Inspired British Breaks
Peak District

Location: Piccadilly Railway Station

Mon - Fri 08:00-18:00 Sat 09:00-13:00 Sun closed

Car hire in Manchester - Piccadilly Railway Station

Not three minutes after driving away from Manchester Piccadilly I noticed unfamiliar metal tracks across the junction ahead. Suddenly a tram loomed and trundled by. That was a first, but not the only surprise on a day which began in one of Britain’s busiest cities. The satnav said only 20 miles to the Peak District, but I didn’t quite believe it. Pressing on along the A57 through Gorton, crossing the M60, and continuing due east, sure enough, in less than one hour all trace of urban life was gone, exchanged for spectacular high moorland. Admittedly, it hadn’t been rush hour, but in early afternoon this had to be one of the quickest transits from urban jungle to natural wilderness.

The Peak District National Park lies at the southern tip of the Pennines, an area of more than 500 square miles, most in Derbyshire but it straddles Staffordshire and other counties, too. High moorland and gritstone ridge define the northern Dark Peak area, the limestone White Peak includes the Georgian spa town of Buxton, Matlock and Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell pudding, while moorland and pasture characterise the South West Peak.

I continued along the A624, between dramatic ridges, to Hayfield which sits below Kinder Scout, a plateau on which a mass trespass in the Thirties led, subsequently, to the establishment of the national parks. In the village, I took my own direct action, at Millie’s Tea Rooms, which combined the dual attractions of cake and handmade chocolates – everything from seasalt caramel cups to Christmas brandy truffles resembling mini festive puddings. Across the street in Lomas & Lomas, a tiny design store owned by a husband and wife team, was less perishable temptation – unique textile designs and homeware, but also photographer Garry Lomas’s arresting, framed landscapes of the national park - a foretaste of things to come.

En route for Castleton, the road narrowed and threaded between eerie limestone peaks. This was the Winnats Pass, but it could have been Middle Earth. Similarly awe-inspiring, at dusk, the following day, were mystical rocks known as The Roaches in the South West Peak. As their gloomy shapes darkened, a lone, roped climber carefully descended in the gloaming. 

There were other highlights, from a cable car ride over the Heights of Abraham, a country park dating back to the 18th century, to Buxton’s grandiose Georgian architecture, from nibbling on little Bakewell puddings from The Old Original Pudding Shop in Bakewell to the glory that is Chatsworth House. Sometimes known as the Palace of the Peaks, in parkland landscaped by Capability Brown, it stands on the banks of the River Derwent. One week would barely be enough here, let alone an afternoon to absorb art, sculpture, books and antiques on a tour which commences in the magnificent 17th-century Painted Hall with its allegorical mural of the ascension of Julius Caesar. Even the stable block, built to the north-east of the house by James Paine, is an ornate structure, given new life as a lively quadrant of cafes and a shop. In mid-November until early December the breeze carries an aroma of roasting chestnuts and the hurdy gurdy sound of an organ grinder as Chatsworth’s annual Christmas market takes place and more than 100 glittering wooden stalls spill out from the Grade I stableblock down along the north side of the stately home.

Simple pleasures revealed themselves, too. At Pilsley, in The Devonshire Arms, I ate an indulgent ploughman’s lunch (scotch egg, a mini-pie, ham, cheese, tiny pickled vegetables), drank coffee overlooking the ancient church at Tissington and breathed in the enticing waft of woodsmoke as I stepped into The George at Alstonefield. Then there was natural spring water, back at my base, the New Bath Hotel in the limestone gorge of Matlock Bath, a curious strip of cafes, bars and small tourist attractions. The spa water, from beneath the hotel itself, was best experienced in the spa, I figured. Sauna and steam rooms came complete with an outdoor, brave-it-if-you-dare, cold shower, right beneath the stars in a clear, inky sky, a modern day reminder of what brought the Georgians and Victorians here in the first place. 

Start your trip

Getting there: Pick up your car from Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station, Boad Street, Level 3, Long stay carpark. 

Tel: 0161 8501933.

Or pick up your car from your local Hertz location:

For more on the venues mentioned in this feature, visit:

Millie’s Tearoom

Lomas & Lomas

Heights of Abraham


Devonshire Arms Pilsley

The George, Alstonefield

Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop

New Bath Hotel

Peak District National Park

Visit Peak District

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