My Favourite Peak District Places by Peaklass
After many years exploring the sleepy villages, peaceful country lanes and wild countryside of the Peak District National Park, I’ve come to know the area pretty darned well. Way better than I know the back of my hand, in fact. I’m often asked for my favourite locations or for recommendations of places to stay, and I love sharing this beautiful landscape with others, so I’ve compiled this little guide to my Favourite Peak District Places. If you’re looking for great holiday bases, quiet spots to discover or rugged hillsides on which to roam, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here.
Let’s face it, there’s not a huge amount of ‘action’ in the rural heart of the Peak District. This is a place to come for peace and quiet, an area to retreat to if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of busy life. There are still spots with plenty of amenities though, and if you’re looking for a great base for a holiday you may want to consider staying in one of the region’s larger villages or the Peak District’s one and only town, Bakewell.
Bakewell is the only town wholly within the boundary of the Peak District National Park; a wonderful place with plenty of character and some beautiful buildings. Explore the many cobbled courtyards and narrow streets of independent shops and cafes, walk along the River Wye and watch the rainbow trout that swim up to greet visitors, and admire the unique five-arched bridge that’s one of the oldest still standing in Britain. Bakewell is a great base for many walks into the surrounding countryside too. From here you can follow the traffic-free Monsal Trail for 8.5 miles to Chee Dale, or walk along the river to the nearby pretty village of Ashford-in-the-Water.
Whatever you enjoy doing, the large Peak District village of Castleton is likely to be the perfect base for it. For adventurous types, Castleton is the gateway to the trails over Mam Tor and Kinder Scout and through the dramatic limestone gorge of Winnats Pass. If you’d rather be underground than above ground, it has four stunning show caverns, including two that are home to the rare mineral Blue John, the only place in the world it’s found. For history buffs, don’t miss the romantic hilltop ruins of Peveril Castle, one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses. Finally, those who prefer a gentler pace of exploration will enjoy wandering the village’s lanes and visiting its independent shops, tearooms, restaurants and many pubs.
Eyam is perhaps best known for being the site of an outbreak of the Plague in 1665, when an unwitting tailor brought in fleas from London in a bale of cloth and unleashed hell upon the village. In a tale of astonishing bravery, the locals isolated themselves from the rest of the world to prevent spreading the disease to neighbouring communities; nobody left or entered Eyam for 14 months and at least 270 of the 350 villagers died. Today, happily, Eyam is a beautiful base for visitors to the Peak District, with many great cafes, tearooms and restaurants, as well as a 17th Century pub that’s reputedly one of the most haunted in the county. You’ll also find spectacular views out to open countryside in every direction.
Hartington is a perfect base for visitors to the south of the Peak District National Park. Close to the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire, it’s a picturesque place that is well served for pubs, shops, tearooms and amenities, including a very picturesque duckpond. Don’t miss a visit to the Cheese Shop, which has been at the heart of the village for more than 40 years. Hartington is surrounded by wonderful countryside in all directions; you can walk out of the village on any footpath or lane and quickly find yourself in the most stunning hills and dales.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my own home village of Hathersage in this list, and it’s more than worthy of inclusion. A haven for outdoorsy types, it’s surrounded by the most dramatic hills and rocky edges on all sides, and boasts a great selection of shops and amenities. Literature lovers will appreciate its connection with Charlotte Bronte (many locations and characters in Jane Eyre were based here) and no visit is complete without seeing the grave of Robin Hood’s henchman Little John in the village churchyard. Hathersage is also blessed with having one of the UK’s last outdoor heated swimming pools, from which you can gaze up at the surrounding countryside as you swim.
The village of Youlgrave is a fascinating place, set amongst rolling hills high above the crystal-clear River Bradford. Look out for Thimble Hall, reputed to be the smallest detached house in the UK. And in the heart of the village you can’t miss the large well, a sign that Youlgrave is one of very few villages in the UK to get most of its water supplies from a successful, not-for-profit company, founded in 1829 by the Youlgrave Friendly Society for Women. Youlgrave (or is it Youlgreave?) is also one of the most misspelt village names in the area, if not the country, and there are no less than 60 different recorded spellings of the name. Even the road signs in to and out of the village can’t agree on how it’s spelt!
Sleepy Hamlets & Quiet Villages
If you’re looking for quieter spots to explore, you’re spoilt for choice; the Peak District National Park is blessed with some truly wonderful hamlets and villages. Most are peaceful, rural communities with picture-perfect cottages on winding lanes, where the pub may also be the village shop and is probably owned by the locals. The best way to find these special places is to grab a map, head out and explore, but here are a few suggestions that you may not want to miss.
A plea! These quiet spots are little gems precisely because they’re not equipped for large numbers of visitors. If you visit, PLEASE tread lightly. Park with consideration for residents, use the village shops and pubs to support the local economy, and follow the Countryside Code at all times.
The little hamlet of Abney is tucked away in the hills above its far busier neighbours of Hathersage and Grindleford. It consists of one lane of sleepy houses, a few farms and quite a lot of ducks. It has nothing to offer in the way of pubs or shops, but it more than makes up for that by being a haven of rural peace and quiet set amongst beautiful countryside. There are walks in all directions across Abney Moor or through the wooded valley of Abney Clough.
Alport is a tiny hamlet set alongside the confluence of the Rivers Bradford and Lathkill. Most of the historic houses that line the two narrow lanes are owned by the nearby Haddon Estate. Over the narrow bridge you’ll see Alport Mill which dates back to the 18th Century, although there’s been a watermill on this site since the 12th Century. The walk along the river through the meadows to either Youlgrave to the west or Conksbury to the north is absolutely beautiful, particularly in early summer when the fields are full of buttercups.
The pretty village of Alstonefield is surrounded by wonderful countryside on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire. It offers everything you could want from a quiet Peak District village, with beautiful houses and farms clustered around a village green. Don’t miss the 12th Century church with reputedly the oldest gravestone in England, dating to 1518. In the spring the lanes are lined with thousands of bright daffodils, and there are footpaths leading out into the hills in all directions.
Visiting the Staffordshire village of Butterton is like stepping back in time. The pretty cottages that line Pothooks Lane tumble down the hillside to a broad ford that sparkles across the cobbles, watched over by a great village pub and a tall-spired church. Butterton also has the lovely distinction of being a Doubly Thankful village, meaning that all the residents who left to fight in both World War I and World War II returned home safely.
A sleepy Staffordshire hamlet situated on the River Manifold, Hulme End is a small but perfectly-formed little place with a great pub and more campsites than you can shake a mallet at. It was once the northern terminus for the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway, but the former station is now a wonderful tea shop, visitor centre and cycle hire facility. There are beautiful walks through the surrounding countryside in almost all directions, but my favourite is the route along the Manifold Trail into Wetton.
Litton is a picture-perfect village surrounded by the most wonderful old strip fields that date back to medieval times. It’s a friendly community with limestone cottages clustered along quiet lanes, plus it has a lovely pub and a wide village green that’s often populated with chickens. In the tiny old Smithy you’ll find a general store, a Post Office and a cafe all run by the people from the village.
The little village of Monyash may be quiet and sleepy today but it was a bustling metropolis in Roman times. Firstly because it was at the intersection of a number of trade routes, but also because it was blessed with a ready supply of fresh water – highly valuable and unusual in a limestone area – due to the band of clay that runs beneath the village. The people of Monyash used this to their advantage, building five ponds and twenty wells; one of which, Fere Mere, can still be seen in the village today. The name Monyash comes from the Old English words ‘Mane’ and ‘Eas’, meaning Many Waters. Today you can enjoy the local pub and walk into the surrounding countryside on any number of beautiful footpaths.
Ssshh! Parwich is a complete hidden gem. Despite being within walking distance of the visitor hotspot of Tissington, despite being located right on the Limestone Way, close to the High Peak Trail and the Tissington Trail, and despite having been named by the Sunday Times not so long ago as ‘one of the best places to live in Britain’, even most Peak District locals have never heard of it. It’s full of beautiful old houses clustered around a village green, and the 17th Century country pub also houses the local shop in a small room off the bar.
Stanton in Peak
The village of Stanton in Peak is perched high on a hill above the A6, yet it feels like a world away from civilisation. One of my favourite time slip locations, it’s a small village with narrow, twisty lanes, pretty cottages, a beautiful 17th Century manor house (private), an award-winning pub – and views for days. Keep your eyes peeled for the Norwegian black fallow deer that roam around the hills here, escapees from the grounds of Stanton Hall.
The village of Thorpe lies in the limestone hills above Dovedale, a beautiful little collection of cottages on narrow lanes, surrounded by stunning countryside. The lovely church in the village dates from the 1200s and the churchyard contains a sundial that can only be seen from horseback! Instead of heading to the very popular and always busy area around Dovedale, try walking in the other direction and picking up the beautiful Limestone Way along the river to Tissington to the north or Blore to the south.
Walking into Tissington is like stepping into an impossibly beautiful storybook – its sweet cottages and grand houses all have immaculate gardens and surround the elegant Jacobean manor of Tissington Hall. Walk around the village and you’ll find a tearoom, a craft shop, a traditional butcher, a candle shop and an excellent plant nursery. To reach the latter you’ll have to dodge the friendly ducks on the village duck pond. The Tissington Trail runs right to the village, and it’s a lovely traffic-free route through the rolling hills.
The village of Wetton is a little gem perched high above the Manifold Valley. Quiet and unspoilt, it’s a small place with twisty streets of pretty houses and a great village pub. Walk down the hill to Wetton Mill and you’ll find yourself in a sheltered spot by the River Manifold, with limestone cliffs towering all around you and the traffic-free footpath of the Manifold Way bidding you to explore. Or walk over the fields and you’ll find yourself at Thor’s Cave, a natural cavern set in a steep crag. It’s a scramble to get inside but it offers magnificent views over the valley.
Wild Woodlands, Hills and Dales
Beresford Dale is a peaceful, pretty dale just a short walk from the village of Hartington, yet a quiet world away from civilisation. Here you’ll find tree-lined footpaths that follow the banks of the clear River Dove through stunning countryside surrounded by steep limestone cliffs. The area was once the haunt of Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton who wrote The Compleat Angler in 1653, reprinted more times than any other book in the English language, aside from the Bible. From Beresford Dale it’s a short and very pleasant walk along the river into Wolfscote Dale and Biggin Dale.
I absolutely love the shady, bird-loud valley of Cressbrook Dale. It always feels like a secret spot, very special and almost enchanted, with tall trees whispering all around and ravens croaking from the towering limestone cliffs above. In the spring and summer the forest floor is absolutely covered with wild garlic and bluebells, creating an incredible spectacle – as well as a very strong scent. Walk into the dale along the valley bottom from Cressbrook and you’ll come across an incongruous street in the middle of nowhere, two rows of cottages known as Ravensdale, once mill cottages and still lived in, but looking for all the world like a forgotten relic from another century, as if you’ve fallen into a small timeslip without noticing.
The wild, windswept moors that surround Derwent Edge are a great place to walk if you want to blow away a few cobwebs and escape from the crowds that gather around Ladybower Reservoir. The haunt of grouse and curlew, they offer miles and miles of open countryside punctuated by rock formations with names such as The Salt Cellar, Cakes of Bread and Lost Lad. From the summit of Whinstone Lee Tor, at the very start of Derwent Edge, you get a wonderful view across the whole Upper Derwent Valley and the vast expanse of moors beyond.
I’m often asked for my favourite Peak District location. It’s a difficult question because I have so many favourites, according to the time of year, the weather, and whether I’m in a woodland, country lane or hillside state of mind. But Hay Wood always features near the top of every list. It’s a quiet wood on the edge of the village of Grindleford and it’s wonderful in every season. In spring it’s carpeted with bluebells and delicate white stitchwort, in summer look out for shy red deer hiding behind the enormous beeches, in autumn it’s an incredible place to hear the stags roaring and marvel at the colours in the trees, and the snows of winter transform it into a magical, glittering spectacle.
Higger Tor is a wonderful rocky plateau, quite accessible from the Ringinglow Road which leads off the A6187 above Hathersage. It offers beautiful views over the Hope Valley, the Derwent Valley and across to Stanage Edge. In summer it’s bright with heather and you’ll often see cows and sheep roaming around its slopes, enjoying the vista. Take a short walk across the moors to the south from Higger Tor and you’ll arrive at its satellite hill, Carl Wark. Here you’ll find evidence of an Iron Age hill fort, where you can still see the enormous rocks that once formed the fortified walls, truly a dry stone wall of epic proportions.
Definitely one of my favourite Peak District woodlands, Padley Gorge is located just outside the village of Grindleford and is part of the National Trust’s Longshaw estate. Padley Gorge is an ancient oak woodland full of twisted trees, moss-covered rocks and abandoned millstones, a nod to its industrial past, when this part of England was the foremost supplier of millstones in the world. Padley Gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, home to a number of endangered species of birds, including pied flycatchers, wood warblers and hawfinches, as well as rare plant life. PLEASE leave no trace in this very special place!
The distinctive conical peak of the Hope Valley, Win Hill towers above Ladybower Reservoir and forms a lovely matching pair with Lose Hill to the west. It takes a heck of a lot of effort to climb to the top but I promise that the view from the summit is worth every step, giving you a 360-degree panorama which stretches for miles and miles in each direction. If you want a physical challenge and you’re fit, try taking the route to the top via Parkin Clough, used by ultra marathon runners to train for international events on account of its unforgiving steepness!
Once a hunting forest for the region’s nobility, Wyming Brook is now a peaceful nature reserve. At its heart the brook tumbles steeply downhill through arching trees, falling over rocks, criss-crossed by a series of pretty wooden footbridges. It’s not the easiest terrain to walk, being rocky and gnarled with tree roots, but if you take your time the walk alongside the water is quite magical. You can then loop back to your starting point by walking along Wyming Brook Drive, a wide avenue lined with trees, which is just as beautiful in its own way as the main event down in the valley.
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Thank you – and I hope you enjoy every minute of exploring the original (and best) National Park!