“In 25 years of doing this sort of thing, this was one of my favorite trips,” says William G. Scheller, a Vermont-based travel writer who was making his second visit to this part of England. “Each day presented the nicest kind of problem,” he says, “deciding which B and B and pub I”d like to be at by the end of the day.” He knew from his first stay in the area that it had great walking. “What I did not know was how extensive the network of footpaths was,” he says. “That was a revelation.”
And he often had the paths to himself: “One weekend near Bakewell there were dozens of people out for a Sunday ramble, but on weekdays I”d often go for hours without seeing anyone else.”
Photographer Catherine Karnow, who makes her home in Mill Valley, California – but typically travels almost three weeks out of every four – had also been to Derbyshire previously, assisting on a shoot for a National Geographic story on English country houses. Revisiting one of those properties on this trip, she was again impressed by the manor house, but was equally admiring of the adjacent village where the staff members lived.
“It was,” she says, “so picturesque, so quaint that it seemed almost too perfect.”
TRAIL TIPS There are countless trails and pathways in this portion of the English Midlands. (“They are so numerous, and so seldom cluttered with signs, that decent maps are vital,” Scheller says.) The best maps are those published by Ordnance Survey (the national mapping agency of Great Britain), and are widely available both at bookstores and outdoor equipment shops.
While there is little chance of getting hopelessly lost in Derby-shire (“It”s just too compact and too civilized,” Scheller says), the moorland of the Peak District is another matter. There it is all too easy to wander off the trail into a virtually featureless wilderness. Take the weather seriously, especially at higher elevations, where, even in late spring, wind and slashing rain can chill you to the bone. Wear several layers, and carry rain gear.
ROOM KEY Accommodations in Derbyshire run from small hotels in the larger towns, to some less expensive bed-and-breakfasts in virtually every village; many pubs also have rooms for travelers. On weekends and in summer it”s wise to reserve ahead.
Karnow”s “great find” was Upperdale House (about $75 per night; 011-44-162-964- 0536). It”s an old stone house with three rooms for visitors, located in a beautiful valley with a stream just outside the windows.
Scheller”s favorite B and B was the Edale House ($36 per night; 011-44-143-367- 0399). He spent two nights in the 18th-century stone structure set in the village of Edale. (“It was about a mile from town, and to go to dinner at the pub I had to walk the public pathway, past fields of grazing sheep, past the old graveyard and the Anglican church,” Scheller said. “It was the same way someone would have walked into the village a hundred years ago.”)
WHAT”S TO EAT Enormous English breakfasts should carry you through a day”s walking; if not, the local picnic provender includes pork pies, some excellent Stilton and Wensleydale cheeses, oatcakes, treacly Derbyshire flapjacks, and Bakewell tarts. (“I am not among the multitude who bad-mouth English cooking,” Scheller says, “but then I also like pork pies and blood pudding.”) Dining in Derbyshire usually means a meal in the public rooms of your hotel or a visit to the village pub. The menus at many pubs range beyond fish and chips. And do try the local ales, which you won”t find in London.
READ IT AND LEAP There are lots of local information centers, all well-stocked with guidebooks and maps. Scheller”s favorite guides were White Peak Walks by Mark Richards; The Bogtrotter”s Guide: Exploring and Walking in the Dark Peak by Chris Holmes; and Walking Peakland Trackways by Mike Cresswell. To get the flavor of the area, call for a copy of Peak and Pennine magazine; 011-44-162-981-2034. For an atmospheric read, try Charlotte Bronte”s Jane Eyre. Much of it is set in Hathersage, where the author spent time living at the vicarage. Sir Walter Scott”s Peveril of the Peak also features Peak District locales.