Alderwasley is a village with no appreciable centre, it's farms, dwelling - houses, cottages, school, church, village hall, youth hostel and single public house are scattered among the hills high above the west bank of the River Derwent between Cromford and Ambergate, and two miles to the east of Wirksworth, in whose parish it has slumbered quietly for 800 years.
As with other Derbyshire place names, the four syllables of Alderwasley are sometimes shortened to three - evidence for this is provided by some early nineteenth century guide-books which refer to the place as `Arrowslee', but these days the residents of this relatively isolated rural parish, along with the majority of Derbyshire folk pronounce the name phonetically. The earliest known spelling comes from 1251 when the settlement was recorded as Alrewaseleg, the name meaning `the alder swamp clearing'.
In those days the area was part of the heavily wooded Royal Forest of Duffield Frith which covered a vast area from the Trent basin as far north as the Matlocks and was populated by wolf, wild boar and two or three isolated farmsteads which had been originally settled four or five hundred years earlier by Saxon and Danish farmers. At least one of these early farmsteads, Wiggonley Farm (Wicgift's Clearing) is still in existence today, and has been farmed for many generations by the Fletcher family.
Indeed, there is a significant air of permanence about Alderwasley which has remained essentially an unchanged farming community for over a thousand years, but like most Derbyshire hill villages it has it's own individual charm and character and one or two pleasant surprises for those less acquainted with the familiar environs of it's pastoral landscape.
There are basically two main approaches to this large, sprawling and spectacularly scenic rural parish which sits on an irregular plateau between 600 and 750 feet above sea-level, and whether you take the high road or the low road, both will lay some magnificent vistas before you!
The high road winds eastward over the hills from Wirksworth, whilst the low road, (the A6) runs south down the Derwent Valley from Matlock and alongside the Cromford Canal and mainline railway towards Ambergate, to a point where the valley narrows and road, rail, river and canal almost conjoin near the Derwent Arms at Whatstandwell bridge. This marks the eastern boundary of Alderwasley parish, and a sharp hairpin turn on the west side of the bridge into New Road, which climbs steeply up the heavily wooded Lambert Hill to the crossroads at Higg Lane and Chapel Hill - is a good starting point for a tour of the village.
The first surprise awaits near the Parish Notice Board which stands at the entrance to the quaint and immaculately kept graveyard on Chapel Hill. This is surely one of the most peaceful and picturesque graveyards in the county, and although the relatively modern sign (1981) announces that the building beside it is `St. Margaret's Village Hall', the original Tudor arched doorway suggests a different and ancient ecclesiastical origin. In fact this is Alderwasley's oldest structure and most authorities record that it was a chapel dedicated to St. Margaret and built during the reign of Henry the Eighth by Thomas Lowe. It served as the local place of worship until 1850 when the fifth Francis Hurt built his new church in the rolling parkland immediately to the west of the splendid early Georgian mansion of Alderwasley Hall, built over a century earlier by his great-grandfather, the first Francis Hurt.
The Lowe's were the major landholders here from 1471, until an heiress married Nicholas Hurt of Castern Hall in 1670. The Hurt's, who were originally rich lead merchants from Ashbourne, remained Lords of the Manor for almost three hundred years and were responsible for much of the village's prosperity, it's buildings and infrastructure until the estate was broken up and sold in the 1920's. Christopher Hurt built Wirksworth's Green Hall in 1480, and had lead smelting cupolas down by the Derwent in Alderwasley. His great grandson Francis Hurt built the first forge and blast furnace here in 1764, and three years later purchased the mineral rich Morley Park estate. His son, also Francis, continued the family iron foundry business and built the first of the Morley Park furnaces which still stand, now derelict, alongside the A38 near Ambergate. Francis's brother Charles Hurt later married one of Sir Richard Arkwright's daughters and lived at Wirksworth Hall; the family are now settled back at Castern Hall in the Manifold Valley.
Continuing from St. Margaret's and cresting the hilltop by Berry Hill Cottage there are splendid views to the north and west overlooking the Derwent Valley and Shining Cliff Woods. Presently the road leads to the junction of Pendleton Lane and Well Lane, where a telephone box, litter-bin, parish notice board and a cluster of dwellings around the formal walled gardens of Alderwasley Lodge constitute what there is of a village centre. From here a signposted footpath leads to Whatstandwell, one mile away in the direction of Crich Stand, which can be clearly seen against the skyline to the east. It is a significant fact that it was Francis Hurt who in 1788 built the first Crich Stand on the site of a former wooden beacon tower, and that the familiar landmark can be seen from almost every part of Alderwasley parish.
Another signpost points to a narrow lane which leads steadily upward for three quarters of a mile to Longway Bank, which on foot, seems aptly named! Here is the second of Alderwasley's surprises, for Longway Bank, just about as far away from the sea as you can get, is the family home of famous award-winning round-the-world yachtswoman, Ellen McArthur!
Continuing westward the road ascends steadily to Harper's Cottage and Knott House, which make up a large farming complex at the parish's highest point and here the low road meets the high road from Wirksworth. A sharp left turn takes the high road past Moor Farm and Lane Head farm, and across a rolling landscape interspersed with wooded valleys and populated by horses and other livestock, and with stupendous views to the south and east. This was the route of the original Nottingham to Newhaven turnpike road and the Bear Inn, a former coaching house from the turnpike era, is Alderwasley's lone hostelry. Noted for it's excellent food, Sunday carvery, comfortable accommodation, and especially for it's spectacular location, the Bear is ably managed by mine hosts Tim and Nicola Musgrave and is guaranteed to give it's patrons that special `top of the world' feeling!
Up here `on top of the world' one is almost level with the seven radio masts at nearby Alport Heights, two miles away to the south west, and beyond the Bear and Windmill Lane is Peat Pitts Nature Reserve managed by the Forestry Commission, and the Ridgewood Equestrian Centre.
But the greatest surprise of all is just around the corner - as the old turnpike road drops down towards the Derwent valley.
Suddenly a wonderful vision, the very epitome of England's green and pleasant land opens up, as Alderwasley Hall, All Saints parish church, and a panorama which includes landscaped parkland with cascading stream and a series of ornamental lakes, cricket field with a wooden pavillion, and a celtic cross mounted atop a tall twenty foot high column, standing majestically alone on the hillside, come into view.
The lone sentinel keeping a vigil on the hillside is a memorial to `The Glorious Dead of Alderwasley. 1914 - 1918' and commemorates, amongst others, Capt. S.F.A. Hurt of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, killed in action on October 18th 1914.
Across the valley stands the Georgian splendour of Alderwasley Hall, sold by the Hurt's in 1930 and until 1974 used as a preperatory school for Belmont College by the Benedictine Order, and it is now a residential school for children with speech and communication problems.
The Vicarage, a late Victorian structure of 1898, stands in the shadows of a tree-lined dell at the driveway entrance to the hall and parish church, where a small stream runs beneath the road and forms a series of cascades and ornamental ponds running the whole length of the tree-lined drive. The church, complete with it's Italianate tower was designed by Stevens of Derby, and was consecrated in 1850. It is administered by the Wirksworth Team ministry led by canon David Truby, and Team rector, Rev. Jenny Hayward.
The view across the Derwent Valley to Crich Stand on the far horizon is alone worth a visit, and whether you take the high road or the low road to Alderwasley, your sure to find some pleasant surprises along the way.