Go On, Take a Peak!
When it comes to areas of outstanding natural beauty, most visitors gravitate towards the Lake District, subject of many a poem or postcard. While I’d be the first to admit the Lakes are sublime- I took several half term holidays there as a girl- it’s unfair to say it has the monopoly on scenery and interest. Indeed, it’s time more attention was paid to the Peak District, which is at least its equal in these respects.
The first thing you notice about the Peak District is its size. While it’s generally considered to be northern Derbyshire, it actually straddles several counties- both West and South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire. As you might guess, this distribution leads to a very diverse landscape: the gritty, wild moorlands of the Dark Peak contrast vividly with the softer White Peak. More hospitable by far, it’s ideal grazing and walking country. This combination of beauty and ease of access has made the Peaks incredibly popular for outdoor activities- companies such as Peak Pursuits provide terrific packages where you can abseil, paraglide, canoe and kayak.
The Peak District has a strong sense of history. Like many northern areas, it served as a guinea pig during the Industrial Revolution. While the canals, roads and railways have greatly benefited the region down the years (the Snake Pass was masterminded by the great engineer Thomas Telford), contemporaries were far from ecstatic. The famously snobbish John Ruskin grumbled that the railway had ruined the valley just so “any fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half an hour.”
If you prefer your history to be more romantic, there’s plenty to choose from. Stately home enthusiasts can’t possibly visit without seeing Chatsworth, the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice- to book a trip, go to the official website at http://www.chatsworth.org/.
The districts rich in spa towns: the original and best is Buxton, intended as a highbrow health resort in the 1700s, but Matlock Bath is worthy of mention too. Fans of speleology will be delighted: there are numerous show caves, all in the village of Castleton. Jewellery buffs may be interested to learn this is the only place in the world you can find semi precious stone blue john.
It should come as no surprise that the Peak District has been a continuing source of inspiration for writers. As well as the aforementioned Jane Austen connection, it has played host to: Charlotte Bronte (numerous adaptations of Jane Eyre have been filmed here), Roald Dahl (he boarded at Repton School), Dr Johnson (he frequently visited his good friend Dr John Taylor) and the eccentric poet Edith Sitwell. Its beauty and essentially untouched nature have caused it to be used time and time again in films, whether adaptations of the classics or fantasies such as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Princess Bride.
The region is famous for its hospitality. Whether your preferences run to a haunting stately home or something more intimate, you’re sure to find something to meet your requirements. When my cousin Nadia was trying to book holiday cottages in the Peak District for her hen night, Hillside Croft was recommended. She’s glad she followed the advice: not only was it a picturesque sandstone cottage dating from the 1700s, but she and her friends were thoroughly spoilt during their stay, receiving a fabulous buffet as well as a pampering session. Her friends have already said they want to go back for their hen nights or honeymoons!
So if you’re looking for a setting that offers scenery, culture and trips for all the family- Alton Towers is only a short car journey away- I wouldn’t hesitate.
The Peak District is glorious!