The Peak District, a large area of open country in north Derbyshire, is a landscape dominated by wild moorlands interspersed with dramatic rocky crags and mountainous outcrops, known locally as “edges,” and rising to heights of more than 2,000 feet (680 m) above sea level. The region is peppered with ancient stone circles, barrows and other relics from prehistoric times. Many of its tiny stone villages have remained virtually unaltered for hundreds of years.
Large tracts of the district are designated as a National Park and are thus protected from modern development. Thus the remoter parts of the area are best explored on foot, since road-building has been kept to a minimum.
From Sheffield, the A57 leads west, passing the Ladybower Reservoir, Derwent Water and the Vale of Derwent, thence to wind its way up a small river valley, through Hope Forest to Snake Pass (1,680 ft/510 m). Even higher are Kinder Scout to the left (south) and Bleaklow Hill to the right (north), both good challenges for hill walkers and climbers.
After a pause at the top of Snake Pass, the A57 goes downhill into the small industrial town of Glossop. Turn south here onto the A624, which leads past Hayfield to Chapel-en-le-Frith; here, turn right onto the main A6 and continue west until you reach the left-hand turnoff of the smaller A5004, signposted to Whaley Bridge. Passing through that small town, this road proceeds on its tortuous way beside the very pretty river Goyt up the Dale of Goyt, well-wooded and rich in wildflowers; it continues on up the valley side and into Buxton.
More intrepid motorists can turn to the right after Whaley Bridge and follow a minor road to Goyt’s Bridge, just upstream of the Fernilee Reservoir; turning left there, they can continue to follow the road beside the river up to The Cat and Fiddle. This is not only, as its name implies, an inn, but a bleak pass at an elevation of 1,795 feet (547 m) above sea level.
To the southeast is Axe Edge, a popular spot for rock climbers, while the superb moorland below it attracts walkers. At this point the minor road joins the A537 and, after turning left, it in turn merges with the A54 which leads directly into Buxton. Here the route rejoins the A5004 from Whaley Bridge.
From a visitor’s point of view, the old spa town of Buxton is the only major town in the whole Peak District. At an altitude of 1,007 feet (310 m), it is one of the highest towns in England, but because it is surrounded by even higher wooded hills, it is well sheltered.
The Romans were the first to appreciate its exceptional waters, and it has been a popular resort town ever since. Architecturally, its greatest benefactor was the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who, by financing the building of the magnificent Crescent in the 18th century, helped the town to become a serious and elegant rival to Bath.