Walking in the Peak District

Walking in the Peak District is not just about hills and moors - there are numerous beautiful, gentler rambles to be enjoyed at lower levels, too.

The Peak District is one of the most popular destinations in England for a rambling or walking holiday, writes local tour guide Cath Lee.

Most people associate the Peaks with high hills and moors, but there's a great deal of gentler scenery at lower levels, too: a combination of the two forms the basis for most rambling holidays. The entire region offers a diverse range of beautiful scenery with stunning landscapes just waiting to be explored on foot.

A great advantage of this part of England is its accessibility, aided by its central location: in fact, over 16 million people live within an hour's drive of the National Park boundary. And everything is geared up for outdoor leisure: paths are well signposted, visitor centres well equipped and helpful, and accommodation, food and drink easy to find and of a good standard.

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The Peak District can be divided into two different geological areas, the White Peak and the Dark Peak, which offer very different experiences for walking. In addition, the Derbyshire Dales, part of which is just outside the National Park, really shouldn't be overlooked as a great area to enjoy a countryside walk.

The White Peak
The limestone landscapes of the White Peak are made up of green, gently rolling countryside, small fields with dry-stone walls, pretty villages, deep limestone gorges and occasional sharply pointed hills.

Some of the best rambles in the White Peak, which is situated in the central and southern part of the Peak District, involve strolling through the bottom of limestone gorges and marvelling at the dramatic rocky crags towering above a pretty stream in the bottom of the valley. It is also worth exploring paths through fields and woodland, perhaps with a lunchtime pub stop at one of the many pretty villages in the area.

Whilst walking in the White Peak, look out 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.

The Dark Peak
The Dark Peak is the gritstone area of the Peak District. High, craggy gritstone edges are comprised of huge rocks often eroded into extraordinary shapes. There are large expanses of 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.

There are many low level rambles that can be enjoyed in the Dark Peak. The famous Derwent Valley Heritage Way - a long-distance 55-mile footpath starts at the point where the River Derwent flows out of Ladybower Reservoir near Bamford, and then follows the course of the river through beautiful countryside. It passes through Chatsworth Park, Matlock, and ends outside the National Park borders where the river eventually joins the River Trent in South Derbyshire.

Most of the Dark Peak area lies within Derbyshire, but it also extends into parts of South Yorkshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire.

The Derbyshire Dales
The Derbyshire Dales area partially falls within the Peak District. but the parts outside of the National Park boundaries are also wonderful walking areas. In particular there's the rolling countryside surrounding Matlock, Cromford and Wirksworth, where you can enjoy the added interest of learning about the area's industrial heritage.

The world's first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill can be seen at Cromford, and a visit can be combined with a stroll along the old tow path of the Cromford Canal.

The National Stone Centre near Wirksworth is a fascinating place to learn about the history of quarrying and drystone walling. It's situated right next to the High Peak Trail - a route for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders that follows the trackbed of an old disused railway line through tranquil countryside.

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES

1. Trails and paths around Ladybower Reservoir

One of three reservoirs in the upper Derwent Valley, Ladybower is a fabulous area for walking because of the lovely views and proliferation of paths. It nestles at the bottom of a steep-sided valley and in places, pine woods stretch down right to the water's edge. An entire entire circuit of the reservoir is about 5 1/2 miles, or you could explore the valley sides on one of the way-marked trails that start from the Visitor Centre at the northern end.

2. Lathkill Dale

One of the deep limestone gorges that the White Peak area is famous for, Lathkill Dale has been at least 350 million years in the making! The land was once at the bottom of a shallow, tropical lagoon full of marine life. A footpath runs right along the bottom or the dale with a few paths that allow you to walk steeply up the side of the valley to enjoy splendid views. A short detour to the site of the old Ricklow Quarry is also well worthwhile.

3. Millstone Edge and Carl Wark

Just to the east of the village of Hathersage lies some beautiful, high, heather-covered moorland with fascinating gritstone rocky outcrops and gritstone edges typical of the Dark Peak. Below these gritstone edges you can find numerous abandoned millstones which were once produced from the local quarries. As well as being a fabulous viewpoint, Carl Wark is interesting as it is the site of an Iron Age hill fort.

4. Monsal Dale

Monsal Head is one of the Peak District's most popular viewpoints. Possibly because of its pub, cafe, and fine views of the viaduct that spans the Wye Valley in picturesque fashion. There are wonderful walks from there down into Monsal Dale, along the side of the River Wye, up the hillside opposite, or onto the Monsal Trail - which follows the trackbed of a disused railway line and passes over the famous viaduct.

5. Stanton Moor

Just outside the National Park boundaries, but well worth a visit, Stanton Moor is full of fascinating features such as a bronze age stone circle, a tower with an interesting history, small disused quarries overgrown with heather, and gritstone rock formations. There are lovely views from the edge of the moor down the Derwent Valley towards the town of Matlock.

WHEN TO VISIT

Best times to go:

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The Peak District can be enjoyed all year round. Winters are cold, but have the benefit of avoiding the crowds. During spring there are a proliferation of beautiful wild flowers in the White Peak and bluebells in some areas of woodland. Summer brings an increased likelIhood of getting good weather, but it can be crowded in the most popular areas. Mid-August to mid-September is a great time to walk in the Dark Peak because the heather on the moors is in flower.

There is a Walking Festival in the Peak District every year which takes place usually during the last week in April and the first week in May. During the Festival there are dozens of guided walks and sometimes other outdoor activities to enjoy.

Well dressings are an age-old Derbyshire custom where villages decorate sources of water by producing pictorial plaques made out of flower petals and other objects from nature. These take place throughout the summer months, with each village having its own fixed dates.

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