Hill walking in the Peak District
Steep, craggy hills, expanses of wild moorland and gentle green valleys make the Peak District one of the most appealing parts of England for a walking holiday.
The Peak District is a fabulous part of England for those who enjoy hill and moorland walking, writes local tour guide Cath Lee.
A diverse range of stunning scenery can be found within the area, from the high gritstone edges and moorlands of the Dark Peak, to the green hills and deep limestone gorges of the White Peak. Britain's first national park (from 1951), its central location makes it easily accessible from all parts of the UK – from London and the southeast, it is probably the easiest place to get to where there are any serious hills.
GUIDE TO HILL WALKING IN THE PEAK DISTRICT
The Peak District is split into two very different and distinctive sections, which take their name from the type of rocks found there. Fantastic hill walks can be enjoyed in both areas.
The Dark Peak
The Dark Peak is the gritstone area of the Peak District. It is characterised by its high, craggy gritstone edges where you can find huge rocks often eroded into extraordinary shapes. Stretching away from these exposed crags are large areas of heather-covered moorland and peat bogs. Both the gritstone and moorlands are dark in appearance, hence the name Dark Peak. At lower levels, it is much greener –, particularly in the valley bottoms.
It is home to the highest hills in the Peak District, giving the opportunity for some wonderfully challenging walks over rough and rugged terrain with tremendous views. The two loftiest peaks, Kinder Scout and Bleaklow, are just high enough to officially qualify as mountains, with their highest points being over 2,000ft (610 metres) above sea level. Some of the best gritstone edges for walking include Stanage Edge, Derwent Edge, Curbar Edge, and Combs Edge. If you prefer more comfortable walking, then there are pleasant and scenic walks along the valley bottoms and around reservoirs.
The Dark Peak extends across the northern, western and eastern parts of the Peak District. Most of it lies within Derbyshire, but it extends into parts of South Yorkshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire.
Britain’s first long-distance footpath – the Pennine Way – starts in the Dark Peak outside The Old Nags Head in the Vale of Edale. The path leads northward for about 270 miles passing over the hills and moors of The Pennines, eventually reaching the village of Kirk Yetholm just across the border in Scotland.
The White Peak
The White Peak is located in the centre and south of the Peak District, and its name reflects the fact that this is a limestone area – limestone being a much lighter-coloured rock. Typical features of White Peak landscapes include green, gently rolling countryside, small fields with dry-stone walls, deep limestone gorges and occasional sharply pointed hills.
The hills are not as high as those of the Dark Peak, and the walks in this area, therefore, tend to be a bit easier. However, there are a couple of locations within the White Peak of incredible beauty that I would recommend for hill walking. The first is just north of the village of Longnor and includes Chrome Hill, Parkhouse Hill, Hitter Hill and High Wheeldon. Chrome Hill is known as ‘The Sleeping Dragon’ due to its appearance, and a classic route is to ‘walk the dragons back’ up and along the ridge. On Parkhouse Hill, you can enjoy a bit of easy scrambling and walk up and over the sharply pointed ridge.
The other area that I feel is worthwhile for hill walking is Dovedale, so long as you avoid the main tourist path in the bottom of the valley. You need to get up into the hills on both sides of the dale for simply amazing views. While walking in the White Peak, look for fossils. These rocks were formed around 350 million years ago when what the land that now comprises Derbyshire lay just south of the equator and at the bottom of a shallow, tropical lagoon. It is common to find the remains of some of the sea creatures that lived in the lagoon fossilised in the rocks.
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
1. An ascent of Kinder Scout
The most popular walk that I guide is Kinder Scout, the highest mountain in the Peak District. It covers an extensive area and is characterised by steep sides, a flattish top covered in peat bogs, and striking gritstone formations all around the edges – giving wonderful views.
2. A walk over moorland when the heather is in flower
In late summer the high moorlands of the Peak District have the appearance of being carpeted in purple when the ling heather is in flower. There are numerous paths and walks that traverse these uplands and give the opportunity to enjoy their beauty.
3. A walk along Derwent Edge
One of my favourite walks! From the side of Ladybower Reservoir you ascend steeply up the hillside to the gritstone edge high above the valley. There are wonderful views over the reservoir and to the hills and moorland beyond.
4. Ascent of Chrome and Parkhouse Hills
Not particularly well known, but in my opinion the best hill walks in The White Peak, featuring sharply defined ridges and stunning panoramas across pretty, green countryside.
5. The Edale Skyline Challenge Walk
A classic challenge walk over all the hills that surround the Vale of Edale. Highlights of the route include Win Hill, the southern edge of Kinder Scout, Brown Knoll, Mam Tor and Lose Hill. Approx 20 miles with about 1,200 metres of ascent.
WHEN TO VISIT
Best times to go:
The Peak District is great for walking at any time of year. In the winter you stand a better chance of getting snow-free summits than other mountainous areas such as the Lake District or Snowdonia. Spring and Autumn are, however, probably the best time to visit for hill walking. Summer tends to be very busy with congestion on the roads and higher prices in hotels and B&Bs. If you don't mind the crowds, I would recommend late summer to see the heather in flower on the moors.
The Peak District Walking Festival is an annual event that takes place in late April and early May, with dozens of guided walks available and therefore well worth considering. Details are available through Visit Peak District (The Tourist Information Board), and from local Tourist Information Centres during the first few months of the year.
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