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Country diary: Chelmorton, Derbyshire

Chelmorton, Derbyshire: There can be few better vantage points for the quick and the dead to contemplate infinity

At over 1,000 feet, Chelmorton is the highest village in Derbyshire, and few enjoy so auspicious a location. The village runs uphill from Townend Farm into the southern slopes of the steep and grassy Chelmorton Low, sheltered on all sides and basking in early morning sunshine as I walk under a powder-blue sky up its single street.

Where the hill steepens, just above the church of St John the Baptist, is Chelmorton's sweetest piece of luck, a clear, reliable spring known as Illy Willy Water. This flows year-round and once fed a now buried stream that ran a quarter of a mile before plunging underground again through the porous bones of this high limestone country. The village grew in a line along this stream to its limit, where it disappeared down its "swallet".

The original boundaries of many Peak District villages are now blurred with modern housing – not so Chelmorton. Its field system, predating the Norman conquest, is largely preserved, inked in later with limestone walls.

Time has slowed here. In the church, someone had put RS Thomas's poem The Village on the wall: "Stay, then, village, for round you spins/ On slow axis a world as vast/ And meaningful as any posed/ By great Plato's solitary mind."

The church, its tower capped with a golden locust (the symbol of St John), marks the northern limit of the village. A track leads up and round the hill. Harebells grow in abundance along this path, busy with insects and a peacock butterfly, luxuriant crimson wings snapping shut as I approach.

East along the crest of the hill, with glorious views stretching north across the Wye valley towards the distant moors, is a chambered neolithic tomb that is among the highest such remains in England. There can be few better vantage points for the souls of the quick and the dead to contemplate infinity.


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Publication Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2013 19:59:00 GMT
Source: The Guardian

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