Background

Derbyshire, located almost exactly at the heart of England, is a ruggedly beautiful and surprisingly accessible county whose origins can be traced back to prehistoric times.

While there are few metropolitan centres ? Derby is the county’s only city ? several large cities lie just outside its borders, including Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham.

Property prices have gone up in recent years, but it seems that no area, no matter how beautiful, is immune to the recent slow down in the market so now could be an opportune time to make a purchase. However, at the top end of the market, competition for the best homes is still fierce.

History

Derbyshire’s rich history dates as far back as prehistoric times, when it is thought that Derby, one of the country’s smallest cities, was initially established. Evidence of the earliest occupants has been found in the limestone caves at Cresswell Craggs, such as mammoth and hyena bones and flint and bone tools left by Ice Age Hunters up to 45,000 years ago, and at the various Bronze Age burial sites located across the county.

Subsequent tenants included the Romans and the Saxons, but it was the industrial revolution that perhaps left the most significant and indelible mark on Derbyshire. The centres of Sheffield and Manchester are located just outside the county’s borders, but some of the earliest examples of modern industrialism can be found within.

Running from Matlock Bath south towards Derby is the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, a breathtaking paean to the industrial age, studded with historic mills, some of the world’s first modern factories, and the remains of one of the earliest steam railways. Surrounded by countryside, this area is beautiful, nostalgic and well preserved.

Peak District

The feature that most people associate with Derbyshire is, of course, the Peak District. Many tourists visit the National Park’s spectacular landscapes, essentially the southern part of the Pennines, from all over the world each year. At 2,000ft, the District’s rainfall is twice that of the south, and the average annual temperature is 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower.

Kinder Scout, one of the most famous Peaks, is famed not only for its beauty but also for its historical significance. In 1932, working men from the surrounding industrial towns became frustrated with not being allowed to enjoy the countryside they lived next to, so they staged a mass trespass which turned bloody when they clashed with local gamekeepers.

Now, following the open access legislation introduced earlier this year, most of the area, including Kinder Scout, is open to ramblers. The walks are spectacular and enjoyed by many. 22million people visit the Peak District every year, making it Britain’s most popular National Park.

Food and Drink

Dotted throughout the Peak District and the rest of the county are many of the country’s oldest markets, with Chesterfield’s celebrating its 800th anniversary this year, and Derby’s reaching 850 years old. There are also several WI Country Markets across the county, offering the very best jams, pickles, cakes and pies.

Sold at many of these markets will be some of the country’s finest delicacies, many of which originated in Derbyshire. Bakewell pudding took its name from its birthplace, and is still manufactured there to a secret recipe, while Stilton, ‘the King of chesses’, perhaps the county’s most significant contribution to gastronomy, was first produced in the village of Hartington.

Other Derbyshire favourites include pork pies, Buxton spring water, Thorntons chocolate, gingerbread and real ale.

Culture

Several cultural hubs are located just outside Derbyshire’s borders, including Nottingham to the east, Manchester to the northwest and Sheffield to the north. However, there are several galleries and theatres located throughout the county.

Buxton Opera House is one of the Peak District’s most treasured cultural assets. It was built in 1903 by Frank Matcham, and some of the early twentieth century greats graced its stage, including Gracie Fields and Hermione Gringold. It has been extensively renovated in recent years and now hosts all kinds performance, from opera to pantomime.

Transport

In spite of the lack of metropolitan centres, Derbyshire is surprisingly well connected. The M1, running down the west of the county, provides an easy link to London and the North.

There are also 3 international airports located just outside the county’s borders, with Nottingham East Midlands Airport to the south (close to Derby), Manchester International to the northwest and Sheffield City Airport to the northeast.

Direct trains to London St Pancras take 1hr 40 minutes from Derby and 2hrs 5 minutes from Chesterfield.

Property Market

Derbyshire can be divided into the higher, open land of the Peak District to the northwest, and the more densely populated south and east, where most of Derbyshire’s industry is located.

The Peak District is the most sought-after area in the county to live; it is out of commuting range from London, but not from Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester. Prices are relatively favourable, but higher for good property within easy reach of Derby and other towns.

The recent downturn in the UK’s property market has not bypassed Derbyshire. In general, prices are slowly coming down: ‘Over the past few months the market has run out of steam and reached a full stop,’ said Chris Brown from Boxall Brown & Jones estate agents in Derby.

However, to a certain extent, good character properties seem to be the exception to this rule: ‘There are certain exceptions. Good, stone built or brick farmhouses with a bit of land will always do well. Depending on the location, position and appointments, the inherent demand for those types of properties is still there. Although having said that, prices for those types of property are no longer going up,’ said Mr Brown.

Jodie Vallance from Bagshaws estate agents in Bakewell agrees: ‘Properties above £600,000 don’t come on the market regularly. We recently had a typical good property that was snapped up above the asking price within 10 days of going on the market. We sold another property in August for £1.1million having been put on the market at £975,000. So that market is still buoyant.’

Derbyshire’s manor houses, mostly built of stone, retained their Tudor characteristics until well into the 17th century; the county also has an impressive tally of great houses, including Chatsworth, Calke Abbey and Hardwick Hall.

However, for Ms Vallance, while there may be demand for large estates, few come on to the market, so the most sought after properties are ‘lifestyle’ homes or cottages within the Peak District: ‘The older the better,’ she said.

Bakewell, generally seen as the ‘gateway’ to the Peak District, is one of the most popular towns, both for homebuyers and tourists. Many prefer surrounding villages such as Calver, Froggatt, or Baslow, which is within commutable distance to Sheffield. Buxton, a beautiful town situated high up in the Peak District, is not as highly sought after due to its remoteness and the colder climate.

Most buildings are constructed using local limestone, although there are some highly valued gritstone properties, which grow into beautiful, dark, sandy, colour with age.

Major towns

Derby, Chesterfield, Bakewell, Ashbourne, Matlock, Alfreton, Ilkeston, Belper, Swadlincote, Heanor, Glossop and Buxton.

Transport links

Train: St Pancras to Derby, 1hr 40min; St Pancras to Chesterfield, 2hr 5min.

Car: Derby is 130 miles from central London and Chesterfield 152 miles, via the M1.

Public schools

Normanton School, Buxton (01298 22745). Co-educational, age range 3-18, day and boarding.

St Anselm’s, Bakewell (01699 812734). Co-educational, age range 3-13, day and boarding. www.s-anselms.co.uk/

Barlborough Hall School, Chesterfield (01246 810511). Co-educational, age range 3-13, day and boarding.

Derby High School (01332 514267). Girls ages 3-18, boys ages 3-11, day. www.dbyhigh.demon.co.uk/

Ockbrook School, Derby (01332 673532). Girls ages 3-18, boys ages 3-11, day and boarding. www.ockbrook.derby.sch.uk/

Ecclesbourne School, Duffield (01332 840365). Co-educational, age range 11-18, day. www.ecclesbourne.derbyshire.sch.uk

St Elphin’s School, Darley Dale (01629 732687). Girls ages 3-18, boys ages 3-7, day and boarding. www.st-elphins.co.uk/

Repton School (01283 559200). Co-educational, age range 13-18, day and boarding. Associated preparatory school. www.repton.org.uk/

Trent College, Long Eaton (0115 973 2737). Co-educational, age range 11-18, day and boarding. www.trentcollege.net/

Leisure

Golf courses: Allestree Park, Derby (01332 550616); Ashbourne (01335 342078); Erewash Valley, Stanton-by-Dale (0115 932 3258).

Hunts: the Meynell and South Staffordshire and High Peak Harriers.

Fishing: rivers Trent and Dove.