England's Peak District was designated the first National Park in the UK in 1951. An estimated 22 million people visit this scenic park, which spans a number of north and central English counties. The park's central location (about 45 minutes from both Manchester and Sheffield), spectacular scenery and numerous areas of interest have most certainly contributed to its popularity and the region's reliance on tourism.
The District is comprised of two distinct regions. The White Peak rolling hills in the south contrast with the northern heather moorlands of the Dark Peak, which are grittier, wetter and more rugged.
Situated at the southern end of the Pennines Mountain Range, the Peak District's 555 square miles contain more rolling hills than peaks. The stunning natural scenery is characterised by open moorland, rolling hills, rivers like the River Dove and limestone caves. Dotted across the landscape are charming villages and sites of heritage. Tourist offices at Bakewell, Buxton, Edale and other locations provide useful bases for planning the visit.
There is a great range of public access to the region, which has become a haven for walkers and those interested in spending time outdoors. More than 1,800 miles of footpaths and trails support hill walking and hiking. Day trips are easy to find, as are longer distance routes such as the Limestone Way, Tissington Trail, the High Peak Trail or the Pennine Way, which leads all the way up to Scotland.
One of the biggest draws to the region is the limestone caves and caverns like those found at Buxton, Castleton and Matlock Bath. Outdoor activity centres lead tours and have further information about caves for more serious spelunkers. Other local attractions include Crich Tramway Village, a museum where visitors can ride on trams from around the world through reconstructed Victorian streets.
Like most of England, there is evidence of prehistoric activity found throughout the region, particularly in barrows (burial mounds), such as the one found at Margery Hill. Bronze Age-era ruins are found at the Nine Ladies Stone Circle at Stanton Moor, the stone circle at Arbor Low, which dates from 2000 BC or hillforts found in places like Mam Tor.
Modern-day communities worth a visit include Buxton, which has a long history as a Roman spa town due to the supposed healing properties of its warm natural springs. Its Georgian architecture, beautifully restored Opera House and weekly markets make it an excellent place for wandering. Edale is a good base for walkers and cyclists, is accessible by train and has a parish church and stone houses that are lovely to look at. Castleton is remarkable for the ruins of Peveril Castle, caves and charming country pubs.