ALSOP EN LE DALE INSIDER'S GUIDE
A secluded hideaway for fugitives and reformers...
· Hamlet in Derbyshire Peak District (White Peak area) - upland pasture, dry stone walls
· Parwich - 2 miles East; Ashbourne - 7 miles south; Bakewell - 14 miles NNE; Buxton - 15 miles NNW
· Tissington Trail: 0.25 miles distant
· Parking at Alsop Station for the Tissington Trail only (steep footpath drops down to the village)
· Facilities: very limited parking at church
· Pubs within 6 miles: Sycamore at Parwich; Bluebell Inn at Tissington; Waterloo at Biggin; Devonshire Arms and Charles Cotton Hotel at Hartington; Coach & Horses and Bentley Brook at Fenny Bentley; the George at Alstonefield; the Watts Russell Arms at Hopedale; the Royal Oak at Wetton
· Shopping: Parwich: village shop in Sycamore pub (essentials, off-licence). Ashbourne, Bakewell and Buxton: extensive shopping
· Tea and Cakes at the church on Bank Holiday Mondays
· Church open daily
Alsop-en-le-Dale (known locally as "Alsop") is an upland farming hamlet which, as its name suggests, nestles in a quiet, scenic valley in the south-western ridges of the limestone plateau of the Derbyshire Peak District.
Intersected by dry stone walls of limestone, it lies two miles west of the pretty limestone village of Parwich, and seven miles north of Ashbourne - a stately Georgian market town.
Designated as a Conservation Area throughout, and considering its tiny proportions, Alsop boasts no less than four Grade II nationally-listed buildings: a Norman church, a Jacobean manor house, and two fine Georgian farmhouses.
Moreover, Alsop sits at the confluence of a number of public footpaths. Above Alsop, the former railway station has been converted into a car park for the Tissington Trail, from which a steep footpath drops down to the village.
Alsop's easy access via these pleasant rights of way, together with its proximity to local attractions such as Dovedale, Wolfscote Dale, Tissington and Hartington, make it popular with walkers.
Pre-History to the Present
Prehistory: two Bronze Age (c. 2500 BCE) round barrows, collectively named "Cross Low 1 & 2", lie just to the north. Partially excavated by Bateman in 1843, Cross Low 1 revealed a crouched skeleton in a rough cist with stone axe fragment, the cremated remains of two infants, as well as food vessels.
Between these barrows and Manor Farm are extensive, low-lying earthworks, which have yet to be surveyed by professional Archaeologists. Similar surface features lie immediately south of Church Farm.
Recorded in the Domesday Book (completed in 1086) as "Elleshope", which is Old English meaning the “valley of a man called Aelle” (Mills, 1998). By 1535 the place name had become ‘Alsope in le dale’ giving us the tautological ‘Aelle’s valley in the valley’.
The settlement dates from Saxon times, and from at least the twelfth century it was the main seat of the Allsop family, who sold the Hall and Estate in the late seventeenth century. Today's Norman-French appellation en-le remains obscure.
Alsop Station (on A515 half-mile SW of Alsop-en-le-Dale)
Now a Car Park for the Tissington Trail, Alsop Station was opened in 1899. Regular passenger services ended in 1954, though excursions continued until 1963. Freight continued until October of that year, the track to Ashbourne finally being lifted in 1964.
The track bed from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay was acquired by Derbyshire County Council and the Peak National Park in 1968 for a cycle and walking route. This, the Tissington Trail, was one of the first of such ventures in the country. Later, Ashbourne Tunnel was acquired by Sustrans.
The twelfth century church of St. Michael & All Angels (open daily) was much restored in 1882/3, which saw the addition of a tower built in the Norman (Romanesque) style in complete sympathy with the architectural roots of the original nave and chancel - a tribute to the sensibilities of the Victorian restorers.
The south entrance to the nave features a splendid twelfth century round-arched doorway of two orders: the inner one plain and chamfered, the outer with double zigzag with triangular floral motif and a motif of bead and lozenge.
The church and churchyard overlook the picturesque dale directly south - a setting evocative of Thomas Gray's 1745 poem Elegy, Written in a Country Churchyard, which includes the line: "the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep".
During your visit, do find time sit on the bench in the churchyard for a while and savour the fine view over the headstones to the dale beyond. Even better, take a copy of Gray's Elegy with you.
Overlooking the church is the striking Alsop Hall (private) - a tall, seventeenth century English manor house (with C12 foundations). This building shares many of the features of English architecture characterised by the late Tudor and Jacobean styles - both of which owe their stylistic ideas to the much earlier Italian Renaissance.
Constructed of coursed limestone rubble with gritstone dressings, the principal facade comprises two gables, beneath which are three storeys, rich with gritstone quoins, and bevelled stone mullions and transoms framing leaded windows. Alsop Hall holds an altogether delightfully romantic appeal - especially when viewed from the churchyard opposite.
According to The History and Topography of Ashbourn and the Valley of the Dove (1839) John Alsop of Alsop Hall provided sanctuary to Protestant reformer Thomas Becon who sought obscurity during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-58):
“Taking the Buxton Road from Ashbourn, through Fenny Bentley, leaving Tissington (one of the most pleasing rural seclusions in Derbyshire), half a mile to the right hand we enter upon a bleak, monotonous country, intersected by stone walls…At one end of this dell, almost shut out from the traveller’s view, is a little village, consisting of a few farmhouses, the church, and the remains of the ancient manor house, to which has been given the appropriate name, Alsop-in-the-Dale. In this neighbourhood it was that Thomas Becon, one of the British Protestant Reformers, took refuge from the furious persecution of his [Roman Catholic] enemies...”.
East of the church along Dam Lane on the north side is ancient Manor Farm. Though its external appearance has changed over the centuries, its position and history stretch back to the end of the twelfth century, at the time of King John (of Magna Carta fame). The present building is of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, constructed of local limestone, with gritstone dressings.
Tradition has it that in this farmhouse was hidden one of the fellow conspirators of Guy Fawkes, notorious for his part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The house has a fine situation, but its view to the south is blocked by Church Farm (see below) put up, it is said, by the brother of the owner of Manor Farm, purposely to block the latter’s view.
Opposite Manor Farm and immediately east of the Church is the fine Georgian Church Farm of local limestone with gritstone dressings. From Dam Lane one can see the gritstone dressings of a now blocked four tier stair window, with a half-light at top and bottom - perhaps as a calculated snub to the siblings at manor Farm (see above).
At any rate, Church Farm, along with its staggered ensemble of attached stone barns, lends a particularly pleasing aspect to Alsop-en-le-Dale, especially when approaching from the east along Dam Lane - a mostly single-track road along its pleasantly winding route east-west from Parwich, via pretty Flaxdale.
The Sticky-out Stones Mystery
Manor Cottage on the left heading east towards Parwich has an abundance of those curious "sticky-out-stones" in its rear wall. One can see many more examples of this apparently mysterious building practice in other Peak District villages, including some in Staffordshire.
The subject of some speculation in the past, the explanation is that the projecting stones are evidence that the building was formerly rendered, the stones acting as keys for the initially wet-dash or lime render, and giving added support once the render had set.
An Early By-pass
The busy A515 trunk road once passed through the hamlet but was diverted in the nineteenth century to save stagecoaches the arduous climb down into the valley and then back up again.
Consequently, Alsop-en-le-Dale sees little traffic today, and its enduring character of quiet, pastoral seclusion is rarely disturbed, except perhaps at busy times in the farming calendar.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015