The Peak District
The Peak District
The Peak District is a large and topographically diverse tract of land in the Southern Pennine Range (which is known as the `backbone of England') - and lies mostly in the county of Derbyshire but extends its reaches into the neighbouring counties of Staffordshire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire, and as far north as West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
At its hub is the Peak District National Park, covering an area of 542 square miles of some of the most beautiful and breathtaking countryside to be found anywhere within the British Isles. The Peak District is surrounded by densely populated lowlands and at its boundary edges lie the vast urban connurbations of Manchester to the north-west and Sheffield to the north-east, with Chesterfield and Matlock to the east and south east respectively, and Wirksworth, Ashbourne & the Potteries to the south & south west.
The Peak District National Park was the first of Britains National Parks, formed in 1951 and is administered from Bakewell, one of the areas principal market towns and known as the `Capital of the Derbyshire Dales'. Thus, the area is one of the most popular tourist destinations owing to it's location and close proximity to so much of the population and attracts upwards of twenty million visitors a year.
The Peak District can be divided generally into two sections, the higher, wilder Dark Peak to the north, and the much gentler and more pastoral White Peak to the central and south west; the former consisting mainly of gritstone and shale, whilst the latter, covering an area of about 180 square miles consists mainly of carboniferous limestone which in places is deeply cut by beautiful dales.
This landscape had already undergone many transformations before the dawn of civilisation and has undergone many more since the advent of man, whose influence upon it can be traced back thousands of years. Many hilltops are the sites of ancient burial mounds and the conical shapes of tumbled cairns can be seen throughout the area. A network of dry-stone walls pattern this ancient landscape, and countless moorland sheep graze the upland meadows and dale-sides, whilst many species of plants are unique to the locality and the rich variety of wildlife is hardly rivalled by any other county of England.
The Peak District is a spectacular wonderland of breathtaking scenery and provides an ideal haven for visitors of all tastes throughout the year.
Known for its quality of accommodation it is most popular with walkers, hikers, rock climbers, and almost every other outdoor activity including horse-riding & pony trekking, caving and pot-holing, camping, hang-gliding, hot-air ballooning, canoing, sailing, fishing and cycling.
In addition to the thousands of cross-country way-marked paths there are several major trails for the walker and cyclist, with cycle-hire available on both the Tissington and High Peak Trails.
Together with the Monsal Trail and the Manifold Valley Trail these increasingly popular walking and cycle-ways follow the course of old railway systems through the heart of the spectacular countryside, allowing pedestrian access to the very core of this magical landscape - places sadly missed by the modern motorist!
Alternatively there's the Limestone Way, a `far from the madding crowd' rural footpath which runs north to south throughout the length of the county for fifty miles, where the peace & tranquil beauty of the landscape can be fully appreciated.
The area is rich in prehistory and has many sites of interest, perhaps none more so than the mysterious stones and ring-ditches at Arbor Low, the largest of the areas ancient monuments and known as the `Stonehenge of the North'. There are numerous stone-circles in evidence, especially on the eastern fringes of the White Peak near the villages of Stanton in Peak and Birchover where on Stanton Moor you will find the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, and the largest known Bronze-Age burial ground in Europe, along with some fantastic walks and views over the Derwent Valley.
The Peak District rivals the Lake District for its large number of mostly man-made lakes and reservoirs, each with it's own definitive mood and character and none more grand and spectacular than the three large reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley, Ladybower, Derwent and Howden, which supply water to the surrounding towns and cities of the north and midlands. Carsington Water is the latest and perhaps the most benign, and lies in the south of the Peak District between Ashbourne and Wirksworth.
This is Severn Trent's showcase attraction and boasts some of the best leisure facilities in the land, including yachting, sailing courses (Ellen MacArthur learned to sail here!), water-skiing, a cafÃ©, restaurant, conference centre, and many other visitor attractions which help to make it one of the most visited attractions in the East Midlands. A handful of miles to the south west is Ashbourne, known as the `Gateway to Dovedale' with it's notable architectural gems, ancient market, antique emporiums and wonderful parish church of St. Oswald - whilst the same distance to the north west is Wirksworth, formerly the lead-mining capital of England and ancient seat of the Barmote Court of the King's Field. Close by you will find Hopton Hall, seat for 500 years of the famous Gell family, now open to the public twice a year in February and July and well worth a visit.
To the west of Carsington Water lie the ancient White Peak settlements of Kniveton, Bradbourne and Parwich, picturesque villages, each with it's own manorial hall, and further west lies the River Dove which marks the boundary with neighbouring Staffordshire. Famously the haunt of Izaak Walton of `The Complete Angler' fame - and Charles Cotton of Beresford Hall, whose 18th century fishing temple with the entwined initials above the door still stands beside the river in beautiful Beresford Dale.
Hartington, with it's famous cheese factory and well known village duck pond at its centre lies ten miles noth of Ashbourne and is a veritable tourist haven with an abundance of gift shops and hotels, including the Charles Cotton Hotel, in its well-heeled environs.
To the south west of the Peak lie the Matlocks, with the administrative centre of Derbyshire County Council housed splendidly in John Smedleys former Hydropathic establishment high on Matlock Bank. Nearby Matlock Bath has been described as the pleasure ground of the Peak District - with it's spectacular limestone gorge rising sheer for 400feet above the River Derwent, with the pleasant landscaped paths of `Lovers Walk' meandering through the wooded hillside and beside the river. Here is the Peak District Mining Museum - and more pubs per mile than any other place in Derbyshire. Matlock Bath has become a haven for holidaymakers and boasts it's famous Venetian Nights display each autumn, with parades of illuminated boats and magnificent firework displays to thrill crowds of up to twenty thousand!
Bakewell is ten miles further north-west along the Derwent Valley, and the medieval market town, known as the Capital of the Derbyshire Dales hosts the famous Bakewell Show, one of the country's leading agricultural and livestock shows each August. The town is home to the new Bakewell Agricultural Centre and has a traditional cattle-market each Monday throughout the year. Noteable are the many cafes and eateries, with bistros, restaurants and a number of first-class hotels in the town which stands on the wonderful River Wye and boasts a magnificent five-arched fourteenth century bridge over the river along the road that leads to Chatsworth.
Between Matlock & Bakewell, alongside the A6 stands what is regarded as the finest medieval manor house in England - Haddon Hall, seat of the Dukes of Rutland and former home of the Vernons and Manners family, which is open to the public from Easter to October and is a must for visitors to the Peak District.
Chatsworth House is known as `the Palace of the Peak' and one glance at it's sheer grandeur and magnificence set in the rolling parkland of its one thousand acres is enough to justify its claim to be the most magnificent of all England's great country houses. Built originally by Bess of Hardwick in the 16th century, the house was virtually rebuilt in the 18th century and employed such notables as Sir Joseph Paxton and Capability Brown in the laying out of it's grounds and gardens. Chatsworth is home to the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire and is full of palatial treasures, boasting the most exclusive collection of art treasures, including many `old masters' in the entire land. The house and grounds are open to the public and a visit here will live in the memory for ever.
The River Wye is the most picturesque of rivers, meandering through deeply cut limestone dales from it's source in the hills above Buxton and passing through some of the Peak Districts most spectacular and scenic countryside.
The River Derwent is famous for the many mills which line it's banks all the way from Bamford, via Hathersage to Calver and Baslow, on through Chatsworth Park to Rowsley, Darley dale - but most famously at Cromford where Sir Richard Arkwright built the first water-powered cotton mill in 1771. The area from Matlock Bath down through Cromford and on to Belper and the large mills built by Jedediah Strutt has recently been granted World Heritage Status and attracts millions of visitors each year to the birthplace of the facory system which drove the wheels of the Industrial Revolution.
In the north, the Derwent is harnessed to form the famous dams of Ladybower, Howden and Derwent and flows beneath the spectacular gritstone edges from Stanedge to Froggatt, and Curbar to Baslow with wonderful walks and spectacular views along the Derwent Valley.
Buxton is the highest town in England, and one of the coldest! However, it has a warm heart wherein beats the cultural centre of the Buxton Opera House, the famous Crescent built reputedly by the Dukes of Devonshire from the profits of copper mines at Ecton, and a host of historic places and sites from Roman times to the present day. The Romans settled here and built baths at Buxton, which was known as Aqua Arnemetia on account of it's thermal springs. St. Anne's well was a place of veneration from Roman to late medieval times - it was a favourite haunt of Mary Queen of Scots who took it's waters as a cure for rheumatism and has long been known as a Spa Town, along with Bakewell, Matlock and Ashbourne.
The north of the Peak District is a major contrast with the south of the region; the high windswept lands in the north around Kinder Scout and Bleaklow rise to the 2,000 feet contour and the high moors are decked with peat bogs and the sound of curlews, desolate and dangerous in the winter months, but transformed into a paradise for walkers and hikers during the summer. Edale is the starting point for the Pennine Way, one of the longest distance walking trails in the country, and stands at the head of the Hope Valley which runs westward from the Derwent, from Hathersage and Bamford close by the western outskirts of the boundary with Sheffield all the way to Castleton, the original administrative centre of the Forest of the Peak. The Normans built Peveril Castle and settled the town of Castleton in the eleventh century, and the Castle and new Visitor Centre is open to the public, managed by English Heritage, and well worth a visit at any time of the year.
There is so much to see and enjoy in the Peak District and little wonder that it is the most visited area in the whole of England, for there is something of interest and pleasure for everyone in this historic and spectacular landscape, which in the twenty-first century has become a veritable pleasure-ground to the many visitors who return over and over again to sample the unique delights and special hospitality of it's welcoming embrace.