A White Peak oasis
Derbyshire Life|August 2020
Mike Smith explores the charming village of Monyash in the Derbyshire Dales
Mike Smith

Given Monyash’s location at the heart of a vast plateau where there is an almost complete absence of natural surface water, the discovery of a large pond near the centre of the village is like finding an oasis in a desert. Although plenty of rainwater falls on this upland area of Derbyshire, it disappears as soon as it hits the ground, because it is able to seep through myriad tiny cracks and joints in the porous limestone bedrock.

However, unlike other White Peak settlements, Monyash lies on a bed of clay, which forms a lining for the pond and makes it watertight. Fere Mere is the only survivor of five ponds constructed many years ago in the village. Overlooked on one side by the needle-like spire of St Leonard’s Church and on the other flank by a picturesque line of limestone cottages and farm buildings, the pond is the focus of a gloriously tranquil set piece.

Not content with the stunning beauty of the mere and its surroundings, the producers of the television series Peak Practice decided to introduce a colony of ducks to the pond for extra effect when one episode was filmed in Monyash. Once filming was over,the ducks resisted all attempts to capture them and they became a much-loved feature of the village scene. The birds have gone now but, as parish clerk Lesley Fitton explains, ‘They were not proactively removed. Some migrated to pastures new; some were thought to be the victims of foxes and at least two perished after being hit by passing vehicles’.

With or without ducks, Fere Mere is one of the two ingredients that give Monyash the flavour of an archetypal English village. The other is the triangular village green, located a few yards away from the mere. For the many cyclists and ramblers who come to recharge their batteries after travelling across the plateau, the green is the real oasis that draws them to the village, because it is overlooked by two well-known sources of refreshment: The Old Smithy Café and The Bull’s Head pub.

As its name suggests, The Old Smithy Café is housed in the former village blacksmiths. Opened in 1992 by folk musician Ed Driscoll, the café became famous for king-sized, all-day breakfasts and for helpings of delicious apple pie topped by Smith’s ice cream. Since Ed’s death, his son, David, has maintained these much sought-after offerings. He has also continued the tradition of allowing customers to try out the various musical instruments hung by his father on the walls of the café.

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