Hidden away in the very heart of Derbyshire's White Peak, the ecclesiastical parish of Longstone is set in a vee of land between the Derwent and Wye Valleys, with the principal river settlements of Baslow four miles to the east, and Ashford-in-the-Water and Bakewell a couple of miles to the south.
The parish contains the two distinctly different villages of Great and Little Longstone, set about a mile apart along an unclassified country road which runs from the B6001 Calver to Bakewell road at Hassop - to the B6465 Ashford to Wardlow Mires road at Monsal Head.
These two limestone villages, along with the tiny cul-de-sac hamlet of Rowland, are sheltered from the bleak north winds by the mighty bulk of Longstone Moor, rich in mineral deposits and largely responsible for the growth and development of these settlements over the past thousand years.
The moor is criss-crossed by old pack-horse trade routes and there are tremendous views southward from the 1350 ft platform of Longstone Edge. Along with most White Peak villages, both Longstones owe much of their relative prosperity to the lead-mining industry which flourished here in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The last local lead-mine may have closed a century ago, but outcropping still continues for barytes and fluorspar up on the moor beyond Longstone Edge where the names Deep Rake, High Rake and White Rake bear testimony to the area's mining heritage and are firmly etched into a bygone and slowly healing industrial landscape.
The Longstone settlements were originally single-street villages, with a mixture of limestone cottages and farm buildings straggling along either side of the same main road which runs through the centre of both.
As its name suggests Little Longstone is the smaller of the two with a population of around one hundred inhabitants, some of whom live within a stone's throw of one of Derbyshire's most spectacular and panoramic views at Monsal (or Longstone) Head. Here the land suddenly falls away to the west revealing the wonderful Wye Valley and a bird's eye view of the famous viaduct which carries the Monsal Trail across the river at Nether Dale.
The road to Little Longstone begins opposite the Monsal Head Hotel and falls gently eastward past the small 19th century Congregational Chapel before dipping into a tree-lined hollow beside a terrace of exceptionally pretty limestone cottages and the ancient ivy covered Packhorse Inn.
Built originally in the late sixteenth century as two lead miners cottages, the Packhorse was converted into a country inn in 1787, and unlike others of its kind has retained it's original name for over 200 years. This excellent hostelry, ably run by landlord Robert Watson who came here from Altrincham 5 years ago, is renowned for it's folk music every Wednesday night throughout the year, and has a well merited mention in the A.A., Which, & Good Beer Guides.
Down in the hollow and around the corner from the Packhorse stands the large farm complex and twin-gabled Elizabethan gem of Little Longstone Manor, the home for over 800 years of the Longsden family. Thomas Longsden restored the Manor around 1700 and today there are still Longsden's in residence. Almost opposite stands The Stocks, a house of similar antiquity with a datestone of 1575.
Half a mile down the road, a good deal of reasonably discreet development has taken place in recent years and Great Longstone is slowly changing shape from it's original single-street layout with the Parish Church of St.Giles just off to the north.
Approached from the west along a fine avenue of elm trees, the road twists gently downwards into Great Longstone past the Manor House and the 18th century Crispin Inn, to what must once have been a large village green. Markets were held here from the Middle Ages, and until a century ago an annual fair took place on the green each September during Wakes Week.
A medieval market cross stands in the centre of the Green opposite and just below the gated entrance to Longstone Hall. Originally stone built around 1600 the Hall was rebuilt in brick in 1747 by Thomas Wright, whose family have lived in the village for 700 years, and occupied the Hall for 400 years until 1929. A stone built wing of the earlier house still survives.
Almost next door stands Church Lady House, reputedly named after a lady ghost seen dressed all in black. Originally a crook-framed medieval farmhouse, much restored by Francis White in 1768, it is now the home of Sheffield born former politician Roy Hattersley, whose familiar figure can be regularly seen being taken for a walk up Moor Lane by Buster, his famous canine companion.
Further down the main street a left turn into Church Lane leads past the farm, to the lych-gate entrance of the square-towered St.Giles Church. There was probably a Norman church here, though nothing remains of it - with the possible exception of the foundations, used as the base for the earliest recorded church built on this site in 1262. A violent storm caused severe damage in 1791, but the repairs proved so poor that a complete restoration was needed, and completed by eminent Victorian architect R.Norman Shaw in 1872. Memorials to the Longsdens, Wrights and Thornhills are prominent inside the church.
The Vicarage south of the church was originally an Inn known as The White Lion. It became a vicarage when the new White Lion was built in its current position in the main street in 1828. Just up the main street from the White Lion beside the war memorial which stands on the lower part of the green, are the Post Office and Infants School. The village also has a general store, an excellent butcher's shop and an enterprising Business Park, which in recent years has taken over the former premises of Thornhills Country Produce, once a major employer here with a workforce of 450. There have been Thornhills in Great Longstone since 1665 and they still farm here and play a major role in the village. Thornhill House is a well run residential home for the elderly.
This thriving village has a number of intriguing buildings and features, not least the little Victorian railway station along the lane leading to Thornbridge Hall. For trains from Bakewell this was the last stop before crossing the Monsal Viaduct, but the last train left Great Longstone Station in the 1960's and the old Midland line is now part of the Monsal Trail.
The Longstones are off the beaten track and their relative obscurity has preserved them from the ravages of tourism. Long may they remain limestone villages of great Derbyshire charm and character.
This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates