The protected and much-loved collection of rolling hills and rugged landscapes dotted with pretty traditional stone villages, fine stately homes, and extraordinary rocky outcrops. The glorious area is actually the United Kingdom’s first national park and has provided a green escape for both surrounding city dwellers and a mecca for nature and outdoor lovers residing from all over the country. The unique and picturesque area has also provided the backdrop for many a film and beloved TV series (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, The Other Boleyn Girl, Peak District the list goes on..) and also draws fans from all over the world. I was lucky enough to spend a wonderful year living and exploring this national park, so here is my choice for 15 of the most beautiful places to visit in the Peak District…
1. Castleton – easily one of the best places to visit in the Peak District
A gorgeous little village full of quintessential limestone cottages and nestled at the foot of spectacular Mam Tor, Castleton is the ideal base from which to explore the Peak District National Park. The Main Street is a bustle of shops, cafes and pubs overseen by the ancient ruins of Peveril Castle which perches on a steep hill above the town.
It’s a great place to stock up on tasty local delicacies and take off for a hike and a picnic in the hills or to while away a few hours between caverns. An absolute must for hikers, shoppers, and foodies this little gem will not disappoint. I highly recommend lunch at The Three Rooves Cafe which is unfailingly delicious! The area does get busy during summer months though, so if it’s solitude you’re after perhaps visit out of season!
2. Hope Valley – a famously beautiful place to explore in the Peak District
With a name like that what’s not to like? Hope Valley encompasses some of the prettiest villages and most spectacular landscapes in the peaks. Jump on the train from Sheffield or Manchester and you’ll be in Hope Village in less than an hour. From there you can join the Great Ridge hiking trail to MamTor or the circular walk which takes in historic sites such as the Bronze Age hill fort, Win Hill, and some of the caverns.
If breathtaking views aren’t your thing just head for a pint of real ale in one of the village pubs or have a spot of lunch in a choice of cosy cafes and chat with some of the usually very friendly local characters.
3. Kinder Scout – a stunning moorland plateau and National Nature Reserve
Kinder Scout Plateau is an absolute must for hikers and climbers, at 636 metres above sea level it is the highest point not only in The Peak District but also in Derbyshire and the East Midlands. It is easily reached by taking the Hope Valley Train Line from Manchester or Sheffield and embarking at Edale. Kinder Scout is also home to Kinder Downfall, the tallest waterfall in the Peak District and although it’s a mere trickle in the dry season after heavy rain and wind it can be quite a dramatic sight!
At the base of the falls is Mermaids Pool, said to be the home of a mermaid who will grant immortality to anyone who sees her on Easter Eve; Could be handy in these trying times? The plateau was featured on BBC’s Seven Natural Wonders in 2005 and the views over the National Park are just spectacular.
4. Hathersage and Stanage Edge – a pretty historic village and a nearby gritstone escarpment
This Charming town at the eastern end of Hope Valley is a real must-see. Nestled beneath the climbing and bouldering hotspots of Stanage Edge and Burbage Edge you can’t beat it for cosy cafes, pub grub, and walking gear.
As a book lover, I can’t get enough of literary references, and Hathersage is packed with them; from the grave of Robin Hood’s right-hand man Little John, who is said to be buried at St Michael’s Church, to North Lees Hall, said to be the inspiration for Thornfield in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. It is also home to Hathersage Lido, a rare heated outdoor swimming pool nestled between the gorgeous hills and said to be the best pool in Britain!
5. Eyam – the famous historic ‘plague village’
The rich and chequered history of Eyam makes it a must-see in my opinion! In 1665 a flea-infested package of cloth arrived at the local Taylor’s from London and brought with it The Great Plague. Within a short space of time, his assistant and many of his household had fallen ill and died.
To slow the spread of the infection the villagers turned to many ingenious preventative methods and famously put themselves under quarantine earning Eyam the title of “The Plague Village”. Today you can visit many significant remnants from that time including the Coolstone, numerous boundary stones, and the isolated Riley Graves as well as the splendid Jacobean Eyam Hall and the nearby village stocks.
6. Monsal Dale – a truly beautiful valley to explore in the Peak District
The best way to see the Monsal Dale is from The Monsal Trail, a walking and cycling path that follows the old railway track between Bakewell to Blackwell Mill just outside Buxton.
The route runs through the beautiful valley along the river wye and takes you past some gorgeous sights, my favourite is the fantastic viaduct at Monsal Head which can be viewed at leisure from The Monsal Head Hotel whilst sipping a pint of delicious real ale! There are also millstones, caves, and water mills to enjoy along the 18 mile stretch. It’s a good route for seasoned hikers and weekend walkers alike as much of it is flat and all of it is well paved and signposted a perfect weekend adventure.
7. Bakewell – the historic town famous for its puddings
Cake Lovers, you haven’t lived until you have sampled a slice of Bakewell Tart in the village where it was created! You’ll never eat Mr Kipling again! Aside from sweet treats, Bakewell hosts numerous markets throughout the week including a fantastic farmers market where you can sample the best local produce.
Beer lovers can take a tour of Thornbridge Brewery and sup on some delectable craft beers. The mellow stone houses wend along the banks of the River Wye traversed by a lovely medieval arched bridge and the quaint nooks and crannies and courtyards are a real draw for artists (no pun intended). Unmissable!
8. Ilam, Dovedale and the White Peak – wonderful Peak District beauty spots
For a bit more of a classy day out head to The White Peak Estate and Ilam Park and enjoy beautifully maintained Natural Trusto woodlands, Italianate gardens, and riverside strolls. Be sure to include local delicacies such as Derbyshire Oatcakes in the wonderful Manifold Tea Rooms and the whimsical stepping stones over the crystal waters of the River Dove.
When you have had your fill of perfect lawns, follies and quaint stone buildings it’s a short hop to the English Heritage site of Arbour Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow for a bit of Neolithic drama.
9. Buxton – the elegant and historic spa town
Buxton is a good size thermal spa town with some great little coffee shops, quintessential tea rooms, and quirky book shops to spend some pleasant hours in. It has a rich history in theatre and the arts and every year hosts it’s own fringe theatre festival. It is the highest market town in England and you can see the effects of that exposure in the light stone of the splendid Victorian and Georgian Architecture.
The town’s most impressive building is the Opera House which was designed by Frank Matcham in 1903 who would go on to design many of London’s finest west end theatres. Other notable architectural gems are The Crescent Hotel, a hot spot for wealthy Georgians seeking the country air, the Serpentine Walks, and the Pavillion Gardens.
10. Ladybower Reservoir – a gorgeous place to explore in the heart of the park
This spectacular reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley is an absolutely breathtaking sight as you approach it over the neighbouring hills and a great place to head with a picnic for a day out. There are many circular walks around the reservoir which encompass the majestic viaduct and the dramatic ‘plug hole’ which bubbles dramatically after heavy rainfall.
Fairholmes visitor centre has information on the history of the reservoir, particularly the dam-busters of WW2 who used to practice air raids there due to its resemblance to German dams. The centre also has a little shop selling take-out food and hot drinks and you can hire a bike from there and enjoy cycling the 5.5 mile loop of the water.
11. Ashford-in-the-Water – regarded as one of the prettiest villages in the Peak District
Ashford is a quaint little village crammed with listed buildings including the rustic Packhorse Bridge that traverses a particularly pretty stretch of The River Wye. Historically it is known for the quarrying the luxurious and highly coveted Ashton Black Marble and for its maidens garlands that marked the deaths of village virgins, some can be seen in the parish church.
It is also a strong participant in the annual well dressing tradition where villagers decorate the Wells with flamboyant garlands of paper and flowers. the tradition is thought to date back as far as the celts and is truly beautiful to behold! Well dressings happen across Derbyshire between May and September with many happening over the summer holidays, check out your specific travel dates so you are not disappointed!
12. Heights of Abraham – a scenic country park and caverns that are reached by cable car
Now, normally I like to concentrate on going off the beaten track a bit but now and again it’s nice to just embrace the tourism. The Heights of Abraham is the perfect spot to do that. Situated on a high plateau above Matlock Bath on the edge of The Peak District the Heights is a gorgeous Victorian park complex reached by cable car from the village.
The views from the top are absolutely stunning and there is plenty to keep you occupied up there. You can enjoy tours of the two caverns, woodland walks, Punch and Judy, an exhibition of fossils from the old mining days, The Prospect Tower and various cafe’s and gift shops… it’s just a quirky and unusual family day out.
13. Tideswell Cathedral – the Cathedral of the Peaks
St John The Baptist Church in Tideswell is of such splendid proportions it is known as The Cathedral of The Peaks. The Grade 1 listed building has been around since the 11th Century and like most religious structures of that age has a fascinating history, much of which revolves around a bitter rivalry with the monks of Lenton Priory.
In the 14th century a small Norman church replaced the older chapel and this in turn was restored lovingly in the late 1800’s. What you see now is a beautiful example of Gothic and Perpendicular architectural styles within which are contained many treasures such as alabaster figures, spectacular stained glass, and a majestic church organ. If you’re a fan of churches like me you really must visit this one.
14. Stanton Moor – a stunning ruggedly beautiful area to visit in the Peak District
If you are a Pagan at heart like me then you must visit the atmospheric landscape of Stanton Moor with it’s Neolithic and Bronze Age burial grounds, otherworldly King Stone, Cat Stone, and Cork Stone, and the stone circles of Doll Tor and The Nine Ladies. The bleak and windswept plateau in the area of the Dark Peak is peppered with purple heather and over 70 barrows!
The numerous remnants of alter-stones and stone circles give the whole place an eerie feel as if ancient forces are still at work there! Beware of the quick mists that drift in sneakily and reduce visibility to almost nothing in the autumn! Pack your walking gear and keep an eye out for Druids!
15. Blue John Cavern – the famous show cave
The Blue John Cavern is one of a series of caves in the hills around Castleton where the rare semi-precious stone Blue John can be found. There is very little evidence that this beautiful blue-veined stone can be found anywhere other than this handful of caves, which makes it very exciting for mineralogists and geologists. Not just reserved for the experts though this splendid cavern, with its high chambers and corridors, carved out by history and shimmering with bolts of blue, was featured on the BBC’s Seven Wonders series and deservedly.
It’s a great addition to a day out around Castleton and Mam Tor and when you’ve been suitably impressed by the beauty of the stone you can wander back down the hill and spend all your savings on it in one of the independent artisan jewellers in the village.
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