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Published: June 24th 2013
Stunning first valley that we encountered.
First of all, some personal news.
My company announced just before I left for Brazil, that we would be shifting half our office from London to Amsterdam - which means that if all goes according to plan, my days in London are numbered and I will be moving to Amsterdam at the start of next year.
I am definitely excited about it, as I think I have run my race in London - I am looking forward to a fresh start in a one of my favourite cities in Europe, a city I felt was eminently liveable the first time I visited the place
. I'm a bit tired of London's hustle and bustle and am looking forward to moving somewhere a bit smaller, friendlier and laid-back.
The upshot of this is that I have suddenly realised there are a whole lot places in the UK that I have still to visit before I leave - so you'll be seeing a few more UK-based entries in the next six months or so, starting with this one; a long weekend's walking in the Peak District.
Work was mental before I left for Brazil
and it was just as mental when I got back, which explains the relative recent
I have mentioned many times how nonplussed I have been about English cities, but I have to say the English countryside is among the best I've ever seen.
hiatus in blog entries.
Heading up to Derbyshire with me very early on a Saturday morning, was a new travel pal - Hanson (no, not that one).
Hanson is childhood friend of one of my best mates Kelley, who has featured before on this blog in Krakow
. Anyone who's a close friend of Kelley is bound to become a good friend of mine, and with mutual interests in football and travelling, we certainly had lots to talk about.
As I was saying before, work had been crazy and thus I slept for most of our train journey up to Sheffield. Delays to our train however meant that we missed our connecting train into the Peak District by minutes, and were left with an hour to kill in Sheffield. With neither of us having visited Sheffield before, we thought we might as well have a look around.
Among the sights we saw were the glass-covered Winter Gardens, the town hall and the delightfully manicured Peace Gardens. For sports fans, a walk past The Crucible theatre - the spiritual home of snooker - was a must, and it just so happened that the World Snooker Championships were
Stalactites & Stalagmites
Inside the Blue John Cavern.
taking place while we were in town. Big screens were set up in the square in front of it for those not lucky enough to have tickets to go inside.
Our tour of Sheffield was over in just 45 minutes - surely one of the shortest walking tours of a relatively major city I have ever done, which sadly tells you much of what there is to see and do in Sheffield.
Our train into the Peak District was not so much a train, but a bus on rails. At least the dinky set up was recognised by our humorous driver which livened up our "donkey ride through the valleys" to Edale, where we were staying.
Edale is no more than a village - a few stone buildings, a church, a visitor centre and a couple of pubs, one of which we stopped at for a hearty lunch. Having picked up a couple of trail pamphlets from the visitor centre we marked out a six-hour route through the "Dark Peak" area of the Peak District. Time wasn't on our side however - once we made the 30-minute trek to our hostel, it was 3pm before we properly got going.
A large group of weird and wonderful rock formations up the top of the Kinder Plateau.
Never one to shirk a challenge and avoid risks however, I convinced Hanson we could do the walk before sundown, which at this time of year, was round about 9.30pm anyway.
The name "Peak District" is a little misleading - there are no mountains in the area but there are loads of hills that provide sweeping views of some of the most scenic countryside in the UK. We were pleasantly surprised by the landscape - Grindsbrook Clough in particular was stunning and scrambling up the rocks at the end of it was fun. Also fun was using my new DSLR camera, kindly given to me as a Sony freebie by Davies before he left. The quality and the colour of the photos I was taking was awesome and rather than looking like a numpty tourist with my point-and-shoot, I now felt and looked like a professional when taking photographs.
We were never quite sure of exactly where we were on our walk though - the maps we had weren't greatest and the walk instructions were rather cryptic. There were lots of named landmarks mentioned in the instructions that didn't seem to appear on the map and with names such
View from the top of the plateau.
as "Pym's Chair", "Jacob's Ladder" and "The Woolpacks", we wondered if the instruction's author was high at the time he wrote them. Being asked to "cross a culvert" before "ignoring the peat gully 'grough'" didn't help either, having never heard of such words, like, ever. It was about at this point where the instructions just didn't make sense any more and so we gave up trying to decipher them.
We did know however, that we wanted to get to the top of Kinder Plateau, which provided some stunning views over the Edale Valley. Having got to the top of a narrow gorge, the sight of the peak flattening out for as far as the eye could see assured us that we had reached the top of the plateau. It was mightily windy up there though, the wind and my cold hands making it difficult to take photos.
Walking along the plateau for a while, we were surprised by the rugged, barren landscape we were walking through and the strange, almost alien rock formations that we were encountering, which were in contrast to the green valleys and farmland at the bottom of the hills. It definitely made for a scenic and
Peculiar Rock Formations
The rock formations up the top of the Kinder Plateau were out of keeping with the rest of the area - rocky, rugged and kind of alien.
From our vantage point at the top of the plateau, we could see a path that would take us back down into the valley from which we came, and so just followed it down. After descending a steep flight of stairs, we see a sign indicating that the staircase is called "Jacob's Ladder" - so it seemed that we had been following the right path the whole time after all.
We had made pretty short work of the hike and by 7.30pm we were having dinner at Edale's other pub, The Rambler's Inn. Although a nice country pub, the food was a bit disappointing.
Walking back through farmland to our hostel, we found the baaing and mooing of the sheep and cows hilarious, despite both of us being from New Zealand. The funniest sound has to be when a male sheep lets out a deep one, sounding like an elongated burp released with perfect comic timing.
Described as "Spartan" by the Lonely Planet, our hostel was really squeaky and creaky and you could hear every single step that anyone made in the building. It may have been better if we had been in the main building which
Wind In The Willows
Like a scene from the old childhood cartoon.
was an old stone country house but we had to make do with the 60s-built wooden shacks outside.
The snore-a-thon in my dorm ensured I was tired the next day, but was (almost) all made up for by the hearty breakfast put on by the hostel which out of all the hostel breakfasts I have ever had, comes second only to a hostel breakfast I had at an HI hostel in Paris
Our plan for day was to walk the "White Peak" area of the Peak District, south of Edale. From Hollin's Cross, a junction of several trails on a ridge, we had magnificent views over both the Castleton and Edale valleys.
The pleasant walk down to Castleton involved walking through some quintessential English countryside - it was like a scene straight out of Wind In The Willows.
Castleton is a nice enough town - it is bigger than Edale and there is enough to it to actually call it a town.
One of the main attractions in the White Peak area are the caves that exist beneath the hills.
We skip the one nearest to Castleton, the Treak Cliff Cavern, and move on to the Speedwell Cavern which
The famous purple mineral inside the Blue John Cavern.
was pretty cool. A former mine, the mine has since been flooded and after a deep descent underground we are taken on a boat trip through the claustrophobic tunnels, during which our funny tour guide tells us amusing and interesting stories about the cave's history. Although the boat trip is fun, there isn't actually too much to see down there.
The Blue John Cavern was pretty cool as well with all it's stalactites and stalagmites as well as the famous purple Blue John mineral that is local to the area.
While interesting and something different to do apart from walking through and admiring the scenery, the caves had nothing on the ones I saw in Slovenia
An advantage of visiting the Blue John Cavern was that it got you halfway up the highest peak in the area, Mam Tor.
The thing was, as we advanced up the intimidating-looking peak, everyone else seemed to be coming the opposite way to us, walking down. They all seemed relatively well-dressed too i.e. not in hiking gear.
After a leg-busting effort to get to the top we discover that there is a much easier path to the top of Mam Tor coming up from
DSLR Show-Off Shot
I've been wanting to take shots like this for years - and with my new DSLR, I finally can!
Hollin's Cross that everyone else was walking up. Let's just say that we're hardcore and wanted to challenge ourselves.
Having done everything we had wanted to a lot earlier in the day than we had anticipated, we walked back down to Castleton to enjoy a pint and Sunday roast before trying to plan our last day in the Peak District.
The problem was that we had a real struggle trying to connect to the internet via the 3G network - what did we do without internet? In saying that it was nice to get away from the news and from Facebook for a couple of days - all the information, notifications and alerts being thrown at you these days can be really tiring and distracting so it was great being able to "switch off" and get off the grid for a weekend.
Our plan for our last day was to hire a couple of bikes and ride some of the trails on offer in the Peak District.
Unfortunately, the bike rental place was a good two hour walk from a train station. There was no way we were going to walk four hours there and back after cycling around
Pavilion Gardens, Buxton
Well-manicured park where hung out for a while.
all day - plus we needed to be back in Sheffield by 7.30pm to catch our train back to London.
So as an alternative, we looked at trying to get to two of the areas more famous towns - Buxton (famous for spring water) and Bakewell (famous for its tart). Without a car however, it was a bit of a logistical nightmare trying to work out train and bus connections on a Bank Holiday.
Our first plan was to try and get the earliest train to Sheffield from where we could easily get to Bakewell and from which we could then get to Buxton. With all of the train and bus times that we had figured out, it would be ambitious, but having done this
, I knew that just about anything was possible.
Our plan fell over at the first hurdle however - we had got the train time wrong so we arrived in Edale having missed the train to Sheffield by ten minutes. With a train going the other direction to Manchester in five minutes time, and no train anywhere for another two hours after, we decided to jump on the train to Manchester from where we could get
Opera House, Buxton
One of Buxton's marquee sights.
on another train to Buxton. I certainly wasn't going to waste two hours twiddling my thumbs in Edale, as we had done everything there was to do in there. It meant that we would not be able to see Bakewell as there were no connections between Buxton and Bakewell. What a logistical pain in the arse.
We eventually arrived in Buxton around noon and had a look around. It is a nice place, a less pretty but less pretentious version of Bath.
Among Buxton's sights are the Opera House, the Crescent - much like the Royal Crescent in Bath - St Ann's Well from which Buxton's famous thermal water flows (it was warm and slightly salty) and the well-kept Pavilion Gardens where we ate lunch and soaked up the sun on what was a glorious day.
Before long, it was then time to catch our bus back to Sheffield.
The bus ride was actually wonderfully scenic as it took you right through the Peak District through all the towns and villages that we didn't get a chance to get to. Apart from the foul whiffs of fertiliser that wafted through your nostrils and the crazy daredevil bus drivers, the
Peace Gardens, Sheffield
With the town hall right behind it, this is Sheffield's most attractive outdoor space.
bus ride was about as good a guided bus tour through the Peak District as you're likely to get.
Once in Sheffield we still had to kill a little bit of time before catching our train so we enjoyed an al-fresco dinner right next to the Peace Gardens. When you think of al-fresco dining, Sheffield would definitely not be the first place to come to mind! But it was a beautiful day and a great end to a what was a peaceful weekend away in the English countryside - one of the most scenic countrysides I have ever seen.
There will be more blogs on British destinations coming to you this year - but there is the small matter of a trip to Russia to write about first.
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