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A pretty market town and the gateway to the Peak District

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Ashbourne is at the southern end of the Pennine mountain range, and is a gateway to the Peak District. It's just 25 kilometres from Derby. In the past, the town happened to be at the point where several major coach routes crossed over each other, including the one from London to Manchester. The ensuing supply of travellers ensured its quick growth. Nowadays, the coach drivers and merchants have been replaced with tourists, but this seems to be just a minor change. It still results in a busy, fun town, full of good shops, pubs, and restaurants.
The main focus of Ashbourne has long been its market. This has been running since the year 1257, when the town was first granted an official market charter. Today, it's held every Thursday and Saturday, in the cobbled square. If you arrive on other days though, there are still plenty of shops to explore. Many of these are hidden down narrow alleyways, or inside quiet little yards. You'll find the usual small-town mix of clothing, crafts, antiques, and books. It also has several specialist food and drink places, selling all kinds of interesting ingredients to adventurous chefs.
Church Street is the main avenue, and is particularly notable for its fine array of Georgian buildings. This is where you'll find many of the town's main pubs and restaurants. The town's biggest landmark, St, Oswald's, is also here. It's a big church for a small town, with a spire over 60 metres tall. Inside, you can find several examples of good craftsmanship, from sculptures to stained glass windows. Church Street also contains many outdoors equipment stores, and bicycle rental shops, which cater for people about to walk or pedal into the Peak District.
Ashbourne is also known as The Gateway to Dovedale, which is a beautiful local valley. From here, there are countless walks to enjoy, and innumerable destinations to aim for. Many of these are along signposted footpaths or cycle routes. One popular route is the Tissington Trail, which follows an old, disused railway line, but there are many others. Some nearby landmarks include Carsington Water, a new reservoir, and Sudbury Hall, which is owned by the National Trust.
With its good facilities and location, Ashbourne makes for a perfect place to stay while you dive headfirst into the Peak District. In fact, some visitors seem to be in the town for around five seconds, as they throw their suitcase down, lace up their boots, and dart off again. But as exciting as the Peak District is, it's still worth sparing some time for Ashbourne itself.
This is particularly true during February, when the town hosts the Royal Shrovetide Football match. It's a little bit like a normal game of football, except on a much bigger scale. Instead of 11 players a side, this contest pits one half of the town against the other! The two sides are called the Up'ards and the Down'ards. Many of the local pubs are aligned with one team or another, and the players will congregate here after the match, to either celebrate their victory, or wallow in their loss.
To begin, a large-size ball made from cork and leather is tossed into the air by a visiting dignitary. In 2003, Prince Charles himself was here. The contest begins at 2pm, and can continue until 10pm at night. The goals are around 5 kilometres apart, and the play area consists of anywhere in-between. This includes streets, streams, countryside, pavements. Anywhere and everywhere is fair game. Most shopkeepers are sensible enough to board up their windows, so there's no risk of breaking anything. In fact, most of the shopkeepers are probably taking part anyway!
One big difference from regular football is that using your hands is perfectly acceptable. Thanks to this rule, the contest is essentially a brawl, with huge scrums of players all jostling for the ball. There are very few rules, with the main one being "no murder". Most other things are normally OK. In 1928, Prince Edward took part, and even he went home with a bloody nose.
At various times, people have tried to ban the game, but so far this hasn't happened. It's been taking place for a long time now. In fact, no one really knows when it started, but it dates from at least as early as the 12th century. Regiments of Ashbourne soldiers were even known to play it in the trenches, during World War One!
Visitor Information
Ashbourne Tourist Information Centre, 13 Market Place, Ashbourne, DE6 1EU. Tel: 01335 343666

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