If the UK was a pregnant lady lying on her back, her swollen belly of miraculous wonders would be the Peak District in Derbyshire, England. In fact, if it wasn’t for Pythagoras and his theories, at its highest peaks you could wish to see both the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean on a walk in the Peak District if your eyesight was good enough!
And, being as it’s not as grandiose and majestic as say, the Lake District or Scottish Highlands, the crowds of tourists aren’t as substantial in the Derbyshire Dales either. This means that a trip to the Peak District on any chosen day could be a pleasant discovery of pretty villages, magnificent viewpoints and wonderful hikes without even having to share them with another soul. (That is, of course, unless you go to Dovedale or Matlock!) And, if you’re thinking of making a holiday of it, there’s also a plethora of good value accommodation to chose from.
So, without further ado, we would like to share with you some great walks in the Peak District that we’ve been taking for years. The best places in Derbyshire for breathtaking hikes and beautiful scenery, including a few walks the kids won’t find too hard either. It’s by no means a conclusive list, but they’re our favourite places for a walk with the family, and we’ll tell you our reasons why.
The Best Walks In The Peak District
Ranging from 1 to 8 miles, all of the Peak District walks that make our favourite’s list are circular – I can’t abide a non-circular route, who even derives a pleasure from the decision to just ‘right, let’s turn around now and walk back the way we came’ !? Preposterous.
So here you have it; our top 5 Peak District walks worth packing a picnic for…
1. Monsal Head To Ashford In The Water
If you’re looking for easy Peak District walks, perhaps to do with kids, this 4 mile circular route is perfect. We prefer to start at Monsal Head so that we can finish up at one of our favourite pubs in Little Longstone – The Packhorse Inn (it has a beer garden for summer days and an open fire for the more chillier weather, plus the beer and burgers are top-notch too).
Monsal Head is a well-known Derbyshire postcard picture – you’ve probably seen the Headstone Viaduct representing the Peak District on tv programmes and the like. And, it’s here that you will start your walk. The first quarter of your hike is on the Monsal Trail – a disused railway line once linking Manchester to London which closed in 1968. In this section of the trail you’ll go through the Headstone Tunnel, which is always a bit of excitement for the kids – just make sure you keep an eye open for cyclists that don’t ring their bells!
The rest of the details for one of our favourite family walks in the Peak District can be found here but it’s approximately a 2 hour hike with kids. It also takes in the very pretty Derbyshire village, Ashford-in-the-Water, where you will definitely want to stop and take some photos of the infamous medieval Sheepwash Bridge, and maybe stop for some refreshments or the loo.
This popular, and easy, Derbyshire walk is a great all-rounder; impressive feats of engineering, rolling countryside vista’s, a really handsome village, and one of the best pubs in the Peak District. And, if you’re feeling really lazy (which we often are) we just go for a half-hour ramble around the base of the viaduct and down the river before finishing with a Mr Whippy from the icecream van and a pint at The Packhorse Inn.
2. Ladybower & Derwent Reservoir
I occasionally used to get a hankering for a weekend in the Lake District or the Scottish Lochs to satiate that need for perspective, which can only come from standing on a very high peak or by vast open water. Then we discovered Ladybower and Derwent, right on our doorstep.
We had actually lived nearby for years before some friends suggested these Peak Dsitrict routes to us and I was about to be completely blown over by a majestic piece of scenery just over an hour away from our house! We’d been doing Peak District hiking for years and I’ll never bore of the rolling hills, stone villages, peaks and dales, but Ladybower and Derwent are something else. They are impressively magnificent and as awesome as any view in The Lakes, mostly down to their outstanding features – the two reservoirs.
Nearby Bamford Edge is wonderful too, definitely one of the most rewarding short walks in the Peak District National Park, but mostly because you get a helping of Ladybower with your view. It’s only a quick ten-minute (steep) walk from the road if you’re early enough to get a parking spot. Bamford Edge is one of the highest peaks around and there are great views down over Snakes Pass which crosses the reservoir. It’s also a popular take-off spot for paragliders.
But if you’re interested in more of a hike, there are a handful of different trails around Ladybower and Derwent and whichever way you choose the vistas are incredible. This is by far the most impressive scenery in all of the Peak District.
There are dozens of Ladybower and Derwent Water walking routes to choose from and Komoot have documented 13 of them, ranging from 4.5 to 14 miles, but the majority an average of about 6 or 7 miles. We usually pick number 8; the Derwent Damn loop from Fairholmes car park as the approach to Ladybower Reservoir is the most breathtaking, one of the best Peak District views we have ever come across.
3. Ashover Rock And Cocking Tor
This is by far the most regular Peak District routes we hike as a family. It’s our comfy spot, our treasured friend, our ‘obvious choice’ hike. And I’ve often wondered why we this has become one of our favourite circular walks in Derbyshire, but it’s a hard one to answer. Perhaps it’s because its fairly undiscovered so you’re almost guaranteed to get the countryside to yourself. Or maybe it’s just because it ticks a lot of boxes, possibly even all of them (and I have a lot of boxes).
The village of Ashover at the head of the Amber Valley in Derbyshire is the starting point for this 4.5 mile Peak District circular walk. Quaint enough and with 2 great pubs, Ashover serves as the perfect introduction and conclusion to a wonderful walk. Highlights of this walk include a disused quarry, a hidden Elizabethan Manor, the River Amber and our favourite – the 360° views from Ashover Rock.
It’s worth noting that the first part of the walk is strenuous and begins with a steep ascent from the village of Ashover up to the highest point of your hike at Ashover Rock. However, it’s always been a plus point for me that you get the hardest part over with first, because once you have reached the top and sat for a while to enjoy the views, it’s all downhill from here. Plus, they are incredible Peak District views! A pointer-map guides you in the right direction to make out landmarks like Chesterfield’s crooked spire, Hardwick Hall and even as far as the power station towers at Ratcliffe (J24 on M1). The rest of the walk is a steady descent through some of Amber Valley’s beauty spots along either quiet roads or old miners paths.
For the full guide on this Peak District walk, with a map included, please check out DerbyshireLife.com
4. Chatsworth House And Edensor
Once upon a time, we were searching for a walk that encompassed the beautiful Derbyshire Dales and also tied in a stately home in order to impress some overseas guests. Mention Mr Darcy and Pemberley to an American and they go weak at the knees, so it seemed like finding some walks at Chatsworth would be the perfect introduction to Derbyshire and the quintessentially British way of life.
It quickly became one of our favourite walks in Derbyshire though, once we discovered some of the extra bonuses you get for your hike. Edensor is one of the cutest villages in all of England, let alone Derbyshire, and is an absolute joy to stroll around. Plus, if you’re interested in British history you also get a retrospective peek at a piece of Mary Queen of Scots later life when you pass the Bower where she was comfortably imprisoned. Bess of Hardwick, the lady of the manor, became a friend to Mary despite being the custodian of her incarceration here at the Chatsworth Estate.
This circular Derbyshire walk is 4 miles with no steep inclines and some gorgeous spots to picnic along the River Derwent. Since there are no decent pubs along your walk you can instead enjoy some coffee and cake at the Chatsworth Garden Centre, right by where you park. It’s a firm favourite with the over 60’s. They also have a great selection of filled baguettes at their Deli counter that you could spruce up your picnic with too.
This is perhaps the gentlest of the walks on this list but you cannot beat the views of the grand Chatsworth Estate. For the full walking route, check out the Peak-District website. (There are a few more walks near Chatsworth on their website, but we like the approach to the estate of this one).
Incidentally, if you were making a weekend of visiting the Peak District, the nearby Devonshire Arms at Beeley is the perfect place to stop. Many of our friends have made this an Anniversary weekend treat for couples because it’s the perfect combo of cosy and luxurious accompanied by a restaurant serving award-winning food – we can highly recommend it for a short break in the Peak District. You’re so close to Bakewell and Haddon Hall to complete your ‘English-Experience’ short break too. For the best deals at the Devonshire Arms, click here.
5. The Longshaw Estate Walks And Padley Gorge
The Longshaw Estate has belonged to the National Trust since 1931 but its history goes much further back. And, the things we love most about this dramatic piece of Derbyshire are the ancient forests, large expanses of English heather and imposing rock-faces with reminders of old mines. There are a good handful of walks to choose from and you can either download a printable before you get there or follow the signposts. Or if you’d like a bit of history with your hike you can even join a guided walk several times a week for free – the details are all on the National Trust website.
The estate is home to some of the best walks in the Peak District and our favourite section is the atmospheric woods which follows the Burbage Brook and Padley Gorge – they’re like something out of Middle Earth and conjure all sorts of fairytales in your mind’s eye. Knarled tree’s, a handful of waterfalls and even the odd unofficial sculpture to pique the kids’ curiosity. A drizzly day at Padley Gorge is better than any sunny day at the office and we often reserve this little Peak District walk for the more inclement weather, when the trees can be your umbrella and the drizzle just adds to the atmosphere. There’s a nice 3 mile circular route which takes you by Owler Tor for a picturesque look-out and back around to follow the Burbage Brook to where you started. Plus, there is the added advantage of an 18th century inn for a swift half en route – The Sir William at Grindleford.
But I’m giving you two for your money with this entry because starting from the same place, the Longshaw Estate tea rooms, you could equally choose to hike in the opposite direction and follow the old packhorse track towards Curbar Edge for some breath-taking views and often some red deer. This walk is a lot more out in the open, and higher up, than the previous Padley Gorge hike but if the weather is good this is one of the best hikes in the Peak District that is pretty in all seasons – Bluebell woods in Spring, Heather and deer in Summer and snow-capped moorland in the Winter. The walk is about 4.5 miles, takes around 3 hours and is dog-friendly. We love this walk – it blows the cobwebs off and places you in one of the most scenic parts of the Peak District.
The Peak District National Park in Derbyshire has some varied scenery, from atmospheric moorland to sweet rolling countryside hills and valleys. You could spend the rest of your life walking in Derbyshire and still not see it all, but we hope we have given you some good ideas to get you started. Some of these walks in Derbyshire are popular with hikers and some are a little more off the beaten path – so we hope you can find something to suit your requirements.
If you’re thinking of exploring a bit more of the UK this year, why not have a look at some of our other suggestions for weekend break destinations in Britain here.
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