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Discover the area that was the source of inspiration for an infamous author and a famous composer.
Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 360ft (110m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Gravel tracks, roads and grass trails, 11 stiles
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 259 Derby
Start/finish SK 118426
Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead
Parking Ample parking along roads
Public toilets None on route
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the post office go left and then take the first left down an obvious gravel track. At the junction of two bridleways, keep going straight to Calwich Abbey. Follow the track left of the abbey and along the metalled road as far as Calwich Home Farm.
2 Pass the farm and follow the track round to the left of The Grove and through a gate. At the fork follow the yellow footpath arrows to your left and, after 50yds (46m), veer left off the track up a short hill to a stile in front of Cockley farm. Cross the stile and head just to the right of Cockley, following a dirt and grass track all the way to the B5032.
3 At the road go left and then first right, through Calwichbank Farm and up a gravel track. When the track bears round to the right, keep going straight into a field, making for a gap in the hedge at the top right-hand corner. Shortly after this gap, go through a gate on the right and then follow the hedge left, down the field.
4 At the bottom follow the hedge round to the left and cut diagonally right across the field to a stile. After crossing the stile, skirt round the top of the wood to another stile and continue as far as The Hutts Farm. After a stile take the gravel track up the hill to a gate into the farmyard and head straight on to another stile into a field.
5 Continue straight across this field making for the corner of Aldercarr Wood. Keep going to the stile in the bottom, right-hand corner of the field and carry on along the right-hand edge of the next field. At the far end is another stile, cross this and continue straight to the B5032. Turn right along the road and, after 100yds (91m), take the path to the left. Head diagonally right across the field to a double stile and then left round the bottom of a small mound with trees. Keep going as far as the junction of the two bridleways, at Point 1, and from here retrace your steps back to the post office.
Ellastone, near the Derbyshire border to the south west of Ashbourne, is known for its literary and its musical associations, both of which involve people named George - or so it would seem. The first is George Eliot, author of - among others - Silas Marner (1861) and Middlemarch (1871). Eliot's first novel Adam Bede is based on the village of Ellastone; in the book it is referred to as Hayslope, while Staffordshire is named Loamshire. When it was first published in 1859, by a completely unknown author, a number of impostors tried to claim authorship of the book. Only then was it revealed that George Elliot was a nom de plume for Marian Evans, who wrote for the prestigious Westminster Review.
The scandal that broke when it was discovered that George Eliot was a woman was exacerbated by the fact that she was also having an extra-marital affair with George Henry Lewis, her editor. Unable to divorce his faithless wife, George Henry entered into a common-law marriage with George Eliot. Polite Victorian society was far too conservative for such sordid behaviour, and the author was ostracised by her family and friends. This rejection became one of the themes of her next novel, The Mill on the Floss, published in 1860.
As for Adam Bede, its success then, as now, lay in Eliot's ability to reflect everyday life in her characters and the worlds they inhabited. Shunning the romanticism prevalent in the first half of the 19th century she was one of the first writers to insist on realism, believing that novels should reflect not only the real world, but also some underlying moral purpose above and beyond the entertainment to be had from a good read. In Adam Bede, the hero is thought to have been based heavily on Marian's own father, and in amongst a tragic love story - interlaced with rich descriptions of rural life - lies the novel's central theme, that selflessness is the secret of happiness.
The second George to find inspiration in Ellastone was George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), who was later described by Beethoven as the 'the greatest composer who ever lived'. Handel's most famous work is arguably The Messiah, which he composed in a furious 24 days while staying with friends at Calwich Abbey in 1741 (Calwich Abbey is passed in the early stages of the walk).
The Messiah was first performed, in aid of charity, in Dublin a year later, where it was met with rapturous applause. Some years later, King George II was so moved on hearing the Hallelujah Chorus that he rose to his feet; the audience duly followed his example and the tradition remains today, even in the absence of royalty.
The Duncombe Arms in Ellastone serves good food and traditional beers, bar snacks, desserts and ice creams, 12-9pm, seven days a week.
Ashbourne is a picturesque and predominantly Georgian market town near the edge of the Peak District, and is well worth a visit. Market days are Thursday and Saturday, but its best tradition is surely the Royal Shrovetide Football Match, when the Up'ards (those from north of the Henmore Brook) play the Down'ards (those from the south) using a pitch where the goals are 3 miles (4.8km) apart. The game is played with a specially made and painted ball, and can last until 10pm, flowing back and forth through the town.
Sadly, little remains of the abbey - founded in 1148 - where Handel once penned his greatest work, and not much remains of Calwich Hall, which was built in its place. All that can be seen today is a disused stable block and a fishing temple by the lake.