Each year, the small, picture-postcard Derbyshire Dales village of Tissington is invaded by 50,000 visitors over just seven days.
The hoards are attracted to Tissington’s six wells which every Ascension Day are decorated (or ‘dressed’) with flower petals, as well as cones, mosses, seeds and beans.
In a laborious process, each petal is placed individually – overlapping like tiles on a roof so rain can run off – onto wooden frames to create pictures that are either Biblical or reflect current events or anniversaries.
The custom, popular with several other Peak District villages, is believed to have started in Tissington way back in 1348, as a thank you for having clean water on tap, so to speak, during the Black Death.
Understandably, the 2020 event was cancelled because of Covid-19. Perhaps surprisingly, this year’s event, due to have taken place from May 13-19, was also scrapped for the same reason.
So the dates for your diary in 2022 are May 26 to June 1.
But even without the well dressing, Tissington is definitely worth a wander round, calling at the butcher’s, baker’s and candlestick maker’s (yes, really – if you count the tea rooms as a baker’s!).
Our children, on the other hand, made a beeline for Tissington’s only other business – a vintage sweet shop that also sells handmade ice-cream, homemade fudge and lashings of ginger beer.
The village is part of the Tissington estate, owned by the FitzHerbert family, who have lived at Tissington Hall for an incredible 550 years. They open their home 28 days a year for guided tours.
We walked to the village from our lovely holiday resort, Ashbourne Heights, which sits slap bang on the Tissington Trail, a 13-mile former railway line that’s now a traffic-free route popular with cyclists.
The line, operational from 1894 to 1963, ran from the town of Ashbourne (where there’s a cycle hire shop) in the south, passing immediately through a 378-yard tunnel, north to Parsley Hay junction.
From Ashbourne Heights, Tissington is reached on foot in 25 minutes, while in the opposite direction a similar stroll brings you to the former station of Thorp Cloud, named after a nearby conical hill.
It was here that hikers used to alight for Dovedale (these days there’s a car park that’s much closer) which is best known for the stepping stones that cross the shallow River Dove.
When the sun is beating down, as it was when we visited during the Whitsun school holidays, queues can form – and there are no traffic lights! So it’s better to visit in the evening.
We did Dovedale from the village of Milldale, a five-mile round walk.
Along the way there’s a 25m limestone shard, called Ilam Rock, and several huge caves to explore, including one that’s framed by a perfect arch, which can only be reached by scrambling up the hillside.
On our return to Milldale, our little ones, aged six and ten, were rewarded with a paddle and ice-creams from the cafe. Their feet definitely needed a soak because the next day I’d planned a 17-mile cycle ride.
Having already walked some of the Tissington Trail, I decided we should tackle another of the Peak District’s former railways, and they don’t get any better than
The Monsal Trail between Buxton and Bakewell.
Starting from Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire at the Buxton end, we pushed on through six tunnels – four of them 400m long – taking breathers at four former stations, two of which are now cafes.
Other sights included a tall limekiln, a couple of old cotton mills and three viaducts, the most impressive of which is the 100-yard Headstone Viaduct, halfway along the trail.
After locking our bikes to the viaduct, we climbed the path to a hilltop cafe for some well deserved ice-creams as our eyes feasted on the glorious view of the arches straddling the River Wye.
The trail’s very slight gradient was more apparent on the return journey, especially for our six-year-old, but after seven hours in the saddle we just hit the cycle hire shop’s 5pm deadline.
You could say we played a Peaky blinder.
Ashbourne Heights is a mixture of lodges, caravans and touring pitches. It has a convenience store, heated indoor pool and a large playground. We stayed in a Luxury Caravan, which was spacious, spotless and comfortable. All the caravans are very spread out. A Luxury Caravan (sleeping six) costs £359 based on short breaks in November, either Friday-Monday or Monday to Friday. Seven nights costs £479. For more information visit www.ashbourne-heights.co.uk or call 01335 350228. Ashbourne Heights is part of the Bridge Leisure group, which has parks in Cornwall, Devon, Yorkshire and Scotland.
There are some great family days out within 30 minutes of Ashbourne Heights…
- Crich Tramway Village: Board vintage trams from an authentic period street and take in the views of Derwent Valley. It is home to over 60 trams dating back to 1873. There’s also a wonderful woodland trail where our kids played the drums, pulled a sword from a stone and built a giant Mr Potato Head.
- Gulliver’s Kingdom: A theme park aimed at pre-teens with dozens of rides and experiences. Yes, it seems to be stuck in the 1980s, but that’s unlikely to bother little ones. What mattered most to us was that we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for an attraction. Older children might prefer Matlock Bath’s other big attraction, Heights of Abraham.
- Alton Towers: Needs no introduction, really. Britain’s biggest and best roller coasters, landscaped gardens, a water park, CBeebies Land and much more. But at this theme park you do have to be prepared to queue.
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