The Peak District is an upland area in England at the southern end of the Pennines. It is mostly in northern Derbyshire, but also includes parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. An area of great diversity, it is split into the northern Dark Peak, where most of the moorland is found and the geology is gritstone, and the southern White Peak, where most of the population lives and the geology is mainly limestone.
The Peak District National Park became the first national park in the United Kingdom in 1951.] With its proximity to the cities of Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Sheffield and easy access by road and rail, it attracts millions of visitors every year.
The Peak District forms the southern end of the Pennines and much of the area is uplands above 1,000 feet (300 m), with a high point on Kinder Scout of 2,087 ft (636 m). Despite its name, the landscape generally lacks sharp peaks, being characterised by rounded hills and gritstone escarpments (the “edges”). The area is surrounded by major conurbations, including Huddersfield, Manchester, Sheffield, Derby and Stoke-on-Trent.
The National Park covers 555 square miles (1,440 km2) of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and South and West Yorkshire, including the majority of the area commonly referred to as the Peak. Its northern limits lie along the A62 road between Marsden and Meltham, north east of Oldham, while its southernmost point is on the A52 road on the outskirts of Ashbourne in Derbyshire. The Park boundaries were drawn to exclude large built-up areas and industrial sites from the park; in particular, the town of Buxton and the adjacent quarries are located at the end of the Peak Dale corridor, surrounded on three sides by the Park.
The town of Bakewell and numerous villages are included within the boundaries, as is much of the (non-industrial) west of Sheffield. As of 2010, it is the fifth largest National Park in England and Wales. In the UK, the designation “National Park” means that there are planning restrictions to protect the area from inappropriate development and a Park Authority to look after it, but does not imply that the land is owned by the government, or that it is uninhabited.
The area has been a tourist destination for centuries, with an early tourist description of the area, De Mirabilibus Pecci or The Seven Wonders of the Peak by Thomas Hobbes, being published in 1636. Much scorn was poured on these seven wonders by subsequent visitors, including the journalist Daniel Defoe who described the moors by Chatsworth as “a waste and houling wilderness” and was particularly contemptuous of the cavern near Castleton known as the ‘Devil’s Arse’ or Peak Cavern. Visitor numbers did not increase significantly until the Victorian era, with railway construction providing ease of access and a growing cultural appreciation of the Picturesque and Romantic. Guides such as John Mawe’s Mineralogy of Derbyshire (1802) and William Adam’s Gem of the Peak (1843) generated interest in the area’s unique geology.
Buxton has a long history as a spa town due to its geothermal spring which rises at a constant temperature of 28 °C. It was initially developed by the Romans around AD 78, when the settlement was known as Aquae Arnemetiae, or the spa of the goddess of the grove. It is known that Bess of Hardwick and her husband the Earl of Shrewsbury, “took the waters” at Buxton in 1569, and brought Mary, Queen of Scots, there in 1573. The town largely grew in importance in the late 18th century when it was developed by the 5th Duke of Devonshire in style of the spa of Bath.
A second resurgence a century later attracted the eminent Victorians such as Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood, who were drawn by the reputed healing properties of the waters. The railway reached Buxton in 1863. Buxton has many notable buildings such as ‘The Crescent’ (1780–1784), modelled on Bath’s Royal Crescent, by John Carr, ‘The Devonshire’ (1780–1789), ‘The Natural Baths’, and ‘The Pump Room’ by Henry Currey. The Pavilion Gardens were opened in 1871. Buxton Opera House was designed by Frank Matcham in 1903 and is the highest opera house in the country. Matcham was the theatrical architect who designed the London Palladium, the London Coliseum, and the Hackney Empire.
There is a great tradition of public access and outdoor recreation in the area. The Peak District formed a natural hinterland and rural escape for the populations of industrial Manchester and Sheffield, and remains a valuable leisure resource in a largely post-industrial economy.
In a 2005 survey of visitors to the Peak District, 85% of respondents mentioned “scenery and landscape” as a reason for visiting.