Newest Review: ... well as offering good bases for exploring the surrounding Peak. However, much of the human interest in the National Park is offered by it... more
Take a peek at the Peak District
Peak District (Derbyshire)
Member Name: silverbird44
Peak District (Derbyshire)
Advantages: Accessible, beautiful
Disadvantages: Can get very busy
factor in my choice of university. I eventually chose Sheffield because of its proximity to the Peak District - and I was definitely not disappointed in my choice. In this review (having apologised for its length!) I hope to give you some insight into this beautiful piece of country.
A Little History
The Peak District is the oldest of our National Parks, founded in 1951, and remains true to this day to its original intention of providing an escape from the surrounding industrial cities. Located as it is in the counties of Derbyshire, Cheshire and South Yorkshire, this little patch of Pennine upland numbers among its urban satellites Manchester and my own city of Sheffield. Its situation has made it (according to Wikipedia!) the second most visited National Park in the world after Mount Fuji in Japan.
Geology and Landscape
The Peak is split into two regions dependent on predominant rock type. The White Peak, found in the southern District around Buxton, is limestone based and is riddled with all the caves and rock formations typical of this environment. The Dark Peak is generally accepted to be in the northern Peak, and is based on gritstone (a coarse version of sandstone). This leads to a wilder landscape of high heather moorland, trimmed with dramatic rock edges such as Burbage and the famous Stanage.
Activities on the Peak
For me, the primary activity in the Peak District is obviously walking. The National Park offers a huge variety of tracks and trails - visitors can chose to bimble a hundred yards along the River Derwent, or engage in monster full day hikes on the Kinder Plateau or Bleaklow. Many of these trails are also popular among fell runners, mountain bikers and horse riders - check your ordnance survey map and you are bound to find a route suiting your inclination and ability.
The Peak is also famous for its climbing, due to the aforementioned gritstone edges. Stanage, located near Hathersage and the largest of the edges, runs for 3.5 miles and has single pitch routes catering to all abilities. There are also edges at Burbage north and south and Millstone, quarry climbing at Lawrencefield...the list runs on endlessly. If you have any interest in climbing and have not already encountered the Peak, then you have missed out. Just bear in mind that gritstone is murder on the hands!
In terms of physical activities, visitors can also try their hand at anything from hang gliding over Burbage Moor to full scale caving in Castleton. But there are also plenty of activities for those looking for a more relaxing day out. The Peak District is absolutely stuffed with history, both from its industrial heritage and from an earlier time. I'll detail some of these attractions later in the review - suffice for now to say that you will find something to interest you whatever your preference.
Different rock types mean different flora, and so different wildlife, giving the Peak great biodiversity. Different areas of the peak are also managed in different ways - for farmland, grouse moors or recreation. In the last year I've seen badgers, foxes, red deer, muntjac deer, brown hares, kestrels, buzzards, red grouse, curlew...I'll stop before you get bored, but enough to say that there is enough variety for any keen wildlife spotter.
Key Attractions - Natural
Given the size of the Peak District and the range of attractions available, it's impossible to detail everything. I'll just include a few that I've visited and particularly enjoyed.
- Kinder Scout: The highest point in the Peak District. As highest points go, this is not the most inspiring - it has no particular summit, few dramatic edges and, at 600m, is something of a dwarf compared to its Lakeland cousins. Rather, the sweeping Kinder plateau revels in a Wuthering Heights-esque brand of lofty loneliness. The last time we visited was on a D of E hike - it had been raining the whole morning and we had scrambled up a streambed to reach the plateau itself, but just as we peaked the sun finally decided it was time to come out. Traversing the edge of the plateau, with a spreading view to our left and a long purple-grey sweep of heather moorland to our right, was an experience that would make me recommend Kinder to any keen walker.
- Mam Tor and Winn Hill: I've grouped these two hills together as both are summits of little height but extreme personality. Mam Tor is generally climbed from Castleton, while Winn Hill overlooks the Ladybower reservoir. Both offer speedy height gain and fantastic views.
- The Derwent Reservoirs: This is a general name for the three reservoirs of the Upper Derwent Valley, namely Derwent, Howden and Ladybower. These reservoirs are worth visiting both as impressive feats of engineering, and for their picturesque nature. My own suggestion would be to visit Ladybower after heavy rain and walk along her side, as you can then watch the excess water pouring into holes (I don't know the technical name I'm afraid!) to stop the reservoir overflowing. It's a very impressive sight. For those interested in history, the Derwent reservoir itself is where they practised the bouncing bombs later used in the Dambuster's raid.
- Caves: Limestone is highly water soluble, and so the White Peak has something of a speciality in caves. Non-cavers can stop at Castleton and visit any of four show caves, Peak Cavern, Speedwell, Blue John and Treakcliff. All of these are truly thrilling experiences, especially if you have children, albeit a little on the expensive side.
- Kinder Downfall: This attraction deserves special mention as it is one of the weirdest things I have ever seen - a waterfall which flows backwards. A combination of stream morphology and wind direction have led to conditions where water going down the gully is blown backwards, creating an impressive white plume of spray. If you can face the hefty climb up here, then it is an unforgettable sight. Just remember to wear waterproofs - the downside of a waterfall flowing upwards is that you will almost definitely get soaked!
Key Attractions - Human
The Peak District boasts many attractive towns, including Buxton, Matlock and Castleton. These are interesting in their own right, as well as offering good bases for exploring the surrounding Peak. However, much of the human interest in the National Park is offered by its historical buildings, such as:
- Peveril Castle, a tiny ruined hulk of a Norman Castle balanced on the hill above Castleton. English Heritage requests a sizeable entry fee, but even if you just want to look at it from the outside, it's quite an impressive relic.
- Eyam - more famously known as the plague village. In 1665, when plague was reported in this tiny Derbyshire village, the villagers imposed a voluntary quarantine to protect surrounding inhabitants. It is a wonderfully pretty, agreeably spooky little place - good as a stop in the middle of a day's walking, or for a specific visit.
Of course there are many others, but as everyone has different interests, I will leave you to discover these yourselves.
Access to the Peak
In terms of access, the location of the Peak very much works in its favour. Drivers can easily get into the National Park, and the road network is by reputation very good. The only warning is that parking is often limited in the honeypot areas, so be ready either for an early start or a quick change of plans in the holiday season.
Public transport is also relatively good. Those wishing to visit the centre of the peak can use the Hope Valley railway line, which runs between Manchester and Sheffield and gives access to such walking and climbing hubs as Hathersage, Edale and Hope. The White Peak is also very well connected to both Manchester and Sheffield. Buses are a little more slapdash - you can plan a walk around the buses, but check your timetables careful (especially during non-tourist season), try and arrive early and be aware that double deckers do not take well to gale force winds or heavy snow. This is not just a casual comment - having nearly been stranded in Castleton last year, I now take it very seriously!
There is a huge range of accommodation available in the Peak, from campsites all the way to big hotels. UK campsite can give detailed listings (I can recommend Edale as a base for a camping holiday). For those looking for cheap and cheerful accommodation, there are more than ten Youth Hostels dotted around the region, in places such as Eyam, Edale, Hathersage and Castleton. You can also easily find bed and breakfast accommodation in any of the larger towns and often in the smaller ones.
Ups of the Peak
Hopefully the overload of information hasn't put you off the Peak District, as it is a place with many advantages. It is easily accessible, offers a huge range of landscapes and experiences, and has a huge amount of natural beauty. There're not many places in this country where you can spend a whole day out on the moor and be home to the city in time for tea - especially without the benefit of a car.
Downs of the Peak
The main down is caused by the Peak's main strength - it's location means that it is often chaotically busy, especially when the sun comes out. In most national parks walking a mile or so means you shed the crowds, but it is very difficult to be properly alone on the peak unless it is raining VERY heavily. It has the feel of something which was once truly wild, but in a way has been tamed...countryside, but not really wild country.
I would definitely recommend the Peak District as a day out or a holiday for absolutely anybody. Many places have variety, accessibility or beauty: but the Peak is a winner in the combination it offers of these three important factors. Of course it has its flaws - where doesn't? - in its busyness and crowds, but that doesn't limit its quality as an amenity for people and for wildlife.
Being used to the more obvious drama of the Lake District, I didn't really understand the Peak until last Winter. England was shivering under its heaviest snow fall in years: after chafing at the bit for days, myself and my friends had finally escaped the study books in favour of a conservation project up on the Blacka Moor Reserve. Most of the day we were safe under the trees. But at the end of the day, just as the sun was turning the clouds red, we found ourselves on the edge of the woodland, where the high peat moor begins. Three of us, up to our knees in freezing snow, stared out over the blank landscape with its black trees, watched the fiery sunset, felt the bite of the bitter cold air. We felt like the loneliest people in the world. And away to our left, a bare four miles away, the lights of Sheffield were just coming to orange life.
The Peak District is a precious island in our country's industrial heartland. It is a place which we should all strive to experience, and to protect.
Thank you for reading :)
Summary: A National Park well worth a visit
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