Witness two dramatic landscapes in one national park, with the brooding gritstone of the Dark Peak and the steep dales of the White Peak
If ever there were an ideal case study of why national parks are important, it’s the Peak District. With Sheffield on its eastern flank, Manchester on its north-west border, Derby to the south and Leeds to the north, the danger of the Peak District being engulfed by development is all too obvious. Instead, the 555 square miles of national park – Britain’s very first – preserve precious landscapes, a surprisingly remote wilderness in places, and a lattice of tracks, trails and paths that lead away from the rat race and into the great outdoors. In the north discover the dark gritstone and peat moors of the Kinder plateau and in the south the dazzling limestone dales with their drystone walls and lush pastures. There’s world class climbing on the “edges”; challenging mountain bike trails; the early miles of the Pennine Way for walkers; and endless hill climbs for road cyclists. In short, compelling evidence as to why the protection offered by national park status is so essential to fans of outdoor sports and adventures.
The vast sweep of cliff that runs north from Baslow via Curbar, Froggatt and Stanage to Derwent Edge offers a lifetime’s worth of scintillating climbing. There are ascents for novice climbers and testing routes for experienced crag rats, plus countless bouldering opportunities throughout. And don’t forget the rock faces down in the Roaches, in the Staffordshire Peak District. If you fancy giving rock climbing a go, a taster day with an instructor costs £85 or £155 for a weekend (pureoutdoor.co.uk).
Tailor-made for trail running, there’s an embarrassment of riches for off-road runners to explore. The track above the edges between Curbar and Stanage avoids serious climbs but delivers spellbinding views, as does the circuit of Ladybower reservoir. There’s also a vibrant fell running scene, with steep climbs and recklessly fast descents, all for a very modest entry fee (fellrunner.org.uk). For organised events, try the Dig Deep Peak District Races, a weekend of racing on 20th-21st August with distances from 10km to a 60-mile ultra (digdeepraces.co.uk). And if you fancy giving trail running a go, but worry it’s too tough or you may get lost, check out one of the courses run by expert guide and OF friend Dave Taylor (fellrunningguide.co.uk) Mountain bike here: With the family, ride the pan-flat Monsal Trail, a former train line with tunnels built to echo children’s whoops and hollers. For more testing terrain try the Kinder Loop or South Peak Loop, which are ideal for very long days in the saddle and even better over a weekend (peakhorsepower.co.uk).
Road cycle here
You’ll need your climbing legs in the national park, wherever you cycle. The Peak District is home to long steady climbs like the famous Cat & Fiddle ascent, and blisteringly short, steep uphills like Winnats Pass and Monsal Head. Evans Cycles RIDE IT Peaks Sportive on 31st July squeezes 10,000 feet of climbing into just 80 miles (evanscycles.com).
Try a section of the Limestone Way for a great taste of the White Peak, or hike the early miles of the Pennine Way from Edale for a flavour of the Dark Peak’s moorland over Kinder. If you fancy a navigational challenge, try to locate the remains of crashed aircraft up at Bleaklow, no mean feat when the mist descends over the peat hags. For first time visitors to the Peak District, a walk along the Mam Tor ridge above Castleton offers jaw-dropping views into both hearts of the national park’s geologies. Triathlon here: For one of the most beautiful triathlon courses in the country, head for the Peak District Triathlon at Chatsworth House, every July (xtramileevents.com).
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