The Peak District may hold a rather grandiose promise hidden in its name, alluding to towering mountains and dramatic cliffs right in the heart of England. That’s exactly why there may be some disappointment in store for those, who expect ski-slopes and mountain trails barely three hours north of London. But for those with a soft spot for picturesque country lanes, dainty villages and an endless assortment of beef grazing on the horizon, you won’t need to look any further.
The “peaks” mentioned in the misleading name of this national park are actually nothing but mere hills rolling over miles and miles of beautiful landscape, perhaps reminiscent of the often moody and yet stunning countryside in Ireland, or even – with some imagination and positive thinking – one of NZ’s national parks.
Villages connect with each other through age-old country roads, including the treacherous Snake Pass, where the winding curves of this tricky thoroughfare record Britain’s highest number of road accidents annually. But other than reckless driving issues, there’s nothing like a pilgrimage to these little villages, which makes the trip to the Peak District all the more worthwhile. Whether you decide to hire a car or hike the distance in your blue suede shoes, a weekend trip up the M1 to the Peak District is bound to inspire you and fill your air sacks with some clean country air, refreshing your mind and spirit before getting back to your humdrum life in London.
An obvious starting point for the inspiring journey is perhaps rather surprisingly Sheffield, as excellent transportation links by rail, bus or car to the northeastern city can get you to the border of the Peak District in virtually no time. Sheffield has come into its own and has long overcome its stigma of being a dirty, industrial city unworthy of ever paying it a second glance. It is by no means the Paris of the north, but a pleasant respite away from London, where the hilly streets of the town centre and welcoming hospitality of many enjoyable pubs and restaurants in the many town squares begin to give you that proverbial fresh breath of air that any major change in location will inadvertently bring along.
After completing a stroll through Sheffield’s pedestrianised high street and checking out all the local sights, you can begin your journey west through the Peak District, ideally by hitting the village of Baslow first. Home to Chatsworth House, a glorious country estate used by aristocracy for centuries, you will get the “royal treatment” while taking a guided tour, enjoying the country shop or having lunch at the delicious canteen, which hosts an outstanding selection of British desserts. Your history lesson will stretch from Edward the Confessor to Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, whose biography was recently propelled into popular culture with the production of the Kiera Knightley blockbuster, The Duchess, filmed on location – with a foray all the way to the Kennedy dynasty.
From Chatsworth, you’re only about a half hour away from Bakewell, home of the Bakewell Tart. With several shops claiming to be the inventors of the sugary treat you will have numerous chances to get your hands on a nice piece of pie, which are all conveniently sold in various sizes to fit the relative enormity of your sweet tooth. Winding roads with Tudor houses, trickling creeks and a joyful market square create that certain look of an English village, which is just picture perfect. If you want to do something unusual while there, look out for the Austrian restaurant in the heart of Bakewell, where a cornucopia of sausages and hearty Central-European dishes will confuse your senses deliciously.
Your final stop should be Buxton, famed for its water source, which has been quenching the thirst of the British for over a hundred years. The biggest village of the Peak District is also known for its theatre, where many touring companies usually schedule several nights of their performances to entertain the local stage enthusiasts. You may witness anything from opera and ballet to plays and cabaret shows here, as the Victorian building and its garden remain open year-round to promote the arts as well as their stunning architecture and gardening features. The little high street of the Peak District village features all your daily necessities – but without the bland, middle-class stigma. Buxton is a lively place, where local businesses and major chain stores seem to compliment the face of town, while local artists show their craft, bringing a soulful community together with quaint little stores and exciting shopping passages.
You can squeeze all this into a weekend trip, so what are you waiting for? The fresh air alone is reason to pack nothing but your toothbrush and get going now.