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The White Peak

The White Peak is a collective name given to an area found in the central and southern Peak District whose geology is carboniferous limestone. Exposed rocks and crags, stone-built properties and buildings together with mile upon mile of drystone walls constructed of fossil-rich stone give the area a general grey or ‘white’ appearance.

The White Peak is a natural dome or plateau approximately 10 miles across, and bounded by the rivers Dove to the west and Derwent to the east, stretching from around Matlock to the south and Castleton in the north.

The Peak District National Park consists of The White Peak, The Dark Peak, The Derbyshire Dales and the Staffordshire Moorlands.

The rich well-drained pasture and hills of the White Peak are perfect for hill farmers whose dairy herds, beef cattle and countless flocks of sheep can be see dotted around a patchwork of fields. Only a few crops are grown in the White Peak as this is not typical arable land.

In Medieval times, early farmers created ‘strip lynchets’ or primitive fields to contain their livestock and crops, evidence of which can still be found around the White Peak areas. However it was the later Enclosure Acts which had the most impact on the area, when land around villages was ‘taken in’ and divided into fields. Flagg, Chelmorton and Longnor have extremely good examples of original field construction, each contained within the typical drystone walls of the White Peak.

Limestone was also used extensively for building material, with many White Peak villages containing quaint little cottages and substantial houses and buildings. However limestone is extremely hard and it was expensive and labour intensive to shape and dress the stone into blocks, so gritstone quoins and lintels will often be seen as this was easier to shape and could be sourced not far away.

In the White Peak you will find beautiful Derbyshire Dales where over millions of years, watercourses have gradually eroded away the limestone to create spectacular deep gorges such as Chee Dale and Monsal Dale, with Lathkill Dale and Bradford Dale being much gentler but still dramatic.

The White Peak has long been exploited for its valuable minerals, discovered locked away in these Peak District hills. There is evidence of lead ore being worked by the Romans although the era when lead mining reached its height was during the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time the White Peak area became riddled with workings, some on a vast scale where hillsides were honeycombed with shafts and adits, but there were also hobby mines where one or two men would work part-time as a second occupation, their first probably being farming or agriculture.

Lead mining has long since declined and virtually ceased, to be replaced by quarrying and general mineral extraction, the old mines and workings are mainly disused and capped for security. The hands of Nature and the passage of time have healed the scars resulting in areas and features of outstanding beauty with many former mining sites now being designated as Conservation Areas, Nature Reserves and SSSI’s.

The White Peak is rich in ancient burial grounds and reminders that prehistoric settlers were drawn to this area in early times. Arbor Low for example is the Stone Henge of the Peak District, but there are several other lesser known but important stone circles to be found as well as tumuli, hill-top barrows, rock shelters and caves.

The White Peak is a gentler landscape to the rugged hilltops of the Dark Peak in the north, providing opportunities for easy access to the Peak District National Park countryside. Traversing the White Peak are the High Peak Trail, Tissington Trail and Monsal Trail. These former railway lines provide easy access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders as well as long stretches of trail which are suitable for wheelchair users and pushchairs. However, it should be noted that with some closed tunnels, steep inclines and dangerous embankments, there are sections that are not accessible or require caution and supervision.

With a complex network of bridleways, tracks and footpaths, the White Peak is extremely popular with all manner of outdoor pursuit enthusiasts from rambling to rock climbing, hand gliding to horse riding, cycling to simply seeing the sights!

The White Peak is rich in wildlife, flora and fauna that thrive on the diverse habitat and conserved environment of the Peak District National Park. All manner of birds, wildflowers, trees and plant-life can be found, some rare and unusual.

Not surprisingly the gentry and aristocrats of centuries ago favoured the scenic landscape of Derbyshire to build their stately homes. These Country Estates have now matured to form pockets of exquisite natural beauty and character, with many now being open for the general public enjoy.

The White Peak is a wonderland for visitors and residents to enjoy all year around. In winter it is occasionally transformed into a ‘white’, White Peak glistening with snow capped hills and ice-jewel encrusted scenery; in spring wildflowers bring a rainbow of colour, fields fill with new-born lambs and trees burst into blossom. In summer butterflies dance over the landscape, migratory birds resonate the skies with birdsong and blue skies create a beautiful backdrop to picture-postcard settings, whilst in autumn a golden glow adds warmth to woodland, a natural larder of fruit and berries suddenly becomes available and the White Peak prepares itself for winter once again.