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Peak District Walks
Peak District Walks

Peak District Walks

An Introduction To The Peak District

peak district - Ludd's ChurchAn Introduction to the Peak District

The Peak District is the area of upland at the bottom of the Pennine range. For many who live to the south, the Peak District is the first area of wild country that they come too. It is said that nearly half of the population of England live within a few miles of the Peak District, and on a sunny bank holiday weekend it can seem as if they have all come to visit. The walker can take heart from the odd statistic that over 90% of visitors to the Peak District do not venture more than ¼ of a mile from their cars.

On many occasions the walker can find places just beyond the popular centres, and spend hours with only the Peak District wildlife for company. It is not all idyllic scenes, the Peak District has its fair share of bad weather as well as good. The wild moorland can be very wild indeed and bad weather can punish the ill prepared. Although dangerous, poor weather can show the Peak District in another light. Fog in the valley can clear on the tops, the sun breaks through thick rain clouds, or a thick dusting of snow changes familiar features. This kind of experience makes the Peak District the popular place that it is today.

Geography

Naming the area the Peak District is a bit of an anomaly, as there is no single summit in the area. The word peak comes from the old English word ‘peac’, meaning knoll or hill. In a.d. 924 the area was known as ‘peacland’. It is an area of opposites, the bleak, black northern moors are starkly contrasted by the patchwork of pale walled fields to the south.

The Peak District is naturally split into two distinct areas, known as the dark peak district and the white peak district. The dark peak district is mainly gritstone, composed of bleak featureless moorland, steep rocky edges, isolated odd shaped rocky tors, steep sided cloughs and hidden swift running streams. The dark peak district is usually associated with the high moorland to the north, but geographically it also includes the moorland running down the western and eastern extremes of the region.

The Peak District was formed over many millions of years. The oldest rock is the limestone, which was formed in the carboniferous period 330 million years ago from the shells of sea creatures. The limestone also contains pockets of other rocks; siliceous chert and silica sand were deposited while basalt was formed as the result of volcanic action. Later volcanic action resulted in the significant amounts of lead ore  and the smaller amounts of copper that were deposited in veins in the Peak District.

The limestone was covered in later periods with shales, grits and sandstones, and this promoted the growth of vegetation. This vegetation died off to become the moorland coal. Finally the area was lifted up to create an enormous dome. The upper rocks have since weathered away, leaving a central limestone plateau, with the younger millstone grit surrounding it on three sides.

The dark peak district is one of the loneliest regions of the country, in spite of its close proximity to the industrial centres of northern England. This is best highlighted flying over the region at night, the bright lights of the industrial centres on the outskirts surround an area of complete darkness. Perhaps this accounts for the large number of aircraft that have been wrecked in the Peak District, in the days before modern navigational aids.

The soil is very acid in the dark peak district, with peat being predominant. This accounts for the distinct lack of farming. Adding this to its harsh climate, the place is only good for hardy sheep and grouse. The vegetation of the dark peak district is composed of cotton grass, with stretches of heather. On better drained areas ling and bracken thrive. As far as wildlife is concerned, in addition to the sheep, the only other inhabitants are the curlew, the golden plover, the fox and the mountain hare.

The white peak district is the limestone heart of the Peak District, and it could not be more different than the dark peak district. The landscape is really white, the main feature being the miles of gleaming white limestone dry stone walls. The hills are mostly low with clumps of trees dotted all over them. The most dramatic features of the region appear when water cuts through the landscape, with steep sided dales, cliffs, caves and pinnacles.

The white peak district countryside is softer and more fertile than the dark peak distrrict. Much of the land is given over to farming, but very little of this is arable land. The flora and fauna of the white peak district is much more varied than the dark peak district. It is closer in habitat to the more southerly parts of England, and it is the northern boundary of the habitats of many species of plants and animals.

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