PART ONE: EASTERN & CENTRAL PEAK DISTRICT
Since 2007, I've been lucky enough to live, work and play in a village right at the centre of the UK's first national park. So, as a Peak District 'insider' I have much gold to divulge to the visitor so let's get started!
WHERE IS IT? map
The national park falls mainly within the fair county of Derbyshire but also includes parts of Staffordshire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. Easily accessible (1 hour or less) from the major cities of Manchester, Sheffield, Derby, Stoke and Nottingham, the Peak District, formally designated on April 17th 1951, has often been described as 'the lungs of England' a reference to the industrial past of the conurbations that surround it and a primary inspiration for the creation of UK national parks in the first place.
'Britain's breathing spaces' is another phrase aptly coined by UK park authorities.
Derbyshire born and bred, Chesterfield was my place of birth and, although located 4 miles east of the park's administrative boundary, the town is well worth a visit not least for its spectacular church known across the World as the Crooked Spire, an architectural anachronism of epically twisted proportions!
An excellent Tourist Information Centre (TIC) is next to the church.
Crooked Spire, Chesterfield - just 4 miles east of the Peak Park boundary
The capital town of the Peak District itself however is Bakewell , made famous for its wonderful, eponymous puddings (some say 'tarts') the origins and 'unique' recipe of which are claimed and fiercely contested by several local establishments! Standing on the fine river Wye, Bakewell is undoubtedly a focal point of the area and well worth a visit, Tuesday-Friday being the best chance of avoiding the throngs!
Enjoy a riverside stroll at Bakewell, capital town of the Peak District
Popular restaurants, among many, include the first-rate Piedaniels (French chef/patron, great special lunch available) and the more informal Pointing Dog & Duck which is splendidly situated on the banks of the river by the main car park. The Lime Lounge is excellent for coffees, cakes & snacks whilst the centrally located Rutland Hotel is a major town landmark.
Handsome and important Haddon Hall, England's finest preserved medieval house, is just 5 minutes away by car whilst charming Brocklehurst's is a traditional clothes shop certainly not to be missed by the discerning gentleman or lady. Dear me!
Inside the Bakewell TIC (1st floor) is Peak Gallery, a permanent exhibition of original Peak District photographs.
Bakewell, home of lots of lovely pudding shops!
Just outside Bakewell is lofty Over Haddon where you'll find the Lathkil (sic) Hotel serving well-kept traditional beers (nb bar open all day, every day), food and wonderful views. A lovely leg-stretch across fields from here is Lathkill Dale a divine terraced water course, Site of Special Scientific Interest (sssi) and National Nature Reserve (nnr). Owned and managed by the Haddon Estate the crystal clear River Lathkill is much prized by fisherman with its brown trout considered among the best in England.
River Lathkill '...the purest, most transparent stream I ever yet saw, either at home or abroad...' Charles Cotton (from The Compleat Angler)
Also close to Bakewell is the majestic Chatsworth House and Estate known coloquially as the 'Palace of the Peak' and previous winner of a Times poll citing Britain's Best Stately Home, a richly deserved title in the opinion of this writer. Home of the Devonshire family, the house has recently undergone a £14m cleaning restoration project, removing 200 year's worth of grime and revealing the glory of the outstanding building when first built.
Beautiful Chatsworth House and Estate - a 'must visit' during any Peak holiday!
Running from the old railway station above Bakewell to the outskirts of famous Spa town Buxton some 9 miles away is the Monsal Trail, now a cycling and leisure trail (walking, horse-riding etc) made even more popular by the 2011 re-opening of previously inaccessible tunnels through which trains of long ago steamed backwards and forwards on the Matlock to Manchester line.
Crossing the much photographed Headstone (Monsal) viaduct that spans the river Wye and dale below, the trail meanders peacefully and safely providing a family facility of rare enjoyment and excitement. Cycle hire centres along the trail (Hassop and Blackwell Mill) offer all kinds of options including electric bikes whilst the restored Hassop Cafe is open daily for breakfasts, snacks, evening meals and gift shopping.
" Catch up Dad - there's loads more to explore yet..! "
Don't forget to pay a visit to the quiet, pretty villages just off the Monsal Trail too, in particular Great Longstone and Little Longstone. You'll find excellent pubs, tea-rooms, little shops, a dairy and more!
Meanwhile, down in the lovely Monsal Dale itself, there is much joy to behold including a dramatic and beautiful weir (waterfall) over which the Wye crashes en route to Bakewell before a confluence with the Derwent at attractive Rowsley. Herons, dippers, buzzards, coots, moorhens and grebe are the order of the day in the dale and many a quiet hour can be whiled away doing plenty of nothing at all. As long as you don't forget the picnics and cameras of course!
Autumn at the weir in Monsal Dale - a beautiful place just to sit and stare
Finally, with many more beautiful places and villages appearing in part 2 of this 'insider's blog' we end this one with a look at the famous Gritstone Edges that symbolise many parts of the Peak District. With too many to mention individually (Curbar Edge, Froggatt Edge and Baslow Edge to name but three) the view from Curbar Edge to Baslow Edge is probably the most iconic and memorable in the central Peak area and is a Mecca for climbers and walkers alike.
Accessible from the NT car park at Curbar Gap (includes wheelchair access onto Baslow Edge too).
Baslow Edge as seen from Curbar Edge, late afternoon
All photography © Michael Cummins - click here for more Peak District photography with instant downloads available.
For a list of holiday cottages to stay around Bakewell and the central Peak please visit the Let's Stay Peak District cottages pages on which you'll find hundreds of great self catering properties available for rental.
Bakewell Tourist Information Centre: 01629 813 227
Friends of the Peak District - become a friend today!