‘plans for the weekend? The professor raised an eyebrow, gathering papers. “Going up to see the Peak District. ‘Staying in Buxton, exploring the northern loop of roads.” Ah, the peakiest bits… “Really?” Well, no, but peakier.
The Peak District National Park, Britain’s oldest (dating to a surprisingly young 1951), lies between Manchester and Sheffield, a few hours drive north of London. More craggy than peaky, it consists of stony outcrops and deep river valleys, desolate moors and dense forests. It’s best known (among natives) for hiking, biking, and kayaking.
The name ‘Peak’ derives from the original Anglo-Saxon tribes settling the region, the Pecsaetans, rather than its rolling limestone hills.
The villages sport characteristic Derbyshire Stone, black slabs ubiquitous in walls and houses, and endless varieties of Bakewell Tarts and Peak Ales. Local jewelers offer rare Blue John creations, a semi-precious mineral found only inside of a few park caverns. It’s lovely, a liquid blue stone with delicate wave patterns.
We stayed at the Old Inn in Buxton, reputed to be the oldest hotel in Britain. It’s a classic pile of stone, an archaic lift, elegant carpets and deeply confortable chairs. Breakfast features some of the better sausages I’ve had in Britain and an eclectic collection of local curds and preserves. ‘good fun throughout.
Nearby is Bakewell, a busy village filled with art galleries, craft shops, and tea rooms. All claim to be home of the original Bakewell Tart, possibly a pastry or maybe a woman, depending on the establishment. The old church above town has the best views over the valley.
The Park has a visitor’s office, and I stopped in to ask directions to Stanage Edge, one of the landmark hikes. It’s like the moon up there, the roads are bad and the terrain is rough, the Ranger advised. “Too rough for a Fiesta?” I joked, but elicited only sympathy.
No matter, we continued up to Eyam, the original Plague Village. There is a National Trust shopping park and a museum: an hour of exhibits devoted to the swift and horrible deaths of most of the town’s inhabitants in 1665. The stylized rat over the entry, the journals, the artifacts and census graphs assure that no angle is left unexplored.
An unmarked side road north of Bamford rises steeply through the autumn foliage towards the scarp at Stanage Edge.
‘Actually well paved and easily navigable, the road follows the base of the cliffs, giving good views of the Parklands to the south.
Although threatening rain, we took a good long hike up onto the promontories (passed by climbers in helmets, roped together). It was gusting wind and spitting rain, perfect weather, sloshing around the puddles and slipping on the rocks (I’ll earn my passport).
‘back out through Hathersage, refuge in a Castleton pub and a reward of fudge and ales amidst Halloween artifacts. It’s actually a delightful area despite the wicked weather, lovely colours and amazing scenery and well worth a leisurely visit (even without the peakiness)
More pictures, as always, at my Flickr site.