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.
Towns and villages
- 1 Bakewell, home of the Bakewell Tart, is an attractive market town close to Chatsworth and Haddon Hall.
- 2 Matlock town is modern, but nearby Matlock Bath has the scenic Derwent Gorge and Heights of Abraham.
- 3 Cromford is a UNESCO Heritage Site for its well-preserved mills. It's the start of the High Peak Trail.
- 4 Wirksworth has a heritage railway from Derby, and access to the Black Rocks and Carsington Water.
- 5 Ashbourne is a charming small town giving access to Dovedale. Nearby is Alton Towers.
- 6 Leek is at the foot of the Staffordshire Moorlands.
- 7 Buxton has been a spa town since Roman times for its geothermal springs.
- 8 New Mills is where the limestone gives way to gritstone, cut into gorges by the rivers Goyt and Sett.
- 9 Hayfield (not to be confused with nearby Hadfield) gives access to Kinder Scout.
- 10 Glossop is commuterland for Manchester. Visitors to the Peak District would just use it as a transport hub.
- 11 Crowden-in-Longdendale is the usual stopover point after Day One on the Pennine Way.
- 12 Edale at the foot of Kinder Scout is the start of the Pennine Way.
- 13 Castleton has the best limestone scenery of the Peak District, with Mam Tor, Winnats Pass, and the caverns of Speedwell, Blue John and Treak Cliff.
- 14 Hathersage is a centre for hiking and rock-climbing close to Sheffield.
- 15 Eyam is the village that isolated itself when struck by the Great Plague of 1665.
By train: most trains hurry through, but several services call at the little stations across the area, which are on hiking trails.
Trains from Manchester Piccadilly to Sheffield run hourly via New Mills, Chinley, then through a long tunnel to Edale, Hope, Bamford, Hathersage, Grindleford, and Dore & Totley.
Trains from Piccadilly to Buxton run Mo-Sa twice an hour via New Mills, Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith.
Trains from Piccadilly to Glossop and Hadfield (not to be confused with nearby Hayfield) run twice an hour. Don't be tempted by the wayside halt of Flowery Field, it's a nondescript suburb.
Trains from Derby run M-F hourly to Matlock via Ambergate, Whatstandwell, Cromford and Matlock Bath. The long-abandoned High Peak Railway branches off from Cromford and is an excellent hiking trail.
By bus: For long distance coaches, travel via the cities suggested above. See individual towns for other buses within the area.
Bus 199 runs hourly from Manchester Airport to Stockport, Stepping Hill, Disley, New Mills, Furness Vale, Whaley Bridge, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Peak Dale and Buxton.
Bus 65 runs from Sheffield to Meadowhall, Fox House, Grindleford, Calver, Eyam, Great Hucklow, Tideswell and Buxton. It runs M-Sa every two hours, with only three buses on Sunday.
Bus 271 runs from Sheffield to Fox House, Hathersage, Bamford, Hope and Castleton. It runs M-Sa every couple of hours.
Buses run from Chesterfield via Baslow to Bakewell, to Matlock, and via Bakewell, Eyam, Bamford, Castleton and Ladybower to Sheffield.
By road: major roads crisscross the area, including A6 the historic London-Manchester-Carlisle road. Summer weekends they get very congested. Wednesday afternoons in summer is when the bikers try to go supersonic along the straights.
See public transport routes described above, and some places are within hiking distance, eg between Hope or Edale railway stations to the attractive area of Castleton.
Beyond that, you really need a car. And so does everyone else, hence the congestion in summer, and the main routes are tedious for cyclists with all the traffic brushing past.
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
- Caves and caverns: the best collection of show-caves are around Castleton, with Speedwell, Blue John and Treak Cliff all open to visit.
- Stately mansions: this area was never a cockpit of war so places were built for opulent living not defence. Chatsworth near Bakewell is the standout, and Haddon Hall is nearby.
- Alton Towers west of Ashbourne is just a masonry shell, but is nowadays the picturesque backdrop to a theme park.
- Dovedale – attractive, though busy, limestone valley
- Eyam – attractive village with plague-related history
- High Peak and Tissington Trails – popular cycling routes on disused railways
- 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
- Crich Tramway Village is five miles southeast of Matlock Bath.
- Maps: Like the rest of country, the Peak District is covered by Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger maps (with the red covers), but you need Maps 109, 110, 118 and 119 for full coverage. A better option is the OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure series (yellow covers), Maps OL1 ("The Peak District – Dark Peak area") and OL24 ("The Peak District – White Peak area"). There are lots of other guides, in print and online. Don't rely on generic online maps such as Google: they're designed for the built environment and don't show natural features such as contours and bogs.
- Kinder Scout in 1932 saw a "mass trespass" to protest that a privileged few could use it for grouse-shooting while most people weren't allowed to walk there. This, plus the harsh punishment of some of the protesters, led to public support for better access to uncultivated land. In 1949 the first National Parks were created, in 1965 the Pennine Way opened, and in 2000 the long-established protection of "rights of way" was broadened into "open access" areas. Kinder Scout itself is a bleak and soggy triangular plateau that exemplifies the contrasts of the Peak District. To its south lies attractive limestone country. But at Edale this changes abruptly to gritstone, poorly permeable to rainfall and overlain by peat bog. The plateau is bounded by steep scarps, so there are great views on the way up (an excuse to catch your breath) and along the scarp edge. But go in search of the summit, and you struggle through bogs and lose the view, all for the sake of a couple of metres extra altitude to reach the OS triangulation point amidst this morass. It's at 636 m / 2087 ft, but you'll be past caring when you reach it.
- If you're doing all 267 miles (429 km) of the Pennine Way end-to-end in a single sortie, then the usual direction is northbound to have the sun and weather at your back, and Day One is from Edale across Kinder Scout and Bleaklow to Crowden-in-Longdendale. There are two routes out of Edale, which can combine into a circular walk for hikers who are simply day-tripping. The original route was to ascend Kinder Scout immediately up Grind's Brook, then squelch northwest across the plateau. The better route, more scenic and less boggy, is west across the fields to ascend by Jacob's Ladder, then north along the scarp edge. The two routes meet at Kinder Downfall, from where you trudge on north gradually descending. The plateau is crossed by A57 but with no nearby facilities, so you continue north over Bleaklow (which is well named) before the last descent into Longdendale, with a zigzag around the reservoir to reach Crowden. The route is well marked, with flagstones and boardwalks over the bogs. 13 miles done, only 254 to go.
- Day Two leaves the Peak District, from Crowden over Black Hill and Wessenden Moor to Standedge, the scarp above Manchester. This is considered by many (including Wainwright) to be the dreariest and boggiest section of the entire Pennine Way. It's 11 miles with no stiff gradients, but there's next-to-nothing in Standedge so you may have to tramp onwards to Marsden or Diggle for accommodation. 244 miles to go, are we having fun yet?
- Other long-distance trails across the Peak District are:
- - The Pennine Bridleway (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 in Staffordshire.
- - The Gritstone Trail (35 miles) runs along the western edge of the hills in Cheshire from Lyme Park to Kidsgrove.
- - The Midshires Way (225 miles) starts in Stockport and runs southeastwards across the Peak District to Wirksworth then south through the East Midlands to Buckinghamshire.
- - The Trans-Pennine Trail (200 miles) crosses the Dark Peak via Longdendale (Woodhead Pass).
Get off-road as soon as you can, as even the small lanes are busy with traffic in summer. There are pleasant trails along old railways, shared with walkers and horse-riders.
- Monsal Trail follows the Wye valley for 8 miles between Topley Pike junction (3 miles east of Buxton), and Coombs Viaduct a mile south-east of Bakewell.
- The High Peak and Tissington Trails are two forks of a long route that originally reached from Cromford across to Buxton and Whaley Bridge. You'll be doing well if you can cycle up the inclines coming out of Cromford: even the trains couldn't manage it, so the passengers had to walk while the coaches were cable-hauled up.
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.
There are hundreds of sites. Some popular and accessible areas lie west of Sheffield where the Hallam Moors suddenly end in gritstone scarps.
- See Sheffield for Rivelin Rocks, west of the city above A57, and artificial and indoor options.
- East of Hathersage is the long scarp of Stanage Edge, good for walking and climbing, with Burbage Edge and Millstone Edge to the south on the boundary of Sheffield.
- Deepcar village northwest of Sheffield has Wharncliffe Crags.
- 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.
- Most accommodation is in pubs, bed-and-breakfast establishments, or self-catering cottages.
- Youth hostels run by the YHA are in Alstonefield and Ilam both near Ashbourne, Losehill Hall near Castleton, Edale, Eyam, Hartington and Sheen midway between Buxton and Ashbourne, Ravenstor in Millersdale east of Buxton, and Youlgreave south of Bakewell.
- Camping is only allowed in designated campsites or with the landowner's permission. Tents and campervans along the roadside will be moved on by the police. There's a string of campsites along the Hope Valley from Hathersage to Edale and Castleton, and another string on A619 from Chesterfield to Baslow and Bakewell then along the B-road to Hurlow. Others are at Crowden and Hayfield.
- Hotels are found in the larger towns at the edge of the area, such as Buxton, Chesterfield and Sheffield.
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.