Traditionally, Derbyshire marks the start of the north of England, and the county was also at the forefront of modern thinking at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The chief inheritor of this legacy is Derby, the home of Rolls-Royce and Royal Crown Derby porcelain, and it remains a busy industrial centre today. An early landmark of this new age is Richard Arkwright’s mill and associated village at Cromford. In the south of the county are Calke Abbey and the charming ancient town of Repton.
However, the county is dominated by the Peak District National Park that covers much of its area. The first of the 10 National Parks, it is often divided into White and Dark peak as the landscape changes from deep limestone valleys to bleak, isolated moorland.
Along with numerous attractive villages and small towns, ancient monuments and caves and caverns, the park is home to two of the finest stately homes not just in Derbyshire but in the whole country – Haddon Hall and Chatsworth.
The southern section of the Peak District is probably best-known for beautiful Dovedale. The large car park near Thorpe that gives general access to the Dale is often crowded, but there is plenty of room for everyone and the wonderful valley, just a few hundred yards from the car park, is well worth exploring. It is also the place to have a go at crossing a river on stepping stones, something that has delighted children for many, many years. The River Dove is also a Mecca for keen fishermen. It was a favourite spot for Izaak Walton, who wrote his book The Compleat Angler in the area. Lord Byron praised the beauty of the county, writing that “there are prospects in Derbyshire as noble as any in Greece or Switzerland”.
The ancient custom of well-dressing is almost exclusively confined to the limestone areas of the county. The porous rock, through which rainfall seeped leaving the surface completely dry just a few hours after heavy rainfall, meant that, for the people of these close-knit communities, the well or spring was of the utmost importance. If this dried up, the lives of the whole community were at risk.
The area of northeast Derbyshire with the District of Bolsover centres around Chesterfield. This was the heart of the county’s coal-mining area and many of the towns and villages reflect the prosperity the mines brought in Victorian times. Sadly, the vast majority of the collieries are now closed. For a while the country suffered a period of decline, but visitors today will be surprised at the wealth of history and fine architecture to be seen throughout the region.
In 1951, the Peak District National Park became the first of Britain’s National Parks to be established, and ever since then its 555 square miles of glorious scenery have been protected from ‘inappropriate development’. Of all the world’s national parks, it is the second most popular – only Mount Fuji in Japan attracts more visitors each year.
Referred to as the Dark Peak as well as the High Peak, the northern area of the National Park is not as foreboding as its name might suggest. These high moors are ripe for exploring on foot, and a walk from the Kinder Reservoir will lead to the western edge of Kinder Scout. This whole area is really a series of plateaux, rather than mountains and valleys, with the highest point on Kinder Scout some 2,088 feet above sea level. In this remote and ild area the walker can feel a real sense of freedom - however, it is worth remembering that the moors, with their treacherous peat bogs and unpredictable mists, which can rise quickly even in summer, should not be dismissed as places for a casual ramble.