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Out and About - Derbyshire

Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains part of the National Forest, and borders on Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. Derbyshire can make some claims to be at the centre of Britain: a farm near Coton in the Elms has been identified as the furthest from the sea, whilst Rodsley and Overseal were the centres of population during the twentieth century.

The city of Derby is now a unitary authority area, but remains part of the ceremonial county of Derbyshire. The non-metropolitan county contains 30 towns with between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. There is a large amount of sparsely populated agricultural upland: 75% of the population live in 25% of the area. Outside the main city of Derby, the largest town in the county is Chesterfield.

The area that is now Derbyshire was first visited, probably briefly, by humans 200,000 years ago during the Aveley interglacial as evidenced by a Middle Paleolithic Acheulian hand axe found near Hopton? Further occupation came with the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic periods of the Stone Age when Mesolithic hunter gatherers roamed the hilly tundra. The evidence of these nomadic tribes is centred around limestone caves located on the Nottinghamshire border. Deposits left in the caves date the occupancy at around 12,000 to 7,000 BC.

Burial mounds of Neolithic settlers are also situated throughout the county. These chambered tombs were designed for collective burial and are mostly located in the central Derbyshire region. There are tombs in Minning Low, and Five Wells, which date back to between 2000 and 2500 BC. Three miles west of Youlgreave lays the Neolithic henge monument of Arbor Low, This can be dated back to 2500 BCE.

It is not until the Bronze Age that real signs of agriculture and settlement are found in the county. In the moors of the Peak District signs of clearance, arable fields and hut circles were discovered after archeological investigation. However this area and another settlement at Swarkestone are all that have been found.

During the Roman invasion the invaders were attracted to Derbyshire because of the lead ore in the limestone hills of the area. They settled throughout the county with forts built near Brough in the Hope Valley and near Glossop. Later they settled around Buxton, famed for its warm springs, and set up a fort near modern day Derby in an area now known as Little Chester. Several kings of Mercia are buried in the Repton area.

Following the Norman Conquest, much of the county was subject to the forest laws. To the North West was the Forest of High Peak under the custodianship of William Peverel and his descendants. The rest of the county was bestowed upon Henry de Ferrers, a part of it becoming Duffield Frith. In time the whole area was given to the Duchy of Lancaster. Meanwhile the Forest of East Derbyshire covered the whole county to the east of the River Derwent from the reign of Henry II to that of Edward I.

The county of Derbyshire offers many attractions for both tourists and local people. The county offers the spectacular Peak District scenery such as Mam Tor, Kinder Scout, and other more metropolitan attractions like Bakewell, Buxton, and Derby. Local places of interest include; Bolsover Castle, Castleton, Chatsworth House, Crich Tramway Museum, Cascades Gardens, Dovedale Haddon Hall, Heights of Abraham, and Matlock Bath.

In the north of the county, three large reservoirs, Howden, Derwent and Ladybower, were built during the early part of the 20th century to supply the rapidly growing populations of Sheffield, Derby and Leicester with drinking water. The land around these is now extensively used for leisure pursuits like walking and cycling, as the surrounding catchment area of moorland is protected from development, as part of the Peak District National Park. There are many properties and lands in the care of the National Trust, located in Derbyshire that are open to the public such as Calke Abbey, Hardwick Hall, High Peak Estate, Ilam Park, Kedleston Hall, Longshaw Estate near Hathersage, and Sudbury Hall on the Staffordshire Border.

Some websites you may wish to look at before you visit:

Peak District

In the Peak District National Park you will find:

Dramatic gritstone edges, wild heather moorlands and gentle limestone dales make the Peak District National Park one of Britain's best-loved landscapes. Shaped by humans over thousands of years, the Peak District is a 'living landscape' that supports a rich diversity of wildlife, culture and heritage.

The Peak District is an upland area in central and northern England, lying mainly in northern Derbyshire, but also covering parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, and South and West Yorkshire.

Most of the area falls within the Peak District National Park whose designation in 1951 made it the earliest national park in the British Isles. An area of great diversity, it is conventionally split into the northern Dark Peak, where most of the moorland is found and whose geology is gritstone, and the southern White Peak, where most of the population lives and where the geology is mainly limestone-based. Proximity to the major cities of Manchester and Sheffield and the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire coupled with easy access by road and rail, have all contributed to its popularity. With an estimated 22 million visitors per year, the Peak District is thought to be the second most-visited national park in the world (after the Mount Fuji National Park in Japan).

The Peak District forms the southern end of the Pennines and much of the area is uplands above 1,000 feet (300 m), with a high point on Kinder Scout of 2,087 feet (636 m). Despite its name, the landscape lacks sharp peaks, being characterised by rounded hills and gritstone escarpments (the "edges"). The area is surrounded by major conurbations, including Huddersfield, Manchester, Sheffield, Derby and Stoke-on-Trent.

The National Park covers 555 square miles (1,440 square km) of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and South and West Yorkshire, including the majority of the area commonly referred to as the Peak. The Park boundaries were drawn to exclude large built-up areas and industrial sites from the park; in particular, the town of Buxton and the adjacent quarries are located at the end of the Peak Dale corridor, surrounded on three sides by the Park. The town of Bakewell and numerous villages are, however, included within the boundaries, as is much of the (non-industrial) west of Sheffield. As of 2006, it is the fourth largest National Park in England and Wales. As always in Britain, the designation "National Park" means that there are planning restrictions to protect the area from inappropriate development, and a Park Authority to look after it?but does not imply that the land is owned by the government, or is uninhabited.

12% of the Peak District National Park is owned by the National Trust. The three Trust estates (High Peak, South Peak and Longshaw) include the ecologically or geologically significant areas of Bleaklow, Derwent Edge, Hope Woodlands, Kinder Scout, Leek and Manifold, Mam Tor, Dovedale, Milldale and Winnats Pass. The Peak District National Park Authority directly owns around 5%, and other major landowners include several water companies.

The early history of the Peak District has been settled from the earliest periods of human activity, as is evidenced by occasional finds of Mesolithic flint artefacts and by palaeoenvironmental evidence from caves in Dovedale and elsewhere. There is also evidence of Neolithic activity, including some monumental earthworks or barrows (burial mounds) such as that at Margery Hill. In the Bronze Age the area was well populated and farmed, and evidence of these people survives in henges such as Arbor Low near Youlgreave or the Nine Ladies Stone Circle at Stanton Moor. In the same period, and on into the Iron Age, a number of significant hillforts such as that at Mam Tor were created. Roman occupation was sparse but the Romans certainly exploited the rich mineral veins of the area, exporting lead from the Buxton area along well-used routes. There were Roman settlements, including one at Buxton which was known to them as "Aquae Arnemetiae" in recognition of its spring, dedicated to the local goddess. Theories as to the derivation of the Peak District name include the idea that it came from the Pecsaetan or peaklanders, an Anglo-Saxon tribe who inhabited the central and northern parts of the area from the 6th century AD when it fell within the large Anglian kingdom of Mercia. The Medieval times saw the land as mainly agricultural, as it still is today, with sheep farming, rather than arable, the main activity in these upland holdings. However, from the 16th century onwards the mineral and geological wealth of the Peak became increasingly significant. Not only lead, but also coal, copper (at Ecton), zinc, iron, manganese and silver have all been mined here. Celia Fiennes, describing her journey through the Peak in 1697, wrote of 'those craggy hills whose bowells are full of mines of all kinds off black and white and veined marbles, and some have mines of copper, others tinn and leaden mines, in which is a great deale of silver.' Lead mining peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries and began to decline from the mid-19th century, with the last major mine closing in 1939, though lead remains a by-product of fluorspar, baryte and calcite mining Limestone and gritstone quarries flourished as lead mining declined, and remain an important industry in the Peak.

Large reservoirs such as Woodhead and Howden were built from the late 19th century onward to supply the growing urban areas surrounding the Peak District, often flooding large areas of farmland and depopulating the surrounding land in an attempt to improve the water purity. The northern moors of Saddleworth and Wessenden gained notoriety in the 1960s as the burial site of several children murdered by the so-called Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

The area has been a tourist destination for centuries, with an early tourist description of the area, De Mirabilibus Pecci or The Seven Wonders of the Peak by Thomas Hobbes, being published in 1636. Much scorn was poured on these seven wonders by subsequent visitors, including the journalist Daniel Defoe who described the moors by Chatsworth as 'a waste and houling wilderness' and was particularly contemptuous of the cavern near Castleton known, in typically frank Derbyshire style, as the Devil's Arse (or Peak Cavern). Visitor numbers did not increase significantly until the Victorian era, with railway construction providing ease of access and a growing cultural appreciation of the Picturesque and Romantic. Guides such as John Mawe's Mineralogy of Derbyshire (1802) and William Adam's Gem of the Peak (1840) generated interest in the area's unique geology.

There is a great tradition of public access and outdoor recreation in this area. The Peak District formed a natural hinterland and rural escape for the populations of industrial Manchester and Sheffield, and remains a valuable leisure resource in a largely post-industrial economy. The Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District, in 1932 was a landmark in the campaign for national parks and open access to moorland in Britain, at a time when such open moors were strongly identified with the game-keeping interests of landed gentry. The Peak District National Park became the United Kingdom's first national park on 17 April 1951. The first National Trail in the United Kingdom was the Pennine Way which starts from the village of Edale in the heart of the Peak District.

The Peak District provides opportunities for many types of outdoor activity. An extensive network of public footpaths and numerous long-distance trails (over 1,900 miles/3,000 km in total), as well as large open-access areas, are available for hillwalking and hiking. Bridleways are commonly used by mountain bikers, as well as horse riders. Some of the long-distance trails, such as the Tissington Trail and High Peak Trail re-use former railway lines; they are much used by walkers, horse riders and cyclists. The Park authorities run cycle hire centres at Ashbourne, Parsley Hay and Ladybower Reservoir. Wheelchair access is possible at several places on the former railway trails, and cycle hire centres offer vehicles adapted to wheelchair users. There is a programme to make footpaths more accessible to less-agile walkers by replacing climbing stiles with walkers' gates.

The many gritstone outcrops, such as Stanage and the Roaches, are recognised as some of the finest rock climbing sites in the world. The Peak limestone also provides many testing climbs. Go to the website of the British Mountaineering council. Some of the area's large reservoirs (for example, Carsington Water) have become centres for water sports, including sailing, fishing and canoeing, in this most landlocked part of the UK. Other activities include air sports (hang gliding and paragliding), birdwatching, caving, fell running, greenlaning and orienteering.

The spa town of Buxton was developed by the Dukes of Devonshire as a genteel health resort in the eighteenth century; now the largest town in the Peak District, it has an opera house with a theatre, and a museum and art gallery. Another spa town is Matlock Bath, popularised in the Victorian era. Bakewell is the largest settlement within the National Park; its five-arched bridge over the River Wye dates from the 13th century. Buxton, Matlock and Matlock Bath, Bakewell, Leek and the small towns of Ashbourne and Wirksworth, on the fringes of the Park, all offer a range of tourist amenities.

Historic buildings include Chatsworth House seat of the Dukes of Devonshire and among Britain's finest stately homes; the medieval Haddon Hall seat of the Dukes of Rutland; Hardwick Hall, built by powerful Elizabethan Bess of Hardwick; and Lyme Park, an Elizabethan manor house transformed by an Italianate front. Many of the Peak's villages and towns have fine parish churches, with a particularly magnificent example being the fourteenth century church at Tideswell, sometimes dubbed the 'Cathedral of the Peak'. "Little John's Grave" can be seen in Hathersage churchyard.

The picturesque village of Castleton, overshadowed by the Norman Peveril Castle, has four show caves (the Peak, Blue John, Treak Cliff and Speedwell Caverns) and is the centre of production of the unique semi-precious mineral, Blue-John. Other show caves and mines include the Heights of Abraham caves (reached by cable car) at Matlock Bath, and Poole's Cavern at Buxton. The little village of Eyam is known for its self-imposed quarantine during the Plague of 1666.

The Mining Museum at Matlock Bath, which includes tours of the Temple lead mine, and the Derwent Valley Mills (World Heritage Site) and Brindley Water Mill at Leek give insight into the Peak's industrial heritage. The preserved steam railway between Matlock and Rowsley, the National Tramway Museum at Crich and the Cromford Canal chart the area's transport history. The Life in a Lens Museum of Photography & Old Times in Matlock Bath presents the history of photography from 1839.

The first roads in the Peak were constructed by the Romans, although they may have followed existing tracks. The Roman network is thought to have linked the settlements and forts of Aquae Arnemetiae (Buxton), Chesterfield, Ardotalia (Glossop) and Navio (Brough-on-Noe), and extended outwards to Danum (Doncaster), Manucium (Manchester) and Derventio (Little Chester, near Derby). Parts of the modern A515 and A53 roads south of Buxton are believed to run along Roman roads. Packhorse routes criss-crossed the Peak in the medieval era, and some paved causeways are believed to date from this period, such as the Long Causeway along Stanage. However, no highways were marked on Saxton's map of Derbyshire, published in 1579. Bridge-building improved the transport network; a surviving early example is the three-arched gritstone bridge over the River Derwent at Baslow, which dates from 1608 and has an adjacent toll-shelter. Although the introduction of turnpike roads (toll roads) from 1731 reduced journey times, the journey from Sheffield to Manchester in 1800 still took 16 hours, prompting Samuel Taylor Coleridge to remark that 'a tortoise could outgallop us!' From around 1815 onwards, turnpike roads both increased in length and improved in quality. An example is the Snake Road, built under the direction of Thomas Telford in 1819?21 (now the A57); the name refers to the crest of the Dukes of Devonshire. The Cromford Canal opened in 1794, carrying coal, lead and iron ore to the Erewash Canal.

The improved roads and the Cromford Canal both shortly came under competition from new railways, with work on the first railway in the Peak commencing in 1825. Although the Cromford and High Peak Railway (from Cromford Canal to Whaley Bridge) was an industrial railway, passenger services soon followed, including the Woodhead Line (Sheffield to Manchester via Longdendale) and the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway.

By the second half of the 20th century, the pendulum had swung back towards road transport. The Cromford Canal was largely abandoned in 1944, and several of the rail lines passing through the Peak were closed as uneconomic in the 1960s as part of the Beeching Axe. The Woodhead Line was closed between Hadfield and Penistone (parts of the trackbed are now used for the Trans-Pennine Trail) the stretch between Hadfield and Woodhead being known specifically as the Longdendale Trail. The Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway are now closed between Rowsley and Buxton where the trackbed forms part of the Monsal Trail. The Cromford and High Peak Railway are now completely shut, with part of the trackbed open to the public as the High Peak Trail. Another disused rail line between Buxton and Ashbourne now forms the Tissington Trail.

Other websites to look at before your visit:

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure maps 1 & 24

© Simon Thurgood 2019
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