Explore The West Midlands and the Peak District
In 1951, the hills and dales of the Peak District, at the southern tip of the Pennine range, became Britain’s first national park. Wedged between Derby, Manchester and Sheffield, it is effectively the back garden for the fifteen million people who live within an hour’s drive of its boundaries, though somehow it accommodates the huge influx with minimum fuss.
Landscapes in the Peak District come in two forms. The brooding high moorland tops of Dark Peak, to the east of Manchester, take their name from the underlying gritstone, known as millstone grit for its former use – a function commemorated in the millstones demarcating the park boundary. Windswept, mist-shrouded and inhospitable, the flat tops of these peaks are nevertheless a firm favourite with walkers on the Pennine Way, which meanders north from the tiny village of Edale to the Scottish border. Altogether more forgiving, the southern limestone hills of the White Peak have been eroded into deep forested dales populated by small stone villages and often threaded by walking trails, some of which follow former rail routes. The limestone is riddled with complex cave systems around Castleton and on the periphery of Buxton, a charming former spa town lying just outside the park’s boundaries and at the end of an industrialized corridor that reaches out from Manchester. Elsewhere, one of the country’s most distinctive manorial piles, Chatsworth House, stands near Bakewell, a town famed locally not just for its cakes but also for its well-dressing, a possibly pagan ritual of thanksgiving for fresh water that takes place in about thirty local villages each summer. The well-dressing season starts in May and continues through to mid-September.
As for a base, Buxton is your best bet by a (fairly) long chalk, though if you’re after hiking and cycling you’ll probably prefer one of the area’s villages – Edale and Castleton will do nicely.Read More
The agreeable little village of CASTLETON, ten miles northeast of Buxton, lies on the northern edge of the White Peak, its huddle of old stone cottages ringed by hills and set beside a babbling brook. As a starting point for local walks, the place is hard to beat and hikers regularly prepare for the off in the Market Place, yards from the main drag, just behind the church.
Chatsworth HouseFantastically popular, and certainly one of the finest stately homes in Britain, Chatsworth House, just to the east of Bakewell, was built in the seventeenth century by the first Duke of Devonshire. It has been owned by the family ever since and several of them have done a fair bit of tinkering – the sixth duke, for instance, added the north wing in the 1820s – but the end result is remarkably harmonious. The property is seen to best advantage from the B6012, which meanders across the estate to the west of the house, giving a full view of its vast Palladian frontage, whose clean lines are perfectly balanced by the undulating partly wooded parkland, which rolls in from the south and west.
Many visitors forego the house altogether, concentrating on the gardens instead – an understandable decision given the predictability of the assorted baubles accumulated by the family over the centuries. Nonetheless, amongst the maze of grandiose rooms and staircases, there are several noteworthy highlights, including the ornate ceilings of the State Apartments and, in the State Bedroom, the four-poster bed in which George II breathed his last. And then there are the paintings. Amongst many, Frans Hals, Tintoretto, Veronese and Van Dyck all have a showing and there’s even a Rembrandt – A Portrait of an Old Man – hanging in the chapel.
Back outside, the gardens are a real treat and owe much to the combined efforts of Capability Brown, who designed them in the 1750s, and Joseph Paxton (designer of London’s Crystal Palace), who had a bash seventy years later. Amongst all sorts of fripperies, there are water fountains, a rock garden, an artificial waterfall, a grotto and a folly as well as a nursery and greenhouses. Afterwards, you can wend your way to the café in the handsomely converted former stables.
The Pennine Way
The Pennine Way
The 268-mile-long Pennine Way was the country’s first official long-distance footpath, opened in 1965. It stretches north from the boggy plateau of the Peak District’s Kinder Scout, proceeds through the Yorkshire Dales and Teesdale, and then crosses Hadrian’s Wall and the Northumberland National Park, before entering Scotland to fizzle out at the village of Kirk Yetholm. One of the most popular walks in the country, either taken in sections or completed in two to three weeks, depending on your level of fitness and experience, the Pennine Way is a challenge in the best of weather, since it passes through some of the wildest countryside in Britain. You must certainly be properly equipped and able to use a map and compass. The National Trail Guides Pennine Way: South and Pennine Way: North, are essential, though some still prefer to stick to Wainwright’s Pennine Way Companion. Information centres along the route – like the one at Edale village – stock a selection of guides and associated trail leaflets and can offer advice.
Hiking around Bakewell
Hiking around Bakewell
Bakewell is a popular starting point for short hikes out into the easy landscapes that make up the town’s surroundings, with one of the most relaxing excursions being a four-mile loop along the banks of the River Wye to the south of the centre. Chatsworth is within easy hiking distance, too – about seven miles there and back – or you could venture out onto one of the best-known hikes in the national park – Monsal Trail, which cuts eight miles north and then west through some of Derbyshire’s finest limestone dales using part of the old Midland Railway line. The trail begins at Coombs viaduct, one mile southeast of Bakewell, and ends at Blackwell Mill Junction, three miles east of Buxton.