I have travelled all over the World in the past 50 years and still my favourite place is less than 10 miles from where I was born in Chesterfield, UK. Yosemite National Park is superb with breath-taking mountain scenery, Shanghai is probably the World’s most vibrant city, Rio has the best beaches but my heart belongs to Derbyshire and more specifically to the Peak District.
The Peak as it is known by those who know it well is a hidden gem, not frequented by overseas visitors who bypass it on their way to York, Edinburgh and the Lake District. I’m grateful for their oversight as the area is already very well frequented by those from the cities which surround this first of Britain’s National Parks. Every weekend people from Sheffield, Derby and Manchester pour into the Peak District by car, train and even a few by bicycle.
Why do they come? Largely because they want to get out of these cities for a breath of fresh air. The Peak District is only 600 square miles and it surrounded by at least 5 million people, yet it seems to absorb visitors without too much trouble. In the days when Sheffield and Manchester were polluted centres of heavy industry factory workers and their families would walk escape out of the gloom on a Sunday to walk and have a picnic. My grandparents would walk from Chesterfield out to the lovely town of Matlock, with their several children; a round trip of 20 miles after Church. My Mother, now ravaged by dementia still has the lung power from those childhood forays. My Grandfather worked down a coal mine all week and the weekly walk into the Peak was a way of maintaining his sanity and rinsing out the coal dust which would eventually kill him.
In the 1930s working class people invaded the open moorlands, fighting pitched battles with gamekeepers and landowners to extend their walks and start rock climbing, a tradition which led many to develop skills which would lead them to the tops of Himalayan peaks. It’s easy to find adventure during the day and be back in your city pub by evening.
So I have a family connection with the Peak that was well developed from the age of 15 when I started climbing in the tiny village of Stoney Middleton. I would spend all day climbing up on the gritstone edges blasted by the wind and “wuthering”, grinding the skin from my hands and knees, to return to cheese and onion sandwiches from my Grandmother and massages from the ex-boxer Grandfather. They both knew why I loved being out there so much, and were keen to encourage me to keep going.
Above all it is the variety of countryside, from the secluded limestone dales with their lush greenery to the blasted moorlands with their purple heather and hovering kestrels, which make the Peak so special. It is never the same place, constantly changing. The streams and rivers that flow through it can provide a cooling dip in the height of summer, trout fishing, and a gentle chuckling sound as you walk along their banks.
Do me a favour, and ignore this blog. I want to keep the Peak to myself.