The Peak District is a hilly area in north central England lying between Sheffield and Manchester. It is not a national park in the sense of government ownership like in the United States. Instead, it incorporates farms and villages with 202 square miles of access land over an area roughly 555 square miles. It has 1867 miles of dedicated public rights-of-way for hiking, bicycling and horse-back riding as well off-road trails along former railroad line.
The rugged hills, beautiful farms and quaint villages give little hint that sixteen million people live within forty miles of the District. The highest point is only a little over two thousand feet, and there are no “peaks.” Nonetheless it is the upland area a the base of the Pennine mountains. It is sort of like the Cotswolds on steroids.
For no other reason than to expedite the trip north, we entered Buxton into our GPS. Buxton has the highest elevation of any English market town. It is very hilly and reminded us of western Pennsylvania towns. However, its real claim to fame is as a spa town.
The Romans developed a town there next to the geothermal springs. Later, some of the water was piped to a well dedicated to St. Anne, and residents can still fill their water bottles at St. Ann’s well opposite the Crescent.
The Crescent, itself, was a building built between 1780 and 1789 as part of a commercial drive to make Buxton a fashionable Georgian spa town. Like much of Buxton, it looks like it had fallen out of fashion and was now being renovated as a new generation learns to enjoy the spa life.
The Buxton Thermal Baths were added on the right side in the mid-19th century, but are now a collection of shops. Nonetheless, walking the corridors, you can still see the tile and decorative work from the original spa.On the left side of the Crescent is the Old Hall Hotel built in 1572 and rebuilt between 1725 and 1735. Unaware of its history, we went into the hotel pub for an early lunch. The only anomaly I noticed was the directional sign for toilets for the disabled also had direction to the “Paupers Pit.” When I asked the waitress, she said it was a theater beneath the hotel. I wish I had known more while we were there.
The nearby Opera House still has approximately 450 performances a year. And the Dome, on the opposite hillside, was originally built as stables by the 5th Duke of Devonshire who built the Crescent. Now it is used for restaurants, shops, hair salons and spas.
We next set of for the village of Edale simply because it seemed off the beaten track. It was impossible to get a really good feel for the Peak District in just one day, but we decided Edale might be a good example.
It was an excellent choice. Leaving the main road at a sign for Barber Booth (a booth was a 13th century cattle farm) we soon found ourselves descending a steep winding road into the Noe River Valley. It was a gorgeous day, and the stone-walled green farms extending below us were beautiful. Unfortunately, the few wide spots on the road were filled with hiker’s parked cars, so we didn’t find a good spot to take a photo.
There was a 1795 cotton mill at Edale, but very little more than a typical pub and church now. However, there was a large parking lot, much larger than one would expect to find. Edale, it turns out, is the southern start of the Pennine Way, a 267-mile trail north.
Leaving the Noe Valley, we set out for Tideswell, a town that was part of the setting in a Georgette Hyer (1902-1974) novel Alie had read. (Alie remembers the most remarkable details). In a D. H. Lawrence novel, two characters also meet at the Tideswell Cattle Market.
The Tideswell Church of St. John the Baptist, while not huge, is the largest in the area and is known as the “Cathedral of the Peak.” It’s first priest was appointed in 1193. The current building was started around 1320 and completed around 1400 with few alterations, so it is beautiful simply because of its integrity and simplicity. The wood screen is the original.
The church has many ancient tombs and “brasses” commemorating the dead as far back as 1358. Sir Samson Meverill (1388-1462), a knight who probably fought at Agincourt in France, lies in the altar tomb. Sir Thurstan de Bower and his wife Margaret (about 1395) lie in the South transept. The recumbent alabaster figures of the couple on the tomb are worn, but still recognizable. Most of my pictures, however, were of the carvings on the pews done by a local man, Advent Hunstone.
It seems every village in England has been blessed with an abundance of flowers. I took a picture of these in Tideswell. The color is so bright they look artificial, but they are real, just as our English village experience, straight out of a travel brochure, has been real.