There have been strange goings on recently in the Peak District, with numerous walkers reporting seeing stormtroopers popping up in all kinds of places. Nathan looks to get to the bottom of the story, but will the force be with him?

There are plenty of rare sights across the Peak District that elicit surprise and excitement for those who encounter them.

It may be highland cows such as the one featured on this month’s cover, or red deer, grouse, mountain hare, even parrots.

Yet there’s a new ‘species’ in our national park which has got tongues wagging and, it’s safe to say, it’s not one you’d expect to see. A stormtrooper.

Great British Life: Baslow Edge (c) Charles NixonBaslow Edge (c) Charles Nixon

Sightings have been occurring all over. From Thor’s Cave, Dovedale Steppingstones, Higger Tor, Mam Tor, Stanage Edge, Bamford Edge to name but a few.

Indeed, the man under the imposing Star Wars-inspired mask, Charles Nixon, has been developing something akin to cult status, as he explains.

‘I get the usual: “Aren’t you too short for a stormtrooper?” and “where’s Darth Vadar?”, that type of thing,’ he laughs.

‘The most fun I had was during a visit to Ladybower. There were a lot of Japanese tourists there, it must have been a planned outing.

Great British Life: Thor's Cave (c) Charles NixonThor's Cave (c) Charles Nixon

‘I always politely float about and wait for people to do their thing because I can take quite a while with some of these photographs. However the Japanese visitors were so courteous and immediately all stopped taking pictures and insisted I went in front to have my picture taken.

‘While I was getting my photo taken by my friend they were all having their picture taken with me too, it was great fun.’

If you were to come across Charles, who lives in Staveley, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the presence of a real life stormtrooper, and that’s because the outfit is as authentic as it gets.

Great British Life: Captured by a young Peak District rambler! (c) Charles NixonCaptured by a young Peak District rambler! (c) Charles Nixon

‘It’s a guy called Andrew Ainsworth at who creates them. He actually made the stormtrooper costume for the first Star Wars film,’ he reveals.

‘At the time, the studios moulded kayaks and little helmets for children and George Lucas discovered him based on his skills is moulding plastic and the rest, as they say, is history.

‘His wife very cleverly took photographs of George Lucas visiting their small shop, which still exist. They’ve been very kind to me and I let them use all my photos.’

Most people who acquire such iconic costumes tend to head, says Charles, to comic conventions. However his journey was set to veer away from the conventional.

Great British Life: Dovedale Stepping stones (c) Charles NixonDovedale Stepping stones (c) Charles Nixon

‘I started by taking it to music festivals,’ he explains. ‘Download Festival have been very good to me, as have Bloodstock in Walton-on-Trent and Stonedead Festival in Newark, they let me wander about and people enjoy having their photo taken but I wondered, where shall I take this next?

‘I’ve always had a soft spot for Toad’s Mouth, near Hathersage. It was also a favourite place for my late father to walk.

‘One day I discovered a black and white photograph, probably from the 1930s or 40s, of two men and a woman stood at Toad’s Mouth smiling and waving. A moment in time.

Great British Life: Toad's Mouth (c) Charles NixonToad's Mouth (c) Charles Nixon

‘I thought it would be rather fun if there was a picture of a stormtrooper stood on it so that in 100 years, when I am long gone, this random picture will still be floating around. That was the start.’

There’s clearly a fun factor to the unlikely scenario of an intergalactic imperial stormtrooper appearing on the Peak District’s rugged landscapes but, dig a little deeper, and there’s much more at play.

‘I see myself as an ambassador. If we inspire even 20 people to visit our beautiful area, enjoy it, recommend it, spend money in our local towns and villages then that’s music to my ears,’ says Charles.

Great British Life: Lud's Church (c) Charles NixonLud's Church (c) Charles Nixon

‘I’ve known the Peak District as a boy and I have known it as a man and it has never changed. The Peak has intrinsic beauty, it’s the finest piece of countryside in the world as far as I am concerned.

‘Those rocks have been there since the beginning of time. They’ve seen the Saxons pass through, the Romans, they’ve seen empires rise and fall but they’ve never had a Star Wars stormtrooper stand on them before,’ he continues.

‘It makes it a bit of a first and when the stormtrooper is gone, the rocks will still be there and something else will take the stormtrooper’s place, so there’s that sense of our own mortality. People and things are fleeting but these landscapes are eternal.

‘Of course, there’s a novelty factor and we have a giggle – such as the photo at the bus stop - but there’s beauty there too and each location and pose is carefully thought out.

Great British Life: Magpie Mine, Sheldon (c) Charles NixonMagpie Mine, Sheldon (c) Charles Nixon

‘Photos taken against angry skies with a pose that compliments it. It’s the solitude of this unknown soldier that really works for me. There’s an element of loneliness to it. How big the landscape is in contrast to the individual.

‘You can look at the pictures and make your own story up. Is it the Empire that’s fallen and these are a few chaps scratching an existence? Or is it weary men guarding a crumbling Empire?’

Charles’ passion for the Peak is palpable and, despite all the attention he has received both while out ‘defending the empire’ and online, he’s keen to stress that his adventures are not about him.

‘It’s showcasing the Peak in a slightly different way,’ he suggests.

Great British Life: Padley Gorge (c) Charles NixonPadley Gorge (c) Charles Nixon

‘We all interpret and enjoy it in different ways. I had a lady say to me “don’t you think that’s rather extreme?” and behind a guy’s throwing himself off Mam Tor on one of those paraglider parachutes. I thought to myself, I’m laid back compared to that chap!

‘We use an iPhone to take the pictures because I want the intrinsic beauty of the landscape to be paramount. The stormtrooper is almost secondary, he just happens to be there; he’s basically a one trick pony. It’s the Peak District carrying me rather than the other way around. The combination of the two just seem to work together.

‘It’s not about me, it’s about the places, the stories. Stormtroopers are the foot soldiers, they’re all pretty anonymous and that’s part of it - I like that anonymity.

While Charles doesn’t want his exploits to be about him, that’s not to say he doesn’t get great satisfaction from his exploits.

‘I ran a butcher’s shop for a long time, working six days a week. I then looked after my ailing father who was living with us.

Great British Life: Robin Hood's Stride (c) Charles NixonRobin Hood's Stride (c) Charles Nixon

‘You put so much into making a business work, paying a mortgage and the like and I am still of an age where I feel fit and healthy and I felt determined to enjoy myself. I told myself that if I don’t do anything else, I’m going to put that stormtrooper on the top of Toad’s Mouth, and that’s what I did.’

So, what’s next for the stormtrooper and will he soon be defending the Empire in a location near you?

‘It’s a pin in the map on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I have some new places in my head,’ he concludes.

‘There’s Matlock Bath, for example. The stormtrooper could be eating a bag of chips or guarding the Jubilee Bridge – it can’t all be about posing on rocks, you’ve got to mix it up a little.’

Matlock Bath residents and visitors, may the force be with you.