Peak District perfection

by Jo.Cooke

Famous for its wonderful walking, the Peak District also has plenty of other attractions, from ancient stone circles to spectacular caverns and seriously indulgent puddings

If the Lake District is for romantics, then the Peak District is for the rugged – well, anyone who is prepared to build up a sweat hiking up a hill with wellies or walking boots on, and getting muddy for most of the year, in pursuit of a great view. But any walk worth its salt has to start and end at a pub, as far as I am concerned. My favourite is the moderately easy circular hike you can take around Dovedale from The Izaak Walton Hotel at Ilam. Immediately you’re surrounded by rolling countryside, hills, fields of sheep and stone walls with stiles to clamber over.
The path you pick up behind the pub crosses fields and leads you up and over Bunster Hill, then down to the River Dove, edged by fanciful rock formations - the pinnacle of Ilam Rock, the Natural Arch and Lovers’ Leap. The Stepping Stones – a line of boulders – take you back across to the Izaak Walton Hotel’s side of the river where you can have a hearty pub lunch.
Another great place for a walk is Ladybower Reservoir. With fabulous views, easy parking, a range of well-marked paths to suit all abilities and a place for a cuppa and a bacon roll, it’s a real winner. It was also here, over Derwent Dam, that the real-life air crews depicted in The Dam Busters movie trained before carrying out their daring raids with the legendary bouncing bombs.
Movie and TV buffs will also be interested to know that Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The League of Gentlemen, Peak Practice and The Other Boleyn Girl were all shot in the Peak District. Pick up a Peak District Film Trail leaflet at a tourist information centre and you can drive from set to set.
The Peak District has many natural highs, but there is just as much of interest underground if you head to Castleton. Dwarfed by Mam Tor, a near 1,700-foot tall mountain, and nestling between the limestone of the White Peak and the gritstone of the Dark Peak, the area around Castleton is pocked with the UK’s most spectacular array of caves. Several are open to visitors. Choose between Blue John Cavern, which has a large collection of 19th-century mining equipment; Speedwell Cavern, where you travel by electronic boat to a subterranean lake; Peak Cavern (affectionately known as the Devil’s Arse), which has the largest natural cave in Britain; and Treak Cliff Cavern, where you can see Blue John, a blue and yellow stone that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
Take a trip onwards to Arbor Low to see another Peak District treasure. This windswept Neolithic monument, a circle of huge, weather-beaten limestone slabs has a macabre feel to it. The stones once stood upright as at Stonehenge, but now they lie horizontal like tombstones. You can walk among them and imagine the ceremonies, rituals and celebrations that may have taken place here up to 4,500 years ago. Today Arbor Low attracts New Age pilgrims who come to mark summer solstice and Hallowe'en.
Wherever you choose to wander in the Peaks, there is one very fitting way to end your day outdoors. While in the Caribbean or Med you might enjoy a sundowner, here you head to Bakewell for a slice of the pudding that’s named after the town. Not to be confused with Bakewell tart, Bakewell pudding has an almond flavoured, steam-pudding-like centre encased in crispy pastry. Eat it smothered in custard at The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop - or just about any other restaurant or tea shop in town.
The funny thing is, this seriously indulgent pudding was created by mistake, when a cook left her assistant to prepare some jam tarts. For some reason, the assistant got distracted and instead of putting the egg mixture into the pastry, she poured it on top of the jam. Well, it may have been a mistake, but like so many things in the Peak District, I will wager that it exceeds your expectations.