Jacobean cupboard which is used as a communion table is in front of the reading desk instead of behind it. The pulpit leans at a sharp angle and it is possible to sit in one of the box pews with your back to the minister! Services are held regularly on Sunday afternoons to which visitors are welcome.
The Gateway Christian Centre situated in the main street simply called ‘The Village’, was originally the Methodist Chapel before becoming redundant and was purchased by the Parochial Church Council. It is now used to continue the Abbey’s tradition of hospitality and is open to visitors for refreshments every Sunday afternoon. At the rear the path passes the remains of the Abbey Gatehouse, at one time used to house prisoners being moved between Nottingham and Derby.
Hermit’s Wood is an ancient woodland and probably formed part of the original forest that once covered this area. It contains many fine beech and oak trees. Abundant wildlife and over 60 species of flowering plants have been recorded. The Hermit’s Cave is now designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and it is worth taking a good look at the view from this point. On the hill to the north can be seen the Cat and Fiddle Windmill, the only one of its kind left in Derbyshire.
On Moor Lane is the Gateway Christian School, founded in 1989 as an independent church school for primary and nursery children. Originally the school opened in 1869, but because of falling numbers Derbyshire County Council considered it unviable, and it closed in 1977.
The Carpenters Arms at the top of the Village Street dates back in part to the late 1600s. Poplar Farm, on the main street, dates back even further to the 1500s. It is a lovely old half-timbered building with a brick extension, the outbuildings of which have been converted to living quarters.
Tattle Hill is said to have got its name from neighbourly ‘tittle tattle’ amongst the householders. Opposite is a thatched barn once the up-market residence of four cows. Abbey House contains some of the remains of the Abbey’s refectory and fireplace with foundations at the rear. Across the road from the church are the remains of a monastic pond.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
The Bottle Kiln (Tel 0115 9329442) an art gallery, craft and gift shops, tea rooms and a beautiful Japanese Garden await at this restored site at West Hallam. Open all day Tuesday to Sunday throughout the year.
Shipley Country Park (Tel. 01773 719961) contains over 600 acres of attractive parkland with lakes, woodlands and miles of footpaths and bridleways. There is a Visitor Centre with a countryside gift shop and cafe.
Erewash Museum (Tel 01159 071141) at Ilkeston, containing artefacts that cover a period of over 10,000 years are displayed in this splendid little museum. Displays are changed regularly and every effort is made to ensure children as well as adults enjoy their visit. Please telephone for details or visit website.
The Carpenters Arms (Tel. 0115 9325277) an attractive ivy clad pub at the top of the village the front dating back to 1880, but other parts are nearly another 200 years older. Food is available lunch time and evening. Ample seating outside and a well equipped children’s play area.
The Bottle Kiln Cafe (Tel 0115 9329442) an art gallery, craft and gift shops, tea rooms and a beautiful Japanese Garden await at this restored site at West Hallam. Open all day Tuesday to Sunday throughout the year.
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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DALE ABBEY WALK
The discovery of Dale Abbey in its peaceful and secluded setting comes as a complete surprise to most visitors, close as it is to a densely populated area. So too will this delightful and relaxing walk.
A short diversion near the start of the walk to visit the Hermit’s Cave will be well rewarded. In springtime the flora of the wood is covered with a carpet of blue anemones and yellow archangel.
Soon after leaving the village behind and crossing the A6096 the walk leads down the drive to Locko Park.
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