My Britain: Alstonefield

Anna Walker 19 March 2022

The postcard-perfect village of Alstonefield is a slice of how Britain once was

Picturesquely nestled in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park, many of its residents still make their living from the surrounding land, and there's a strong sense of community and village pride here. 

The village sits upon an ancient Anglo-Saxon site, and evidence of its former settlers is still on show through fortified hill farms and fragments of Saxon crosses in the church graveyard of St Peter's. 

The church, which dates back to the 12th century and is Grade I listed, is home to the oldest legible gravestone in Britain—a circular memorial stone engraved for one Mary Barclay, who died in 1731.

Visitors to this quaint, sleepy village can enjoy the untouched beauty of its surroundings and its architecture, with plenty of pretty places to stay, including The George—a rustic pub recognised by the Michelin guide and offering ingredients mostly gathered from within 15 miles of the premises.

Meanwhile, Alstonefield Manor Holiday Cottages offer a stylish spot for relaxation amid unparalleled views. We spoke to the owners of both retreats for a taste of village life. 

Siobhan Penrose Johnson

Siobhan Penrose Johnson, 48, owns The George along with her husband Graham. 

My husband and I were brought to Alstonefield by The George, but much before we took ownership. We are from Wirksworth, just nine miles away, so we used to visit, and the area has always been special to us.

The George sits in the middle of the village on the main green. There isn’t as much passing trade nowadays, but we do have plentiful visitors to the village, a great little community and staycation visitors to the area for long, lazy weekends and the fresh air! Our food attracts a fair few which is great news for us, and helps keep the area on the map.

"Alstonefield is staggeringly beautiful"

Alstonefield is staggeringly beautiful and so well positioned, up on a limestone plateau above Dovedale. Alstonefield is just off the beaten path and has an air of unspoilt tranquillity.

The countryside feels old and untouched and the village still has many of its original features; it’s surrounded by stone walling unique to the White Peak region and the rivers Manifold, and Dove. There’s a spirituality to the place that captivates you, maybe unwittingly! It’s our idyll.

The George has been here for years—indeed my older sister remembers camping here 30 odd years ago, and it has been central to Alstonefield for a long, long time. Safe to say it’s a bit of an institution! It is a Georgian coaching inn, built in 1710 with a beautiful and quirky interior.

We have a collection of bank notes adorning the beams that have been collected for aeons in the cosy old bar area, lots of old pictures and wise words scattered across the old stone walls, plus an open fire.

Then there’s the restored dining room, with lime plaster, a big log burner and stone-mullioned windows throughout. We think at one point there was a cattle market in what is our kitchen garden, now home to the chickens, ducks and bees! 

A constant theme and feedback we get is the relaxed, easy-going and friendly atmosphere we combine with some seriously special, sophisticated food. It doesn’t feel stuffy or suggest any lofty airs of pretence. We are human, and we really want people to enjoy the experience and feel at home. 

We always try to source locally, and grow our own too. Sustainability is key, and keeping our impact on the environment to a minimum is vital. The meat we have is sustainable, and often rare breeds from the Peak District's high-welfare smaller farms, but we try and use local breeds too.

I have so many favourite spots in Alstonefield, but the view that still takes my breath away is looking down to Milldale and the Dove Valley—it’s so dramatic and it’s just ten minutes down the lane, across a field. Then climbing to the top of Baley Hill / The Nabs looking back toward Alstonefield and seeing so far around. It’s a 360° view that never fails to delight.

Robert Wood

Robert Wood, 63, and his wife, Jo are the owners of Alstonefield Manor Cottages

My wife Jo grew up in Alstonefield, but we bought a house in the village about 30 years ago, and then moved to the Manor 20 years ago. So I married the village! 

We met in London and Jo introduced me to her home village, and I fell in love with it. However, we moved to Boston, Massachusetts and lived in the US for ten years before finally moving back to the UK and Alstonefield. We wanted our two children, George and Hannah, to have the same experience of village life that Jo had as a little girl.

Alstonefield has a great community spirit and a real cross section of residents, which makes it an interesting place to live. It also has many families who have lived in the village for generations and who still work the farms and land.

This keeps it "real" and gives it continuity. So, you will see the cows and sheep being driven through the village and the trailers full of bails at harvest time.

Its location is unique, on a plateau between Dove Dale, Mill Dale, Narrow Dale and the Manifold Valley so as soon as you leave the village you are in spectacular countryside. And because it’s in a National Park there are miles of footpaths.

Although the village is small, it always has something going on—concerts in the village hall, musical or art events in the church. And anyone can join in.

The village keeps adapting to change, which keeps the community strong. The village tearoom's closed, but now we have a pop-up cafe in the village hall. Since the chap could no longer wind the village clock every week, 12 clock winders now take it in turns.

The Manor house was owned by the Harpur Crewe family who owned Calke Abbey, and who were the original Lords of the Manor. It was rebuilt and extended in 1742 when it became the Manor House and it retains many of the original features, so every room has a different feel.

From the oak-panelled dining room to the later Regency drawing room or the low-ceiling snug, and gracious Estate Rooms.

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