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Designated a National Park in 1950, the Peak District is England’s first National Park.
As you will read later, one of the walks we cover was originally a mass trespass that would lead to us as hill walkers and trekkers being able to explore the wilds of the country without being arrested for trespass.
The history of the area goes even deeper – but for the factories of the Derwent Valley we might not be living as we do today but rather quietly tilling the land.
Those factories would lead to the global human population predominantly living in cities.
Not only are the views of the Peak District breathtaking but the deep history of the area will take your breath away, both from recent years and hundreds of years ago.
Let’s start our wander of the Peak District with some longer walks and then look at some shorter, one-day ones.
Appreciating the Peak District in full can take a decent amount of time.
Why not then indulge in one of the four, multi-day adventures that transect the national park?
Opened in 1965, the Pennine Trail was the first National Trail ever opened and is still one of the most famous.
Taking in some of the best wild and agricultural landscapes in the UK, this is a long distance trek that simply has to be done should you want to get into multi-day trekking here.
Edale is one of the major walking centres of the country and from there you head up into the wilds of the Peak District before crossing to the Dales and then into the North Pennines where the National Trail gets its name.
You then press on to the Scottish Borders and cross Hadrian’s Wall.
What will you find?
A mixture of human and geological history and both combined as mankind exploited Nature’s resources.
Moorland kept as such by sheep grazing, relics of the Industrial Revolution and times since.
Hadrian’s Wall that was built 2000 years ago to protect the Roman Empire.
In combination, a truly epic walk where you won’t be bored for long as you take in sights and are provoked into thought by the world around you.
Derwent Heritage Way
The Industrial Revolution as we know it had one of its biggest starts in the Derwent Valley as the first ever factories were built to weave cloth.
This would change the world forever as people ceased to live off the land and ordinary folk moved into cities to earn money and cease to subsist off what they grew for themselves and their masters.
The first factory was the Silk Mill in Derby, which is a major stop on the route – it was opened in 1721, unwittingly triggering this change in human behaviour that lead directly to how the majority of people live today.
At this stage you will follow canals, another invention of the revolution, as you meander down the still-fantastic landscape of this important crucible of human change.
It isn’t just mills and towns though!
Many a village grew from philanthropic mill owners who accommodated and trained their workers, leaving behind some deliberately designed villages centred on a factory or stately home.
Do pause and take these in – this is not a walk about communing with the mountain gods but one where civilisation changed in almost as important a way as our ancestors moving out of the African Rift Valleys to populate the world.
This is a B&B hopping route that with a bit of preparation can be done in five days or less.
The Limestone Way
This takes in a lot of Peak District sheep farms, following a linear route from the end of the Staffordshire Way north through the southern Peak District and into the Derbyshire Dales.
Not the most physically challenging walk in this article, it is very rewarding in terms of the landscape you will encounter as you go, from bare-topped hills to lush rural valleys.
It is called the Limestone Way, unsurprisingly, as you will see a lot of limestone!
This shows itself in a number of cliffs along the way but the underlying geology allows certain rare flora – and fauna living in and around it – that are rare and worthy of seeing in their own right.
It is a B&B hopping route that you can organise ahead of time through a tour company, and is one of those treks where the newbie to long distance treks may benefit from in terms of getting the miles in daily without being too seriously challenged.
The Dane Valley Way
Buxton is famous all over the UK for its bottled water, some of which ends up going down the Dane Valley.
Buxton is a Victorian spa town with all the beauty and foul tasting medicinal water that’s ‘good for you’ that comes with it!
The Dane Valley is an important waterway through the Peak District, with rapids and stunning waterfalls big and small.
One great place to see these are at Three Shires Head where the three counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire meet in one spot.
There’s human history – an old packhorse bridge is there and in times of old vagabonds used to avoid the law by crossing county lines there too.
Another spot you should pause at on this treks is Lud’s Church, a small gorge full of moss where in real history the persecuted Lollards Christian sect met to worship in the 15th Century.
Local folklore has it that Robin Hood and Friar Tuck rested there for a while too.
As the river goes down the valley and slows down, so the landscape changes.
It is a largely downhill route and for those in a hurry you could knock it out in just two days without your legs complaining too much.
That said, with so much to take in, why rush a good thing?
A final note – when you research it you will find that the final day or so follows roads around Cheshire private estates.
It might be worth shortening your itinerary as the river goes where walkers aren’t allowed!
There are numerous walks to explore in the Peak District from the technically and physically challenging to important classics in the world of trekking (more of that later).
In this section we’re looking at routes that will take the best part of a day on the hill that explore some of the wilder, open spaces of the Peak District.
Shining Tor, Dane Valley, And Shutlingsloe
There are three peaks to climb on this strenuous walk over moorland and farmland.
It’s is a true walker’s walk for someone who is more than reasonably fit.
You’re the sort who can possibly hack a multi-day walk like those above and doesn’t get too stiff from walks that lighter ramblers may suffer from!
From the Cat & Fiddle Inn, the second highest pub in the UK, you head across open moorland before descending onto the best stretch of the Dane Valley Walk (see above) where you will get to Three Shires Head.
During World War 2 a US B-17 bomber crashed into the top of Birchenough Hill, and you will see the impact crater as well as a memorial to those who died.
After descending this hill you get to climb Shutlingsloe, an unremittingly steep pig of a climb with great views of Macclesfield Forest from the top.
Your final brute is the 559 metre Cheshire Shining Tor (yes, there’s one of the same name in Derbyshire too) that is the highest point in the county.
The end of the day is at the pub where you can quench your thirst and warm your bones by the fire.
Buxton – 3 Shires Head circular
This is a third way of exploring the Dane Valley only this time in a circular that takes in the Cat & Fiddle.
Here’s a random fact: in days of yore when the police from one county had no authority over people in another many criminals used to stand on the other side of the county lines and torment their pursuers.
This isn’t unlike various bank robbers heading over to Spain and Brazil in recent times where they couldn’t be extradited back to the UK!
Quite close to Three Shires Head is Flash, a village where counterfeit money was traded thanks to the ability of criminals to pop over the county lines to safety from the law.
This is why dodgy money is sometimes known as ‘Flash money’.
Flash is a nice, quaint village today where the only crooks living there might be retired bankers or accountants…
The walk itself is quite strenuous with some tough climbs but you do get the views and the ability to thoroughly enjoy this part of the world.
The Roaches, Lud’s Church, Hen Cloud, and Ramshaw Rocks
Lud’s Church (see above) is an option on this walk but that involves a descent through Dane Forest and a fairly tough ascent back up to the path to the Roaches – the mileage here includes that stretch.
The Roaches are a load of gritstone stones that are big enough to attract rock climbers at one end.
This is separated by an old tectonic fault from Hen Cloud.
Your legs are in for it on this walk with some beefy climbs, but your mind will forgive you for the pain you’ve inflicted on yourself (as well as the scrambling you have to do) when you get up to Hen Cloud.
The views from the top are certainly worth it!
From Hen Cloud you go on to the Ramshaw Rocks which is, like the more famous Stanage Edge we look at later, a decent sized gritstone edge that you may wish to have a climb around as part of the walk.
This is a tough walk for two reasons – the ascents are steep and long, and the walk at nearly 13 miles will have you climbing for decent periods of time.
You don’t get to dizzying heights but you will be challenged – you certainly need to be fit to do this one!
You are allowed to roam the wilds of England because of this walk.
Why? Until 1950, anyone who put a fence up could keep the great unwashed off their land.
In 1932, a group of walkers followed this route up Kinder in the famous ‘Kinder Trespass’ where they were met with ‘keepers’ who attempted to beat them off using large sticks.
The marchers were made of sterner stuff, fought off the keepers and carried on up Kinder.
Six of them would get jail time for that.
In the court hearing their representative said, “We ramblers, after a hard week’s work, in smokey towns and cities, go out rambling for relaxation and fresh air.
“And we find the finest rambling country is closed to us …
He concluded, “Our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable.”
While the martyrs were awaiting their fate to be determined in court, 10,000 ramblers held a rally at nearby Castleton and the fight for the Right to Roam began in earnest.
After World War 2 had temporarily stopped their efforts the first English national park was founded – the Peak District – in 1950.
The 11 mile walk is tough at times but you will be treading in the footsteps of the men and women who made your ability to trek around much of the UK possible at all.
That makes this walk one of the most important in the country, bar none!
Hathersage to Stanage Edge
A coast walk in central England?
Yup – this is an opportunity to climb high on cliffs far from the sea with all the fun of a precipice on one side to get your heart pumping (if heights bother you that much!).
The walk itself is considered challenging – you will have some tough ascents and the distance is reasonably long too.
You’ll be rarely completely alone on this one as it is both a popular walk in its own right and climbers flock from miles around to ascend the cliffs.
Though you will feel as if you’re in a wilderness, very little of the area hasn’t been bowed to Man’s use.
Sheep have grazed the land for Centuries and since they act everything green, no reforestation has been possible.
All the bare moorland you see is grazed flat.
You will also see other relics of Man’s hand – millstones and even stately homes can be seen, not to mention the drystone dykes.
Though not as important historically as Kinder Scout, this is one of the best walks in the UK in terms of the challenging nature and the astounding views from the top.
… And one for the family!
Families with toddlers are generally aching to to a decent walk but unless they pack their sprogs off to the grandparents they are somewhat limited.
The Tissington Trail could well be the answer. It is an old railway that has been turned over to the public and as such you can bring a pram (or trolley if your loved one complains they are a big girl/boy now!).
Snaking through a valley and with inclines never really too great for little legs, you can have a good day-long walk!
One of the coolest places to pause is Dovedale, a deep limestone ravine that is worth a look – just remember kids have no idea about fear!
There are stepping stones here across the River Dove that can be an excuse to have a splash about.
The views include the White Peak – another local limestone feature and overall, while you won’t get to ascend any great height you can at least take it all in from afar while sneakily getting some decent miles in, even with a pram!
To our minds here are the 10 best treks in the Peak District.
Some are appallingly long, but others will turn your legs to fire and make you breathe about as hard as you ever will on a UK walk.
Still others look at areas so full of history they have changed your life long before you were born.
Doesn’t that in itself make the Peak District special?