Every structure in this itinerary-manor houses, churches, cottages, farmhouses, shops, even the walls that edge the fields, making a patchwork of the landscape-is built of gray stone. This is the Peak District, a National Park, where you can enjoy the beauty of a wild landscape of rolling rocky pastures, sheltered valleys, and windswept moors laced by swift rivers tumbling through deep dales-Monks Dale, Monsal Dale, Miller Dale, and, the most beautiful of all, Dovedale where the River Dove flows through a rocky, wooded ravine and is crossed by stepping stones. While this is a driving itinerary, to really appreciate the wild beauty of this area you have to forsake your car and proceed on foot-on the many miles of well-marked footpaths-or rent a bike and pedal the cycle routes that travel disused railway lines and quiet country lanes.

Recommended Pacing: Select a base for this itinerary. To cover all our sightseeing suggestions will take two full days.

This itinerary begins in Ashbourne, a small market town just south of the Peak District National Park where on Thursdays and Saturdays market stalls crowd the town square. Close by, on St. John Street, visit the Gingerbread Shop, which sells aromatic Ashbourne gingerbread and baked goods from a restored 15th-century timber-framed shop that gives you a glimpse of how beautiful Ashbourne must have been during its heyday.

Leave Ashbourne on the A515, Buxton road, and watch for a discreetly signposted right-hand turn that brings you through a broad avenue of trees to Tissington with its Jacobean manor house, Norman church, limestone cottages, and ducks swimming on the village pond. Tissington is reputedly the birthplace of the Derbyshire village tradition of well dressing, giving thanks for the unfailing supply of fresh water that the village wells provided by creating intricate, large mosaic pictures from flower petals and placing them beside the village wells. These spectacular displays are very interesting to visit, so in the course of this itinerary, the dates that villages dress their wells is mentioned in parentheses, for example, “Tissington (wells dressed for Ascension day).” If you carry on through the village and across open farmland, you come to a ford where the road splashes through a brook.

Retrace your steps to the A515 and cross it, heading through Thorpe village and down into Dovedale. Dr. Johnston gave it a glowing testimonial: “He who has seen Dovedale has no need to visit the Highlands.” Cars can go no farther than the car park whence you walk into the dale, cross the River Dove on stepping stones and enter a rocky ravine. The farther you walk into the dale the more you are tempted to continue as round each river bend beautiful scenery unfolds-fantastic rock formations, steeply wooded hillsides, and the noisy, tumbling water. The length of the dale is a delightful 4-mile walk. Walkers can be dropped at the car park and picked up in Milldale by Viators Bridge.

At a bend in the road sits Ilam (pronounced “I lamb”), a picture-postcard estate village, built to house the workers on what was once a shipping magnate’s vast holdings. On to Alstonfield (pronounced “Alstonfeld”) and the Post Office Tea Shop, which serves scrumptious scones and cream. (Turn right here if you are picking walkers up in nearby Milldale.)

Drive into Hartington (wells dressed on second Saturday in September) with its white limestone cottages, shops, and pubs. Admire the mallards waddling by the village pond and visit the Hartington Cheese Shop, an outlet for the last of Derbyshire’s cheese factories producing Hartington Stilton and Buxton Blue.

Leave Hartington on the B5054, Ashbourne road, and take the first left, signposted Crowdicote, following the narrow dale. As the dale widens, turn right to Parsley Hay. From here you can cycle the Tissington Trail towards Ashbourne or the High Peak Trail to Cromford. At the main road turn left (towards Buxton) and immediately right towards Monyash then right again following discreet signposts for Arbor Low, Derbyshire’s answer to Stonehenge. The huge monoliths have all fallen to the ground and you will probably be one of only a few visitors. The stones are set atop a bare hill, swept by cold winds, and reached by tramping across fields from a lonely farm. Pause and wonder why man built here 4,000 years ago.

Retrace your path to the Monyash road, turning right in the village onto the B5055, which leads you into Bakewell (wells dressed on last Saturday in June), a lovely market town ringed by wooded hills where a picturesque, 700-year-old arched and buttressed bridge spans the swiftly flowing River Wye. The Tourist Information Centre in the splendid, 17th-century market hall has displays on the Peak District and information pamphlets. Behind it are set the market stalls where every Monday a farmers’ market is held-offering everything from lengths of dress fabric to underwear and pigs. You can buy the original Bakewell tarts (known as puddings in Bakewell) from Ye Olde Original Pudding Shop & Bakewell Pudding Factory on Granby Arcade. The town has some excellent shops (china, antiques, clothing, and hardware). Up the hill, just behind the church, is Old House Museum, a folk museum displaying kitchen and farm equipment.

Three miles along the A6 in the direction of Matlock lies Haddon Hall, a 14th-­century manor, home of the Duke of Rutland. In my opinion, this house is more interesting to tour than the opulent Chatsworth House (your next stop) because it lacks the vastness and grandeur of Chatsworth and you can really imagine people living in these aged rooms hung with threadbare tapestries and decorated with magnificent woodcarvings. Parts of the chapel walls are covered with barely discernible frescos that date back to the 11th century. In summer the gardens are a fragrant haven, with a profusion of climbing roses and clematis decorating the house and the stone walls of the terraces.

Continue along the A6 to Rowsley where you can tour Caudwell’s Mill, a water-powered flour mill and visit the craft shops. Leaving Rowsley, take the first left (B6012). Pass the edge of Beeley, cross the River Derwent on a narrow humpbacked bridge, and enter the vast Chatsworth estate. Immediately on your left is the Chatsworth Garden Centre, which, in addition to an expansive array of all things garden, has a gift and coffee shop. The road leads you through rolling green parkland to Chatsworth House, the enormous home (the roof alone covers 1.3 acres) of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. While the Duke and Duchess occupy a portion of the house, you can walk through the opulent halls admiring priceless paintings, furnishings, silver plate, and china. Best of all, though, are the acres and acres of landscaped gardens: vast lawns laid down in 1760 and groomed ever since (except in wartime); the maze; the gardens (rock, kitchen, rose, cottage, and sensory). Water pours down the steps of the 1st Duke’s water cascade (take off your shoes and climb its broad steps to the fountains at the top of the hill), shoots from the willow tree (known as the squirting tree), and spills from Revelation, the water-operated sculpture. There are 5 miles of walks with trees, shrubs, fountains, and ponds. There is also access to the excavated coal tunnel. The gift and teashop are a must. If you are traveling with children, they will enjoy a visit to the farm and the adventure playground.

The picturesque village of Edensor (pronounced “Ensor”), mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086, was much rebuilt and moved here in the 19th century by a duke who did not want to see it from his park. Kathleen Kennedy, JFK’s sister, lies buried near the handsome old church.

Leave the estate in the direction of Baslow and take the first left, B6048, to Pilsley where the farm shop sells an interesting variety of nifty gifts and produce from the Chatsworth estate. As the B6048 merges with the main road take the first right on the A6020 (Ashford) following it to Ashford-in-the-Water and cross the river into this picturesque village strung along the River Wye. “Sheepwash” is the oldest and quaintest of the village’s bridges. Built for packhorses and now closed to traffic, it gets its name from the adjacent stone enclosure in which sheep used to be washed.

Follow the narrow lanes upwards to Monsal Head where the ground seemingly falls away and opens up to a magnificent vista of the River Wye running through Monsal Dale. Go straight across, alongside the Monsal Head car park, and follow the road as it winds down into and along the dale to Cressbrook Mill, where the road climbs steeply past the terraces of mill cottages clinging precariously to the hillsides. The first terrace is where pauper apprentices lived and higher up are the more opulent foremen’s houses. Emerging from the dale, the narrow road skirts stone-walled fields to Litton (wells dressed in June), a delightful stone village round a green where you turn left for Tideswell.

The magnificent, spacious, 14th-century church at Tideswell (wells dressed on Saturday nearest John the Baptist day, June 24th) is so impressive that it is often described as “the cathedral of the Peak.” It was built between 1300 and 1370 when Tideswell was an affluent place and it is fortunate that Tideswell fell upon hard times so that parishioners could not afford to update their church as ecclesiastical fashions changed.

Leaving Tideswell, you come to the A623 and turn left in the direction of Chapel-en-le-Frith to Sparrowpit where you turn right at the Wanted Inn. Passing an enormous quarry, you see that half the mountain is missing-gone to build all the lovely stone houses and cottages. When you come to a brown-and-white country sign stating “Castleton Caverns, Peveril Castle, light traffic only,” turn right into Winnats Pass, which drops you down a steep ravine between high limestone cliffs.

As the ravine opens up to the valley, Speedwell Cavern presents itself. This is one of several famous caverns (mixtures of natural cavities and lead-mine workings resplendent with stalagmites and stalactites) found around Castleton. Speedwell is reached by a 105-step descent to a motorboat that takes you along an underground canal to a cavern which was the working face of the former Speedwell Mine. Blue John (a corruption of the French bleue-jaune, blue-yellow), a translucent blue variety of fluorspar found only in this area, was mined here.

Before you head off to explore other nearby caves (Blue John, Treak Cliff, and Peak), head into Castleton, a village huddled far below the brooding ruins of Norman Peveril Castle where Henry II accepted the submission of Malcolm of Scotland in 1157.

Below the castle is the huge mouth of Peak Cavern, an enormous cave that once sheltered ropemakers’ cottages. The soot from the chimneys of this subterranean village can be seen on the cave’s roof. Regrettably, the entrance to the cave has been marred by the erection of a high wooden barrier giving access to the cave only to those willing to pay an entrance fee. In the village’s streets you will find cafés, pubs, and several shops selling the polished Blue John set into bracelets, rings, and the like.

This is walking country and you might consider walking up Mam Tor (the big bulky mountain beside Winnats Pass) known hereabouts as “Shivering Mountain” because its layers of soft shale set between harder beds of rock are constantly crumbling. Those in search of a longer walk may wish to go to nearby Edale where the Pennine Way starts its 250-mile path north.

Leave Castleton on the A625 traveling along the broad Hope valley through Hope (wells dressed last Saturday in June) and Bamford to Hathersage, a thriving, non-traditional Derbyshire village strung out along the main road. Its tourist attractions center on its 14th-century church, St. Michael and All Angels, built by a knight named Robert Eyre. Memorial brasses to the Eyre family are in the church and Charlotte Brontë used the village as “Morton” in Jane Eyre. In the graveyard is the reputed grave of Little John, the friend and lieutenant of Robin Hood.

Leaving the churchyard, backtrack on the A625 for a short distance, taking the first left (B6001), signposted Bakewell, beyond the village where you turn right, opposite The Plough, up a narrow country lane signposted “Gliding Club.” This country lane takes you through the hamlet of Abney past the gliding club and the historic Barrel Inn (offering views of the valley, good pub food, and refreshing ale) and brings you, via Foolow, into Eyam (pronounced “Eem”) (wells dressed last Saturday in August).

This large mining and quarrying village was made famous by its self-imposed quarantine when plague hit the village in 1665. It was thought that the virus arrived in a box of cloth from London brought by a visiting tailor. The rector persuaded the community to quarantine themselves to prevent the plague spreading to outlying villages. For over a year the village was supplied by neighboring villagers who left food and supplies at outlying points. Tragically 259 people from 76 families perished-little plaques on Eyam’s cottages give the names of the victims who lived there. The church has a plague register and just inside the door is the letter written by the young rector when his wife succumbed (Katherine Mompesson is buried near the Saxon cross in the churchyard). The most poignant reminder of these grim days lies in a field about ½ mile from the village where within a solitary little enclosure, known as the Riley Graves, are the memorials to a father and his six children, all of whom died within eight days of each other.

Leave Eyam in the direction of Bakewell, traveling down a steeply wooded gorge that brings you to the A623. Following signs for Chesterfield, you drive down narrow Middleton Dale, whose limestone cliffs are so sheer they almost block the sunlight from the road, to Stoney Middleton, an appropriately named village huddling beneath the cliffs. It does not look at all inviting from the main road but its quiet side streets and pretty church are full of character.

Driving a few miles farther along the A623 brings you to the winding lanes of Baslow where the River Derwent flows past tidy houses on the northern edge of the Chatsworth estate. From here fast roads will bring you to Chesterfield (visit the leaning spire and if it is a Monday, Friday, or Saturday, you will enjoy the interesting open-air market) where you can join the M1 at junction 29.

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