Great days out in the Peak District

21/01/2020 15:58

Written by Helen Moat

Whether you're looking to explore a grand stately home or take a trip on a retro tram, the Peak District is brimming with fun days out for the family. 

Crich Tramway Museum

A few miles off the A6 in the Lower Derwent Valley along the B5035, the National Tramway Museum is popular with history buffs, transport-spotters, retirees, families and just about anyone else who enjoys a good old-fashioned, fun day out.

Start your visit at Town End Terminus where the museum curators have done their best to recreate a pre-war British street scene. The carved stone facade of Derby’s original assembly rooms (exhibiting the recent revival of British trams) sits side by side with the Red Lion, a Stokeon-Trent Edwardian pub that was dismantled and taken to Crich to be recreated brick by brick.

Crich Tramway Museum Peak District by Northern Imaging, Shutterstock© Northern Imaging, Shutterstock

The Victorian street lamps and cobbled streets add to the feeling of nostalgia, further enhanced by the occasional classic car casually parked on the roadside. (Crich Tramway Village offers free entry to anyone who can add to the period set by parking their old-timer for a minimum of three hours.)

Jump on a tram and trundle up to Glory Mine, the last stop on the approximately mile-long hill. A trail leads out of the museum to Crich Stand Memorial, skirting the quarry. If the sight of British and European city trams ploughing the Derbyshire countryside seems somewhat surreal, so is the sight of this memorial tower perched on the edge of the limestone cliff like a stranded lighthouse in landlocked Derbyshire. At night, the flashing light of the tower can be seen for miles around.

Crich Tramway Museum Peak District Chris Jenner Shutterstock© Chris Jenner, Shutterstock

The depot at the Tramway Museum below the hill has an impressive range of stock, mostly trams from British cities, interspersed with the odd European and North American model. They are a real mix of old wooden cars with ornate railings to more modern heavy-duty metal vehicles. To see how the trams developed from horse-drawn carriages to steam, diesel and electric street cars, head for the Great Exhibition Hall. 

Before leaving, take a different tram up the hill, this time alighting at Wakebridge. Follow the path downhill through the Woodland Walk lined with sculpted forest creatures and objects: a giant woodland ant; the green man, an ogre drowning in rubble; mystical woodland creatures carved from branches and the ancient bound books shelved in the roots of a great tree stump – like something out of Harry Potter. There’s also a stone maze with curved stone posts of stained glass, echoing Crich Stand Memorial on the hill above.

Standedge Visitor Centre and tunnel ride

From Marsden Railway station, a towpath along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal leads to Standedge Tunnel, a construction over three miles in length, and more than 600ft below the ground. It took 17 years of engineering hiccups and hard graft to complete the structure.

Ironically, after all that blood and sweat, the canal was only used for 40 years, made redundant by the railway. For all of that, the engineers and navvies have left behind a wonderful legacy: Standedge Tunnel is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain.

Standedge Tunnel and Visitor Center Peak District © db79, Shutterstock© db79, Shutterstock

The interpretive boards at Standedge Visitor Centre give a comprehensive history of the tunnel: a story of endurance, hardship – and a good pinch of bloody-mindedness. While the centre (free of charge) tells you everything you need to know about the tunnel’s history, you can’t really appreciate its scale without taking one of the boat trips. Inside the tunnel, you begin to appreciate what it was like for the professional ‘leggers’ to propel the narrowboats through the dark, claustrophobic tunnel with nothing more than the strength of their legs.

The men were paid one shilling and sixpence to leg each boat through the tunnel, taking anything from 1 and a half to three hours, depending on the boat’s load. The 30-minute guided boat tour only goes a short way into the tunnel, but it’s enough to give you an idea of their working lives.

Otherwise, the Sunday and Thursday ‘through’ boat trips take in the entire length of the tunnel. The trip lasts 2 and a half hours. You can start from the Marsden or Diggle end, with a taxi service at both ends for an additional cost. Details for the short and through trips, along with the more sporadic boat and walk combinations, can be found on the Canal and River Trust website.

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House Derbyshire best days out Peak District© Anastasia Iaptov, Shutterstock

Hundreds and thousands beat their way to Chatsworth’s door on a daily basis. The sheer volume of visitors can be overwhelming, but don’t be put off by this, for Chatsworth is hugely worthwhile. Pick your time carefully: the garden empties at the end of the day, and is quiet first thing in the morning. Experience the seasonally planted landscape on a bright autumn or spring day, rather than in the summer holidays or in the pre-Christmas period, if you can. 

The house itself has more than 120 rooms, although only 30 or so of them are open to the public. Nonetheless, with more than half a mile of corridors, state rooms, halls and galleries, along with a private chapel, it’s enough to satisfy the most demanding of visitors.

The highlights include the Painted Hall with its intricate floor-to-ceiling depictions of Julius Caesar and the superbly convincing trompe l’oeil of a violin and bow hanging from a door in the State Music Room. Meanwhile the State Rooms have remained virtually unaltered from the 17th century. George II slept in the State Bedroom, while the Queen of Scots Chambers in the east wing are where the ill-fated queen lived in captivity.

Chatsworth House, Peak District by David Muscroft, Shuttherstock© David Muscroft, Shutterstock

From the cosy and womb-like library, containing over 17,000 books, to the sumptuous Great Dining Room lined in red silk, the Oak Room with its dark panelling and carved heads (taken from a German monastery), to the luxuriously adorned marble Chapel, there’s much to feast your eyes upon. The most impressive pieces are found in the Sculpture Gallery, where two lions guard the entrance to The Orangery and the shop.

The garden makes an impression right from the start with its Conservatory Wall and greenhouses filled with camellias, roses and exotic fruits. Don’t miss the nearby Alice-in-Wonderland-like Topiary Garden, complete with table and chairs, a sofa and staircase.

Throughout the garden there’s a mix of permanent and temporary statues and installations, some classical in style, others contemporary, edgy and challenging. From the Canal Pond and the Emperor Fountain, the path leads past the South Lawns and Seahorse Fountain, and on between the house and Capability Brown’s expansive Salisbury Lawns back to Flora’s temple and the Stables.

Poole’s Cavern

On the southwest edge of the town, Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park are well worth a detour. The cavern is more accessible than the Castleton caves, although there are a couple of places with ten or so steps. The rest of the cave is well surfaced, flat and even, with handrails for support. Poole’s main selling point is its long chambers lined with stalactites.

Poole's Cavern Buxton Peak District by Poole's Cavern© Poole's Cavern

Particularly impressive are the delicate ‘straw’ stalactites and the unusual stalagmites coloured rusty orange by the seeping of water through iron ore dumped on the site of Grin Low Woods above. The visitor centre next to the cave has some interesting exhibits, along with a shop and café.

From the car park, steps snake their way up through woodland to Solomon’s Temple, a rather overblown name for this squat, slightly skew-whiff two-storey Victorian folly. Solomon is not a biblical reference, but refers to Solomon Mycock, who had the building erected in the 1800s to keep the local unemployed busy. The 20ft-high structure, alternatively named Grinlow Tower, sits on top of the 1,400ft Grin Low hill with sweeping views across to Buxton and the surrounding countryside.

Eyam Plague Village

Both beautiful and heartbreaking – there’s nowhere in the Peak District with such a tragic history as this lovely upland village. The plague occurred between 1665 and 1666, but continues to stamp its effects on the village today. While Eyam (pronounced Eem) wasn’t the only place outside London to be affected by the Black Death, it’s the way in which the villagers sacrificed their lives for the greater good that makes its story so profoundly moving.

Cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, the villagers managed to isolate the deadly disease and stop it from spreading to the rest of the Peak District – even when their instinct was to run. All this was made possible under the steely leadership of the Reverend William Mompesson and his assistant, Thomas Stanley.

Eyam Plague Village Peak District © Oscar Johns, Shutterstock © Oscar Johns, Shutterstock

The green plaques outside the pretty row of terraces bring home the devastating effects of the plague: all nine family members at Rose Cottage were taken, while Mary of Plague Cottage lost 13 relatives. It was here that the tailor George Viccars lived – the first victim to be taken by the plague in the Midlands. The blame for the plague at Eyam has rightly or wrongly remained with the poor tailor over the centuries.

The Sites of Meaning

The Sites of Meaning was a millennium project dreamed up by the communities of Middleton and Smerrill Parish. Over seven years, local people, including artists, writers, photographers and businesses, worked hard to bring the project to fruition. The end result: 17 sites are found along the parish boundary with inscriptions of sayings, poems, historic quotes and words of wisdom written by famous poets, writers and the local community.

Poets and writers include William Wordsworth, W H Auden, Alexander Pope, William Blake, Heraclitus and Ralph Hodgson, as well as pupils from Youlgreave Primary School and Derbyshire Aggregates employees. The words are inscribed into natural and manmade stone landmarks: gate posts, kerbstones, seats, bridges and road signs, as well as on especially commissioned sculpted art.

Lyme Park

Lyme Park Cheshire Peak District UK Debu55y, Shutterstock© Debu55y, Shutterstock

Sitting on the western tip of the Peak District National Park, Lyme Park is flanked by the Peak District hills, while below it the land drops away to the Cheshire Plains. It’s a magnificent location for a stately home.  

Setting apart, there’s a lot going on at Lyme Park throughout the year, from Nordic walking to organised trail runs. Inside the house there’s a dressing-up wardrobe of fine Edwardian attire – not just for children, but for adults too. Whether you dress up or not, you’ll leave Lyme Park with a strong sense of what it was like to live here from Elizabethan times right up to the 1940s when the Legh family packed up, departed and handed over the house to the National Trust.

Drawing Room Lyme Park Cheshire Peak District John Mellor, National Trust ImagesInside the Drawing Room © John Mellor, National Trust Images 

The house and gardens apart, there are approximately 1,300 acres to explore in the deer park, with several points of interest around the estate. A short walk up the rise from the entrance of the house takes you to The Cage, an old hunting lodge with wonderful views across to Kinder Scout. Paddock Cottage sits on a rise with expansive views over the Cheshire Plains.

On the eastern boundary, you’ll find The Lantern, a three-storey viewing tower, or belvedere, complete with octagonal spire. It’s said that if Lord Newton could see The Lantern from his breakfast table, he knew it was a good day for hunting. The Red Deer Sanctuary is home to a medieval herd of red and sallow deer, found next to East Lodge (see bradtguides.com/peaksleeps).

Macclesfield’s silk museums

It may not compete with the romance of the ancient Silk Routes that crossed exotic far-flung places such as China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, but down-to-earth Macclesfield has its very own Silk Road running through its heart. This town was built on the silk trade, and there are four museums in town telling that story (two of which are currently closed for refurbishment).

Paradise Mill Macclesfield Cheshire Peak District days out Paradise Mill © Macclesfield Museums 

At the Silk Museum, learn about the mill owners who turned the town’s fortunes round, and their textile trainees. View the extensive pattern books and discover the mill’s role in World War II, when it supplied parachute silk for the war effort. Collections also include landscape watercolours and etchings by acclaimed local artist Charles Tunnicliffe and the Marianne Brockenhurst Egyptian Collection that boasts a Tutankhamun ring, a fine example of a Shebmut’s mummy case and x-rayed animal mummies of a crocodile, hawk and ibis. 

On the same site, Paradise Mill contains Europe’s largest known collection of Jacquard silk handlooms. Book a tour to see all the stages of the Jacquard silk-weaving process, including a demonstration on a restored loom. The mill takes you back in time to the factory as it was in the 1930s. It was a working handloom mill up to 1981, operating in a time-warp in its later years – the looms it still used were installed in 1912; even the office furniture is antique.


Keen to explore more of the Peak District? Take a look at our Slow Travel guide:

Peak District guide

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