Welcome to England > Off piste in the Peaks
Daunted by ditching the guide books? Sometimes the warmth of local people can keep you on the straight and narrow, as Claire Bore found out during a walking tour of the Peak District.
If Bakewell was listed on Tinder, foodies would swipe right. From the annual Bakewell Show to its weekly farmers’ market, it’s a great place to fill up before a long walk. “Bakewell is all about food,” says Helen Hartley, owner of Bakewell Pudding Parlour.
The town’s most famous foodstuff is the Bakewell pudding (don’t call it a tart, whatever you do). The puff pastry dessert, filled with a layer of jam and a special egg and almond paste, has a cult following that includes the cast of Emmerdale. The original recipe is closely guarded. “After a mix-up at a local hotel, the recipe was eventually passed on to my father who made and sold them,” explains Hartley.
Despite being a small town, Bakewell has managed to squeeze three Bakewell pudding shops into its little streets. Each offers a slightly different version, so why not try all three to see if you can taste the difference?
Following a tip-off, I venture off course a little to the elevated gritstone ‘edges’ of Curbar Gap, where the bubbly Sarah Cairns of Jolly’s Catering is serving turmeric lattes and home-made white chocolate flapjacks out of a vintage Citroen H1 van. From this vantage point, she spends Fridays through to Sundays watching everything unfold beneath her: brides on their wedding day knee-high in mud, fell runners and orienteers making their way through the verdant landscapes, and cyclists shooting past so fast they’re but a flash of colour. “From here to Millers Dale, you get a good experience of the Peak District. You feel in the thick of the countryside, yet it’s so accessible,” says Cairns. Millers Dale, I soon find out, is a hamlet, decked out in traditional limestone with a few railway cottages – a nod to the history of the once busy Midland mainland route.
Positioned on the main high street in Tideswell, you couldn’t miss Flossy Teacake’s studio if you tried. People stop to coo over the cutesy window displays, where everything is meticulously styled, from Flossy’s own vintage 1950s clothes to the music playing in the background. Nicknamed ‘Flossy Teacake’ when she was little, she admits that she’s usually got ceramics and clay up to her elbows. “My work tells stories from typical English villages in Derbyshire – Eyam, where I grew up, and now Tideswell. I make 3D buildings that represent the people who live there.” From what I can see, there is no shortage of inspiration in Tideswell, with its active local community. “We all really care about our village. For a lot of the older generation, it means they are not missed or forgotten."
Heading out of Tideswell, it’s a quick jump to Bradwell. This is a proper working village. “It’s an amazing place to be. There are wonderful views and you can get to so many iconic places from here,” enthuses Antony Paul Zuri, front of house manager at the Samuel Fox Country Inn. Just like the sumptuous interior of the Samuel Fox, he exudes style and sophistication.
The inn's namesake is Samuel Fox, who was born in Bradwell and is known for inventing the ‘Paragon’ umbrella frame. “We like to think we're putting Bradwell back on the map, but through locally sourced and refined food,” says chef/patron James Duckett. With all its accolades and the honour of being featured in the Michelin Guide, it would be fair to say that the Samuel Fox Country Inn is doing just that.
"You can be on top of the Great Ridge within an hour, it’s so pleasing to the eye,” says David Hubball as we stand in his antique shop. If you can fit into Carlton Emporium between the “rows of organised junk” (glass bottles, ornaments, and even a surprisingly varied doorknob section), you will meet a man whose sole mission is to make people leave his shop laughing. Most shops in Castleton are owner occupied. “You get a proper shopkeeper relationship,” he says.
Having won the shop in a bet (as you do), Hubball opened it when he retired. “It’s not about making money. If I was at home doing nothing it would be horrible. Here, someone can walk in – a friend or someone.” That someone may just be 60s pop icon Dave Berry, who Hubball calls a dear friend, or Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame who once came to browse records, and said the madcap Titanic sketch with which Hubball greets visitors was “fabulous”.
A short walk from Bakewell’s centre, Bagshaw Hall offers modern suites and apartments in a grand building that’s more than 300 years old.
Located on the Chatsworth Estate, the Devonshire Arms at Pilsley serves up locally sourced, award-winning dishes that are high quality without being fussy.
Eroica Britannia is no normal bike ride. It brings a stream of vintage bicycles and retro riders to the Peak District every June, and plenty of festivities to boot.
If walking and cycling are too mundane, then try your hand at abseiling, stream scrambling and weasling with Bakewell-based company Dolomite Training.
People come from miles around to see rare Blue John stone at Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton. Vicky Turner is the fourth-generation owner of the show cave. She tells me she was bottle-fed on cave water as a baby, and grew up scrubbing and washing the cavern’s Blue John. “This village is literally in my blood and my bones,” she says.