Peakland attractions include the enchanting Derbyshire Dales – such as Dovedale with its stepping stones, Monsal Dale with its railway viaduct and Lathkill Dale with its crystal river, which sometimes disappears underground.
Communities lying in and around the Peak Park are famous for their historic character and unusual traditions. The thermal springs of Buxton put the town on the tourist map centuries ago, and it has a legacy of fine buildings, including the 18th-century Crescent.
Matlock also enjoyed glory as a spa town, and is still popular with tourists. The former hydropathic hotel run by John Smedley serves as the headquarters of Derbyshire County Council.
Bakewell is well-known for its unique puddings, agricultural show and weekly livestock market. It also has a much-photographed medieval bridge over the River Wye.
Ashbourne includes Georgian and Regency town houses and a graceful church, while Wirksworth – once the centre of the Derbyshire lead-mining industry – was the focus for a conservation scheme which scooped the prestigious Europa Nostra award.
There are countless charming villages to explore in the Dales – from the perfectly preserved estate community of Tissington to Hathersage, which served as the setting for ‘Jane Eyre’. Many have striking features – among them the quaint duckpond at Hartington, the village stocks at Little Longstone and the 14th-century ‘Cathedral of the Peak’ at Tideswell.
These villages are the mainstays of the well-dressing tradition, but there are other intriguing traditions from bygone days. Castleton has a unique garlanding festival for Oakapple Day and Wirksworth celebrates ‘clypping the church’, during which the congregation encircles the building. To find out more, please take a look at our things to do in Chesterfield guide, it is packed full of information to make your visit more enjoyable.
Bordering the Peak Park in the north-west lies the district of High Peak – with a rich industrial and archaeological heritage and outstanding scenery.
Historic New Mills grew rapidly in the 19th century with the development of the Lancashire cotton industry. One of its key attractions is the spectacular gorge of the Torrs – known as the ‘Park under the Town’ – which features ruined mills and riverside walks.
Often called the ‘Gateway to the Peak’, Glossop lies close to the dramatic road routes of Snake Pass and Woodhead Pass. It has fine 17th and 18th -century cottages and the remains of Melandra Castle, built by the Romans in the 1st century AD
The old mill town of Whaley Bridge is a popular gathering place for hikers, as well as being the terminus of the Peak Forest canal. Chapel-en-le-Frith (chapel-in-the-forest) was established more than 700 years ago in the old royal Peak Forest. Its parish church was used as a prison in the Civil War.
North East Derbyshire
Moving north-eastwards, the visitor will see signs of the county’s changing industrial face. Both the Bolsover and North-East Derbyshire districts are facing a new future, following the decline of their traditional coalmining industry.
Local authorities have stepped in with imaginative schemes to help boost economic regeneration in these districts. There are industrial estates in places like Shirebrook and Heath – whose proximity to the M1 is a big draw for firms.
Meanwhile several areas of derelict land – often on the sites of long-closed collieries – have been reclaimed to provide new industrial centres and recreational areas.
Great strides have been made in attracting the tourist trade to the bustling towns and picturesque villages.
North-East Derbyshire includes popular features like Rother Valley Country Park, the Ridgeway Cottage Industry Centre and attractive communities such as Ashover.
Cutthorpe boasts two halls dating back to the 1600s, and the 17th-century Renishaw Hall, home of the Sitwell family, was said to be the model for the hall in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.
Conservation areas have helped protect the historic charm of the town centres of both Eckington and Dronfield, which boast an interesting blend of old and modern buildings.
Clay Cross – which developed after George Stephenson discovered a rich vein of coal while cutting the local railway tunnel – now has engineering and iron works as prime industries. Its unusual Countryside Centre encourages people to enjoy the local scenery.
One district which has learned how to develop the pulling power of its visitor attractions is Amber Valley. In 1992 it was named ‘Tourist Destination of the Year’ for the East Midlands.
Around the area’s gentle hills are such gems as the American Adventure theme park, Crich Tramway Museum, the Midland Railway Centre and Kedleston Hall.
Amber Valley also has fine examples of the gardener’s art – from the unique river gardens of Belper to the glorious Lea Rhododendron Gardens, established in a medieval quarry.
The district has strong associations with historic events and personalities. Lea Hurst was the home of the ‘Lady of the Lamp’, Florence Nightingale, while Pentrich was the scene of the early 1800s textile workers’ rebellion which resulted in executions.
Belper has a wealth of interesting buildings, many provided by the Strutt family of mill-owners. Alfreton features an unusual prison building known as the House of Confinement, and both Ripley and Heanor are pleasant market towns, having grown up around the coal, clay, iron and textile industries.
By travelling south, visitors will come across even more areas of appealing scenery. The valleys, meadows and fertile market garden land of South Derbyshire include hundreds of listed buildings and 18 different conservation areas.
Melbourne is a picturesque town with a fine Norman church and imposing hall, complete with a 300 feet-long yew tunnel and unusual wrought iron summer house.
The historic public school at Repton includes architectural features surviving from the village’s priory church, which was demolished during the Dissolution.
One of the area’s most ancient monuments is the remarkable bridge and causeway at Swarkestone, which runs for nearly a mile.
Over the next few decades, the district will also see a major environmental scheme take root which will improve the countryside around the communities in the south. The area forms part of the exciting project to create a new National Forest.
South Derbyshire’s largest town is Swadlincote, which has developed rapidly since the local industries of coal and clay extraction began to flourish in the late18th century. With a wide range of town-centre shops, leisure facilities and civic buildings, it acts as the district’s economic and commercial hub.
If you would enjoyed this guide, why not take a look at some more Chesterfield attractions and events in our other Chesterfield tourism and travel information guides.