To the plague village

Saturday, 18th August
Jaq (American friend now living on a narrow boat) had expressed a long-held wish to visit Eyam. This is the village in the Derbyshire hills noted for its courage during the virulent plague that swept the country in 1665 and 1666. Of course, you cannot always get to where you want to by boat… and so a plan was hatched. Since the Cleddau crew had a car parked nearby why not make a road trip?

Guided by the faithful satnav, back up available via a relatively recent  road atlas, off the trio set.  From High Lane to Eyam, in about 50 minutes. Oddly the route passes up the A6 through Disley and Furness Vale and Whaley Bridge, names familiar from the Upper Peak Forest Canal.

Eyam: there’s a distinct incline into the village. Stone built cottages are strung out along the meandering street. Signs indicate the Eyam Museum. Here facts, figures, pictures and letters recount the fate of the 76 families affected by the plague.  Tableaux show the brave and drastic measures taken by the community leaders to contain the plague. There is much additional information covering other plagues, sources of infection, medical practices in the 1600s as well as past and recent research into the spread of the disease and why some people survived.  How the village has changed over the centuries is also illustrated.

You feel history here: in the stocks on the village green, on the Saxon cross in the churchyard, in the commemorative window in the church, but most noticeably by the Plague Cottages. Plaques in front of the cottages poignantly list the fate of the residents.

Despite its bleak past Eyam is evidently a lively community still; Carnival Parade Day is an annual event which coincides with a pig roast and the village well dressing.

When in the Peak District – enjoy! Not far away from Eyam is the vast Chatsworth Estate. Manicured rolling slopes, parkland trees and a graceful bridge across the lazy River Derwent greet estate visitors. Then Chatsworth House comes into view, an enormous stately pile, graced by towers and balustrades and the tall Emperor’s Fountain shooting a waterspout high into the air.

“Wow!” breathed Jaq. “Amazing…”  

The Chatsworth Estate is huge. Gardens, grounds, house, hunting lodge, stables, farm, water features, adventure playground… in a brief hour you can barely take in the scale of it. On this August Saturday a cricket match was being played in one area, guests were arriving for a wedding reception, huge numbers of cars and coaches thronged the car parks, while the vast courtyard at the stables hummed with excited visitors seeking rest and refreshment. No brief visit could ever begin to do justice to this fascinating place – but the Chatsworth ice-creams are good!

Back to the boats via Bakewell,  a popular tourist town (and another  cricket match being played in front of an elegant pavilion) and the scenic road that passes Monsall Head, and keeps a high level route across the moors before dropping back to Whaley Bridge and the A6.

Thanks, Jaq, for being such great company – and giving us a good excuse for making a Peak District road trip!

            Tomorrow (Sunday), back on the cut, heading south towards the Caldon Canal.


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