This Sunday the Countryfile team explores the Peak District. Find out more about this stunning national park
Located in four key areas of the Peak District National Park, the Visitor centres are an essential starting point for anyone wanting to make the most of their stay. With free admission, each centre offers National Park and tourist information, hill safety, accommodation and local transport links, information and tickets for local events, as well as family friendly exhibitions examining the area. Bakewell Visitor Centre is located in an atmospheric 17th century market hall, and is the ideal place to begin exploring the ‘White Peak’. Castleton Visitor Centre contains a museum full of ancient local treasure, and is a great jumping off point for the Hope Valley. The Moorland Centre in Edale is an unusual eco building that focuses on Moorland research, and is at the start of the Pennine Way. The Upper Derwent Visitor Centre is just 500m from the Derwent Dam, and is an ideal base to start exploring the Upper Derwent Valley.
Known as the Stonehenge of the North, Arbor Low is a massive Neolithic site comprising of fifty fallen limestone slabs. Just like Stonehenge, the stone circles function is unkown, but with a large outside ring and a smaller inner ‘cove’, Arbor Low is thought to have been a sacred site. Close by is Gib Hill, an equally important ancient burial mound, excavated over 100 years ago. Both are a must see for Neolithic history enthusiasts.
Carsington Sports and Leisure is the ideal place for holiday makers with a thirst for water sports. Situated at the stunning Carsington Water Reservoir, the centre offers courses and activities for professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. Visitors can try their hand at RYA sailing, windsurfing, power-boating, raft building, and kayaking and canoeing. Those who prefer to stay dry can try the orienteering, mountain biking and climbing courses. The centre offers many day course for children and teenagers, ensuring a fun-filled family experience.
Over five centuries old, this stunning country house is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. With parts of the house newly refurbished, there are over 30 rooms to explore, including a beautiful Painted Hall and Sculpture Gallery. The house contains a spectacular art collection, with Egyptian artefacts, works by Renaissance Masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as a prominent collection of contemporary art. Step out of the house into the 105 acre garden and explore the sculptures and waterworks yourself, or take a guided tour. Step further out into the 1000 acre Park designed by Capability Brown and enjoy one of the largest manmade landscapes in the world. Behind the house, Stand Wood is diverse in its trees and wildlife, and also contains an Aqueduct! With shopping and cafes, Chatsworth House has plenty to offer.
Wildlife and nature
Because of the diversity in habitats in the Peak District, the area is perfect for bird watching enthusiasts, with a huge range of birds to be seen, from wildfowl to warblers to owls. Birdholme Wildfowl Reserve and it’s man made lake is excellent for kingfishers, winter wildfowl and summer warblers, whilst Carr Vale Nature Reserve contains a useful viewing mound to spy Plover flocks, Water Rail, Jack Snipe, Rock Pipit, Common Rosefinch, Lesser Yellowlegs, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest, Wryneck and many more.
The rivers Wye, Dove, Lathkill and Derwent offer the fly fisherman plenty of opportunities to indulge their passion, and the course fisherman will enjoy the Trent, as well many gravel pits, ponds, lakes and reservoirs. The upper reaches of the Derwent offers plenty of trout and grayling, and the Wye is famous for its population of rainbow trout. Stayeley’s Ireland Pit Pond is notable for bream, whilst Codnor holds some large carp. Many of the waters in the Peak District are controlled by the Haddon and Chatsworth estates, though many clubs and associations have lets and many places offer day tickets.
Outside of Scotland and the Isle of Man, the Peak District is the only place in Great Britain to spot the Mountain Hare. Slightly smaller than the more common brown hare, their brown-grey coat begin to turn white in the Autumn, making them unmistakable. They prefer to occupy heather and mixed moor, wet heath, blanket bog and grassland, so can be seen by hikers and cyclists in many parts of the Peak District National Park.
The Chestnut Centre offers a 50 acre home to a range of wild and captive birds and animals. They have one of Europe’s largest gathering of otters, including Giant Otters from South America. There is a collection of 16 species of owls, as well as buzzards, pine martens, polecats, foxes, Scottish wildcats and deer in their natural habitats. The centre also has a keen conservation programme, particularly with flora, fauna, and the status of the otter. They have an ongoing breeding programme, and you can even adopt an animal.
Towns and villages
The administrative centre of the Peak District National Park, and an excellent location for visiting the Peak Districts many attractions, Bakewell is an attraction in its own right. The crystal clear waters of the river Wye meander through the heart of this aged market town, with a beautiful gothic bridge and medieval church adding to the picturesque quality of the town. There is plenty to offer shopaholics and pudding fans, with many pubs, eateries and bakeries. The town is steeped in history, having been settled by the Celts and the Romans.
Stanton In The Park and Birchover are typical White Peak villages, comprising of gritstone buildings, whose main streets lie along a steep hill. Stanton’s quaint courtyards and corners are charming, as is the 16th century Stanton Hall. Also in close proximity is Stanton Moor, which contains at least 70 bronze age sites such as barrows, stone circle and ancient enclosures. Mostly small the scale, the most famous of these sites is the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, a low lying circle of gritstone in a lovely location.
Ashbourne is another picturesque market town, made famous by its annual Shrovetide Football Match, in which the town splits in half to play one another, using the entire town as its playing field, with the two goals three miles apart!
The modern town of Matlock is actually split into five parts: Matlock Town, Matlock Green, Matlock Bank, Matlock Bridge and Matlock Bath. The one most worth of a visit is Matlock Bath, a site of thermal springs discovered by the Romans, and later turned into a spa town in the 17th century. Attractions near Matlock include Matlock Aquarium and the famous Heights of Abraham, with stunning views of the Peak District from its cable cars.
Called the Capital of the High Peak, Buxton’s claim to fame is its status as the highest (and coldest!) town in England. It is choc full of beautiful and historic places to stay, with stunning Georgian architecture. Buxton also boasts an opera house, Pavilion Gardens, and a county park.
With over 150 scheduled walks each year, a hike with a Peak District National Park Authority Ranger is one of the best ways to see the Peak District. Not only are the rangers experienced walkers with an in depth knowledge of the best routes, but they are also specialise in wildlife and botany. They are first aid trained too, so you can feel safe and learn much, with different walks for visitors with different walking experience. See the website for more information.
Taking off from Bakewell Showground, the Virgin Balloon Ride takes the viewer over the historic market town, and over miles of Derbyshire countryside. You’ll get to see landmark sites such as Lathkill, Dovedale, Chatsworth Estate and Haddon Hall from the air, and experience the Peak District in a unique and exciting way.
Formally a train line, the Tissington Trail is a gentle track for cyclists and walkers alike. Starting in Ashbourne, the trail passes close by to Dovedale and Hartington. For those who want a greater challenge, the Tissington Trail is connected to the High Peak Trail, which offers a far steeper route.
Get uder the skin of the Peak District by trying your hand at Caving. With the highest natural cavern in Britain – Titan Cave in Castleton – beginners and experts alike can give it a go. There are several activity centres in the Peak District that offer Caving, and provide all the equipment too.