Covering more than 555 square miles, The Peak District National Park boasts everything from bewitching moors, dales, springs, caverns, gnarled forests and breathtaking vistas to idyllic mediaeval market towns, miles of footpaths and cycle trails to be explored.
It’s also one of the UK’s best holiday destinations, attracting more than 10 million visitors every year.
Whilst this outstandingly beautiful part of the UK is probably best known for its Bakewell Pudding, you’ll also find the purest natural mineral water in the world and inspiring historical tales of bravery, plague and progress.
All these things make it the perfect staycation for hikers, nature lovers, history buffs, foodies and those looking for a UK trip with a difference.
In this article, we’d love to show you how the Peak District came to be the stunning and inspiring place it is today, from ancient history right through to modern times.
Millions of years ago, the Peak District was a tropical lagoon with a warm, shallow sea, just like most of Britain.
Although it is dominated by sedimentary rocks that have been sculpted by glaciers, receding seas and land collapse, there is a huge amount of limestone here, created by the sea creatures, plants and shells that once lived here.
These days, you can find countless fossils of the tiny sea creatures who called this part of Britain their home so many years ago. moulded, scalped, sculpted and carved by land collapse, glaciers and receding seas.
Prehistory (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age- 10,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C.)
Despite its apparently remote location, the Peak District was settled very early in our history. Here, you’ll find Arbor Low, an outstanding Stone Age Monument that is often referred to as ‘The Stonehenge of the North’ and many more similar burial mounds and chambers.
When the Bronze Age arrived, it became home to a large population who farmed the area and used their newly discovered skills with copper and tin to clear the ancient forest and turn it into grasslands for farming.
Visit the Peak District and you’ll still find evidence of these ancient people’s presence with hill forts like Mam Tor and hut circles that take you back in time.
Romans (55 BC- AD 410)
When the Romans arrived in 80AD, the population exploded. This gave rise to a sudden need for more grain and other crops to feed them and the vast legions moving north.
With an excellent supply of minerals in the area, they soon started to export lead from the Buxton area whilst the thermal springs at Matlock and Buxton allowed them to create their hot baths
If anyone was brave enough to resist their invasion, they were killed, their villages destroyed and were set to work building the roads as slaves or used as soldiers on the front line.
In the Dark Ages, the Roman Empire started to diminish and the Scandinavians, Germans and Dutch entered the country and lived alongside the Anglo-Saxons who were already in the area. The land remained mainly agricultural with sheep farming dominating the economy.
Many beautiful manor houses such as Haddon Hall were also built during this time, offering a fairytale glimpse into the past.
It’s thought that the name for the Peak District came from this time, likely referring to the Pecsaeton or Peakland Anglo-Saxon tribe who lived in the area during the 6th century AD.
When William of Normandy invaded in 1066, he soon built the stunning Peveril Castle in Castleton to serve as a base for the government in the area. It remains one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses.
Tudors and Stewarts (1485–1714)
Mining for lead, coal, copper, zinc, iron, manganese and silver continued to be the mainstay of the economy throughout Tudor and Stewart times, alongside a growing textiles industry. Windmills spread throughout the area and skilled hand spinners and weavers worked to create the cotton and wool fabrics of the time.
However, it’s the brave village of Eyan, 6 miles north of Bakewell that deserves our attention at this time.
When a box was brought to the village in 1665 containing infested fleas, plague soon broke out and the village decided to isolate itself. If you’d like to know more, you can visit the village itself and visit the gorgeous 17th-century Eyam Hall, built just six years after the plague happened.
Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1840)
The advent of the Industrial Revolution accelerated the growth of the textiles industry with water mills taking advantage of this new technology. In fact, the world’s first water-powered cotton mill- Arkwright’s Cromford Mill was built right here and is now a World Heritage site that you can experience for yourself.
Lead and coal mining continued and roads, canals and railways were built to transport these goods. This also sparked the birth of local tourism as people from nearby industrial cities like Manchester and Sheffield travelled for the fresh air and ‘romantic’ landscapes of the area.
The Peak District also inspired literary giants to create classics that have long been enjoyed across the world. Jane Austen wrote ‘Pride and Prejudice’ whilst staying in Bakewell and Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ is based around Hathersage. Even Wordsworth enjoyed the landscapes and wrote a sonnet to Chatsworth House.
Looking to the future…
Between the Industrial Revolution and the modern day, the Peak District has witnessed many changes including a boom in tourism. In fact, it was the first National Park in Britain, created in 1951 and since then has offered visitors the chance to escape from hectic modern life and enjoy the fresh air and iconic landscapes.
If you’re looking for a UK staycation, weekend break or even a day out that gives you a hands-on taste of history throughout the ages, visit the Peak District today.