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The Dark Peak - A view from our expert author


Derwent Valley Peak District by Steve Heap ShutterstockOne of the Derwent Valley reservoirs © Steve Heap, Shutterstock

With its underlying gritstone and dark peat moorland, the Dark Peak stretches out as a thrilling expanse of wilderness.

On the map, the Dark Peak with its underlying gritstone and dark peat moorland stretches out as a thrilling expanse of wilderness with just the occasional road cutting across it, along with the wriggly blue and orange lines of streams and contours. This area of upland isn’t really empty of course, but teems with all manner of non-human life – from buzzards and peregrines to golden plover, curlew and grouse, while the moorland is packed with bog mosses, lichens and cottongrasses – and the insects and animals that inhabit it. Here you’ll encounter real wilderness walking and the opportunity to slow down and clear your head of all the noise that comes with modern life. Views extend in every direction, only interrupted by rocky tors and wooded cloughs.

Gathered around the moorlands, just outside the national park border, are the old mill towns and villages of Marsden, Holmfirth, GreenfieldUppermill and Glossop, reinvented as tourist destinations. They still retain their northern grit and long-established traditions while catering for visitors with boutique shops, welcoming tea rooms and delightfully low-key tourist attractions.

The map is daubed with the blue blobs of the reservoirs that pad out the valleys and stretch out along the fringes of the national park. The reservoirs were created to feed the insatiable mills and industries of the towns and villages that surround the Peak Park, and to quench the thirst of the growing populations. There are 34 reservoirs in the Peak District, the vast majority situated in the Dark Peak. Not only do they provide clean drinking water but they double up as a watery playground, offering everything from sailing, canoeing and cycling to rambling and birdwatching. Some of them receive hundreds of thousands of visitors every year (like the Derwent Valley reservoirs), while others like Damflask and Agden around the Bradfields are less accessible with little or no amenities, and see only the occasional walker. As with the empty moorland, these quiet expanses of water are great places to reconnect with nature.

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