The Peak District National Park is extensive and diverse and can be divided into sections known as The Dark Peak, The White Peak, The Staffordshire Moorlands and the Derbyshire Dales. The cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Derby are excluded from the National Park, its largest village being Bakewell which is the capital of the Peak District and contains the Peak District National Park headquarters at Aldern House.
The Peak District Village of Buxton, which is often described as the cultural capital of the Peak District is surprisingly omitted, the boundary sweeping almost 360 degrees to exclude it, and the towns and villages of Ashbourne, Belper, Matlock, Leek, Chesterfield and Dronfield also lie just over the border.
What the Peak District does contain however are lots of wonderful villages, some containing chocolate box pretty cottages or character properties oozing with charm. Together with valuable housing, business premises, shops and village stores these villages in the peaks help to support the communities which live and work here together with the millions of visitors who pass through each year.
Some of the villages in the Peak District are steeped in history, their names familiar and appearing in many of the guide books, such as Chatsworth, Eyam, Dove Dale, Castleton and Padley, whilst others such as Ible,Pike Hall, Parsley Hay, Oker and Bretton are so small that they hardly raise a mention.
Centuries ago it was quite a challenge to travel through the vast tracts of uncultivated open land, moors and bogs so markers were erected such as the crosses at Wheston and Hope. The routes of old drovers roads and salt ways can still be found like the medieval portway which ran north from Derby passing through Grange Mill before leading north to Castleton, whilst packhorse routes and holloways can still be traced around Glossop, Hayfield, Thornhill, Wardlow and the aptly named Holloway.
Running down the eastern flank of the Peak District are glacially formed Edges or escarpments, often featuring huge unusual shaped gritstone boulders with strange names. Some of these Edges take the name of the village above which they tower such as Curbar Edge and Froggatt Edge. Behind the Edges lie long stretches of high moorland which you must cross before you reach the villages of Barlow and Holmesfield, both commuter belt land for Chesterfield and Sheffield.
Stanton moor sits like a raised oasis of sandstone above Darley Dale and Birchover.
The White Peak was named after the mile upon mile of limestone dry walls which divide it, with none more evident than those surrounding Flagg, Chelmorton, Newhaven and Sheldon.
Some villages in the Peaks are found on remote hilltops where years ago little farmsteads eked out a living from the land. Abney, Butterton, Elton, Flash, Grindon, Hollingsclough and Warslow have names that almost sound synonymous with hard times.
Peak Forest on the other hand takes its name from The Royal Forest of the Peak which back in the 13th century was a wooded expanse in the north of the Peak District where royal shooting parties would hunt deer, wild boar and even wolves. Chapel-en-le-Frith was another settlement in the Royal Forest, its name meaning Chapel in the Forest.
Chinley is a more modern village in the peak, being established in Victorian times at a junction of railway lines which then led to Manchester, Stockport, Sheffield, Derby and London.
Villages in the Peak to the south of the region around Ashbourne are dramatically different from those to the north, often with rosy red bricks, Higham, Hognaston and Fenny Bentley being prime examples.
The Peak District contains several rivers that started life as rain falling on the high land and moors, the most important being the River Derwent which has three dams in succession within the first few miles of its source. After cascading over Derwent, Howden and Ladybower, the river flows down the valley passing Bamford, Hathersage, Grindleford, Calver, Baslow, Rowsley, Matlock, Matlock Bath, Cromford, Whatstandwell, Ambergate and Belper before it reaches the county capital of Derby after which it joins forces with the Trent.
The River Wye flows through dramatic scenery on its route east from Buxton, including Millers Dale, Cressbrook, Ashford-In-The-Water, Bakewell and Rowsley where it unites with the Derwent just after powering the waterwheel at Rowsley Mill
The little river Noe has the Vale of Edale all to itself before it runs into the Derwent at Shatton, whilst the Amber which meanders through Ashover has a valley named after it – the Amber Valley.
The rivers Lathkill and Bradford are said to be amongst the purest in the country and flow through nature reserves, overlooked by the villages of Monyash, Over Haddon, Youlgreave and Alport. But one of the most famous of Peak District rivers is of course our wonderful Dove, the drama queen of the dales which entices the most visitors to walk along its banks. Only the little hamlets of Crowdecote, Milldale and Mappleton can boast to be sited by its side, but Hartington, Alstonefield, Thorpe, Longnor and Sheen are but a mere footpath away.
Some villages in the peaks are so special that they are named twice! Middleton-by-Youlgreave is a short distance from Youlgreave and Middleton-by-Wirksworth can be found a mile or so from Wirksworth. Then there’s the villages of Little Longstone and Great Longstone, Little Hucklow and Great Hucklow not to mention Stanton-in-the-Peak and Stanton Lees.
Chatsworth House is the jewel in the Peak District crown, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Also owned by the estate are several villages in the Peaks including Beeley, Pilsley, Edensor and several properties at Wetton.
The little peak district village of Hassop is dominated by Hassop Hall, Snitterton by Snitterton Hall, Alderwasley by Alderwasley Hall and Tissington by Tissington Hall which remains an estate village owned entirely by the FitzHerbert family. Wingfield Manor near South Wingfield may now be nothing more than a ruin, but it survived many battles and for a time was used as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. Her freedom was foiled by a plot thought up by Thomas Babington of Dethick after which both of them met a premature death at the hands of an executioner.
Riber has a castle and a hall amongst its handful of properties, whilst the peak district villages of King Sterndale and Earl Sterndale have regal sounding names. The residents may not be aristocrats, but they certainly consider their homes to be little palaces!
Some villages in the peak are famed for a feature or nearby place of interest such as Crich and Crich Stand, Carsington and Carsington Water, Tideswell and the Cathedral of the Peak, but does anyone remember the sad story of the lone tree at Oker. Bradwell on the other hand is famous for its scrumptious ice cream!
Customs and traditions abound in the villages in the Peak, many having an annual well dressing ceremony where wells which provided valuable water before the onset of the mains supply are blessed by a pictorial floral arrangement. Amongst the villages taking part are Bonsall, Brassington, Foolow, Litton, Longnor, Parwich, Stoney Middleton, Taddington and Wormhill. Winster has a shrove tide pancake race down the village street and Castleton has an annual garland ceremony.
Surrounded by wonderful Peak District countryside makes living in one of the villages in the peaks a blessing, often expensive but always appreciated.