The Peak District is the UK’s oldest national park, having been created in 1951. It covers 555 sq mi and it attracts more than twenty million visitors each year. The Peak District National Park encompasses the southern part of the Pennines, a range of high hills which forms the ‘backbone of England’.
The national park is mostly located within Derbyshire and only a small part is in Yorkshire. The Peak District is usually divided between two main areas – the ‘White Peak’ in the South and the ‘Dark Peak’ in the North. The White Peak owes its name to its limestone subsoil. It is an area of forests and the soft soil contains many caves. The Dark Peak is made of millstone grit, a hard, grey stone which retains water. There, the soil is damp and poor, and the area is covered with moorland. The Yorkshire part of the national park is entirely located within the Dark Peak region.
Although it is rather small, the Yorkshire part of Peak District is nonetheless an interesting area. In West Yorkshire, there is Marsden Moor, a vast expanse of moorland which is managed by the National Trust. In South Yorkshire, there are many walking opportunities, for instance around Sheffield, starting from Moscar or Lodge Moor.
In South Yorkshire, there is also Howden Moor, a wild area which comprises Margery Hill, the highest summit in the county. Sheffield residents are very familiar with Mam Tor, Edale and the Stanage Edge escarpment, three must-dos in the national park, which are however located in Derbyshire. All these sites are reachable by train on the Hope Valley line.
Despite what its name may suggest, the Peak District is not a very steep area. Altitude hardly excesses 1,500 feet, and the ‘peaks’ do not refer to the hills, but to the many gritstone escarpments in the area. Most of the Dark Peak is covered by large expanses of moorland and peatland. Although these environments look wild and untouched, they were actually created by the hand of man. Originally, the area was covered by birch and willow trees. The forests were meager and people prefered to graze sheep rather than exploit wood. The sheep prevented trees to grow and instead heather, grass and fern colonised the land.
Flora is typical of the English moorland – peat moss, heather, cranberry, cotton-grass, bracken; and some relics of the Ice Age – juniper, bunchberry and bog-rosemary. As in the whole of the Pennines, the Peak District is populated by a wide variety of birds – falcons, grouse, snipes, plovers, larks, red kites.