The traditional image of the Peak District — rolling hills and country pubs, curious sheep and dry stone walls — turns out to be a gross oversimplification. A weekend clambering over stiles and sipping pints of bitter is both feasible and enjoyable, but linger a while longer in this swathe of central England, and a whole new side reveals itself.
The historic market town of Bakewell serves as the ideal base for exploring the area: here, charmed visitors feed ducks by the river, mooch between farm shops and coo at handsome stone buildings. But the town’s chocolate-box appeal belies its industriousness; in converted mills and surrounding villages, brewers, woodcarvers, jam-makers and jewellers are busy giving the area some serious cultural clout. Sleepy rural idyll this is not.
Days in this part of the country can swing from pottery to puddings, or from deer-spotting to dark history. The boots will still get muddy, but you probably won’t have time to scrape the dirt off.
DAY ONE OPULENCE & INDULGENCE
If in doubt in these parts, the Duke of Devonshire probably owns it. The sprawling Chatsworth Estate Farm Shop in the village of Pilsley sells all the best goodies made by farmers, brewers and bakers on the Duke’s land. The range and quality are tremendous, and the Duchess’ favourite — a lime marmalade with pineapple — is the essential buy.
The centrepiece of the estate, Chatsworth House, is one of Britain’s great stately homes. The lavish wood panelling, tapestries and paintings and the showboating fountains dotting lawns sculpted by Capability Brown are as expected, but the periodic injection of modern art adds a welcome twist. Damien Hirst’s visceral Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain was a fixture in the chapel for several years, while works by artist Lucian Freud and sculptor David Nash can be found in the main building.
Monsal Head, offering one of the Peak District’s best views, lies four miles west of Chatsworth. Several walking routes slug their way up to it. Alternatively, just rock up at the car park, take a photo of Monsal Dale and the Headstone Viaduct, then maybe have an al fresco pint at Monsal Head Hotel’s Stable Bar.
It’s three miles back to Bakewell, where an afternoon mooch is in order. The Bakewell Cheese Shop, on Market Street, sells novelty varieties like mustard and ale, and whisky and ginger, and the Peak District National Park Visitor Centre doubles as a gallery, selling local crafts alongside the walking maps. Obligatory, however, is The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, which lays on the take-it-with-a-pinch-of-salt history as thick as the eggy mixture on top of the dessert’s jam layer. Devour with custard, as tradition demands.
Thornbridge Brewery, which was producing craft beer long before it was cool, sits on the site of a former mill on the edge of Bakewell. Street food vendors pop up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the real treat is tasting obscure members of the Thornbridge range. The Jaipur IPA is still the standard-bearer and the pineapply Jamestown New England IPA is great. More experimental offerings include the Florida Weisse raspberry sour and Cocoa Wonderland chocolate porter.
Wobble merrily back into town for local produce given French treatment at longstanding institution Piedaniel’s. The restaurant offers a mix of formal white tablecloths and atmospheric wooden beams, with the star being the £28 Derbyshire beef fillet topped with asparagus, wrapped in ham and served with Burgundy sauce.
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OF SALT & STARS
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