`A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever' - and the Peak District countryside has been attracting visitors ever since our Neolithic ancestors made tracks north from the Trent Basin over five thousand years ago, gradually populating the hills, dales and high moors of this ancient and exceptionally beautiful landscape.
The Celts, Romans, Saxons, Danes,Vikings and Normans all followed in succession, attracted mainly by the areas rich wealth of mineral deposits. The Peak countryside was plundered, cleared and settled by succeeding waves of invaders, each of whom left a rich cultural heritage in the marks of their passing which both shaped and formed the wonderfully diverse landscape of the Peak District that we see and enjoy today.
The countryside is in fact, a veritable microcosm of England's green and very pleasant land, and as former Poet Laureate, the late John Betjamin said, "There is every kind of scenery in Derbyshire - except the sea"?. From the lush pastoral meadows and gently rolling hills of Ashbourne at the southern gateway of the White Peak, to the high windswept peat bogs and grouse moors of Kinder Scout in the bleak and mountainous `Curlew Country' of the Dark Peak, the sheer beauty and diverse nature of the landscape is breathtaking - which is one reason why this increasingly popular region of England continues to attract more visitors annually that any other region of comparable size.
Much of it is covered by 542 square miles of scenically diverse landscape in the Peak District National Park, which has a multitude of contrasting moods contained within the framework of its boundaries, and the rock beneath the surface is entirely responsible.
The higher and wilder Dark Peak to the north consists mainly of gritstone and shale, with high, heather covered moorland cut by small streams, with areas of high marshland and peat bogs - and a series of spectacular gritstone `edges' to the east of the Derwent Valley. The spectacular man-made lakes of the Ladybower, Howden & Derwent reservoirs form a mini Lake District in the north west of the area, with conifer plantations covering the surrounding slopes. This is ideal walking and climbing country.
The central area is mainly carboniferous limestone, which forms a dome approximately ten miles across. This is known as the White Peak; bounded in the west by the River Dove and in the east by the Derwent, it covers an area of about 180 square miles and is dissected by a series of stunningly picturesque dales, deeply cut by water erosion and populated by hill farms and small ancient villages. Ash, Rowan, Birch, Elder and Hawthorn predominate, along with an abundance of rare plants like orchids and mountain pansies, and unique metalophytes, like lead-wort.
Other reasons for the Peaks popularity are numerous, and include a plethora of unique attractions like underground caverns and show-caves and fascinating places to visit - from historic stately homes with beautifully landscaped grounds like Chatsworth, Haddon, Hardwick, Kedleston, and Calke Abbey, to modern centres of national importance like the National Stone Centre near Wirksworth and the National Tramway Village and Museum at Crich.
For two thousand years the countryside of the Peak has been shaped by farming, mining and quarrying; the White Peak in particular is dotted with old lead-mine spoilheaps, now the habitat of rare wildflowers - and the derelict and skeletal remains of tumbled coes dot the landscape around villages like Youlgreave, Bonsall, Winster and Elton.
But until the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which brought turnpike roads, canals, and eventually railways into the area, the ruggedly handsome and occasionally beautiful interior remained relatively isolated and unspoilt - and virtually inaccessible to visitors. Now, along with the lead miners and the coal miners, the mills and factories are gone, and many of the large farms have either disappeared or turned over to tourism and the Peak District countryside, much of which has been shaped largely by the influence of man over the last two thousand years, has become noted for the natural glory of it's diverse and spectacularly beautiful landscape, which will remain a `joy forever' - and the main reason for its popularity!