Where is the Peak District? What is of interest there?
I asked these very naive questions to myself more than ten years ago when I had the opportunity to attend a training course in Buxton, Derbyshire.
Having spent a good chunk of my 20’s & 30’s living and travelling outside of the UK I was truly ignorant about what was really beyond the South of England and a few major cities up north. I truly did not believe that England could rival some of the fantastic sights and places I had visited in Asia & Latin America, such as Iguazu Falls and Cotopaxi National Park etc.
I was wrong!
As I set off up the M5 and headed beyond Buxton towards Castleton and the Edale valley I was excited, but nothing prepared me for what I was in store for my senses. Three things amazed me during that trip, and continue to lift my spirit each time I visit.
Joy & Wonder along the Great Ridge to Mam ToR
Separating the Hope and Edale Valleys is the Great Ridge.
It runs for approximately 3 km from Lose Hill to Mam Tor passing through places such as Black Tor and Hollins Cross.
Up here on a fine day you can feel simply full of joy and wonder. Why?
For me joy was a response to the vista and connection with the raw elements of nature. On a fine day William Blake’s evocative poetic phrase “England’s green and pleasant land” comes to mind.
"It feels good to be alive and here in this place. Wonder, I feel, was informed by a sense of geological time and human history. Up here you walk in the footsteps of ancestors".
More recently (last year) at Black Tor I saw a pile of rocks, small cairns, which often in old cultures signify some kind of offering or remembrance of those who were here, but have gone, leaving only their memory in the landscape and people they touched. This feels a fitting place to reflect on the impermanence of life and simultaneously how our footprint can live on in strange and fascinating ways.
The highlight is arriving at Mam Tor, literally meaning Mother Hill. It stands at a modest 517 m high. Mam Tor is often referred to as the ‘Shivering Mountain’ because of its propensity for landslides caused by unstable lower levels of shale. The summit is surrounded by hill forts, dating from the Bronze and Iron ages, with evidence of occupation from around 1200 BC. This makes Mam Tor the site of one of the earliest hill forts in Britain and also one of the largest, covering an area of around 16 acres. Possibly the finest 3KM walk in England, wow!
Behold the gates of paradise in the Edale Valley
When I first caught sight of the Edale Valley I was overcome with a strong sense of remoteness & silence.
It must be an illusion, a slight of hand, as Edale is actually not so remote or silent.
There is a train station at its beating heart which serves like an artery for humanity to come find this slice of English beauty. Yet it is and remains a stunning valley with gentle slopes rising towards the Great Ridge and the limestone dry valley of Winnats Pass beyond.
"It feels like a lost valley, a place you can easily miss if you don’t go on an adventure".
My own adventure took me on a gentle, but wonderful traverse of the valley, through the small fields of bleating sheep and the village of Edale itself (the start of the Pennine Way), and up to the Hope Cross, a mediaeval way-marker. In fact it reminds me of some other places I have been that have names like “the valley of longevity” or “the gates of paradise”. Places that feel like entering a portal to another dimension with the promise of eternal youth. If only!
Rebellion in the air on Kinder Scout
From Edale smaller river valleys and ravines, known locally as Cloughs, invite you upwards toward the jewel in the crown for many seasoned hillwalkers, the Kinder Scout Plateau. I headed north out of Edale village up along Grindsbrook Clough, up the Nab to the Ringing Roger and Nether Tor.
Once up with Kinder Scout (Anglo Saxon word for water over the edge) on my right and the gritstone tors to my left I felt very high and remote. The Landscape is completely different from the tranquil valley and the magnificent Great Ridge.
What stands out is the shape of the gritstone tors crafted by wind and ice. Seeing faces and distinctive shapes, especially in the mist, conjures up some strange feelings of foreboding. The plateau is flat and is a huge peat bog.
"As the wind stung my face I continued west and on towards Grindslow Knoll. Lost in the noise of the wind and with magnificent views I found myself contemplating some important subject matter, the famous Kinder Trespass".
I knew that I had to give recognition to others whose actions in April 1932 allowed me to be here in this place, right now. On that day 400 people participated in a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in what was one of the most successful direct actions in British history. The action led directly to legislation in 1949 to establish the National Parks and eventually securing walkers’ rights over open country and common land.
The trespass was controversial at the time, being seen as a working class struggle for the right to roam versus the rights of the wealthy to have exclusive use of moorlands, “power to the people.” There’s a modern iteration of this direct action taking place right now, action of equal importance - check out www.righttoroam.org.uk for more information.
Once on Grindslow Knoll the open vista towards the great ridge changed the mood once again. With a word of gratitude “thanks”, I headed down to the iconic Old Nags Head Pub for a cold drink. What an adventure!
Now is the time
Over the years I have had the repeated pleasure to visit (mainly for work as a Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Assessor) and explore the White & Dark Peaks. I can truly say that it is a quintessentially English National Park. It’s not wild, although there are wild places, it’s not remote, although it can feel very much so.
"Above all it is simply stunning and a place people call home. The ecology of human culture is etched into the landscape and has shaped it as much as ancient earth movements and ice melt thousands of years ago".
The National Park has challenges of course. How can economic development and its popularity be squared with the need to conserve and even improve our wild places? I don’t have the answers, but efforts to start a rewilding process with all the various stakeholders must be applauded and encouraged. I for one remain fascinated to see how this very English wild place evolves.
With this all in mind I highly recommend a visit. With eyes open, and ears to the ground you will find a sense of awe in the landscape and its ancient & modern human settlements. It all comes together to transport you to a wild place both within and without.
I highly recommend the wonderful Podcast & blog series About The Adventure, by Peak District resident Sarah Lister. Sarah uses the inspiration of the Peak District and its ecology to shine a light on life and what is possible for each of us on our very human journey.
In 2022 The Living Project are delighted to be visiting the Peak District in April/May and again in September - when we think the Peaks are at their most special.
Cormac Davey is the Co-Founder of The Living Project. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS) he has worked extensively in the fields of youth leadership, adventure expeditions and nature coaching for wellbeing.
He welcomes comments, views and collaboration. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org