Whilst Sheffield is undoubtedly a great place for students to live, we all need an escape every once in a while. But you don’t need to go far for an adventure, as I found out this summer when I hiked the White Peak Way – an 80 mile, 7-day circular walking trail in the Peak District. Even though the travel fare for the trip was only £5, I was in another world – one of dramatic rock formations, stately homes, prehistoric caves, hidden river valleys and constant birdsong.
Indeed, one of the best qualities about the walk was how varied it was and how it takes in so much history. I was particularly touched by the eerie, ancient quality of Stanton Moor – a site which prehistoric people held sacred. Today you can feel their presence with a visit to their rock quarries, the Nine Ladies Stone Circle and the curiously shaped Cork Stone. Meanwhile Thor’s Cave, a dramatic natural cavern overlooking the River Manifold, would be impressive enough even if it wasn’t thought to be a Palaeolithic burial site. Along the route, I also passed more recent artefacts of human activity including disused railways, abandoned limekilns and former mills. And of course, Chatsworth House, seat of the Duke of Devonshire, transports you instantly to an age of timeless age elegance and romance!
The route also passes through some of the Peak District’s most celebrated towns: Bakewell (renown for markets and Bakewell Pudding), Castleton (where you can visit the famous caverns) and Tideswell (whose Church is aptly named the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’). But the natural scenery takes some beating too – a real highlight was walking the Mam Tor ridge, which has stunning views across the Dark and White Peak on both sides. Meanwhile, Dovedale and the Wye Valley make for some gorgeous river-side walking, whilst Froggatt and Curbar Edge host striking arrays of wind-blasted rock formations. In between were countless hidden dales, filled with rare and unusual wildflowers.
One of the things I miss the most is feeling so close to nature. Instead of traffic noise, my ears were filled with the sound of running water and birdsong. Along the way, I had encounters with hares, rabbits, a fox, buzzards, kestrels…not to mention many over-curious cows… but my favourite moment had to be finding a hedgehog curled up asleep in a churchyard!
The White Peak Way is a good choice whether you are alone or in a group because there are Youth Hostels across the whole route, so there’s no need to camp. If you start at Bakewell, then you can walk hostel-to-hostel between the YHAs at Youlgreave, Ilam Hall, Hartington Hall, Ravenstor, Castleton Losehill Hall and Hathersage. Each of these offers breakfast, dinner and packed lunches: a real bonus as there are very few shops along the way! It may be cheap accommodation, but the YHAs are housed in some lovely buildings and wonderful locations. My favourites had to be Ravenstor – a country house hidden in the forest with amazing views – and Hartington, a 17th century manor house that seems lost in time.
I would strongly recommend a walking trip to every student– it is profoundly liberating to break routine and take up a much simpler way of life, free from email inboxes and to-do lists. Waking up in a new place each day allows you to explore so many different places and develop a real connection to the landscape. But if you do fancy walking the White Peak Way, do invest in the proper maps – the route isn’t waymarked so you will need to plot it out by hand. Together the OS Explorer Maps OL1 (Dark Peak) and OL24 (White Peak) cover the whole route.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and happy exploring!