In the heart of the country, the Peak District is home to some of the country’s finest stately homes and there are pretty villages scattered throughout the area. It’s also a great place for country walks, from gentle riverside strolls through the deep valley of Dovedale to challenging walks up to the Peak Districts ‘edges’ and ‘tors’. Throw in a traditional Bakewell pudding and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect couple of days.
Favourite Village: Bakewell
The Peaks is full of cute villages filled with a cosy country pub and traditional stone cottages. Pilsley, Beeley and Alstonefield (all mentioned below) are lovely small villages; to the south in the White Park area, Ilam (pronounced ‘eye-lam’), boasts the impressive Ilam Hall (the Hall is a youth hostel so not open for visits but there is a good National Trust Tea Room on site) and a number of cottages with a Swiss alpine styling; pretty Hartington has a cheese shop, a couple of pubs an excellent village store (which is very useful for stocking up for a picnic lunch); and Tissington is a beautifully unspoilt village set in the shadow of Tissington Hall, home to the FitzHerbert family who have managed the village since the reign of Elizabeth I.
Our pick though – (although more a small town than village!) – goes to Bakewell. Most famous for the eponymous ‘Bakewell Pudding’ (not to be mistaken for the more commonly seen Bakewell Tart!) that can be found in cafes all around town, pretty Bakewell is a great place for a cup of tea and bite to eat. For the truly authentic option, head upstairs at the ‘Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop’ which claims still to use the original Bakewell pudding recipe. There’s a National Park centre a couple of doors away which has some interesting photography exhibits and displays about life in the Park.
Favourite historic site: Chatsworth House
One of Britain’s most impressive and well-known stately homes, Chatsworth House, home to the Dukes of Devonshire since the sixteenth century, is the Peak District’s stand out historic site. The grand house sits in 25 square miles of grounds and gardens and, inside, the stunning collections include many priceless paintings and pieces of period furniture. For Jane Austen fans, Chatsworth was used as Pemberley, the residence of Mr. Darcy, in the Hollywood adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and it is believed that Jane Austen actually based her idea of Pemberley on Chatsworth House as she wrote the novel down the road in Bakewell. While on the estate, make sure to stop at the Chatsworth Farm Shop to stock up on plenty of local treats. The café at the shop gives lovely views over the estate parkland.
The Peak District can boast other fabulous stately homes in Haddon Hall and Lyme Park. Just outside the National Park (to the east of the M1 motorway), Hardwick Hall is also worth the trip. One of Britain’s most complete Elizabethan mansions, the house was once home to the formidable Beth of Hardwick, a major player in Elizabethan England. To complete the collection of impressive historic sites, close to Hardwick Hall, partially ruined Bolsover Castle is worth stopping at if you have time. Parts of the castle date back to the thirteenth century, although the most well-preserved section dates from the seventeenth century and was built more as a lavish stately home than a castle for defensive purposes.
Favourite Walk: Mam Tor
For a relatively short walk, Mam Tor is our pick. To get there, take the road from the Castleton up through the impressive winding Winnats Pass and, at the top of the pass, turn right and follow the road round, passing the first turning on the right, before stopping at the picnic site at the bottom of the Edale Road. Climb the steps at the top of the car park and follow the path alongside the road to a small gate and National Trust sign.
You’re soon out onto an old paved packhorse route – the route climbs gently (although there are a few large steps to negotiate) up Rushup Edge to a bronze age tumulus before dropping back down and then back up to reach the summit of Mam Tor. The view from the top gives a great overview of the whole Peak District and shows off the dramatic geology of the White and Dark Peaks. If looking for a longer option, you can’t go far wrong with a walk up to Stanage Edge. Starting from the village of Hathersage in the Hope Valley, this walk is probably the most well-known in the Peak District.
For something gentler, the well-maintained riverside path through pretty Dovedale is a great option, and one of the most visited spots in the area!
Favourite Pub: The Devonshire Arms
Many properties on the Chatsworth estate are still owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and this includes two lovely pubs in traditional estate villages, which are both, perhaps unsurprisingly, called The Devonshire Arms! They offer good service, food and beers with a modern take on country pub décor (designed by the Duchess of Devonshire). You can find them in the villages of Pilsley (close to the entrance to Chatsworth House) and Beeley. Another notable mention goes to The George at Alstonefield, which has a lovely setting on a pretty village green and is the perfect place to settle in for Sunday lunch after a morning’s walk (bookings are definitely recommended!).
Favourite Activity: Cycling
Several disused railway lines make great cycling routes for of all levels while winding roads up and over the steep slopes of the Dark Peak offer more of a challenge. We like the 13 mile Tissington Trail which runs from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay. At this point it joins up with the High Peak Trail if you’re looking to carry on for a longer ride. The whole route is traffic-free and surrounded by beautiful countryside so makes an ideal family day out. More information about cycling in the around can be found by following the link at the bottom of this page.
If you would like some help planning your trip to the Peak District or anywhere else in Britain, just get in touch.