A Visit to the Peak District

Normally for us a holiday starts early in the morning, after not nearly enough sleep. I will repack my clothes last minute and then we're off, to start a long long day.
But not this time, we were travelling with P&O's overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull. We left the house at 4, which left me enough time to change my mind about my chosen wardrobe for our holiday and leave without the usual rush. 
Our plan was to travel to the Peak District, a beautiful national park in the North of England. The ferryboat brought us conveniently to an hour away from where we needed to be and gave us ideas for other trips in the future. Last year we stood still fro 6 hours on our way to the West country, then again a six hour delay when we were heading to the Cotswolds and again when we drove back to Dover.
Needless to say, we were so looking for a way to avoid the dreadful M25, M4 and other M's that get major delays. The Ferry to Hull brings you not only to the gateway of the North and Scotland, it's great when you need to travel to Wales and even the Midland towns like Birmingham. Anything to avoid the traffic around London sounds like music to my ears.

My partner in crime

Our holiday well and truly started when we boarded the ferry and got us a nice spot on deck to watch the sunset while we were sipping a glass of wine and gazing over the wide and peaceful seascape.
When we retired to our hut we turned into our bunk beds and closed our eyes with the knowledge that we were being brought to England without having to drive, or take trains, in the morning after breakfast, we would just suddenly arrive where we needed to be. It was fantastic for B, who is stuck in traffic every day to get to the office, when you're on holiday, you really don't want to spend it driving for yours again.

After a hearty brekkie we left the Ferry and drove into the rainy North of England. We made a two hour stop in Sheffield as it was on the road and we needed a cup of tea and our English magazines. Then we drove on to our final destination, Castleton a quaint little village in the Hope Valley. 

Castleton is an old mining village, first for lead an then when a young boy decided to go and search for lead in Treak Cliff hill, a new site in Castleton that he leased, he excavated an entrance for years but discovered not lead, but a vein of blue stone with yellow streaks. The stone was baptised Blue John, probably an interpretation in the local dialect from the French 'bleu et jaune'. The stone started to be mined and was even used in the first world war as a fuel for furnaces which unfortunately resulted in a lot of precious stone being lost forever. 
In the 1940's a miner found a new vein of Blue John and hid it so only he could find it again, sadly he only got to tell a few people before he passed away suddenly. 
Mining still happens in this cavern in january of each year, and the cavern, which you can visit, is still in the hands of the mining family which inherited it decades ago. The 'lost vein' as it was called became nothing more than a legend after a few decades but then last year, the current miners at Treak Cliff Cavern discovered it by accident when kicking some mud. The legend told the story of John Royce, the miner who hid the new - now lost - vein with some clay and blankets so when blankets were found underneath the clay, the miners were of course extremely excited by their discovery. There are a few caverns to visit in the village, most are lead mines but if you need to choose only one, I would choose Treak Cliff Cavern as it is the last working Blue John mine and a family business. I bought a huge nodule of the Lost vein because I was so intrigued by the cavern. In the cafe of the cavern you can also have a glass of the water they collect in the cavern, naturally filtered water!

The village of Castleton also has 6 pubs, a restaurant and a couple of cafe's. For a small village like that it is extraordinary, we were there when there weren't all that much tourists around but still at night the pubs and the local restaurant were packed. We tried a few places for dinner but we came to the conclusion that the Italian restaurant which was actually more a place serving modern British food and excellent and creative pizza's, was the very best of the bunch. Produce was fresh, well prepared, and dishes were wholesome and well priced. The drinks on offer are your traditional wine list, which I must say featured a British sparkling wine and a few options of local craft beer. A place where I gladly part with my cash. 

Another site to see is Peverel's castle which is mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086. The ruins overlook Castleton village and after a short walk up the hill, you get a great view over the valley and surrounding hills. Our farmhouse B&B which could be spotted from the hilltop was situated in the most idillic place at the foot of Winnats Pass, a ravine of limestone hills which make you feel very small when you take a stroll trough the towering landscape. We walked there at 7 in the morning, after being woken up by the sun early and heading out quickly after being intrigued by the view from our bedroom window.
Winnats Pass
Derbyshire oatcake with local -devine- bacon, cooked by the farmer

Early mornings, or maybe even evenings are best to experience Winnats Pass, as during the day this National Trust owned estate is clouded by fast moving cars and busses of day-trippers. I also enjoy the quiet morning atmosphere, the chill in the air like the cold breath of nature breathing in your neck.

After our breakfast of traditional Derbishire Oatscakes, bacon and eggs we drove off into the unexpected sunny warm weather to discover another Peak district delight, the Bakewell tart.
Arriving in Bakewell I was a bit disappointed by the busy state of the main road, it made me feel quite nervous and I could not wait to discover a more quaint and quiet part of the village. Behind the corner of the Bakewell pudding shop is a narrow street where no cars were luckily allowed, there we discovered another two bake well pudding and tart shops and we decided to compare tarts. One was sweeter than the other and my personal taste is that less sugar is better and my preference went to Bloomers who's puddings and tarts were less sweet and didn't include preservatives. We washed it all down with ehm… beer, and drove further south for ten minutes or so to visit Haddon Hall.

Bakewell and bunting, I do like a town that has a bit of bunting
The Bakewell Pudding

Haddon Hall isn't just a beautiful fortified Tudor manor house, it is also the film location of one of my favourite movies: Jane Eyre with Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as Mr Rochester. The recent version with Michael Fassbender also had some scenes filmed there but the older film I just mentioned, just is the better Charlotte Bronte translation onto silver screen.
Another place to visit if you have a taste for the Bronte sisters and Jane Eyre novels is of course Chatsworth house and Lyme park. Especially Lyme Park which is used for that epic BBC version of Pride and Prejudice from 1995 which has the one and only Mr Darcy: Colin Firth. Lyme Park shows the backdrop of that scene where Mr Darcy jumps into the water and afterwards meets Elisabeth Bennet soaking wet… Do I need to say more?

The scene of Jane Eyre... "Jane, You, you strange - you almost unearthly thing!" Mr Rochester
Haddon Hall, where parts of Jane Eyre were filmed

Hardwick Hall, although situated just outside the Peak District is well worth a visit. Hardwick old hall, a superb ruin which is situated right next to the 'new' hall looks like the roof and windows were removed last year and are impressive. The new hall was build by Bess of Hardwick, the second richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I and one of the first woman who wanted to applaud strong independent woman. It is a curious looking manor and the ruins of the old hall next to it make it quite an interesting place to have a walk around. When you get peckish, there is the National Trust Tearoom to get a sarnie or a slice of cake. Just off the estate is also a working mill where you can buy excellent flour.

Dovedale, a picturesque valley in south of the Peak District National park is a perfect place for a leisurely walk. We started early morning in a tiny village called Milldale, we had a cup of tea by the River Dove and were mugged by a dozen of ducks who were up to no good trying to steal our slice of lemon drizzle cake. Realising were were outnumbered by the ducks we followed the walking track next to the river Dove and followed it to Dovedale and the iconic 'stepping stones' bridge.
Allow plenty of time for this walk, it is really beautiful and you will want to stop for plenty of pictures and breaks. In the little tea and coffee shop in Milldale you can purchase a good map of the area which shows the different walks and how long they take.

On our way back from Dovedale to Castleton we stopped at Buxton, not the prettiest of towns but we did spot a place that sells filled Derbyshire oatcakes and other sarnies for on the go. Our last stop was Tideswell, the village who got some fame after the BBC lottery program, the village used the funds to start a cookery school and the Taste Tideswell scheme where village shops could participate to a foodie cooperative. It was 5 in the evening though, and the village was asleep like all shops have been closed for years instead of an hour or two. Go there before 4 in the afternoon!

Monsal head, nice walk down to the river

Back in Castleton we enjoyed many short evening strolls and our stay there ended with a visit to the tiny village shop, they sell breakfast options on the go, excellent cakes, oatcakes and bread, most of which is baked on site. I had them fill a box for us to take as a picnic and also had the choice between a variety of local cheeses and pork pies. I would be very happy with a store like that on my doorstep.

Our few days in the Peak District ended with the cruise on the P&O ferryboat back to Belgium, we had a good meal, a drink and turned in early after another lovely sunset over the sea.

Getting there
Ferry boat
If you're coming from the continent, the P&O ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull really is the ideal way to travel to the Peak District, (but also the Lake District, Scotland, Wales and the Midlands if you are planning a long holiday). It's relaxing and you awake to start your holiday with a freshly rested head.
Flying in
When coming from further afield, the airport of Manchester is the best airport to fly to and regular trains run to Buxton, Hope and Edale and busses get you further to other towns.
Also if you are coming from London or further down, a train will bring you to Mancherster and regular trains run further to Buxton, Hope and Edale

Places to visit 

Stately homes and ruins

Walking and exploring

  • Treak cliff cavern in Castleton- for the Blue John stone
  • Several other caverns in Castleton
  • Castleton has several walks starting in the village
  • Winnats Pass, go early in the morning.
  • Mam Tor and Kinder Scout
  • Dovedale Valley, several walks starting from Dovedale or Milldale or other sites. Pick up one of the handy maps, they are also sold in the Milldale tea shop. Also this link may come in handy
  • Thorpe Cloud, a very steep hill overlooking Dovedale Valley. We climbed it, it was VERY steep but the view was worth it.
  • Solomon's Temple
  • Monsal head, walk down to the river and walk to the viaduct

We didn't want posh restaurants after walking all day so looked for quaint and cosy instead. These are the ones we tried. If you like a special meal, I've been recommended The Peacock 
Italian restaurant which actually in my opinion Modern British
Excellent food for excellent value, we didn't want a fancy restaurant, just decent food and lovely service which is what you get here. Good veggie options, great imaginative pizza's and juicy lamb dishes. Excellent local beef as well. They serve ales from a local brewery. Highly recommended.
The Bulls Head
Great local beers, cozy pub and restaurant
Pub food, not excellent, not bad. They do pizza's too, but use way too much cheese to my liking.
The Castle Inn
Great outside garden for a pint, local beers and ciders.
It is a 'Vintage Inns' chain pub and I wish I had known before I ordered food as I have eaten at those Vintage Inns before and it was just as disappointing as on the other occasions. How hard is it to make a decent bowl of soup? 
Peveril store 
Lovely village shop with local cheeses, oatcakes and home baked breads and cakes.
Bloomers bakery 
for Bakewell tarts, puddings and other sweets.
There are other bakeries for Bakewell tarts but I preferred this one and it was recommended by a local.
Tiny little takeaway tea and coffee shop, you can't miss it as the village is super small.
They have home baked cakes, take one with you while walking.

I was a guest of P&O Ferries.

Thorpe Cloud - wear suitable footwear, this is steep.

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