Route: 172, Bakewell to Matlock
Operator: Hulleys Of Baslow
Timetable: Mostly every 2 hours (Mon-Sat, 7 per day), no Sunday service
Time: ~1h 5m
Cost: N/A (Part of a Wayfarer day ticket)
Date Of Trip: 18/12/18
Me and Eleanor are squeezed into the corner of a cafe in Bakewell, chomping on some Derbyshire oatcakes and listening to a customer tell the owner about her recently spurned teenage son.
“I wish she’d have cheated on him.”
“Yeah. At least that way he could hate her.”
Instead, he’s been plain old dumped after five months, and still besotted, has exiled himself to his room for the past three days solid. It was my birthday yesterday, and while I’d be happy enough to wind the clock back 10 years or so, there’s no way I’d want to be 17 again.
Local speciality and gossip dispensed with, we head into the freezing rain for a trip around the scattered houses. The peculiarly numbered 6.1 bus heads to Matlock along the path of least resistance in half the time, but as we’re having a day out, opt for the scenic route around this southern portion of the Peak District.
We take our seats just behind a lady in a knitted grey hat, whose fake fur bobble has become waterlogged and droopy in the tempestuous torrent. This whizzing around on buses malarkey is a fair-weather pursuit, really, and although droplets merge into snaking drops throughout the journey, we can still just about see enough through the windows to make it worth the effort.
We are accompanied out of Bakewell by the gently meandering River Wye, carrying with it a twack of ducks, moorhens and a few distinctive white-billed coots bobbing for snails.
It’s only around ten minutes before we turn off the main road towards Youlgreave, or as the locals tend to spell and pronounce it, Youlgrave. In fact, the village has a claim to being the most misspelled place in the UK. From Giolgrave to Zolgrelf via Jol’ve, it has collected around 60 distinct spellings down the centuries to go along with the three which crop up on the nearby road signs.
It also happens to be a lovely part of the world in prime walking territory, and seems to have everything you could ever want from a village apart from a green. There’s even a YHA hostel to help ensure that the three pubs have a steady stream of irregulars to buttress the takings from the more familiar faces.
The bobble hat lady dings the bell and heaves a few bags of shopping onto the pavement opposite The Farmyard Inn.
“Hang on a sec!” she shouts to the driver as he begins to close the doors, “I’ve got some more.”
‘Some’ could easily have been replaced by ‘shitloads’.
She clambers back onboard and drags out another armful of goodies, which she’d managed to secrete beneath her chair. And then another. In total, her disembarkation takes a full two minutes, and we get a sneak peak into what her family are going to get for Christmas next week: a football, a couple of dolls and selection boxes by the dozen.
How she carried it all home, or onto the bus in the first place, I really don’t know, but she’s clearly not been seduced by the charms of internet shopping and couriers securing your deliveries in the nearest bin just yet.
We set out on the steep, narrow valley out towards Alport, where knobbly trees hog the light as tightly as the ivy creepers which cling to their trunks.
Just as we approach Stanton In Peak, a pheasant darts into the road from the right, forcing the driver to slam on the anchors in order to avoid a gory game collision. The bird waddles ahead of us for a few yards, and when the realisation dawns on it that it won’t be able to out run something equipped with a combustion engine, it suddenly jackknifes into a hedge to the left, the bus’s flank scuffing its tail feathers as we pass.
Stanton is unreasonably good looking, even on this dourest of days.
Each of the stone cottages seems to be having a prettiest garden competition with its neighbours, which takes some doing in December. The floral displays which festoon every nook and cranny in the summer are substituted for more subtle landscaping today, with the impeccable seven-or-eight foot wall which encloses the southern portion of the main road taking its annual main seasonal billing.
We skirt the edges of Stanton Moor on our way to Birchover, the place where me and El went on our first ever holiday together. It was only for a couple of nights, but it put me off camping for life.
Not that there was anything wrong at all with Birchover or the campsite (which now has the added bonus of having a load of alpacas and peacocks knocking about), but it was my first time sleeping under canvas, and I just wasn’t prepared for inadequate pillow facilities or to wake up covered in mid-sized spiders.
It says a lot about the perils of nature that these scary arachnids would rather risk being crushed to death by a human lolloping over in its sleep, or being banjaxed by flailing arms first thing in the morning than run the gauntlet of staying out in the open overnight.
The 172 continues downhill, passing the Red Lion, a pub which has a well slap bang in the middle of the main room and where I once embarrassed myself by ordering a double Bailey’s and Tia Maria cocktail. It tastes like a curdled chocolate milkshake in case you want to give it a try, but I’ll give you more credit than that.
On we trot, with El in deep admiration of the bus driver’s mastery of the clutch (she’s started taking driving lessons recently) as we negotiate a series of tight bends on our way up towards Elton.
Much like Athletic Bilbao and their unwritten rule of only signing Basque players, Elton’s cricket team has a strict policy of only having locals wearing their famed whites. As there are fewer than 400 residents in the parish, and nobody likes cricket these days, they’ve got a somewhat limited talent pool to draw from.
The bus turns around just outside the squat All Saints church, where a blackbird is taking shelter from the downpour beneath a sizeable Christmas tree. The stubby nature of the church’s tower is probably a consequence of illegal lead mining in the area, which caused subsidence so severe that the steeple of St Margaret’s, which was previously on the site, toppled over at turn of the 19th century.
Just facing it is the weird and wonderful Duke Of York pub.
Its sash windows and old-fashioned sign hint that it isn’t a regular boozer, and unless you happen to have arrived unimpeded from inter-war Britain, it really isn’t. It usually only opens for a couple of hours in the evening, but the untouched rooms are from another age.
Simultaneously spartan and cosy, CAMRA have added it to their National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, a much more worthy cause than their insistence on flat ale being served at room temperature and going the full ostrich over the rise of craft beer.
The driver puts on Radio 2 while we bounce back down the main street towards Winster, where Eleanor’s mum has traced her ancestors from a few generations back. I expect they lived among the rows of limestone houses which slope away from the centre of the village, rather than the succession of terraced mansions and converted barn which huddle alongside the ancient Market House.
It’s an unexpectedly grand sight, even though the clouds have really descended and throw a blanket of gloom over it all.
A couple of miles down the road, Darley Dale has a special place in my heart.
I went around to Nana Narkey (based on me mispronouncing ‘Hartley’ when I was a nipper, rather than her being in any way grumpy) and Grandad Dennis’s house for my lamb Sunday dinner every week from when I was born until I moved to Penzance when I was 24. When they stayed at their caravan in Towyn for the weekend, I’d usually tag along, but I stayed home when they went on a ‘proper’ holiday abroad for a couple of weeks.
This is when, in a panic, my mum remembered how bad she was at cooking – sandwich meat drowned in Bisto and a jus of fatty bubbles was par for the Sunday dinner course – we’d get asked: “shall we go to the Happy Eater?”
Despite Darley Dale being a 40 mile drive along roads so twisty that they always invoked car sickness, we always answered in a thankful and relieved affirmative.
Happy Eater, most famous for being John Major’s favourite roadside eatery, was around for less than 25 years, but won our family’s hearts for three main reasons:
– it was a few pence cheaper for a mixed grill than at Little Chef
– there was usually a kids’ playground, where I could accidentally kick my sister when she inevitably ran in front of me while I was on the swing
– most importantly, they gave everyone a lolly after you’d paid up
I learnt many of life’s important lessons at the Happy Eater in Darley Dale. Chief among them being that, despite looking amazing to my then-young eyes, ice cream floats are disgusting.
They were bought out by Granada in 1995, who wasted no time in either closing or converting them into Little Chefs, and Happy Eater ceased to exist just two years later. The one in Darley Dale was eventually bulldozed after closing in 2001, and a care home is currently being built on the site.
Little Chef soldiered on for another couple of decades, steadfastly ignoring changes in customer tastes and expectations, as well as Heston Blumenthal, before finally shutting up shop in January 2018.
It’s a couple more miles into Matlock. I was last here in on a brilliant day last summer, and although the rain has only increased in ferocity and velocity since we set off from Bakewell, it’s still well worth poking around Derbyshire’s county town and realising that your trainers have sprung a leak.