As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Peak District, Nicola Forsyth picks out the options for a low carbon holiday among this rich and varied National Park. From the heath moorland of the Dark Peak to the river valleys and caves of the White Peak, across rolling hills and dales, lush meadows and leafy forests, the Peak District is home to some of the country's finest scenery.
A little known fact, the Peak District was the first National Park in Britain, designated back in 1951 - and with good reason. The Park boasts 1,600 miles of public rights of way and 58 miles of cycle trails spanning five counties: Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
With attractions ranging from hiking and cycling to canoeing and windsurfing on reservoirs and rivers there’s plenty to do for lovers of the great outdoors and families. From the delightful stepping stones in the scenic valley of Dovedale, cycling the 13 mile Tissington Trail and stopping off in the chocolate box town of Bakewell to sample the infamous Bakewell tart - these are just a few of the highlights the Peak District has to offer.
Our Green Traveller's Guide to the Peak District highlights those local businesses that have been awarded the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark. The award is given to local businesses that put the environment at the heart of what they do and show passion for the Peak District. By frequenting these businesses you are helping to protect the things that make the Peak District special - while having an authentic experience that you'll never forget.
Where to stay
Whether you decide to camp, hole up in a cosy cottage or upgrade to a luxury hotel, you won’t be short of choice, and chances are you’ll wake up to stunning scenery that will help lift the weight of the world.
All of our places have been chosen for their superb location – allowing you to begin your adventures from your very doorstep, so there’s no need to drive anywhere. Whether you’re looking to return to comforting home cooked food, a glass of wine in front of a log fire or star gazing from a yurt or tent, no option will disappoint and you'll be rewarded with peace and quiet.
Better still, all of the places we list have all been awarded the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark, which highlights owners who are committed to conserving the natural environment that you have come to enjoy.
If you’re looking for some outdoor luxury, you may wish to consider one of the self-catering log cabins, glamping pods or the gypsy caravan on offer at Hoe Grange Holidays. Nestled between the quaint towns of Ashbourne and Bakewell you’ll have endless countryside to explore from your doorstep and a Swedish log-fired hot tub and sauna to wind down in at the end of the day. The family-run farm has won awards for its dedication to eco-principles - from its farming practices to its cleaning products and the materials used to construct the cabins.
If you’re looking for a cosy cottage to escape to, then Wheeldon Trees Farm Holiday Cottages offer a choice of nine, sleeping 1-5 people. The owners martin and Deborah live onsite and offer a welcoming breakfast basket and home cooked meals using as much locally sourced produce as possible. Avid eco-enthusiasts, they will also offer discounts to those arriving by public transport or by bike - or they will happily ferry guests in their hybrid car from nearby train and bus stations. They will even refund the costs of local bus journeys you take during your stay and on-site cycle hire is available, as well as secure bike storage. Dogs are also welcome so you can make it a trip for the entire family to enjoy - and you won’t be short of places to walk!
Another great choice is Beechenhill Farm where you can stay in a secluded cottage on an organic dairy farm, complete with log fires, a wood-fired hot tub and barrel sauna for the ultimate unwinding holiday. The Farm is also the perfect spot for an eco wedding venue if you have more romantic intentions - this I can vouch for as I was lucky enough to witness two of my best friends tie the knot here a few years ago! Order local produce in advance of your stay and it will be waiting for you on arrival.
For something a little more quirky, Secret Cloud House Holidays offer a number of eco-conscious yurts and tipis that open out to stunning views. Complete with wood fired hot tubs, an essential oil sauna and a 'Shepherds Rest' treatment room they offer pure luxury. The toiletries are handmade in Derbyshire while Staffordshire wool blankets will keep you snug at night - before you wake up to a hamper of delicious local food for breakfast.
If you are looking for more budget and family-friendly options there are a number of YHA’s dotted around the Park - notably the YHA National Forest at the Conkers visitor centre, which gives access to walking and cycling routes as well as archery, birds of prey handling and llama trekking nearby. Families can also make use of the onsite cafe and games room. Campers can pitch up at Callow Top, a family-friendly camping and caravan park with onsite pub, pool and play area that also offers easy access to Ashbourne and the Tissington Trail. I spent a summer or two of my childhood here!
Where to eat
No visit would be complete without sampling the finest culinary treats the region has to offer. Be sure to intersperse your activities with pit stops to the many quaint and delicious eateries and traditional watering holes along the way.
As you might expect from a National Park with a strong agricultural and farming heritage, local food is big business in the Peak District. The region is packed with a rich variety of local specialities: from lamb which has grazed on limestone dales, to organically-reared beef, to the hundreds of dairy products – cheeses, butter, ice cream – produced on farms which manage their field edges, woodlands and streams to benefit wildlife, and to the dozens of locally-brewed ales.
One thing is certain, you won’t go hungry, and if your trip coincides with one of the monthly farmers markets, you can return home well stocked.
First and foremost, you must try the famous Bakewell Pudding. One of the best spots to sample it is Bloomers of Bakewell - you may have to queue but believe me it’s worth it! The traditional bakery is one of only two in the world to know the secret recipe for the Bakewell Pudding. If you’re more of a savoury person, don't’ leave without a wedge of Hartington Stilton and some Derbyshire oatcakes to slather it on.
You can pick up more local fare at Grindleford Community Shop, which lovingly supports a wealth of local food producers, artisans and projects as well as many organic, fair trade, eco and wholefood alternatives. Wine lovers (like me) will also want to stop off at the rather charming Hartington Cheese & Wine Co. (or two of its smaller shops at Eyam Hall and Arkwright’s Mill in Cromford) to stock up on locally made British wines and cheeses.
Another locally-made delicacy the Peak District is not short of is ice-cream. Matlock Meadows Ice Cream Parlour, which is heated using a biomass boiler, offers a range of handmade ice-cream, made from the milk of its own dairy herd. Meanwhile, Blaze Farm also makes its famous 'Hilly Billy' ice cream using milk from its own herd and offers a few experimental flavours like turkish delight with white chocolate chip in addition to the norm. Far from being just a place to eat - there are numerous nature trails that'll take you on different routes through the farm, plus you can watch lambing in Spring and sheep-shearing during the Summer.
For dinners out, the award-winning Orangery Restaurant at Losehill House Hotel & Spa strives to provide the highest quality food without compromising on quality or ethics. The restaurant’s pride in its quality ingredients is evident from the exceptional detail listed on its website! Savour the excellent food against a beautiful backdrop of rolling countryside - and what’s more, it can be easily reached by public transport.
For quality traditional yet hearty pub fare, head to The Red Lion Inn. Alongside old favourites such as a Sunday carvery, it also rustles up dishes with a Sardinian twist - and at certain points in the year, full Sardinian banqueting evenings. The owner and chef makes his own Birchover Blue cheese using local milk and brews a range of real ales and an Italian style lager onsite. A short stroll from Ladybower Reservoir, you'll find The Yorkshire Bridge Inn Restaurant - an award-winning inn supporting local suppliers and traditional community events. An ideal base from which to explore this part of the Peak District, you’ll certainly be happy to reward yourself afterwards by sampling the pub’s extensive menu and great choice of beers and wines.
If you’re in need of a pit stop, Cottage Kitchen is a welcoming countryside café and farm shop offering a variety of pastries, cakes and afternoon tea as well as breakfast and lunch. It also sells Cottage Delight - homemade fudge produced by the owner since 1974
Where to visit
Spanning 550 square miles, the Peak District National Park is home to many outdoor centres and pursuits, castles, galleries and eco-conscious and artisan shops.
No trip to the Peaks would be complete without a stop off to marvel at the grandeur of sprawling Chatsworth House. Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire since the 15th Century, its beautifully ornate rooms are filled with stunning architecture and famous art works. Sitting on the banks of the River Derwent, the 1,000-acre park is surrounded by picturesque gardens and fountains.
If this leaves you hungry for more medieval manors, be sure to drop by Haddon Hall. Dating back to the 12th Century, it is home to Lord and Lady Edward Manners, whose family have lived here since 1567. Set within a stunning organic parkland, it is known to practice methods from Tudor times and takes care to reduce its impact on the environment. Unsurprisingly it’s charming setting has seen it become a popular choice as a film location, including: Jane Eyre, Mary Queen of Scots, The Other Boleyn Girl, Pride & Prejudice and The Princess Bride. You will find another ancient wonder in Peveril Castle, which overlooks the village of Castleton. First built by Henry II in 1176 it is one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses, and offers stunning views out over the Hope Valley.
For an insight into Derbyshire’s mining roots and the area’s 2,000 year history, the Mining Museum gives a brutal account of what life was like underground. You can even try it yourself by climbing and clamouring your way through a maze of tunnels. For more information on the geology, archeology and history of the Peak District head to the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, where you can view the 'Wonders of the Peak' time tunnel, including a collection of Ice Age animal bones and teeth plucked from Peak District caves and quarries as well a local fine art collection.
For something a little more modern head to Dove Valley Centre. Its eco-converted Haybarn Studio is the base for arts and crafts and environmental courses and events allowing guests to take part in a range of rural crafts courses, from jewellery making to a fantastic 'Biodiversity Day', run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
Things to do
Undeniably, the main reason people flock to the Peak District is to explore its breathtaking scenery and reacquaint themselves with the great outdoors, be it on foot or by bike. Throw in top quality and eco-conscious accommodation, illustrious history and fine local food and drink and there’s little more you could want in a holiday.
Boasting some 65+ miles of off-road trails and lanes, the Peaks offers endless options for walking and cycling for all abilities, while horse riding enthusiasts can choose from a wide range of specialist trails and self-guided adventures. Less well known, the area offers some of the best caving and climbing in the world.
For family-friendly and gentle cycling, the Tissington Trail offers a rewarding 13 mile route along the old railway tracks from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay. It’s one of my earliest memories, and where I became a confident cyclist - and I have continued to visit ever since! If you don’t have your own bike, hire one from the starting point in Ashbourne and take in sweeping valley views before enjoying an ice-cream at refreshment points along the way. Children (and adults alike) will love the ancient tunnel at the beginning of the trail - listen out for the sound installation. Walkers and horse riders can also enjoy the trail.
Another of my fondest childhood memories is hopping across the Stepping Stones in Dovedale in the southern Peak District. There are a number of walks to reach them, but try the leisurely 1.5 mile walk starting at Ilam Park across limestone countryside to reach the stepping stones, which have been in place since the middle of the 19th century. For a longer walk, continue along the valley to Milldale.
The Peak District is easily accessible to navigate alone, but if you’re looking to learn more about the area while covering the must-see highlights then consider a guided tour with an experienced guide. Sally Mosley Guided Walks has a number of walks, some of which are themed - from brewery tours and food tasting trails to a Poole's Cavern underground experience while Peak Walking Adventures offers guided hill and moorland walks Peak with minimal environmental impact. Simply Walk takes the stress out of organising your trip by offering a self-guided walking holiday package.
Runners may want to sign up for the annual Ashbourne Half Marathon. Starting in Ashbourne, which sits on the periphery of the Peak District, the half marathon is a small locally-run event open to around 200 runners, and it is one of the most scenic I have experienced. You’ll easily forget the toll on your feet, as you admire the stunning views, power up a few peaks and glide past cosy cottages adorned with sweet-smelling and colourful flower beds.
For the more adventurous, I recommend the Roaches - a magnet for hikers and climbers located just above Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir. Climb the relatively easy boulders, rocky formations and, gritstone ridge (some thought to resemble mythical mermaids) to enjoy countryside views for as far as the eye can see. Be sure to start your day with a visit to any number of quaint cafes serving up cream teas and hearty breakfast fare. For more technical outdoor activities, Acclimbatize offers experiences and training for a range of pursuits, including mountaineering, rock climbing, caving and potholing, trekking and biking. Beyond the Edge is a specialist mountain training company, offering a range of adventures, training, technical advice and consultancy.
For activities requiring a little less exertion, why not try your hand at horticulture. Peak Organics hosts a range of workshops and drop-in sessions, teaching the basic principles of organic horticulture and sustainable gardening to worm composting. Or if you’d rather learn the basics of dry stone walling, Walls for the Future will be happy to impart their wisdom and craftsmanship with you.
See also our Car-free guide to the Peak District
For more ideas of green holidays in the Peak District, see our: