1. Ashbourne’s Gatepost Skulls
Ashbourne is already a pretty mad place for other reasons (see below) but if you needed another reason to unnerve you and even send an ice-cold shiver down your spine, then the human skulls propping up the tops of the posts at Ashbourne church should do the trick. The hollow sockets stare out at you menacingly on your approach, boring you down and challenging you to enter the sacred grounds like a memento mori straight out of a Jacobean tragedy. They were apparently crafted by one Robert Bakewell in around 1700. Bakewell, you may recognise, is a bit of a name in these parts, more famously associated with the almond tarts, not skulls.
2. Chelmorton Stone Phone Box
One of the symbols of Great Britain which are recognisable all around the world along with the teapot, James Bond, Beef Eaters from the Tower of London and the Queen, is the bright red phone box. There used to be a law that every population area needed to have at least one public phone box for emergency reasons. Being red, that obviously made it stand out a mile away, again because of emergencies. In Chelmorton they thought ‘to hell with that’ and built a stone one instead so that it would blend in with the architecture of the area.
3. The Quiet Woman Pub
A 400-year-old pub in Earl Sterndale (already a pretty interesting name) is called the Quiet Woman. Why is she quiet you ask? Is it because she is a timid sort, given only to shuffling around in the background and in libraries. No it’s because she has been decapitated. She is nothing more than a headless corpse wandering round serving the guests. Not really of course. The story goes that the unfortunate lady in question was a little loose with her tongue and, as a punishment, had her head lopped off. Seems a little extreme to me.
4. Crinkle Crankle Wall
Or as you may know it better – the ‘Crinkum Crankum’? Or maybe not. Though that is its alternative title. Apparently this term means ‘zig-zag’ in Ye Olde English but it’s really a wavy-shaped wall to be found at Hopton Hall. The wall is apparently less likely to suffer the wear and tear of age in this format. Fortunately, Noel Edmonds and his crinkley bottom are nowhere to be seen either. So a double win there, then.
I mentioned Ashbourne was a bit curious in Strangest Thing Number 1. Well, here’s another fact about that place which stands it out from the normal; Hugball is a traditional game played in Ashbourne on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday when the menfolk of town all get involved in one big rolling grapple. The ‘game’ kicks off after a few traditional speeches and the blokes from one part of the town get stuck into the blokes from a different part. The shops have to board up their windows and chaos ensues. The aim is to get the ‘ball’ from one side to t’other but really it’s a good excuse for big old homoerotic free-for-all.
6. The Leper’s Window
While the effete, cosy and traditional homes of the Peak District hid the local inhabitants and the gentry away, lepers (who were historically treated at a Peak District hospital at Spital) were consistently shunned. They weren’t even allowed in church services which is arguably the one place you may have thought they would be permitted. But no. Instead they were forced to watch proceedings from outside via special windows.
7. Cork Stone
Pretty simple this one: a massive stone that looks like a champagne cork. Or maybe a 99 ice cream. Or maybe a giant faceless stone gnome. Anyway, it is to be found on Stanton Moor and it is rather impressive if very odd.
8. Lion’s Head in Dovedale
Near to the stepping stone entrance to the dale, a great jutting slab of limestone leans out with grace, power and impressive presence. Looking at it face on you might not notice anything special about it but from the side it look’s positively leonine.
9. Chesterfield’s Crooked Spire
Forget Pisa and its leaning tower, so yesteryear! Why on earth is this marvellous architectural feat not more famous? It is a truly disorientating experience if you keep your gaze fixed on it and make your way around it from below. Every year the spire moves a little further from its centre; the combination of unseasoned (green) timber and 32 tonnes of lead tiling is the root cause. That or it could be the Devil’s work, locals say. The Devil, who was being shoed by a Bolsover blacksmith at the time, suffered a jolt of pain and bolted over the spire knocking it over in the process.
10. Devil Halter Chapel
And talking of the horned man in the red cape, his ‘presence’ is also marked elsewhere in the Peak District. At Muggington, a local man (again, so the story goes…) constructed a chapel after a stormy night when, just after he claimed he would ‘halter the Devil’ in order to get to Derby (well, wouldn’t we all), a flash of lightning revealed his trusty nag to be sporting horns. Yikes.