Another typically English small market town.......
Ashbourne really is a teeny town: according to the town website its population is only 7,500 including all the nearby villages!
But it's a popular place in season, sitting as it does on the edge of the Peak District National Park, close to beautiful Dovedale and to many, many prehistoric sites. The whole area is extremely popular with walkers, cyclists and motorcyclists (lots of long swooping roads which, sadly, have caused too many deaths: 50mph speed limits and cameras are now commonplace).
I had a sudden urge to visit Arbor Low (see travelogue), an important henge and recumbent (lying-down) stone circle just north of Ashbourne. I'd never seen it, and felt the need to do so. So I stopped off in the town on the way back and had a little explore.
Ashbourne has existed since at least Saxon times (and almost certainly before) but it became really important in the 18th century, because six major coaching roads met/meet there. All sorts of famous people have passed through, from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Samuel Johnson to Queen Victoria.
It still has its Medieval street pattern, with alleyways and yards to explore, but the vast majority of its standing buildings date from Georgian or Victorian times. I spotted the really old one in the photo: the Gingerbread Shop dates from 1641 (though, of course, it's black-and-white decor is a Victorian fantasy; it should be cream plasterwork and plain wood!).
Ashbourne has a twice-weekly market (Thursday and Saturday) although this was somewhat depleted when I visited (as I would expect at this time of year). No doubt it is busier in the summer season.
It's major claim to fame is probably the Shrovetide football match, played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. One side of the own plays against the other: teams run into the hundreds, with men, women and children taking part. Shops are boarded up for safety, and the 'pitch' is three miles long! It's thought to date from Elizabethan times (earliest reference is 1683) ; similar games exist elsewhere in the UK (Kirkwall in Orkney has it's 'Ba' every December). Everything you need to know about the Ashbourne football game is here.
There are lots of little shops in Ashbourne, which makes a change: antiques, secondhand books, galleries, posh ladies' boutiques, delicatessens. There's a large-ish Co-op supermarket too, but I suspect the locals actually mainly do their 'big shop' elsewhere (Leek, perhaps, or Burton).
It was a pleasant enough place to stop for a coffee and wander, and probably worth visiting for those reasons alone if you happen to be in the area.