The Peak District (also called The Peak) is a picturesque upland area of the East Midlands and Yorkshire regions 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 District" 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 towns and villages (e.g. Glossop, Buxton, Hayfield) are outside the Park. This was England's first national park and is still the most visited, mainly 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.
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 high moors. 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.
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 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:
- Buxton (from Manchester Piccadilly)
- Chinley, Edale, Hope, Hathersage, and Grindleford (from Manchester Piccadilly and Sheffield)
- Glossop (from Manchester Piccadilly)
- Matlock (from Derby).
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.
Fees and permits
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 national park is not owned by the state (it is basically an area with more stringent planning requirements).
- The Peak District is criss-crossed by official footpaths which are free to walk, and bridlepaths which are also open to riders and cyclists. These are moderately well signposted where they meet roads, but are easier to follow with an Ordnance Survey map.
- Many of the wilder areas are designated Access Land, where access on foot is permitted free of charge (even off the footpaths, but subject to certain conditions and occasional closures).
- Many popular areas are owned by the National Trust, who usually grant generous access to walkers (similar to, and usually designated as, Access Land).
- The Chatsworth Estate allows similar generous access to walkers.
- Bakewell – pretty riverside town and home of the famous Bakewell Pudding
- Buxton – Georgian spa town
- Castleton – show caves and a Norman castle
- Lyme Park – stately home and grounds - Pemberley in BBC Pride and Prejudice
- Chatsworth – famous stately home in impressive grounds, Austen's inspiration for Pemberley
- Haddon Hall – medieval manor house, gradually extended through the centuries
- Dovedale – attractive, though busy, limestone valley
- Eyam – attractive village with plague-related history
- High Peak and Tissington Trails – popular cycling routes on disused railways
- Kinder Scout – high gritstone plateau
- Manifold Valley – cycling opportunities and limestone scenery
- Matlock Bath – inland riverside resort with caves and visitor attractions
- The Roaches – walking and climbing area in the Staffordshire Peak District
- Stanage Edge – popular walking and climbing area, famous training ground for British mountaineers
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:
- The Pennine Way (251 miles) begins at Edale and passes through the northern section of the Park on its journey to the Scottish border.
- The Pennine Bridleway (partially complete; 208 miles) has a similar route to the Pennine Way; the Peak section runs from Carsington Reservoir to Hayfield.
- The Limestone Way (50 miles) traverses the White Peak from Castleton to Matlock, Ashbourne and Rocester.
- The Gritstone Trail (35 miles) runs from Lyme Park to Kidsgrove, along the western edge of the Park.
- The Midshires Way (225 miles) starts in Stockport and runs southeastwards across the Peak District to Wirksworth then southwards through the East Midlands to Buckinghamshire.
- The central section of the Trans-Pennine Trail (200 miles) crosses the Dark Peak via Longdendale (Woodhead Pass).
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.
The Monsal Trail is a 8.5 mi (13.7 km) cycle, horse riding and walking trail through the Wye river valley along a disused railway between Topley Pike junction in Wye Dale, 3 mi (4.8 km) miles east of Buxton, and Coombs Viaduct 1 mi (1.6 km) south-east of Bakewell.
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.
- Jewellery made from Blue John (a purplish mineral unique to the Peak District) is available – at a price – in Castleton and elsewhere.
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.
- Craft & Gift Fairs (Baslow Village Hall), Next to Chatsworth on A619 (Between Cavendish Hotel & Car Park), ☎ . 10AM-4:30PM. Craft & Gift Fairs at Baslow Village Hall in this very pretty tourist village. Two rooms of varied rooms and demonstrations. Free admission. Call to confirm dates. free.
Peak District pubs are varied but often interesting.
- A visit to the Three Stags' Heads at Wardlow Mires on the A623 between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Baslow is an interesting experience. This small roadside pub has an old-fashioned and plain (even scruffy), but cosy, interior, with open fires, good food, lurcher- and greyhound-related memorabilia and some robust country attitudes (which may not be to everyone's taste). The proprietors make a point of not serving draught lager.
There are few hotels, though a few exist in larger towns; Peak District accommodation is largely in pubs and bed-and-breakfast establishments.
- 1 The Barn at Ivy House Farm (Peak District Cottages), Warslow, Buxton (9 miles from Buxton), ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. Luxury Peak District cottage sleeping 6 in three bedrooms with three bathrooms. Contemporary style open plan barn on a quiet no-through road with walks from the door. from £300.
- 2 Bolehill Farm Cottages (Peak District Cottages), Monyash Road Bakewell (2 miles from Bakewell), ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. 8 cottages in a courtyard setting surrounded by a spectacular rural landscape 2 miles from the Peak District Market town of Bakewell. from £180.
- 3 Wheeldon Trees Farm (Peak District Cottages), Earl Sterndale (5 miles from Buxton), ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. 8 4-star holiday cottages near Buxton, Bakewell in Derbyshire Peak District sleeping up to 28. Dog, pet, children, family, group friendly from £195.
- Hillside Croft. Hillside Croft are luxury holiday cottages in the heart of the Peak District. Catered or self-catering.
- Oaklands Country Lodges, Oaklands Farm, Mount Pleasant, Sutton Road, Church Broughton, ☎ . Luxury four-star log cabins with hot tubs.
There is a good network of Youth Hostels:
- Gradbach Mill
- Ilam Hall
- Shining Cliff
Camping is expressly forbidden on most Access Land so should only be undertaken at designated campsites or with the permission of the landowner.
There are campsites at:
- Eric Byne Campsite
- Upper Hurst Farm
- North Lees Campsite
- Laneside Caravan Park
- Rivendale Caravan and Leisure Park
There are various hotels in and around the Peak District. The most popular locations being:
- Great Huklow
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. However, the Peak District has several Mountain Rescue Teams who are called out regularly to assist people who have got into difficulties either through unforeseeable accidents or (all too often) through lack of preparation or because of wilful 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 or 112 emergency services numbers. The most dangerous areas, even on apparently benign summer days, are the peat plateaux that 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 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 slightly safer if you go on a Saturday, in the hope that there will be a string of other (possibly equally lost) hikers to follow.