The Peak District National Park was the first national park to be established in Britain back in 1951 and, since then, it’s become a legendary hiking spot for outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. The majority of the park is found within Derbyshire’s borders, but it expands into various nearby areas, including Great Manchester and South Yorkshire.
In terms of scenery, the Peak District is famed for its raw rugged beauty, and you’ll find wild heather-covered moors with purple hazes, towering peaks, valleys surrounded by sheer walls of luscious greenery, and tonnes of wooded areas that are home to moss-covered ruins with babbling brooks flowing through them.
It is, however, without a doubt, the geology of the rock formations within the park that makes it so special, and the main types of rock found there are located in two distinct areas. The tamer White Peak is located in the center and the south of the park and features dramatic limestone structures as well as orderly farmland, while the Dark Peak, located in the north, features unruly moors and heaps of granite boulders and ledges.
The park’s close proximity to urban areas makes it one of the most accessible national parks in England, and you can easily drive out there for an incredible day hike and make it back home in time for dinner. What’s more, in the true British style, when you’re out in the Peaks, you’re never far from a hearty pub serving up hot meals and old-school pints.
The park is also home to deer, snakes, otters, and various birdlife, and there are plenty of conversation organizations working in the area to preserve the park’s biodiversity.
So, with so many landscapes to chose from, where should you head for your first hike in the Peak district? Here are our favorite routes to help you decide.
Although the Peak District is famed for its raw, rugged beauty, it also has a tamer side, with areas featuring plenty of facilities as well as well-maintained paths. If this sounds up your street, then you should definitely check out the Longshaw Estate Loop, which will take you through the areas of Gringleford and Padley Gorge too.
As you enter the path to the Longshaw Estate (managed by the National Trust), you’ll soon encounter a small café where you can stock up on supplies if you’ve forgotten anything (their flapjack is particularly good!). From there, you follow a well-maintained path that briefly winds through a wooded area before bringing you to a grassy moor out the back.
Cows graze in this area, so if you have a dog, make sure you keep it on a leash for the first part of the walk. This part of the walk is fairly flat, and you continue until you see a right-hand turn which takes you away from the moor and into a wooded area.
Continue along the wooded path until you see a right-hand turn that will lead you down a steep slope. Soon, you’ll hear the trickle of a babbling brook flowing to your left. Although there are rocky ‘steps’ down this path, they’re crudely placed and large, so watch out if you’re making this trip in wet conditions (this is the trickiest part of the hike).
The path will lead you over a road and down towards Grindleford Train Station. You’ll pass Grindleford Café, which is a great place to grab a snack if you’re hungry – they do a mean (and enormous!) chip butty there. The path will take you over the railway tracks, and as you look to your right you’ll see the Totley Tunnel carved into the surrounding, which has paved the way for trains heading that way since 1883.
Follow the trail round, past a few cottages, and then take a right turn up a steep but short path. You’ll enter a wooded area featuring moss-covered stones and twisted trees and slowly ascend, with a river on your right. As you emerge from the wood, you’ll reach Padley Gorge, which, as the name suggests, is a popular paddling spot.
Spend some time frolicking and, when you’re done, cross the river and make your way over the road onto the path that takes you back to the estate (via a cute little pond).
This hike also made it into our list of the Best Long distance Hikes in the UK, so we won’t go into too much detail here, but this hike really is a must-do for my serious hikers visiting the peaks.
The route is just over 30 km in total, but you’ll pass through heaps of points of interest along the way, many of which are the highlight of shorter walks. For instance, on this route, you’ll get a chance to climb the mighty Mam Tor, arguably one of the most famous peaks in the whole district. From all the way up there, you’ll get awesome views of landscapes featuring both grit and limestone boulders.
But it doesn’t stop there, you climb various other famous peaks too, and you’ll spend plenty of time high up on the Edale ridgeline, with luscious green slopes giving way to the valley below. You’ll see rolling hills, dramatic rock structures, and even pass some idyllic reservoirs, making this one incredibly varied route overall.
The steep inclines and declines do require a good level of fitness, and stamina is also needed for this long day hike. In winter, you won’t have as many hours of daylight to play with, so you’ll need to head out very early and keep an eye on the clock (summer is definitely a more relaxing time for this hike, but make sure you take plenty of water with you).
Overall, if you’re only in the area for a limited amount of time, and want to see a mixture of what the Peak District has to offer in just one hike, then this is surely the one for you.
If multi-day hikes are more your thing, then why not check out the Limestone Way hiking route. This 46-mile walk can take anything from 2 to 6 days, depending on your pace, and, as the name suggests, will take you through some of the finest scenery the white peaks has to offer.
The walk is typically followed from north to south, beginning at Castleton, which is easily reached by car or public transport. You’ll pass through landscapes of seemingly endless rolling hills, littered with picturesque smatterings of limestone cliffs. As you continue, you’ll pass through numerous villages in the south of the Peak District, with ample places to pause for a night or stop for a hearty pub lunch.
Along the way, you’ll encounter castle ruins, tombs, abbeys, and various other sites of historical interest. You’ll also pass through meadows filled with wildflowers, enchanted wooded areas, and pass numerous brooks and rivers.
Eventually, you’ll cross the border and enter Staffordshire and from there continue to Rocester where the hike ends. This latter part of the route isn’t as popular as the northern section, and you’ll find yourself walking through more farmland with less inspiring geographical features. For this reason, some people opt to do the route in reverse or even to cut it slightly short.
However, if you want to experience the true nature of the Peak District and Derbyshire, including its farmland as well as its dramatic landscapes, then the full hike is a winner.
The route is typically carried out in three or four days, but it can be done in two or three if you’re up for a challenge or five or six if you’d rather take things slow. Although you’ll need some stamina, and there are a few inclines, the trail is fairly easy-going, with no scrambling required.
If you’re looking for an incredibly rewarding walk that requires only minimal effort, then you should definitely head out over to Froggatt Edge.
You can park at either Froggatt Car Park or a nearby National Trust Car Park (the second of which we recommend as it’s usually less busy). From the National Trust Car Park, take a short stroll through some amicable woodland until you reach a broad sanded path.
The path will take you right alongside the edge, which itself is comprised of a low-lying platform of gritstone rock, making it a popular choice for the many avid climbers living in the area. The stacked rock structures make an incredible impressive backdrop for almost all of the hike, and from the rocks themselves you can take in the incredible sights of the hills, villages, and moors below.
On calmer days, the rocks make an excellent picnic spot, but be warned that the wind can pick up here, so take a good jacket with you and be careful of the edge if it’s blustery.
One of the great things about this walk is that you can stop and turn around whenever you like, although we recommend carrying on until Curbar Edge. There’s also a car park here, and more times than not you’ll find a cafe on wheels serving up hot cups of tea and cake out of a side hatch.
If you do want to make the route more varied, you can make the hike a loop by returning through the backland, or even through the valley below, but honestly, we think the views are so great you’ll want to make this walk a simple there-and-back-again trip (and we don’t often say that!).
The route is pretty much flat for the entire hike, making it a great option for people with poor fitness or groups with young children – just mind them on the rocks!). There are various pubs in the area too so, without much effort, you can spend a day (or half a day) taking in some of the best views in the whole of the Peak District and finish it off with a well-deserved pint or classic pub lunch.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia