The Peak District is a fantastic place for walking breaks, with hundreds of miles of pathways, including part of the famous Pennine Way. Amidst the contrasting backdrop of exposed moorland plateaus, limestone dales, caverns and rivers, are ancient stone villages, bustling market towns and fantastic stately homes including Chatsworth House. Add in the fine local produce and you have the recipe for a brilliant luxury cottage break in the Peak District.
Buxton is a former spa town, on the edge of the Peak District and its mineral water springs have been attracting visitors since Roman times. However, it was the 5th Duke of Devonshire who back in the 18th century built the majority of impressive buildings including The Crescent, where he had a townhouse, and the Devonshire Dome, which was originally his stables, that gives Buxton its Georgian elegance. Buxton is a great base to explore the area as there is a wealth of things to see and do in town from ornamental gardens to a night at Buxton Opera House, shopping and restaurants, as well as a range of music events and festivals.
If you like to shop for quirky, bespoke items, while away an hour in the Cavendish Arcade, housed in the original thermal baths. While you’re out and about you’ll be spoilt for choice with places to eat and drink from cosy bars with log fires to fine dining at The Devonshire Dome restaurant. Or, pop into the Buxton Brewery Tap House to sample the town’s fine beer. A popular attraction in Buxton is Poole’s Cavern which is one of the finest show caves in the country, steeped in history and highlighting many beautiful crystal formations. Meanwhile, Chatsworth House and gardens and Haddon Hall are within a half hour drive and make lovely days out. If you’re using Buxton as a base for exploring the Peak District then you’ll have a wealth of rolling hills at your doorstep. We recommend a visit to Chrome Hill and it’s spectacular ‘Dragon’s Back’ for some otherworldly scenery.
About a 20-minute drive from Buxton and set in the limestone uplands is the village of Tideswell. Once an important hub for quarrying and cotton mills, as well as its markets, the village has some lovely old buildings and the 14th century church of St John the Baptist, known locally as the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’. As one of the larger villages in the Peak District, it’s easy to get caught up in the sociable ambience of this vibrant community. There are some fantastic walks to be had around Tideswell and the village’s traditional pubs and cafes are a great place to quench your thirst and feed your appetite.
If you’re planning to self-cater in your holiday cottage, you’ll find everything you’ll need in Tideswell including a butchers, a deli, grocers, cheese shop and more. The shops here are charming and if you’re feeling creative the Peak District Yarns Studio runs workshops in crafts such as knitting and crocheting. If you want to get out into the fresh air head into Tideswell Dale for a hike, to explore the nature reserve and follow the sculpture trail. When it comes to entertainment the local choirs and brass bands put on regular concerts in the church and in May there is a food festival held in town.
The town of Bakewell is the largest in the Peak District and has lots to offer, so much so, that many visitors come back time and time again. It’s first claim to fame is that it is home to the delicious bakewell tart and secondly it is widely accepted that the town inspired Lambton in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. With an enviable location on the banks of the River Wye and surrounded by countryside, Bakewell is beautiful. Amongst the town’s highlights are the medieval bridge over the river, a Grade I listed church and historic almshouses, alongside quirky shops, cosy tea rooms, a weekly farmers market and a craft brewery.
Chatsworth House is an absolute must to see and is believed to be the inspiration behind Mr Darcy’s residence, Pemberley, in Pride and Prejudice. This stately mansion is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been passed down sixteen generations. A programme of events runs here throughout the year including art exhibitions, concerts and Christmas festivities. Do also visit the Tudor mansion of Haddon Hall nearby. Feeling more active? The pretty Monsai Trail is a great place for country walks, cycling and horse-riding, while the Bakewell festival held in June begins with a day of dancing displays. For a fine-dining experience, don’t miss Fischer’s, which boasts a Michelin star.
Hope Valley is a favourite spot for visitors to the Peak District and is the starting point for the famous Limestone Way. Large and wide, the valley runs from the gritstone and shale moors of the so-called ‘Dark Peak’ to the limestone rocky dales of the ‘White Peak’. Offering incredible views and picturesque villages, it is particularly popular with photographers and artists. It’s also excellent walking country with classic Peak District walks such as Winnats Pass, Mam Tor and the Great Ridge on the doorstep. Meanwhile, outdoor adventure enthusiasts can enjoy activities such as mountain biking, caving, pot-holing, pony trekking, hang-gliding and rock climbing.
Mam Tor, where hang-gliders depart from, is also the site of an ancient Iron Age fort, whilst Winnats Pass is a collapsed gorge weaving through steep limestone crags and a network of potholes. Both provide interesting places to walk. Hope is the main village in Hope Valley and offers shops and places to eat. Meanwhile, the village of Castleton is of particular interest for the ruined 11th century Peveril Castle and is where you can pick up a piece of jewellery crafted from the town’s semi-precious Blue John stone. You can also take the Hope Valley scenic railway to access the valley at a more leisurely pace.
Just north of Bakewell is the pretty village of Ashford-in-the-Water which is famous for its medieval, triple-arch Sheepwash Bridge. One of three bridges in the village that span the River Wye, Sheepwash was once where farmers herded their flock into the river to get clean, using lambs in a pen on the other side to entice them into the water. Today, it is very possibly the most photographed bridge in the Peak District. With typical limestone houses and gorgeous cottage gardens, weeping willows that overhang the river and a riverside cricket green, Ashford-in-the-Water is particularly lovely in the spring and summer months.
Ashford-on-the-Water is the kind of place to potter about in a very leisurely manner. Pop into Holy Trinity church to see a fine example of Ashford Black Marble, which was once produced in the local quarries. The village has a few little shops including a craft shop and a corner shop/deli where you can purchase items for a picnic. There’s also a tea room and two pubs, but for fine-dining try the Riverside House Hotel, a former Georgian country residence. For a longer walk there are good links to the Monsal Trail that follows the old railway line between Bakewell and Buxton.
Ancient Youlgreave is one of the largest and most picturesque villages in the Peak District and is surrounded by the stunning valleys of Bradford Dale and Lathkill Dale. It is located between Bakewell and Matlock, not far from either, but one thing to note is the alternative spelling of the name. The signpost on entering the village says Youlgreave, as does the Ordnance Survey Map, but locals have called it Youlgrave (which is how it should be pronounced) for as long as they can remember, and it’s this name that’s on the post office sign. Come here for the great community feel, good facilities including shops and pubs, and excellent country walks.
If you venture down one of the lanes off Main Street you will soon be in the thick of some of the finest scenery in the Peak District. Below Youlgreave runs the River Bradford with fishing weirs, designated swimming areas and grassy banks that make a great picnic stop. Downstream you’ll come across the pretty hamlet of Alport with its picture-postcard millponds, while a walk to the lower end of Lathkill Dale leads on to the beautiful Conkesbury Bridge. The long distance walking routes of the Limestone Way and the White Peak Way also pass through the village.
Matlock lies to the east of the Peak District and its central location makes it a good base for exploring the national park. In Victorian times it was developed as a spa town by industrialist John Smedley whose former home is the Gothic-style Riber Castle. The town was also an important centre of the cotton spinning industry which the local mills are testament to. At the heart of the town is Crown Square, the River Derwent and beautiful Hall Leys Park which features a boating lake. It’s around here that you will find some lovely independent shops and places to eat.
Matlock is the gateway to the Derwent Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the historic Cromford Mills, where Richard Arkwright’s vision for the first water powered factory became reality in the 1770s. From here you can walk several miles along the Cromford Canal. Meanwhile, Matlock Bath is a lovely place to spend an afternoon with a fish and chip lunch, and in September and October it attracts visitors with its themed illuminations. Other attractions are the scenic Peak Rail journeys, Crich Tramway Village and the Heights of Abraham cable-car ride over the Derwent Valley. Back in Matlock, do try Stones riverside restaurant for a superb dining experience.
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