Central England’s Rugged Beauty
At the heart of England is the Peak District, an upland area now recognised as the Peak District National Park. Covering most of Derbyshire and parts of five other counties, the national park expands some 555 square miles (1,440 km2). It holds the honour of being the UK’s first national park, established in 1951.
Split into the Dark Peak (largely moors and gritstone) and the White Peak (lots of limestone), the Peak District is a hiker’s and climber’s paradise. At the farthest end of the Pennines mountains, most of the region is at a minimum of 1,000 ft or 300 metres. The highest peak is Kinder Scout, measuring 2,087 ft or 636 metres. Don’t expect sharp or jagged peaks here, though – the region is an ancient one with a softer, lush, rolling landscape.
This is truly a wonderful region for lovers of the great outdoors. For anyone happy to hike, the views from the Peaks are sweeping and expansive. Gaze upon charming lakes and valleys, gorgeous geological formations and of course, stunning sunrises and sunsets. Purple heather tops the rolling moors and the land supports a variety of wildlife, from birds of prey and owls to mountain hares (England’s only wild population of the species) as well as herds of red deer. There are plenty of small mammals and birds too – a great region for bird-watching.
Plenty of finds suggest that the Peak District was inhabited from the Stone Age onwards, and several henges and hillforts still dot the hills. In early English history, the Peak District was part of the Kingdom of Mercia. The number of sheep and central location meant that the Peaks have long been known for wool textiles.
Located at the centre of the metropolitan areas of Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds, and not far from Liverpool and Birmingham, this central region of England has long been an economic powerhouse, particularly during the Industrial Revolution. This heritage is still partially visible in the Peak District, which saw quarrying, mining, and mills building.
The Peak District has long inspired stories, myths and legends. The beloved Jane Austen character Elizabeth Bennet visits the Peak District on a journey north to the fictitious Pemberley (Chatsworth Manor in the 2005 film or Lyme Park House in BBC’s 1995 version) in Pride and Prejudice, famously noting “what are men compared to rocks and mountains” – a sentiment that rings true in the Peak District mountains. Charlotte Bronte, the eldest of the Bronte sisters, was inspired by places like the village of Hathersage, the local manors as well as the landscape as the setting for her great novel, Jane Eyre. And the legendary outlaw Robin Hood also has a few connections to this central craggy region.