Difference between revisions of "Peak District"
Revision as of 13:20, 16 January 2011
The Peak District  (also called "The Peak") is the name given to a picturesque upland area of the East Midlands region of England. There are no precise boundaries; the term comprises most rural areas and small towns which lie between (and are within easy reach of) Sheffield, Huddersfield, Leeds, Manchester, Stockport, Buxton, Congleton, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby, and Chesterfield. Popular activities in the area include hiking, visiting country houses, climbing and potholing.
"Peak Distict" is often used as shorthand for the Peak District National Park, a smaller area with defined boundaries and some special protection. The name of the district is thought to have come from an ancient tribe once resident in the area and the hills and moors of the area, although spectacular in their own way, are not classic "mountain peaks" as might be imagined from the name.
The central and most rural area of the Peaks falls within the Peak District National Park, but the boundaries are not prominent (marked by roadside signs, but no barriers) and are irrelevant to most visitors: many well-known Peak villages and towns (e.g. Glossop, Buxton, Hayfield) are outside the Park. This was England's first national park and is still the most visited, largely because of its accessible location within reach of the large cities of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. The Peak District National Park Authority provides public facilities (car parks, lavatories, visitor centres) and works to maintain the rural nature of the Park, without turning it into an open-air museum; however, most land is still owned by the traditional landlords, and (although public access is very good - see below) contains working farms and towns.
The Peak District is not mountainous; however, many hills are steep, with a few summits sufficiently prominent to warrant the description "peak". The name is a little obscure, but many sources including the National Park Authority's web site  refer to a local 7th-century Anglian tribe, the Peacsaetna ("Peak Dwellers").
The Peak District is traditionally split into two contrasting areas, essentially defined by their geology. The White Peak (Derbyshire Dales) is a limestone plateau of green fields with a rolling hills and many incised dales (areas around Ashbourne, Dovedale, Matlock, Bakewell, Longnor). The Dark Peak (or High Peak) is a series of higher, wilder and boggier gritstone plateaux (moorlands) and edges (areas north of Castleton and Hathersage).
High Peak and Derbyshire Dales are also names of local authority districts of Derbyshire.
Flora and fauna
The limestone dales of the White Peak are nationally famous for rare flora, including orchids (in flower spring and early summer) and the rare Jacob's Ladder.
The peaty gritstone moors of the Dark Peak support a more limited flora (largely heather, bilberry and sphagnum moss) and a specialist fauna. Heather moorland in the Dark Peak is maintained for the commercial shooting of Red Grouse (a subspecies of the Willow Grouse unique to the British Isles, which differs from its counterpart on the European mainland by not having a white winter plumage). Other specialist moorland bird species include Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover and Curlew. Mountain Hares were introduced to the Dark Peak in the 19th century and still remain on Bleaklow and Kinder Scout. A feral colony of Wallabies that survived for many years in the Roaches area of the Staffordshire Peak is probably now extinct, as is a remnant population of Black Grouse (though a reintroduction scheme is currently being attempted elsewhere in the Peak District).
The High Peak in particular can experience severe winter weather and walkers need to be suitably equipped because it is really cold. Cross-Pennine road routes (particularly the Manchester to Sheffield Snake and Woodhead passes) are quickly blocked by snow in winter weather.
There are several main roads crossing the Peak District, but even these (let alone the myriad smaller roads) can get very crowded on fine-weather weekends.
The main train stations are:
There are coach (long-distance bus) services to the main towns (Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock).
The bus services are better than most rural areas of England (there tend to be MORE buses on Sunday). The towns and bigger villages have a good daytime service from the nearest big towns and cities, and some buses to most of their nearest villages.
Entry to the National Park is free. Most car parks charge a fee (roadside parking is difficult on some roads), and country houses (whether private, or owned by the National Trust) charge admission.
The Peak District is a traditional destination for hikers and it has an important place in the early history of the British walking and rights-of-way movement.
A number of long-distance walking routes are wholly or partly within the Peak District:
Keen walkers should invest in the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Explorer sheets OL1 ("The Peak District – Dark Peak area") and/or OL24 ("The Peak District – White Peak area"). Between them these two sheets cover most of the National Park area and show public rights-of-way and Access Land (of which there is much in the Dark Peak). Most outdoor shops stock these and other maps, and there are large numbers of guidebooks with walking routes.
Potholes are limited to the limestone White Peak and are concentrated around Castleton, Buxton, Matlock and Eyam. There are show caves in Castleton, Buxton and Matlock Bath; the more committed should make contact with the Derbyshire Caving Association . Many caves are associated with old lead mines and are not for the inexperienced.
Several outlets in Bakewell serve the famous Bakewell Pudding (a dessert made with almonds and eggs). Locally reared Derbyshire Lamb is often available in pubs and restaurants; locally shot Grouse is much harder to find. Farmers' markets are held near Hartington and in Buxton. The (relatively expensive) Chatsworth Farm Shop at Pilsley serves a range of local and organic produce, some of it sourced from the Estate.
Peak District pubs are varied but often interesting.
There are few hotels, though a few exist in larger towns; Peak District accommodation is largely in pubs and bed-and-breakfast establishments.
There is a good network of Youth Hostels:
though at least one of these (Langsett) is scheduled for closure.
Camping is expressly forbidden on most Access Land so should officially only be undertaken at designated campsites or with the permission of the landowner.
There are campsites at:
Peak District towns, villages, and footpaths are generally quiet and safe (or busy and safe on summer weekends). As with anywhere in England, towns and larger villages can get a little boisterous at pub closing time.
Apart from during severe winter weather, all but the most remote areas of the Peak District are relatively safe. But the Peak District has several Mountain Rescue Teams who are called out regularly to assist people who have got into difficulties either through unforseeable accidents or (all too often) through lack of preparation or becuase of wilfull disregard of the dangers. Those taking part in outdoor activities should be aware of the dangers and not exceed their abilities and experience. Cave and Mountain Rescue Teams can be contacted via the standard 999 emergency services number.
The most dangerous areas, even on apparently benign summer days are the peat plateaux which form the top of the highest peaks in the park, Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill. The "old" Pennine Way route used to reach Kinder Downfall via Grindsbrook Clough and the Kinder Scout plateau, and many hikers still use this route, whether they are starting the Pennine Way or are on a day walk. After periods of heavy rains, the peat becomes completely waterlogged and turns into a dangerous bog, not unlike quicksand. There are no reports of hikers actually drowning in the bog, but there have been cases of lone hikers sinking too deeply to extricate themselves and dying from exposure.
The dangers are reduced significantly by following common sense: don't cross the plateaux alone ; don't assume that warm, dry weather with good visibility will last more than the next hour (you can't see the other side of the moor, so you don't know what weather is approaching) ; take waterproofs and spare warm clothing ; let someone know your planned route, and stick to it ; make sure you have a compass and know how to use it. When mist or rain descends and distant summits disapper, the flat tops of the peat moors are very disorientating, with no close summits or other landmarks that can be matched to even a large-scale map. Climbing in and out of the peat "groughs" soon destroys the best "sense of direction" and without a compass it is almost impossible to avoid walking in circles.
The mountain rescue teams are volunteers who put their lives on the line - they should be regarded as a last lifeline for people who have genuinely unavoidable accidents not as a "fallback" to compensate for ignorance, foolhardiness, lack of fitness, bad planning, poor equipment, or "fashion" sportswear and footwear.
If you are planning to cross the Kinder plateau for the first time, you may be slighlty safer if you go on a Saturday, in the hope that there will be a string of other (possibly equally lost) hikers to follow.
This is a region of contrasts, with wild moorland, classic walking country which encompasses every kind of activity, from a gentle stroll to the lofty challenge of the Peaks themselves. The leafy lanes and quiet villages are ideal for that feeling of getting away from it all. With towns such as Buxton, with its wonderful architecture and cultural life, along with picturesque Bakewell and the attractions of Matlock, you’ll be spoiled for choice with places to stay and things to see and do.
From cosy farmhouses and welcoming guest houses to international hotels, you’ll find all the hospitality and comfort you need for a really memorable break. There’s plenty to see, such as breathtaking caverns where the precious Blue John stone is mined, the night-time spectacle of the Matlock Illuminations and a trip back in time at the Crich Tramway Village.