12 of the best places to go in the Peak District this Christmas
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Words by Helen Moat
Christmas can be stressful. Imagine waking up to eleven pipers piping or twelve drummers drumming on your front lawn after a night of celebrations.
Five gold rings may be more acceptable but in this season of Christmas spending, there is a wonderful alternative: twelve days in nature, enjoying the best of the Peak District National Park and its fringes.
Experience winter wildlife, breathe in fresh air, dine al fresco and drink in views of rivers, reservoirs, dales, moorland and forest. Explore the Peak District in silver mists and frosts from dawn to dusk and under a star-studded sky.
Day 1: Forage in Farley Woods for Christmas decorations
Find peace and tranquillity - and glorious solitude - in Farley Moor woodland above Matlock, off Farley Lane.
From here a broad track twists and turns through the plantation, while smaller paths follow the perimeter wall, or disappear into the heart of the forest.
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Walk between Corsican, Scots and lodgepole pines and breathe in the scent of sap. Collect sprigs of evergreens, holly, red berries and pine cones to make home-made Christmas wreaths, table and mantlepiece decorations.
Losing yourself in woodlands - or forest-bathing as the Japanese call it - is a wonderfully relaxed way to start the Christmas season.
Day 2: Stargaze at Surprise View, Hathersage
There are few places more atmospheric than the weathered and twisted rocks of Hathersage Moor. Choose a clear night and set off from Surprise View car park through the gloaming to the Iron-age fort of Carl Wark and on to Higger Tor.
Circling back to the car park, warm up with a hot chocolate and wait for darkness to fall. Surprise View is more than just a car park; it’s one of four Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the Peak District.
Watch the constellations fill the sky. Identify Orion’s Belt and the Plough, look out for the International Space Station - and if you’re lucky - enjoy a meteor shower.
Day 3: Photograph Padley Gorge for Christmas cards
There is no better way to engage with the beauty of a place than to zoom in on its colours, textures and shapes. Choose a morning with a hard frost or a fresh fall of snow and head for Padley Gorge.
Shoot the gnarled and twisted trunks of ancient oaks, laced in silver. Photograph the tumbling Burbage Brook with its moss-covered stones and whirlpools of carved and rounded rocks.
Continue to Longshaw Estate and snap the ice-frosted pond, the imposing Longshaw Lodge and the mist-covered Eastern Moors with their dark rocky tors.
Day 4: Amble among deer at Chatsworth
Celebrate the Yuletide with a walk through Chatsworth Estate, where herds of fallow and red deer graze the parkland. Like a Christmas card scene, the spotted and antlered animals huddle in groups on the hillside.
From Baslow, follow the Derwent Valley Heritage Way through Deer Park with the river on your right, crossing Paine’s Bridge below the magnificent stately home before continuing along the Derwent on the opposite bank.
Cross the bridge at Calton Lees and head up the valley to Calton Houses. Pass the fairy-tale Russian Cottage and walk across New Piece Wood to climb the hill. Tumble down to Edensor with its soaring church steeple, picture-book cottages and tempting tea-room.
Day 5: Marvel at murmurations on Middleton Moor
On a winter’s evening, starlings gather above the reedbeds at Cavendish Mill on Middleton Moor.
Hundreds of birds congregate to fly in tight formation, creating ever-changing shapes in the sky. The birds weave through each other, twisting and turning, stretching out and bunching in again without breaking rank.
The shapes blacken as they cross over each other, then pale as the starlings stretch out across the darkening sky. Bring a flask of hot soup and crusty bread and settle in for the show. As daylight fades out, the birds drop down to their roost for another night. The spectacle’s over.
Day 6: Stroll through a festive Castleton
Nowhere in the Dark Peak does Christmas better than Castleton. Known for its festive concerts in the caverns - carol singing and brass bands, its Christmas Tree Festival in St Edmund’s Church and streets of Christmas lights and decorated fir trees.
Join a guided Christmas walk along the Great Ridge, then drop down to the village to potter through alleyways and back streets bright with colour.
Day 7: Enjoy winter Solstice at Nine Ladies
Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year - when the Earth’s pole in the northern hemisphere is at its maximum tilt away from the sun. From here on in, the days will lighten again.
Celebrate midwinter by walking to Nine Ladies Stone Circle for sunset. Cross Stanton Moor, taking in the views of the Derwent Valley and the moorlands beyond.
Feel the pre-history of this place, where early Bronze-Age men and women celebrated the circular nature of the seasons and life, then head back to Birchover by torchlight.
Day 8: Spin through a wintery Monsal Trail
Cycling isn’t just for summer. Wrap up warm with thermals, an extra pair of socks and thick gloves to bike the dismantled track of the Monsal Trail.
Stop at the Headstone Viaduct, where the River Wye loops around the hill of High Field. Sail through dim tunnels, dodging drips of water and stop to read the stories of the dale’s natural and industrial heritage.
The bare branches of the winter trees allow for magnificent views of the Wye Valley. Find a picnic table and warm up with mulled wine from the flask and mince pies.
Day 9: Picnic at Ladybower on Boxing Day
After a soporific Christmas Day with too much food, head out into the fresh air. Walk to Slippery Stones from Fairholmes, finding the ruined foundations of Birchinlee - Tin Town - on the way.
Cross the rebuilt packhorse bridge (taken brick by brick from the drowned village of Derwent) over a young River Derwent as it tumbles off the moors.
Spread out a rug and enjoy Christmas Day leftovers. Food always tastes better in the plein air, while the views of the Dark Peak uplands are inspirational.
Day 10: Ramble along a misty River Derwent
Choose a crisp winter’s day and ramble along the Derwent from Calver to Froggatt Bridge along the east bank. Watch the mist rise off the river and feel the crunch of frozen grass beneath your feet.
Pause at the snaking Calver Weir before crossing to the west bank. Look up to Curbar Edge, shimmering with frost, or covered in a sprinkle of snow.
Finish with cake and a steaming cup of coffee at the Eating House of Derbyshire Gift Centre and browse for New Year gifts.
Day 11: Watch winter waders at Carsington Water
Blow away the cobwebs after over-indulging in the Christmas holidays and head along the shores of Carsington Water. The reservoir is awash with resident and overwintering birds at this time of year.
Look out for waders on the mud-caked shoreline: redshanks, lapwings and oystercatchers. Out on the water, there’s an array of ducks: pintail, teal, shelducks, wigeon and mallards.
Canada geese are aplenty, but with luck you might spot a great-northern diver or a black-necked grebe. Look out for statuesque grey herons and snow-white little egrets.
Day 12: Climb Chrome Hill for New Year’s Day
Greet the New Year with a short but challenging climb up Chrome Hill. In the cold January pre-dawn it’s hard to imagine it was once a limestone reef knoll that lay under a tropical sea, but you’ll soon warm up as you tackle the almost vertical hillside onto the ridge.
Sometimes known as the dragon’s back, the narrow spine of Chrome Hill is a dizzying hike along a narrow path. With the hillside falling away either side of your feet and the Peak District rippling out to a distant horizon, this is a thrilling walk.
Find a sheltered spot, drink in the views and raise a mug of hot tea to another year.