Sitting right in the middle of the Peak District National Park, Eyam is a small village with lots to offer. It has a rich history as a mining town (going all the way back to the Romans!), but today it’s most well known as a Plague Village. And to clear up any confusion, Eyam is pronounced “eem,” not “ee-yam.” (I wish I had known this before I got there…)
From 1665-1666, the plague swept through England and Eyam. Although not as disastrous as the Black Death in the Middle Ages (mid-1300s) that caused the death of over 1/3 of Europe’s population, this bout of the plague was still serious and deadly. The plague probably came to Eyam from an order of cloth that had been brought from London for the tailor in Eyam, which carried fleas with the plague. Roughly 260 people died in Eyam, out of about 700 people (although numbers vary)—including whole families that were simply wiped out. The village bravely quarantined itself voluntarily, allowing no one to leave or enter the village, in order to contain the infection and spread of the disease. This was remarkably successful, and contributed greatly to the survival of other villages in the surrounding area.
I’ve visited Eyam twice now, and I love this little village! There’s a lot to see, both in the village and its surroundings, and its beautiful location within the Peak District is great for hiking and other outdoor activities.
To get your bearings and understand the village’s history, Eyam Museum should be your first stop. The museum has information on the plague, and also on other interesting aspects of life in the village and its history. Unfortunately, it’s only open from the end of March to October, so it’s been closed on both my visits.
Eyam Hall is another of the village’s main attractions. A Jacobean manor house, it’s one of few to be owned by direct descendants in the same family, and is currently run by the National Trust. However, the National Trust has recently decided that it will end its lease next year, and the house will revert back to the family (this is most likely due to financial reasons). So visit while you can! The volunteer guides have a wealth of information, both about the house, and about the family who owns it. If you get a chance, don’t miss the Craft Center just outside the hall—it’s full of small, independent shops, including a “Pre-Loved” used bookstore, which asks for a £1 minimum donation per book.
The Plague Cottages, located on the main road in the village, are another place you can’t miss in Eyam. One of these cottages is where the plague all started in September 1665—where George Viccars, the tailor, died from the plague as the first victim in the village. The cottage was owned by Mary Hadfield, who survived the plague but lost 13 relatives, including her husband and her two sons.
There’s lots to see in Eyam Parish Church. It’s a small but beautiful little church, and there are plenty of leaflets and brochures with information about both the church and the village. The Plague Window details the history of the plague in Eyam, starting with the tailor, George Viccars, receiving cloth from London and then dying of the plague, the rector and church leader William Mompesson, along with the former vicar Thomas Stanley, deciding to quarantine the village to prevent the spread of infection. Catherine Mompesson, the wife of William Mompesson, is buried in the churchyard—she is the only plague victim to have been buried at the church. All other victims were buried away from the village, in an effort to stop the infection. Eyam Parish Church is also the end point of the Peak Pilgrimage, a 39-mile spiritual trail through the Peak District that passes through about a dozen village churches.
The Boundary Stone marked the southern border of Eyam village—no one from Eyam went past it, and no one in the surrounding area entered. It was vital for the survival of the village, as residents of neighboring villages left food, medicines, and supplies at the stone, and people in Eyam paid for them by leaving money sterilized in vinegar. The stone has six different holes in it, where money was left.
The Boundary Stone is a little less than a mile’s walk from the Village Square, down Lydgate and on the public footpath.
Mompesson’s Well was the marker for the northern border of Eyam. Like the Boundary Stone, villagers from Eyam left money (sterilized in vinegar) in the well in exchange for food and medicine.
The Well is a 2km (a bit over 1 mile) hike from town on a path that starts at Eyam Parish Church—it’s all uphill and the path is a bit slippery in places. Alternatively, you could follow the main road west and Hawkhill Road up behind the village (past the YHA hostel) to loop up to Edge Road, where the path to the well hooks up.
One of the most poignant memorials to the plague in Eyam is the Riley Graves. Far away from the village to decrease the risk of infection, Mary Hancock buried 7 of her family members (6 children and her husband) in 8 days in August 1666. The graves are now enclosed by a stone circle. Follow the main road in the village east, and take the left-hand fork to follow the road uphill to the graves in the field.
The Lydgate Graves are another burial site close to the Village Square in Eyam, where George Darby and his daughter, Mary, were buried in 1666. They’re located a short walk from the village square on Lydgate.
During the plague, the rector William Mompesson conducted church services outside of the village in Cucklet Delph to reduce the spread of infection. All churchgoers were required to stay at least 6 feet away from one another. The natural amphitheater-like setting was a perfect place to bring people together, and today is the home of the Plague Sunday service (the last weekend in August).
The footpath starts behind the Eyam Hall National Trust parking lot.
There’s a lot more to see in Eyam that isn’t necessarily plague-based! Eyam was one of the first villages in the country to have a public water system, so don’t miss the drinking troughs that date back to 1588! There are two different sets, one on the main road by the Plague Cottages, and the other one near the museum.
The small Market Hall is now a Tourist Information office, with information boards inside—it was formerly used by farmers’ wives to sell their dairy and poultry products, and was restored in the 19th century. You can also see the village stocks outside of the hall.
You also can’t miss the sheep roast on the main road—a revolving spit that is the center of a traditional weekend festivity at the beginning of September.
Eyam is a really small village, and there’s not a whole lot for eating and drinking. But if you are visiting Eyam, you can’t miss a trip to the Miner’s Arms, a pub that pre-dates the plague all the way back to 1630. It’s a small place, but friendly staff, a cozy fire, and a congenial atmosphere make you feel like you’re at home instantly. The food is also delicious! I would recommend the giant Yorkshire pudding, the steak and ale pie, and the treacle tart for dessert. Book your table in advance if you’re eating on a Saturday night. It’s the only pub in the village, so you will most likely make friends with locals!
For an earlier bite, you can’t go wrong with stopping at Eyam Tea Rooms. The cute and cozy little teashop does good sandwiches and sweet treats—don’t miss the bacon, brie, and cranberry panini. Their ice cream is also top notch. The tearooms generally close around 4:00pm.
The Village Green is the other café in town, and unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to eat there. And it really is unfortunate, because their baked goods are meant to be amazing! But it’s there if you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, some sweet treats, or lunch during the day. It also closes at 4:00pm.
Getting There: As with most places in rural Britain, driving is the best way to navigate the Peak District and the most convenient way to get to Eyam. There’s free parking in town in the lot across from the museum. If you don’t have a car, public transportation is a bit limited and especially tricky on weekends. Eyam has bus service to Buxton, Bakewell, Chesterfield, and Sheffield. Sheffield is the largest city nearby, and has the best train connections further afield. Alternatively, you can take the train from Sheffield to Grindleford (which runs hourly, except on Sundays), and take a taxi for the 10-minute drive to Eyam. Penny’s Cars will take you from Grindleford to Eyam for £8, just make sure to call and book a few hours in advance.
Where I Stayed: I stayed at the historic Miner’s Arms pub for my weekend in Eyam. It’s really a great place: wonderful staff, cozy rooms, excellent shower pressure, and in general it just felt like home. Since the pub is downstairs, it can be a little noisy in the evenings, but this never really bothered me. There’s free wifi, and a full English breakfast in the morning. I would absolutely stay here again, I can’t recommend this place enough! There is also YHA hostel on the outskirts of town (it was booked out the weekend I visited) if you’re looking for cheaper accommodation—but beware that it’s a steep hike uphill from the village.
Eyam is quaint little village, with loads to see and do, and a very interesting history. It is one place you can’t miss in the Peak District!
Have you ever visited Eyam or another quaint little village? Let me know in the comments!