Walking in the “Peak” (Hill) District

Yes, I am throwing a little shade with that post title, mostly because the “peaks” of the Peak District throw almost none. But despite its decidedly tame topography, this national park’s gentle hills and misty moors are completely enchanting. I had the good luck to make it up there twice this spring– once on my own initiative and once on a work trip to Sheffield (the park is basically the city’s backyard), cramming a respectable bit of walking into two overnight trips:

Jaunt 1, Day 1: Mam Tor loop

There was a rail strike so I bussed into the park from Sheffield with much grumpitude, but was immediately glad of it. The bus sailed into the fairytale landscape through lanes barely wide enough, swinging around curves flaunting views of stone cottages, lush fields dotted with flowering trees, tumbling streams and waterfalls. It was like driving into one of the many British storybooks I once devoured… with the exception of what looked like one massive, defunct coal plant looming out of a valley.

Getting off the bus in Hope, I walked down the road to Castleton. Castleton, unsurprisingly, has a castle. Fueling up with a toasted crumpet and jam in a local coffeeshop, I happily eavesdropped on a couple of gossiping old ladies swooning over Hugh Grant before winding my way through Cave Dale past it.

Peveril Castle

Then I made one big loop, continuing up onto the hills to walk one of the region’s most popular hikes: climbing Mam Tor and continuing along the Great Ridge back to Hope, where I stayed for the night (essentially this hike, easy enough to work out just looking at a good hiking map). The Great Ridge dipped and rose over soft grassy heaps and rocky outcroppings, with the entire loop of trails practically in view throughout.

looking back along the Great Ridge to Mam Tor

A trailside bonus: it was lamb season…


Jaunt 1, Day 2: Kinder Scout loop

I got on the little train (now running, strike over) to the next town, Edale, and climbed the Grindsbrook ascent to the 600-650m-high Kinder Scout plateau (actually a formidable hill indeed). The trail followed a meandering brook up a tumble of boulders onto a wide open landscape. Clusters of oddly-shaped rock formations looked like the abandoned pieces of a giant’s chess game. The ground was all chocolate-colored peat, weirdly springy to the step.

Edale was hidden from view by a ridge for a while, giving Kinder Scout a false feeling of isolation– it reappeared as I took the slowly-winding Jacob’s Ladder staircase down from the plateau. Then, a coda: another little climb followed by a dip through a patch of woods, where I saw a small brown bunny.

I came back into Edale along the Pennine Way, finishing what was essentially this loop, and snagged a table at The Rambler Inn, near the train station, where I inhaled an epic sandwich and a pint.

Jaunt 2: Stanage Edge to Bamford via Ladybower Reservoir

Sheffield these days is a university town brushing itself off after some bad years: the hipsters have arrived, and they served me the best breakfast I’ve had in a while at Tamper Coffee. Kiwi-inspired cafes always get it right, and if I lived in Sheffield I think an embarrassing portion of my income would end up going to this one.

I was met by driving rain as I got off the train in Hathersage, which soaked my beautiful map and quickly turned the parched ground to mud. Though the green hillsides were just as becoming with a misty cloak, I can’t say the same for myself and my tent-like plastic blue poncho, a silly but admittedly useful gift from my well-meaning mother years ago.

The path up onto Stanage Edge had become a trickling stream. Visibility from the overlook was limited, near-impenetrable mist foregrounding some vague orange-y browns and livelier greens beyond. Still, it felt pretty majestic to stand on the smooth, leaden rock and look out over the obscured moorlands.

I don’t think I ever really understood the Brontë sisters’ moors until this walk. The moorland was creepy and bleak as hell, but also beautiful and mysterious. Low creatures scampered in the thick brush, hidden from view. The mist disoriented, bouncing and muffling sound and sight as it shifted: I could hear voices, bird calls, sheep, but couldn’t tell where they were coming from. A dilapidated old hut ahead seemed to move around as I made my way toward it, only to vanish moments later. This is a land of ghosts.

The wet breeze plucked at my plastic poncho, sending the stupid thing flying up around me so that I had to wrestle angrily with it whenever I accessed my bag or map. In the muffled, alien quiet, though, there appeared to be no one to see my flailing. I started to sing a little to myself, I picked wedgies with abandon, I abandoned myself to the total, windswept solitude…

…and then, out of the mist, a graceful and handsome man came RUNNING.

He paused to tell me, with the most charming northern accent, that he’d been watching me [singing, wrestling with my poncho, picking my shorts out of my ass], and that from afar I looked like Superman. Well, OK. I’ll take “cape” over “tent” any day, I guess. He then vanished into a dip in the land before reappearing in the distance making his way across the moor. My Heathcliff?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one surprised to find I wasn’t alone. Skittish sheep skipped away from me in unified panic, their wooly, bedraggled coats and long tails flopping in the most undignified way. Continuing onto the paved road to Ladybower Reservoir, which had almost no shoulder, I was forced to continuously jump into patches of bitch plants (nettles), and weeped with equal parts pain and joy when a pub materialized to feed me salty garbage and alcohol to numb their stings. But the road past the reservoir to Bamford was walled with massive rhodedendron bushes, and as I made my way to the train station the sun came out. I was glad to have experienced the moorland at its most atmospheric. How much more so it would have been 150-200 years ago…

Imprecise hike info, from London:

Sheffield is about 3 hours by train from London. The small towns of the Peak District are then only about 20 minutes to half an hour by train from Sheffield (a bit longer by bus).

Mam Tor loop: 3-4 hours, steep uphills in very brief bursts, well-maintained, easy paths.

Kinder Scout loop: 4-6 hours, strenuous but relatively brief scrambling, probably a tough one if you’re really out of shape.

Stanage Edge/Bamford loop: 4-6 hours, a few stretches of uphilling, one quite steep. Pretty non-strenuous, but worth noting the unsafe stretches of road.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rosie says:

    Too true, pretty as the Peak District may be, 600-odd metres doesn’t really count as a peak in my book either! I went up there for the August bank holiday (also got caught up in the train strikes, grr), and really enjoyed low-key walks in/around Edale 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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