Elton is an unspoilt village, very popular with walkers and cyclists, who enjoy the beautiful countryside. There are also a few surprises nearby with a hermit’s cave and a very strange rock formation where Druids may once have worshipped.
Almost every reference you read about Elton, tells you at an early stage that it is a cold place. This might seem a little unfair for somewhere close to the southern edge of the Peak District. But on closer examination, it becomes clear that the village, at an altitude of 900 feet, does not have any protection from the cold north and east winds. Even Alf Gregory, a former resident who was on the successful Mount Everest expedition in 1953, said it was ‘a cold place’ and like living ‘on the top of a mountain’.
This must raise the inevitable question as to why the village was built in such an exposed position. The close proximity to the Portway, replaced in1811 by a turnpike road, was the main road running from north to south through the area. In addition, the fact that lead was in plentiful supply, as was water, were probably the major factors behind the location of the village. The land was also suitable for sheep rearing to provide the lead miners with an additional income.
Elton’s bracing climate seems to suit the inhabitants, many of whom have lived to a considerable age. Few including those who were not born in the village have moved away. There is a good community spirit and the people are warm and friendly.
The village is set on a division in the underlying rocks that runs along the main street. Limestone is on the north side and gritstone on the south. This produces an unusual effect with gritstone vegetation on one side and limestone on the other. The houses too reflect the division, with some built of gritstone and others limestone, or a mixture of both.
All Saints Church was built in 1811 and replaced an earlier church dedicated to St Margaret after its steeple had fallen a few years earlier. Illegal lead mining underneath the church caused the damage. Another misfortune befell the church when it was re-built; the font was thrown out and left to decay. Several years later it was removed by the vicar of Youlgreave and used as an ornamental water butt. His successor, aware of the value of the font, had it installed in Youlgreave Church. After realising their mistake, the people of Elton tried to get it returned, but without success and had to make do with a replica.
There is plenty of evidence in the fields of where the lead miners used to operate. On the eastern side of the village close to the Old Portway, now Dudwood Lane was the Portway Mine. This was the largest mine in the area, along with the Elton Cross a short distance further away to the north.
The Hermit’s Cave at Cratcliffe Rocks, where under an overhang of rock a carved crucifix remains, was at one time home to a hermit. In the middle ages, hermits were looked on as holy men. Appointed to lonely places by a bishop, they rendered hospitality and assistance to travellers.
Behind Harthill Moor Farm is a perfect little Iron Age Fort, Castle Ring, possibly dating back over 300 years BC. At night, when the moon is full, fairies are supposed to emerge for music and dancing. The four great standing stones, near the Hermit’s Cave, date back even further to over 1,000 years BC.
There are no shops in the village, but there is a pub and café. The Duke of York is an old-fashioned pub, but the welcome is warm as is the blazing coal fire in the lounge on a cold night. Apart from good food, nostalgia is on the menu at the Elton Café, with its large collection of advertising signs and memorabilia inside and an attractive old force pump outside.
Elton holds strong Nonconformist traditions, but only the Primitive Methodist Chapel remains open. The old Wesleyan Methodist Chapel is now the Village Hall and the former Wesleyan Ebenezer Chapel a private house.
Along the main street, there are a number of 17th century stone houses. The oldest is The Old Hall, which for many years acted as a Youth Hostel before being put up for sale in 2002. It is built of gritstone, part of which dates back to 1688. By contrast across the road, Greenacres Farm, is built of pure limestone.
The school stands on the south side of the main street. It was extended when the population increased in 1890. During Jubilee year, 1977, the villagers got together and raised the money to buy a field for sport and recreation for the young and not so young! At the bottom of the hill on the western side of the village is the tiny hamlet of Gratton, which at one time was the home of a cheese factory operated by a consortium of local farmers.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Magpie Lead Mine (Tel. 01629 583834) leased to the Peak District Mines Society, the surface remains are one of the best examples in Britain of a 19th century lead mine with impressive mine buildings and winding gear. Ring for opening details.
Arbor Low Stone Circle, is a huge stone circle surrounded by a grassy bank and a ditch near to Youlgreave. No one knows if the stones originally stood upright.
The Old Market Hall at Winster dates back to the 17th century when the village was granted the right to hold a market. It became the first National Trust property in Derbyshire and the Peak District in 1906 and it is now used as an exhibition and information centre. For further information website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The Miners Standard (Tel. 01629 650279) 17th century oak beamed pub full of interest and character. The name is derived from the dish that local lead miners used for measuring ore – the miners standard! A small sign inside proclaims ‘pub of the year 1653’, the year that it was built. There is beer garden and children’s play area. The restaurant is being refurbished. Bar snacks are available daily at lunchtime throughout the year, also in the evenings every day in summer, but check for availability in winter.
Elton Tea Rooms (Tel. 01629 650217) are a popular haunt for cyclists and ramblers. Full of character with old advertising signs adorning the walls, a grandfather clock in the corner and a National Cash Register to record sales. A wide range of healthy homemade meals and snacks are available. Open Sundays only, please check for details.
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A medieval hermit’s cave, an unusual rock formation known as Robin Hood’s Stride and a stone circle wait on this popular walk from the old lead mining village of Elton.
When you walk down Dudwood Lane it is worth recollecting that this route was probably used by travellers long before the Romans came. It follows the line of the ancient Portway, which ran the length of the county.
On the right are Cratcliffe Rocks and carved into a small cave, where a hermit used to live, is a crucifix.
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