May 31, 2014


Steam trains have always fascinated me, which is lucky considering the number of Sundays and Bank Holidays we spent visiting steam railways up and down the country as a family.  My dad was very much into steam and in fact has built several his own steam engines in his garden shed.  Models of course!

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So on Bank Holiday Monday, after our trip to the Well Dressings, we headed off through the Derbyshire villages to somewhere where we knew we would be able to get a cup of tea - the buffet car on platform two of the railway station at Wirksworth.

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Unlike in France, dogs are rarely allowed in restaurants and cafés in the UK, so we took our steaming mugs of tea and sheltered from the drizzly rain on the platform.

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The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway is one of the many railway societies up and down the country run by volunteers and donations.  It operates a mainly tourist service along a few miles of line between Wirksworth and Duffield which is very popular.  You can read all about it here.

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When I was a little girl in the 1950’s we often travelled by steam train, regularly getting the bus to Cromford station and then the train to Derby for a day out shopping.  When my dad was in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm the steam train from Cromford would be the first stage in very long journeys by rail to Scotland or Northern Ireland to the Naval base.  We lived in the “married quarters” near to the base.

The railway station at Cromford was also a favourite destination for me and my male cousins to go on our bicycles in the school holidays, messing about on the platform and standing on the footbridge as the trains came and went, tolerated by the station manager, so long as we didn’t get in the way.

In my twenties I was a member of the Middleton Railway Society near Leeds and actually got to ride the footplate and assist in driving shunting engines – as close as I would ever get to driving a steam engine by myself!

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So it was on platform one at Wirksworth that I had to go and “spend a penny”.  Otherwise known as “going to the ladies”.  The original ladies loo would often be engaged and a queue would form at busy times hence the following little notice fixed to the old post box.

day out in Derbyshire

May 28, 2014


Having found ourselves at home in Derbyshire instead of in France, we were faced with the ancient conundrum of what to do for entertainment on Bank Holiday Monday.

There is usually plenty going on and the weather’s usually terrible, so whatever is going on is often more or less weather proof.  The inhabitants of Derbyshire are pretty used to making the most of bad weather by now.  The weekend so far had been grey, cold, damp and miserable but on Bank Holiday Monday morning the sun was shining and it was quite pleasant.  So Nick went fishing and I took Lulu for a nice long walk then made a quiche.  A few spots of rain brought Nick home for his lunch.

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On his way back from the river Nick had spotted a poster advertising the well dressings at the nearby village of Brackenfield, so after lunch we set off there, thinking that if it started to rain properly again it was not too far from home.

There’s usually a cup of tea and a piece of cake available in the village hall at these events too.

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I have been visiting the local well dressings in Derbyshire since I was old enough to sit in a pushchair.  In the 1950’s there were very few and they were quite an event.  My dad would load me into the sidecar of his motorcycle and with my mum riding pillion the three of us would purr along the country lanes to Youlgreave or Tissington for a day out to see the well dressings.  On arrival at our destination my dad would lift me out of the sidecar and put their helmets, gloves and scarves inside so they didn’t have to carry them round.  There was no lock and they would still be there when we got back – something which you certainly couldn’t gamble on nowadays.

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Well dressing is a tradition which occurs in Derbyshire and other counties of the UK every summer.  Traditionally the sites of the village wells were dressed with flowers to give thanks for an ample supply of pure water.  You can read about it in Wikipedia here.  Each village will have a theme to their well dressings and in Brackenfield it was gardening.

When I was a little girl it was just a continuation of the tradition in a few Derbyshire villages.  Now they are everywhere in the county and it’s very much a tourist thing.  Derbyshire is now a popular holiday area and you can see the full calendar of well dressings, and a video of how it’s done, on the Peak District website here.

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There are many similarities between Derbyshire and the area where we live in France, which may be why we felt at home in Le Grand-Pressigny straight away.  Whatever the event on a Sunday in France, be it a brocante or fête of some kind, there will nearly always be a display of old cars and tractors.  At the old car and tractor events there will usually be a brocante.

In the small village of Brackenfield as well as the well dressings there was also a display of old tractors, and a craft fair in the school hall.

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And of course there were the old cars to admire.  I rather fancied on of these.

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In the church there was a flower festival.  The arrangements were breathtakingly beautiful and the church was heaving with people. 

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In the churchyard there was an extra well dressing next to the war memorial.  The memorial has very few names on it, because Brackenfield is only a very small village, but like so many other small Derbyshire villages it lost most of its young men during the war.

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As we walked back towards the village hall in hope of a cup of tea and a slice of cake a few drops of rain began to fall.  By the time we got there the hall was full of people sheltering from the rain and all the tables were all taken.  So we decided to head off to somewhere else where we knew we could get a cuppa.

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However that will have to do for now, as I’m running out of steam…..more in the next post !!

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Except that if anyone knows the name of this plant with its lovely yellow bobbles of flowers I would love to know.  It was in someone’s garden in Brackenfield and I quite fancy having one in my new garden – eventually.

Update – it’s a buddleja globosa.  Many thanks to my Aunty Sylvia, who phoned to tell me, and I didn’t even know she reads my blog!