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  • Writer's pictureImogen Hall

A peek around the western Peaks with kids

Early evening dog walk on our first evening - not a soul around, not even the dog...

Apart from a lovely weekend away with my girlfriends in March 2019 following the footsteps of a historic heroine of mine (Bess of Hardwick) by visiting her eponymous Hall, I am ashamed to admit that the Peaks have not - so far - had the honour of being explored by the Halls. We were, therefore, ever-so-slightly blown away by how stunning this part of England is, with miles and miles AND miles of rolling hills and wild moorland stretching as far as the eye can see. And although it is the busiest national park in the UK in terms of visitor numbers, we did not ever feel as though we had to fight for our square of the path (or parking space) as can be the case in the Lake District.

As all good erstwhile GSCE students know, the Peak District National Park was created in 1951 as the first protected area following the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. What may be less well-known is that Kinder Scout (the Peaks’ highest top) was also the site of a mass trespass in 1932, resulting in six people being jailed. This was a significant point in raising public awareness of restrictions to our ‘right to roam’, a campaign that eventually resulted in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Obviously, we seized the opportunity to educate the kids on how we earnt access to and protect our green spaces. While we’re talking about all the amazing things we can teach our kids, a visit here is also a lesson in how names can be misleading. After all, the Peak District is not inundated with the type of mountainous summits you might usually call peaks.

The Peak District National Park covers 555 square miles and as we stayed in a converted barn just outside of Buxton most of our exploring (and therefore the focus of this article) was in the western Peaks.

Climbing on the Roaches

I have to admit this didn’t involve me as I nobly opted to walk the dog rather than spend the day with a climbing instructor. And it wasn’t my idea; it was Tom’s. He loves climbing and has some experience but not enough to comfortably take children out, so he suggested using a climbing school. We found the Peak Climbing School on the doorstep of our holiday home and the famous Roaches, an area of the Peaks known for a range of accessible and challenging rock climbing. Two adults and four kids (including a seven-year-old Winnie) spent a challenging and enjoyable long morning ascending and - via some abseiling I have to admit I was happy I had to miss - descending a section of this prominent rocky ridge. Yes, it’s not especially cheap but in terms of giving the kids a new experience and building some confidence, it was well worth it and absolutely reasonable for what we received. For those not keen to climb, there are plenty of walks on wide-open paths around the Roaches as well and, crucially, a couple of decent cafes too, such as the Roaches Tea Room and Restaurant.

Harry taking the abseil on the Roaches in his stride

Lud’s Church

This suggestion came from the lovely climbing instructor and we would have missed it otherwise - even though it is actually very well known and appears on many a list of things to do in the area. In another example of names sometimes being misleading, Lud’s Church is not a building or place used for worship. Instead, it is a deep chasm created during a post-glacial landslip which you reach via a short walk (one hour from the Gradbach car park) through a quiet wood. Possibly because of its name and possibly because walking through woods with no one else around can be an eerie experience, there was a real sense of mystery and intrigue for us. We faced a lot of complaining when we started as it was raining, late in the afternoon and the kids weren’t up for a walk, but then the rain stopped and the moods changed and they loved it when we found it and didn’t want to leave. Maybe there was a greater power drawing them in…

Either way, Lud’s Church is the kind of place that we hope will appear in their creative writing at some point when we least expect it. Finding it does require a bit of navigation and this page has some good tips and a bit more information on its history.

Buxton & Bakewell

While a trip to the Peaks tends to focus on the natural world, it’s often rewarding to contrast the great outdoors with some serious pottering around an attractive town. Luckily, we were close to both Buxton and Bakewell. While the latter is super pretty (and an essential stop for fans of the eponymous pudding), it felt to us to be more orientated to tourists. In contrast, Buxton feels more of a living and breathing town. In the centre is the delightful Pavilion Gardens, which has plenty to keep everyone happy: a landscaped park with a boating pond, road train and two playgrounds, and then the lovely Pavilion itself offering Bakewell Tart ice cream (other flavours were available), an exhibition space and a conservatory oasis to wander through. We spent a lovely morning wandering through the gardens and the arcades, searching for the latest craze: a giant poppit. Next time we will aalso get to Poole’s Caverns, recommended to us as a fun way to view some impressive stalactites and stalagmites in a child-friendly environment.

Chatsworth House & Gardens

Staying on the built environment theme, the next stop was Chatsworth, somewhere on my list to explore ever since I heard of the Mitford sisters and learned about Bess of Hardwick. As we didn’t have very long we paid for the house and gardens, rather than the adventure playground which is supposed to be excellent for children of all ages. We found the house itself disappointing as we learnt more about the current Duke of Devonshire’s art tastes than the intriguing history of this most stately of stately homes. Still, the grounds were fun to explore with their imposing grand vistas and mixture gardens (including a rock garden), water features and insights into domestic life in the past, such as the Coal Hole & Tunnel. Chatsworth is a well oiled commercial machine, and you can find everything you need to know on their site. We are glad we went, but it’s not somewhere we feel the need to rush back to. The best moment was all three children running freefall down the slope next to the famous Cascade.

Three Shires Head

We’re always on the hunt for places we can go wild swimming while away and the Three Shires Head, the point where yes, you guessed it, three shires (Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire) meet ticked two boxes for us. It was a good challenging walk for the kids which we could do out of the door of our holiday home and we knew we would be able to get in the water. By walking a little way down from the main access point, we managed to lose the few people who had had the same idea as us. The swim in a fast-flowing stream was chilly but involved a waterfall and making a friend as seven-year-old Otis abandoned his parents and little brother on the bank and jumped in with us. It’s one way to make a walk a bit more interesting for your kids, provided they are happy with cold water. They can always paddle if not. Jenny from Peak District Kids has a good route here, complete with lots of valuable pictures (which help when it comes to path-finding).

The body language says a 'refreshing dip'

Theme parks, water-based and otherwise

On the watery theme, the south-western slopes of the Peaks are close to Stoke, and the better informed among you will note that this makes them close to both Waterworld and Alton Towers. Both vie for titles of ‘biggest’ or ‘best’ in terms of UK theme parks. While we didn’t stop in Stoke on the way back from the Peaks, we passed exceptionally close. Luckily we had already booked Waterworld for our return from the Lakes; otherwise, there would have been a mutiny in the Hall Smax. It’s one of those moments when you realise you have become your parents: you simply cannot get your head around the fact your children are much more excited about a trip to a waterpark on the way home than spending a week in one of the most beautiful parts of England. To be honest, Tom and I do have a soft spot for Waterworld - it’s three hours of water-based fun, and if you are happy getting wet and throwing yourself down slides along with the great and the good of the Midlands, you will love it as well. Alton Towers is, however, another story. I’ve not been since I was a teenager, so I can’t speak with experience but as an incentive for any reluctant teens not keen on a holiday spent primarily outdoors you can’t go wrong.

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