How to enjoy walking in Derbyshire and the Peak District after the lockdown
PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 May 2020
Why crave foreign travel and distant shores when the paradise of the Peak District can so easily be yours
Who would have thought just a few short months ago that our glorious countryside would suddenly become out of bounds, our streets would be deserted and homes a sanctuary. Yet, when full-scale lockdown was announced on 23rd March, the world around us changed.
While many restrictions remain, there has at least been a partial loosening, to the extent that our love of walking for more than an hour in the great outdoors can be rekindled. Travelling abroad may continue to see limitations and restrictions in place, encouraging even more to explore here in the UK, and there can surely be not better way to achieve this than on two feet!
Whether ambling or rambling, the Peak District and Derbyshire offers a pleasure ground of walks suitable for all ages and abilities.
A gently undulating landscape of arable farmland and rich pasture dominates the south of the county, an area of easy walks and good pub lunches. The National Trust estates of Kedleston and Calke provide a maze of walks through acres of managed and manicured grounds. For those who enjoy a waterside wander, a pleasant stroll beside the Derwent, Derbyshire’s main river that flows some 66 miles from north to south, is hard to surpass.
I often saunter the six-mile stretch of path alongside Cromford Canal for a nature study and history lesson overload as this is not just a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and local Nature Reserve, but part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stunning to boot.
The limestone hills of the White Peak offer upsy downsy, field and stile footpath walks through a choice of picturesque dales or along trails and track beds of former railway lines. Here, industrial and archaeological heritage abounds and ancient traditions can often be seen. Dotted with picture-postcard pretty villages, the Derbyshire Dales are famed for wooded valleys of sylvan beauty, perfect for strolling beneath trees. There are also uphill routes over open or enclosed pasture to hilltops for more muscle-tasking hikes. Ironically, many high summits are called ‘lows’ where early man buried their dead as close to the sky, sun and stars as was possible.
A treasured walk of mine is to cross over Calton Pastures and head down through a belt of woodland before Russian Cottage for arguably the best view of Chatsworth, our golden palace; ideal when seen bathed in sunlight or rising up from an early morning mist that swaddles the river before it.
Draped over the northern part of Derbyshire we find the Dark Peak, vast expanses of rugged moorland dissected by a backbone of dramatic edge escarpments. Gritstone was once quarried in places for grinding stones, their polo mint shape used as the symbol for the Peak District National Park, established in 1951.
In land-locked Derbyshire we lack true mountains with steep-sided peaks. Mam Tor, also known as the Shivering Mountain or Mother Hill, technically falls short of the 2,000ft benchmark by some 300ft. The highest point in the county is on Kinder Scout. It edges over the mountain bar by about 88ft, but although technically a qualifier, its plateau-like summit can hardly be described as a mountain top. However, do not be fooled by the ease of ascending to Dark Peak moors as these extensive areas of grough, clough and bog, often devoid of landmarks, can be a frightening experience if lost in sudden mist or when caught out by darkness. During bad weather conditions many would agree that Bleaklow is appropriately named!
One of my favourite Dark Peak hikes is to ascend Padley Gorge on a path beneath corkscrew oaks and between moss covered rocks that appear like velvet scatter cushions, with Burbage Brook bumping and tumbling alongside. When suddenly emerging to open moorland the distant Higger Tor appears on the horizon like an impressive ‘lost world’ rock formation.
The Great Ridge above Castleton is another route dear to my heart, and voted by the public as being one of the best walks in the land. Being on high with the Vale of Edale one side and Hope Valley to the other offers big sky views over a panoramic Peak District landscape from the White to the Dark and beyond.
Our county abounds with curiosities and quirky features along with cottages, castles, mills and mansions constructed from an eclectic mix of materials, including stone and brick topped off with slate, tile and occasional thatch. There are churches with towers, spires and steeples, more modest chapels and alternative houses of worship. In fact a fascination of discoveries can be found not far from your doorstep, meaning that a toddle through towns and villages admiring architecture can be an ideal short walk or a family fun outing.
A vast array of printed guides are available to purchase from shops and visitor centres, whilst some recommended walks can be found online and downloaded, such as our own Derbyshire Life compilations from the past few years. Alternatively, for a rewarding challenge, why not buy an OS Map from the Explorer range and plot your own route.
Smart phones revolutionised walking with a selection of apps and online maps but be wary that batteries go flat, signals can be lost and a dropped phone can easily smash, especially when tackling challenging or remote terrain. Be prepared - there is nothing to compare with a paper map as backup.
UK maps produced by Ordnance Survey are unquestionably the best in the world, clearly defining our rights of way in the form of footpaths, bridleways, tracks and trails as well as concessionary paths and access land. On the ground these can generally be followed with the aid of signs, fingerposts and waymarkers.
The Derbyshire countryside is not short of car parks but using public transport where possible or a park and ride option is a ‘green’ bonus.
The countryside is a living and often working landscape. With that in mind, take care when crossing fields containing livestock, especially if accompanied by your canine friend. Always keep calm and give farm animals a wide berth where you can. Use your own judgement and if you feel unsafe to cross a field of cattle follow an alternative path if possible. Always abide by the Countryside Code to leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos and keep dogs on leads or under control at all times.
Whilst striding out on a brisk walk is a good form of cardiovascular exercise, please don’t march with head down and miss out on appreciating what is happening around you. Look to the skies to observe birds in flight and admire distant views as they unfold. Without doubt a good walk will work up an appetite so a route that incorporates a pub, tearoom, food kiosk or café is a welcome reward. However, there is nothing quite like a homemade rucksack snack as an easy option along the way, especially if enjoyed when sitting to admire views from a high hilltop or avoiding inclement weather in the shelter of a drystone wall.
Challenging walks and uneven terrain are not suitable for everyone but level paths, tracks and trails provide easy walking for those with limited mobility or health issues. A series of walks with instructions and guidance has been produced for Accessible Derbyshire and features on their website - www.accessiblederbyshire.org.
After weeks of lockdown our countryside awaits. It will appear ever more beautiful and the skies will be clearer. During the weeks of imposed human hibernation nature has been ceaselessly toiling away to generate new life, new growth, fresh green leaves with added splashes of glorious colour in the form of blossom and wild flowers. With this as inspiration, now is the time to research and plan routes as we make our great escape!