Said to be the second most visited national park in the world after Mount Fuji, the Peak District is an area of spectacular natural beauty. Most visitors (usually day trippers), however, rarely stray into the park by more than a few miles from their nearest entry point – or head straight for the honeypots. So it isn’t difficult to find an empty dale or an unfrequented edge. In the northern reaches of the Dark Peak, you can walk across moorland wilderness for hours without seeing anyone, while scores of villages and hamlets, tucked into dales and upland, see only a handful of visitors.
Up and down the Peak District, characterful pubs, mostly frequented by local people, are known for their hand-picked ales and good locally sourced food, and are often alive with music sessions and events. Cafés and restaurants off the beaten track are a little bit more difficult to reach but are worth the effort, along with forgotten dales and woodland gardens. Stopping to chat with the shopkeeper, café owner, ranger, farmer, gamekeeper, birdwatcher or photographer, with their wealth of local knowledge, can greatly add to the richness of the Peak District experience. Likewise, it’s worth visiting the park across the seasons, at dawn or dusk or even after dark. Finally, this is not a definitive guide to the Peak District, but a personal one. It’s shaped by my own voyage of discovery over 15 years – many of the places happened upon or checked out after a casual but enticing mention in conversation. That’s the beauty of Slow Travel: it takes you off in unexpected directions.
When I moved to the Peak District in 1999, I swapped the flatlands of East Anglia for the hills and dales of Derbyshire. It was a good exchange, although I didn’t see it initially. My love for the Peak District was a slow burner, but I soon realised I’d been truly blessed – being able to put down roots in this exceptionally beautiful corner of England: my sons have grown up here and are raight Derbyshire lads and I’ve no reason to chunter. The Peak District has shaped our lives, just as it’s shaped the lives of so many who live and work here. It’s allowed us as a family to spend much of our free time in the outdoors: to cycle, walk and scramble on the edges; to be within touching distance of the Peak District’s wildlife. There’s nothing to beat that.
I thought I knew the Peak District fairly well when I started writing this book. As a family of music lovers, we’d hunted out village festivals and tucked-away pubs with great music sessions. Loving the outdoors too, we’d spent many days poring over maps, translating contours, blue lines and blobs into fine waterside, dale and ridge walks. And after 15 years of uncovering hidden vales and ravines, some within striking distance of my own doorstep, I’ve realised you could live a lifetime in the Peak District and still not cover every bridleway, packhorse route or public footpath.
Writing Slow Travel Peak District has allowed me to engage with the Slow philosophy as never before; to look up, look down and catch the detail; to stand and stare and ponder; to wander down hidden dells or jitties. I’ve learned to stop and chat with strangers: National Trust volunteers, foodies, twitchers, ramblers, climbers and river swimmers, to name but a few – and found them eager to share their knowledge of and passion for the Peak District. I’ve learned to read the landscape, from the ruin on the hilltop to the tell-tale rise of an Iron Age hillfort or an abandoned mill. I’ve learned the songs of birds and to scan the hillsides for signs of life. It has been a life-enriching experience.