It’s always fabulous when you discover a corner of your own country that is a complete surprise. Which was the case with the Peak District in my native England.
As expats, we get used to exploring new places, researching what to see and do in our adopted country but we often don’t have the time to explore our own countries, as our time at “home” is generally filled with visits to family and friends.
THE PEAK DISTRICT
My newfound gem, the Peak District, became the UK’s first national park in 1951 and its designation as such has helped, though struggling at times, to maintain the diversity of the area both in nature and culture. The 1,438-square-kilometre park touches on areas in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire in the centre of England, and works with local communities to protect the area from intensive farming, industry and the wear and tear caused by tourism.
The area is composed of limestone, which in the south, the White Peak, has formed rolling hills and deep valleys, and in the northern Dark Peak, due to a layer of “grit,” high remote moorland. Both areas are popular with hikers, climbers, cyclists and motorcyclists among others.
Mam Tor, (mother hill in photo at the top of the post) near Castleton, is one such area. At 517 meters, it is popular with hikers and hang gliders and has amazing views in all directions. The hang gliders look like tropical birds as they swoop and soar over the rolling green hills and walking along the spine of the hill is breathtaking….literally!
Close by is Winnats Pass, a picturesque limestone gorge popular with cyclists who are looking for a challenge!
Not only is this area chock full of footpaths and trails for the active, it also offers some impressive historic houses such as Chatsworth House, the family home of the Duke of Devonshire since the 16th century, Bolsover Castle and Haddon Hall, one of England’s finest medieval manor houses.
The countryside is comprised of undulating green hills sectioned by stonewalls into a checkerboard of small squares filled with sheep or cows, and small towns and villages, offering cute teashops and friendly pubs. We stayed in the little town of Tideswell, near Buxton, that offered several pubs and restaurants; some super local stores all selling good quality food and regional fare, such as a Thar cake, an oatmeal and ginger biscuit.
Tideswell prides itself on its thriving local stores. They have used funding from the lottery to create Taste Tidewell, which holds a food festival each year. The village is close to some super local walks across the rolling countryside.
The towns of Buxton and Bakewell are nearby and worth a visit if only to see a small unspoiled English town. Buxton is an 18th-century spa town and retains its elegance, with delis and good restaurants.
PHOTO GALLERY – THE PEAK DISTRICT HAS SOME OF ENGLAND’S MOST CHALLENGING OUTDOOR EXPERIENCES AS WELL AS SOME OF ITS MOST TRADITIONAL TOWNS.
It’s an easy train ride from Manchester. Bakewell, famous for its creation of the Bakewell pudding, is a small town set in beautiful surroundings.
It holds a weekly farmers market, general market and cattle market, has a good selection of local stores and restaurants and access to a superb hike, the Monsal Trail, along the now defunct Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction railway line. The trail allows you to walk through tunnels and over viaducts following the Wye river, where once Victorians chugged along seated in new-fangled steam trains.
TRADITION WILL SURVIVE BREXIT
Well Dressing is a fascinating Derbyshire tradition and is thought to originally be pagan. The tradition celebrates each village having fresh water, by decorating the village well with flowers; today petals are pressed into a clay frame in a picture or design.
About 80 villages have their own date for the Well Dressing during the summer and once the hours of the elaborate work of pressing the petals into the clay is completed the village celebrates with a party or carnival. This ancient tradition is “well” worth watching and the intricate designs are an example of patience and respect for rituals, brought to the area by Celts and Romans.
Being a visitor in your home country can be enlightening, particularly for Brits at this juncture. Brexit is a divisive issue and has led to some negative feelings from other countries as well as some of the UK natives! Regardless of your feelings concerning this situation, it’s good to find that the UK continues to welcome tourists and has areas of outstanding beauty that it’s ready to share.
Manchester Airport is the nearest airport to the Peak District and has a train link to Manchester’s main station. From there it’s a short walk to the central bus station and buses to Bakewell and Buxton.
About the author:
Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years, and in the Netherlands for the past eight years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States for as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat ilife and issues.
She also covered Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.