“The meandering, gurgling Dove, with its dale, which is lined with eye catching rock formations, leads us to the Viator bridge and then we rise up onto the limestone plain and enjoy two ancient picturesque villages.”
The writers on A Contemplative Man's Recreation route:
With abbreviated extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak
Dovedale has the reputation of being on of the most delightful walks in the United Kingdom and it has been one of our favourites for many years. Because of its popularity, it can become very busy so there is a need to carefully choose the time of your walk. We prefer an early morning, during the summer, when the freshness of the grass and trees pervades the air with their delicate aromas. One other benefit of walk at this time is the solitude, which allows us to listen to the gentle flowing sounds of the weirs. The range of these sounds is exquisite as the different shapes and falls of the weirs give their individual sounds.
We have a variety of works for our thoughts as we meander alongside the Dove and the exquisite limestone dale that guides the river. There have been many visitors to Dovedale, who have extolled its virtues as sublime English scenery, but it is some what surprising that Byron, Coleridge, Moore, Tennyson and Wordsworth did not compose verses about it. Many mention it in their letters, and Wordsworth does refer to the banks of the Dove in a poem, but there are no epic verses that have flowed from the pen of the masters.
In the previous walks we referred to A Tour of the Dove by John Edwards. He comments in the preface to his work that he was surprised at the lack of local verse. His lengthy poem was a contribution to resolving the deficit. Two writers, who we have mentioned before, sought out Dovedale. George Eliot refers to it as Eagledale in Adam Bede, while it was a favourite destination of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who would have walked the four miles across country from Wootton. We left Ilam and our route took us across the fields, near to the Isaak Walton Hotel, the name of which will becomes one of our focal points in this chapter, and towards the entrance to Dovedale. Another fascinating character is a woman writer from the nineteenth century, who challenged the norms of society. She became one of the first poets extensively recognised by working class people. Another visitor, a Scottish solicitor, who was on holiday from north of the border, returns us to Isaac.
Churchmen provide some stimulating ideas towards the end of this chapter. We shall meet three very different characters who had contrasting outlooks. The first published under a pseudonym. We shall find out why he took this approach. The second, led a two sided life, one in the church, but the other with some very unchurch like behaviour. Finally we have a devout man, who lived for a period at one of the Peak District’s most magnificent halls.
Thorpe Cloud is situated to the east of the River Dove. Its matching partner, Bunster Hill, is to the west. These two hills form the entrance to the Dove’s limestone gorge from the south. The hills are made of reef limestone, which was formed 300 million years ago in shallow warm seas. Let's go up Thorpe Cloud! It is a steep climb, but the view over the countryside, and the perspective of the gorge, make it worthwhile. There are footpaths that approach it from all directions, but the easiest is from the opposite side to the Dove. The exposed limestone is clearly visible on the summit and specks of it can be seen poking through the rough grass on its sides. When you have struggled to the top it is time to take stock and look out the outstretched hills and the winding gorge of Dovedale. The hotel we passed is visible, as is Ilam Hall.
The route down from Thorpe Cloud on the north side allows us to come into Dovedale from the east. The entrance to the valley, which is only a short way down Lin Dale, is quite surprising. All of a sudden, we seem to be in the middle of the dale. We join the outside bend of the river with Thorpe Cloud to the left, and Bunster Hill in front of us, on the other side of the river. The dale curves away from us upstream. At the point where we join Dovedale, there are stepping stones across the river. They provide a great deal of fun for the children and even adults in the summer months.
Gem of the Peak, which was an early Victorian Guide to the Peak District and had reached its fifth edition by 1851. In it, William Adam, the author, describes the entry into Dovedale with flowing Victorian eloquence:
'As we descended over the irregular road-way, if it may be so called, full of ruts, and chiefly over green sward or healthy mountain side, the east end of Dovedale began to open up before us, Thorpe Cloud, rising proudly to our left, Bunster immediately before us, and the lofty point bounding the east entrance to the right. There is an indescribable and overpowering majesty in nature, especially in mountain scenery, that it is difficult to account for; it seems not so much to arise from a minute examination of the parts of which it is composed, as from the combined effect of the whole as it is rapidly traversed with the eye, until the mind is completely filled with its vast dimensions, and inspired with a deep sense of its own insignificance and nothingness, as compared to such monuments of creative wisdom and omnipotent power; and that power reigning in supreme though silent majesty around us. We experienced the full effect of this as we made out way from the smiling fields and busy haunts of man to plunge into and examine the deeps and narrow recesses of Dovedale, which still retains all its ancient simplicity and beauty, uninjured by the art of man, and its magic charm still unbroken by the intrusions of his dwellings.'
Gem of the Peak - William Adam
Dovedale is a limestone gorge that has been eroded and weathered into some fascinating formations. There is a footpath all the way along the east bank to Milldale, which is the first hamlet that is reached. The National Trust, that owns the dale, manages it successfully, so that is can cope with the very many visitors that come to this popular part of the River Dove. There are a number of weirs on this section of the Dove. The water flowing over these small rock structures makes this one of the most attractive parts of the river. They not only give differing flows of water, but also provide a relaxing countryside sound to accompany this very peaceful setting. Soon after we begin the walk up Dovedale, the first of the named rock formations is on the far side of the river. It is Dovedale Castle. These noticeable features are resistant rocks that protrude into the air above the remaining rocks and woodlands. There are four principal limestone pinnacles, and in the order of meeting them, they are, Dovedale Castle, Pickering Tor, Tissington Spires and Ilam Rock. It is only a short walk until we take a steady climb up onto a spur, which is a headland on the inside of the river bend. At the top we find Lovers Leap overlooking the river.
On Christmas Eve, in 1818, Eliza Cook was born into a large poor family in London. Education was costly and most of her learning would come through Sunday School. She was diligent in her self studies and was encouraged in her attempts to write poetry at the Sunday meetings. She began to publish poems. By the time she was thirty-one, she had launched her own Journal. This was published weekly, and was about fifteen to twenty pages in length. It contained a mixture of articles, short stories and poems. Many of the pieces she had written herself, but her widening groups of associates also contributed. As she had come from such a poor background, she wanted to do all she could to support those in similar situations, and so looked to giving her support to political causes. A poem called The Old Armchair made her name well known throughout the literary and working class world. She was prolific in poetry writing and when she published her collected works, they ran to nearly six hundred pages. This was in addition to the many other magazines and journals to which she contributed articles. By 1863 her reputation was established and she was awarded a Civil List Pension.She wrote a poem entitled Derbyshire Dales. It contains a verse about Dovedale. She succeeded as a poet in difficult times. When she issued her collected works she ensured that they were cheap enough for ordinary working people to buy, or to acquire through the newly formed local libraries.
But we haven’t finished with Eliza Cook and Dovedale, because there is a fascinating development in the story of her life and poetry. And for what was an intrigue and scandal at the time, we need to cross the United States of America, to put it into context. Near the time of Eliza’s birth, another baby girl was born into the Cushman family in Boston. Her circumstances were similar to Eliza’s. The family was poor and little Charlotte had work duties from an early age. But in early adulthood her occupation and her monetary situation changed. She had desired to become an opera singer, but when this failed she took to the stage, to become one of the most success actresses of her age. This brought instant fame and wealth. It enabled her to own houses and travel to Europe, where she was also hailed as a great actress. However, her lifestyle was far from normal for the period in which she lived. She created her household solely of women, many of whom would dress as men. Her flamboyance and acting capabilities held the day, and she became very popular.
One time, when in England, she read and admired Eliza Cook’s poetry. The women met and began a close relationship that lasted for a long time. Charlotte Cushman, with Eliza, visited Dovedale and stayed at the Izaak Walton Hotel. Eliza Cook wrote a short poem simply entitled Charlotte Cushman. It was prompted by Charlotte first performance in England in the role of Bianca in Milman’s tragedy Fazio.
If we stand on Lover’s Leap, then directly opposite is the rock formation that is called the Twelve Apostles. In winter it is easier to pick out the dozen rock features that make up the formation. In spring and summer the bushes and grass obscure some of them. It’s not long after following the path down the north side of the spur that we come to a natural limestone arch that hides a cave. Reynard’s Arch is visible from the path only at certain times of the year, when some of the bushes and trees in front of it have lost their leaves. As we reach Pickering Tor, which is on our right, so Ilam Rock can be seen on the far side of the river. Underneath Ilam Rock is a footbridge, which is the first public access to the far side of the river, since we left the stepping-stones. We continue the walk along the valley and pass the two large and shallow caves of Dove Holes. The high craggy Nabs is in front of us. We finally pass through the last gate in the tree-lined section and the path opens out to a wider expanse of grass. Soon we can see a small bridge and the hamlet of Milldale. It is a small and narrow bridge, but has been made famous by a writer who lived nearby. Let’s set the scene by drawing your attention to the steep hill to the right of the bridge. There is a footpath that comes down that hill.
This section is about a conversation between two men, one of whom is a member of the local gentry and the other is a visitor to the region. The local gent is called Piscator and the visitor, who is passing through the area on his way to Lancashire, is called Viator. They have been conversing since joining each other south of Ashbourne. They had stopped at the The Talbot Inn in Ashbourne where the Piscator offers his country residence, situated by the River Dove, as a place to stay on the journey. This is accepted and after they had finished their ale they travel onwards. They are both on horseback. They do not go along the river valley, but ride on the limestone hills above the Dove. We’ll leave it to the book to explain what happens next.
Piscator: But, sir, we are now come to the descent of the formidable hill I told you of, at the foot of which runs the river Dove, which I cannot but love above all the rest; and therefore prepare yourself to be a little frightened.
Viator: Sir, I see you would fortify me, that I should not shame myself: but I dare follow where you please to lead me; and I see no danger yet; for the descent methinks, is thus far green, even and easy.
Piscator: You will like it worse presently, when you come to the brow of the hill, and now we are there, what think you?
Viator: What do I think? Why I think it is the strangest place that ever men and horses went down; and that (if there be any safety at all) the safest way is to alight.
Piscator: I think so too, for you, who are mounted on a beast not acquainted with these slippery stones; although I frequently ride down them, I will alight too, to bear you company, and to lead you the way, and if you please, my man shall lead your horse.
Viator: Marry, sir, and thank you too, for I am afraid I shall have enough to do to look to myself; and with my horse in my hand should be in double fear, both of breaking my neck, and my horse falling on me; for it is as steep as a penthouse.
Piscator: To look down from hence it appears so, I confess; but the path winds and turns, and will not be found so troublesome.
Viator: Would I were well down though! Hoist thee! There’s one fair ‘scape! These stones are so slippery I cannot stand! yet again! I think I were best lay my heels in my neck, and tumble down.
Piscator: If you think your heels will defend your neck, that is the way to be soon at the bottom; but give me your hand at this broad stone, and then the worst is past.
Viator: I thank you, sir, I am now past it, I can go myself. What here the sign of the bridge. Do you use to travel with wheelbarrows in this country?
Piscator: Not that I ever saw sir. Why do you ask that question?
Viator: Because this bridge certainly was made for nothing else; why, a mouse can hardly go over it: ‘tis not two fingers broad.
Piscator: You are pleasant, and I am glad to see you so: but I have rid over the bridge many a dark night.
Viator: Why, according to the French proverb, and ‘tis a good one among a great many of worse sense and sounds that language abounds in, ‘They whom God takes care of are in safe protection’ but, let me tell you, I would not ride over it for a thousand pounds, nor fall off it for two; and yet I think I dare venture on foot, although if you were not by to laugh at me, I should do it on all fours.
Piscator: Well, sir, your mirth becomes you, and I am glad to see you safe over; and now you are welcome into Staffordshire.
The Compleat Angler - Isaac Walton
A careful examination of Viator’s bridge in Milldale shows that the parapets were added after the main structure. Bridges often had no, or very low sides, to allow laden animals to cross them. The conversation is from a book called The Compleat Angler by Isaac Walton and Charles Cotton. They collaborated on the book, The Compleat Angler. Charles Cotton was a generation younger that Isaac, and wrote a poem for his older friend, which was entitled Retirement.
However, Charles Cotton was more than just an additional writer for Isaac Walton. He is known for translating the works of the French sixteenthth century writer, Michel de Montaigne, into English. De Montaigne was a prolific French Renaissance philosopher, who was a courtier to the Court of France. He is renowned for introducing the essay as a literary form. He compiled a series of these in which he represents his view on social philosophy. Charles translated all nineteen volumes of de Montaigne’s essays in 1685 about one hundred and twenty years after they had been written.
In 1664 Charles published Scarronides, a popular work, which ran to fourteen editions. It is based on the epic poem, written by Virgil in the first century BC. It tells the story of the journey from Greece to Italy and the events on the way. Cotton produced his version as a burlesque, which is an exaggerated parody on the original verse. Cotton inherited the family home above the River Dove, in Beresford Dale, in his twenties.
Let’s leave Dovedale with a final tribute to old Isaac, who lived until he was ninety. This comes from a nineteenth century Scottish advocate, Henry Glassford Bell. He was trained in Edinburgh, but became one of the foremost citizens of his day in his native Glasgow, as Sheriff of Lanark. Besides his legal duties, he also had a period as the editor of The Edinburgh Literary Journal and was well known in the literary world. His only major prose work was Mary Queen of Scots, but he did produce some volumes of poetry. Judging by the content, they were often written when away from his native country and on holiday. When he visited Derbyshire, one of his poems was called In Dovedale.
We now take the short steep climb up the hill and our destination is Alsop-en-le-Dale. The limestone edge path gives good views over the valley, which leads to Alstonefield, the home village of Charles Cotton. We soon arrive at what was the Alsop-en-le-Dale railway station. The old railway track has now been converted into a walking and cycling route, called the Tissington Trail. We take the path across the dale to the small village of Alsop-en-le-Dale. This settlement is centred around the quaint Norman Church and Alsop Hall. The church just peeks from the trees as we descend into the dale. When we stand on the tranquil lane, between the church and the hall, there is a great impression of timelessness. While the hall may have changed a bit with the years, the two magnificent buildings have stood firm looking towards each other for close on a thousand years. The Alsop family lived in the Hall from after the Norman invasion to the seventeenth century, when it was sold to creditors. And it is both the church and the hall that bring us to an author, who was here a few decades short of five hundred years ago.
Rude and uncivilised is how Thomas Becon described the Peak of Derbyshire, but he was pleasantly surprised when he arrived in Alsop-in-the Dale. Thomas was born in 1511, which was two years after Henry VIII came to the throne. He chose a life in the the church and was ordained in 1533. He became increasing intense in the Protestant religion. By 1540, he had fallen foul of the church authorities and the King. His progression in the church was dependent on the beliefs of the monarch of the times. When Edward VI came to the throne, Thomas became the Chaplain to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but that didn’t last long. The new Queen Mary soon banished him. Eventually he was restored as Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, when Elizabeth took the throne.
So what caused this fluctuation in his fortunes? He gradually developed more and more protestant views and therefore any attempt to prescribe what and how he should preach ended in his rebellion and with his ejection from roles. This is what happened in 1640. Henry VIII decreed what and how religion should take place, but it was not sufficiently protestant for Thomas. It was not only his sermons, but he also published religious works. It was his books and pamphlets that caused him problems. He was arrested and forced to recant his views in 1540. We will then let Thomas take up his own story of when he went to Alsop Hall and found some of his own books in the library. In order to avoid persecution, and to be able to carry on preaching, he published some of his work under the pseudonym, Theodore Basil.
After I had taken leave of my most sweet mother, and my other dear friends, I travelled into Derbyshire, and from thence into the Peak, whither I appointed my books and my clothes to be brought. Mine intent was, by exercising the office of a schoolmaster, to engraft Christ and the knowledge of him, in the breasts of those scholars whom God should appoint unto me to be taught. I found them of very good wits and apt understandings. Coming to a little village, called Alsop in the dale, I chanced upon a certain gentleman, called Alsop, lord of that village, a man not only ancient in years, but also ripe in the knowledge of Christ’s doctrine. After we had saluted each other, and taken a sufficient repast, he showed me certain books, which he called his jewels and principal treasures.
The Jewel of Joy - Thomas Becon
We leave the old small village of Alsop with its church, hall and farms to cross the dale to another village, where antiquity again comes to the fore. Tissington is one of the most picturesque villages in the Peak District. While it is easy to say that the old hall and the church dominate the centre of the village, it is the overall layout that makes it very special. The wide road in front of the hall, with the church raised on the other side, leads to a triangle of green with a nearby mere, set with a traditional cottage background. The houses and cottages are totally in keeping with this quiet and quintessentially English village. To add to the tradition, the Fitzherberts of the old hall, still play a very active role in the village and the surrounding countryside. A celebratory festival, in which Tissington has always taken the lead, is the annual well dressing. Each of the wells in the village is decorated with a picture that is created from petals and small flowers. These are held in a clay base, so that the can be raised vertically behind the wells. Each of the pictures is designed afresh each year and normally follow a biblical theme, which is often combined with local or national celebrations for that year.
Tissington Hall is a fine Jacobean house set in the midst of its own extensive estate. It fronts the road through the village. It is still a family home for the Fitzherberts. It was built by the family in about 1617 when King James was on the throne. Tissington is one of the four estates that have belonged to the Fitzherbert family, which gives them a long and complicated history spread over the last six centuries. The original Elizabethan manor in Tissington was probably next to the church, but at the beginning of the seventeenth century the hall, as it is today, was built opposite. The Fitzherbert family became a well known part of the national history of the United Kingdom through Maria Fitzherbert. She secretly married the Prince of Wales, but they both knew that for a number of reasons, the marriage would not be approved by the government of the country. Unfortunately for us she did not come from the Tissington branch of the family.
However, William Fitzherbert had more compliant dealings with George III, who was the father of the Prince of Wales. William rose through the Royal court and became a gentleman usher to the King, for which he received a baronet, which was the first title to come to the Tissington branch of the family. Sir William interests us particularity, for as well as his royal duties, he was also an author. His work was entitled Maxims and Reflections. It was published in 1784. It is a series of 439 short statements about maxims for living and refers to specific groups of people. We will skip over those comments that William wrote about women, as these are somewhat derogatory. Although his view of his fellow man are not always that complimentary:
We see children constantly quitting the playthings they have, and crying for those out of reach, or in their playfellow’s hands. Do not men, in their pursuits, act like children.
Maxims and Reflections - Sir William Fitzherbert
And let's see his humour, when he makes a light-hearted attack on the country squire.
An old-fashioned country squire and his horse if he could talk, would both converse upon exactly the same topics, and be the fittest company for each other, oats, hay, straw, fences and turnpike roads would be their favourite subjects, and perhaps the horse would be the most conversant on every one.
Maxims and Reflections Sir William Fitzherbert
William Fitzherbert’s younger brother, Alleyne, born at Tissington, was also very successful in the service to his country. He became a diplomat and was given the title Baron St Helen’s. It is after him that Mt St Helens, in the United States of Americ,a is named. He also represented his country in Ireland and Spain, with his last assignment being in Russia. We must not underestimate the value that was put on such services. In the current times large salaries and pension command much attention, but there were substantial emoluments in the Georgian period. Alleyne retired with a pension of £2300, which is the equivalent of about £150,000 today. But it is not his work for the monarch and government that interests us, it is the way in which he supported his cousins.
Whilst Alleyne became a rich man he did not forget a part of his family that have fallen on difficult times. His aunt, Anne Fitzherbert, had married a rector from Cheshire and after his untimely death, Alleyne’s cousins needed somewhere to live. He bought back into the Fitzherbert family, the house at Somersal Herbert that had been sold when the male line had died out. He allowed his cousins to live there rent free for their life time. Two of them Frances and Maria were destined to live a quiet life, but their circumstances changed. Their brother Shallcross took holy orders, and was, for a period of time, vicar at the church in Ellastone, where we started The Literary Way. But his pious life did not last long, as he became increasingly indebted due to horse racing and drinking. He would eventually become personal Chaplain to Alleyne Fitzherbert, Baron St Helens, and it was probably through that office that he came to Tissington in 1818, to preach the sermon at the celebration of the well-dressings. Alleyne’s other cousins Maria and Frances also stayed regularly at Tissington Hall. Shallcross’s debts were large, totalling about £1700, the modern equivalent of £110,000. In order to help their brother, Frances and Maria turned to writing. In keeping with the times they published anonymously. Frances Jacson produced five novels, of which Rhoda was favourably compared with Jane Austen’s Emma, which was published about the same time.
The anonymous attribution of Rhoda to the work being ascribed to other authors until the late 20th century. It received praise at the time and, while it is a lengthy story about her journey through life, it is represented with characters who do not fit the usual stereotypes. Rhoda comes from a humble background and achieves success in society, but it is tempered with self-doubt and whether she is giving in to avarice. Frances' sister, Maria, dedicated her writing to her great interest, plants and gardening. She corresponded with Erasmus Darwin, on botany matters, and she produced four books including The Florists Manual, which emphasised the developing interest of having a well stocked garden. It also encouraged the owners of the house to understand about plants as well as the gardeners.
Let’s turn to another minister of the Church, but this time one that had an unblemished record in his private life. In 1773 he wrote an unlikely book. It was very loosely based on the idea of Cervantes Don Quixote, which is broadly considered to be a masterpiece of literature. The Spiritual Quixote was written by Richard Graves. The source of his inspiration, Don Quixote, was a satire based on ordinary people and the realism of what they did. The ‘hero’ in the famous Spanish book is a country gentleman, who becomes obsessed with the notion of chivalry and sets off on a number of adventures.
Richard Graves was born in Gloucestershire in 1751. His father was a well educated local vicar and ensured his son received a classical education, which resulted in Richard going up to Oxford. He later became a Fellow of All Souls College. He became interested in medical matters, and was going to follow that as a career, until he had a serious illness. This resulted in him reconsidering his future direction, and he turned to his father’s role and took holy orders. He produced several works, many of an ecclesiastical nature, but The Spiritual Quixote is the one for which he is best known. Richard Graves based his book on a light satire on Methodism, which he saw as a threat to the English church. The nature of his book is given in the subtitle which reads, Spiritual Quixote, of the Summer Rambles of Mr Geoffrey Wildgoose, A Comic Romance. It is the story of a man, Geoffrey Wildgoose, who suddenly decides to become an evangelist and sets out on his light romantic ventures. He takes, as a companion, the local cobbler, who is only too pleased to get away from his nagging wife. The valley that we have just left, Dovedale, would have been very familiar to Richard Graves as he stayed at Tissington Hall, with the Fitzherbert family, for three years and, at the time, the estate reached as far as the Dove.
Let us leave Richard Graves with a brief look at his humour. The Spiritual Quixote has a dedication. There is no indication why this was chosen, but it does show Richard’s style and approach to his work.
TO MONSIEUR PATTYPAN,
Pastry-cook to his most sacred Majesty King George II.
Though a stranger to your person, I am no stranger to your ingenuity and your profound skill in your profession. I have often amused myself with some of those elegant compositions with which you daily entertain the public. I have long been acquainted with the virtues of your diet-bread; am a great friend to your wigs; and think myself under great obligations to your admirable puffs.
As I am convinced, therefore, you will make a proper use of my works; will do justice to their merit, and cover their defects: that by the well known goodness of your taste, you will preserve them from the attacks of the sourest critics; and by the sweetness of your disposition, defend them against their bitterest enemies: if you are not over-stocked with waste-paper by my brethren of the quill, I beg leave to dedicate these few sheets to your service; and am,
Sir, Your devoted humble servant
The Spiritual Quixote - Richard Graves
As we leave Tissington we can rest a little with a cup of tea at the old railway station, which is now on the walking and cycling path of the Tissington Trail. We began this chapter at the entrance to Dovedale and since then have ambled through some of the best landscape that England has to offer. The walk has combined the splendour of the limestone dale of the Dove, with the timeless picture of Alsop and a baronial finish in the Jacobean village of Tissington. Isaac Walton belongs to the same period as Tissington Hall, while his young friend Charles Cotton came from a neighbouring estate. Churchmen are often cited on The Literary Way and we met two devout examples in Richard Graves and Thomas Becon, who produced contrasting works. Our third representative from the church had to rely on his sisters’ writings for support, but he did, in his religious guise, preach the sermon for the renown well dressings. We also introduced the first of our women writers, Eliza Cook, from the Victorian period who rose from poverty and earned her living from the pen. We shall in future walks come across other women in the same sphere as Eliza and they will be joined with some Victorian men, who also rose from impoverished means, and scribed about working class issues of the day.