Not quite Melbourne, Australia – Melbourne, Derbyshire is located in the middle of England. It’s much, much older than its more famous namesake having been around since around 1120. It might not have sunshine, surf and beaches but it does have history, rolling English countryside and grand buildings.
As England starts to open up for local travel and staycations, I’ve been making an effort to get out and about. First on the list once indoor meetings were allowed was to to visit my parents, who live around 1.5 hours from me and I hadn’t seen properly since Christmas! They live not too far from the Derbyshire countryside, so we decided to spend a day exploring the area.
1. Melbourne town centre
We parked in the centre of Melbourne (managing to get some free car parking!), and firstly explored the town itself. The history of Melbourne dates back to the 1100s, and in 1311, Melbourne Castle was started but never completed. However it was used to detain prisoners taken at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and was meant to be used to imprison Mary, Queen of Scots in the 1500s but fell in to a state of disrepair.
Now, the castle no longer exists, but Melbourne Hall and Gardens, constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries still stand. Melbourne Hall was originally the rectory house for the Bishop of Carlisle and is open for the public to visit every August.
Also worth seeing is the Melbourne Parish Church which was built in about 1120, and most of the original masonry is intact. Also just strolling around the town, enjoying the shops and having a drink is an enjoyable way to spend some time here, before moving on to discover more of the area.
From Melbourne, we chose to walk to Swarkestone – this route takes you across the River Trent and along the canal to do so. Swarkestone is famous for its Jacobean grandstand called ‘The Pavillion’ where rumour has it they used to run bull fights. Interestingly, it’s now maintained by the Landmark Trust and you can rent it to stay in. There are also plenty of other pretty houses to discover in the village.
Swarkestone is also home to a famous bridge, built in the 13th century to cross the river and its surrounding marshes. It was financed by the two sisters who had both become engaged but whose fiances tried to cross the river on horseback – but were swept away and drowned. The sisters commissioned the bridge so that no one else would suffer the same tragedy; neither sister married again and both died in poverty having spent their fortune on building the bridge. It is now rumoured that their spirits haunt the bridge!
Swarkestone bridge is three quarters of a mile long and has 17 arches. It is the longest stone bridge in England, and is also the furthest point south that Bonnie Prince Charlie and his troops got in an attempt to reclaim the British Throne in 1745.
3. Stanton by Bridge
At the other end of the Bridge is Stanton. It’s a tiny village home to around 200 people, and its main feature is its beautiful Norman church complete with visible bells.
We walked from Melbourne to Swarkestone to Stanton and back to Melbourne. You can find the full walking route HERE if you are interested in following the same trail, which is around 7 miles long and takes around 3-4 hours depending on your pace and number of photo stops.
4. Staunton Harold
Around 1 mile outside of Melbourne lies Staunton Harold. Again you could chose to do a circular walk from Melbourne, or you could drive and park on site. Staunton Harold is home to Staunton Harold Hall, a beautiful building which is actually still a family home (!), a stunning chapel, rolling fields, a large reservoir and also a number of independent galleries, craft and other shops which are good for a peruse.
The hall itself is one of the highlights – for 500 years it was home to the Shirley family, who have had a chequered history. Sir Robert Shirley was an ardent royalist, and built the church here in defiance of Cromwell. He was imprisoned six times, and died in the Tower of London, aged 27. Then in 1760, the head of the family shot and killed his steward. For this he was tried by his peers in the House of Lords and condemned to death, the last peer to be hanged. The title passed to his brother who, over twenty years, demolished most of the old Hall and rebuilt it as you see now.
Since then the Hall has been sold multiple times and has even been used as a Sue Ryder Hospice – but it’s now privately owned and run as a family home again! What a place to call home.
5. Calke Abbey
Whilst at Staunton Harold, it’s worth making the 45 minute walk to visit Calke Abbey, the final stop on a day in and around Melbourne. You can find this route as a National Trust walk HERE.
Calke Abbey is a Grade I listed house, owned by the National Trust. The site was an Augustinian priory from the 12th century until its dissolution by Henry VIII. The present building, named Calke Abbey in 1808, was never actually an abbey – it’s a Baroque mansion built in the early 1700s. It was owned by the Harpur family for nearly 300 years but passed to the National Trust in 1985. The house is open to the public and the rooms maintained in the state of decline they were inherited in.
After all of that, you will definitely be ready for wine and dinner! There is a lot of walking here, so another great idea is to stay the night in Melbourne and spread the walks out over a long, relaxed weekend in the English countryside.
Thank you so much for reading – I hope you’ve found the sites and history of Melbourne and its surrounds interesting. If you’re in the UK and looking for good walks or places to visit off the tourist trail, this is a great option.
Oh and if you’re wondering what the link to the other Melbourne is – Melbourne, Australia is named after Viscount Melbourne, who was Queen Victoria’s Prime Minister and lived at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire, pictured above.
Stay safe and happy travelling.