A Beginner’s Guide to…Melbourne, Derbyshire

A new travel series giving you the lowdown on the UK’s most underrated towns

Age: Coming up to 900 years old – in 2020, in fact. Need proof of such antiquity? The parish church – which some call a “cathedral in miniature” – dates back to 1120, and ancient buildings are everywhere, from defunct Melbourne Castle (all that’s left is a section of 50ft wall) to fine Georgian terraces and Melbourne Hall. Oh, and travel ledge Thomas Cook (yup, him) was born here in 1808; regard his Memorial Cottages on High St.

Where exactly is it? Derbyshire, silly: about eight miles south of Derby and a couple from the River Trent. And about a two-hour drive from London, provided there’s no funny business on the M1.

Elegant streets in the town centre. Photo: Visit Peak District

So what goes on there? Once a hotbed of framework knitting and footwear manufacture, it’s now a gently hilly haven of cafes, boozers, restaurants, independent stores and fashion boutiques. Start your wander at the 18th century Melbourne Hall, whose gardens and breezy 20-acre pool make a peaceful walk; it was also the seat of Victorian PM William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (and origin of its famous Australian city namesake).

The Grade I-listed house and gardens are open to the public (Apr-Sept); nestled in the grounds are a cluster of outlets, including a cafe, the craft butcher Tori & Ben and atmospheric wine store Hourlier’s. Afterwards, climb up the hill to Melbourne Deli (37 Derby Road) for cured meat, chocolates and local veg. A handful of womenswear stores line the stretch, too.

Melbourne, Derbyshire
Melbourne Hall. Photo: Visit Peak District

I’m hungry now. Where should I eat? Top tip is Harpur’s, the hotel-restaurant on the corner of Derby Road and Potter Street. If the weather’s good, sip a bulbous Spanish-style G‘n’T on its leafy sunset terrace – which provides an almost Mediterranean square focal point to the town.

Built in 1773 and formerly The Melbourne, the hotel’s name was changed to its current moniker in 2011. With family members living nearby, we’ve both eaten at and stayed in the hotel several times. From the a la carte we can recommend dishes like mackerel with cucumber, salted cod with curried cauliflower and, on our last visit in April, a superior beef tartare with wasabi.

The pub classics, especially fish and chips, are also decent. Book well in advance for a weekend evening table in the upstairs restaurant, and expect a wait between courses.

Anywhere else? Try Amalfi White (50 Derby Road), housed in an elegant Victorian building, for whopping wood-fired pizzas at lunchtime, with an extensive rear garden for you or the kiddies to let loose in. By night it’s all cheffy combos and artful dishes, pricey and grown-up, with a dimly-lit cocktail bar for a digestif. And down the road, fine dining gaff the Bay Tree (4 Potter Street) also has a following.

Melbourne, Derbyshire
Mackerel at Harpur’s. Photo: Stephen Emms

I want caffeine! So make for Jack’s (12 Derby Road), a coffee and cake shop with outdoor courtyard that’s dog-friendly.

How about a pub crawl? After that sundowner in the square outside Harpur’s, climb uphill to the refurbished Melbourne Inn (20 High St), the closest thing in town to a gastropub (and decent food option too), with craft beers, exposed wood and tile flooring. On the way you can’t miss cosy micropub Chip & Pin (8-10 High St) set in a former bank.

Head downhill for the tucked-away White Swan (Castle St), whose succession of beamed rooms are full of character; the owner will happily natter over a pint. You might even end up at the very trad 18th century Blue Bell (53 Church St), as we often have, the nearest pub to Melbourne Hall.

Melbourne, Derbyshire
Melbourne Pool. Photo: Stephen Emms

What else can I do? Walk it all off the next day with a stroll over to the Staunton Harold reservoir, an expansive 210-acre body of water. It has a visitor centre and wildflower meadow, and there’s bird-watching, dinghy and sailboarding; you can also hike to ancient Calke Abbey.

Where can I stay? Harpur’s has contemporary rooms above the restaurant (from £65 midweek), but we’ve also enjoyed the Hardinge Arms, a ten-minute walk in the idyllic village of King’s Newton. Expect simple, comfortable motel-style rooms (from £65, dogs £15 extra), chatty front-of-house, tasty pub grub (such as delicious scampi and chips) and a cooked breakfast with high-quality ingredients.

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Harpur’s of Melbourne, 2 Derby Road, Hardinge Arms, King’s Newton, Melbourne. Melbourne is two hours’ drive from London on the M1.

Main Photo: Visit Peak District


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