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How to spend a weekend in Bakewell, Peak District

Base yourself in the Derbyshire town for a weekend of country estates, industrial heritage and rambles through a green and pleasant land alive with creative spirit.

Published 26 Mar 2021, 06:06 GMT
The Peacock Inn in Bakewell town centre. Perhaps best-known for its eponymous pudding, Bakewell makes the ideal jumping-off ...

The Peacock Inn in Bakewell town centre. Perhaps best-known for its eponymous pudding, Bakewell makes the ideal jumping-off point for exploring the Peak District National Park. 

Photograph by Alamy

The traditional image of the Peak District — rolling hills and country pubs, curious sheep and dry stone walls — turns out to be a gross oversimplification. A weekend clambering over stiles and sipping pints of bitter is both feasible and enjoyable, but linger a while longer in this swathe of central England, and a whole new side reveals itself. 

The historic market town of Bakewell serves as the ideal base for exploring the area: here, charmed visitors feed ducks by the river, mooch between farm shops and coo at handsome stone buildings. But the town’s chocolate-box appeal belies its industriousness; in converted mills and surrounding villages, brewers, woodcarvers, jam-makers and jewellers are busy giving the area some serious cultural clout. Sleepy rural idyll this is not.

Days in this part of the country can swing from pottery to puddings, or from deer-spotting to dark history. The boots will still get muddy, but you probably won’t have time to scrape the dirt off.

Day one: opulence & indulgence

Morning

If in doubt in these parts, the Duke of Devonshire probably owns it. The sprawling Chatsworth Estate Farm Shop in the village of Pilsley sells all the best goodies made by farmers, brewers and bakers on the Duke’s land. The range and quality are tremendous, and the Duchess’ favourite — a lime marmalade with pineapple — is the essential buy.

The centrepiece of the estate, Chatsworth House, is one of Britain’s great stately homes. The lavish wood panelling, tapestries and paintings and the showboating fountains dotting lawns sculpted by Capability Brown are as expected, but the periodic injection of modern art adds a welcome twist. Damien Hirst’s visceral Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain was a fixture in the chapel for several years, while works by artist Lucian Freud and sculptor David Nash can be found in the main building.

Afternoon

Monsal Head, offering one of the Peak District’s best views, lies four miles west of Chatsworth. Several walking routes slug their way up to it. Alternatively, just rock up at the car park, take a photo of Monsal Dale and the Headstone Viaduct, then maybe have an al fresco pint at Monsal Head Hotel’s Stable Bar.

It’s three miles back to Bakewell, where an afternoon mooch is in order. The Bakewell Cheese Shop, on Market Street, sells novelty varieties like mustard and ale, and whisky and ginger, and the Peak District National Park Visitor Centre doubles as a gallery, selling local crafts alongside the walking maps. Obligatory, however, is The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, which lays on the take-it-with-a-pinch-of-salt history as thick as the eggy mixture on top of the dessert’s jam layer. Devour with custard, as tradition demands.

Evening

Thornbridge Brewery, which was producing craft beer long before it was cool, sits on the site of a former mill on the edge of Bakewell. Street food vendors pop up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the real treat is tasting obscure members of the Thornbridge range. The Jaipur IPA is still the standard-bearer and the pineapply Jamestown New England IPA is great. More experimental offerings include the Florida Weisse raspberry sour and Cocoa Wonderland chocolate porter.

Wobble merrily back into town for local produce given French treatment at longstanding institution Piedaniel’s. The restaurant offers a mix of formal white tablecloths and atmospheric wooden beams, with the star being the £28 Derbyshire beef fillet topped with asparagus, wrapped in ham and served with Burgundy sauce.

Perhaps the finest country house in England, Chatsworth is the crowning jewel of the Peak District. Lavish interiors and Capability Brown-designed gardens are offset by a rotating programme of modern art exhibitions.

Photograph by Alamy

Day two: exercise & education

Morning

Running parallel to the River Wye along the former Midland Railway line, the Monsal Trail stretches for 8.5 miles through Monsal Dale. Being largely flat, it’s no challenge for walkers, but for cyclists it’s nigh-on perfect. Bikes can be hired for £12 for two hours from Hassop Station, just outside Bakewell. 

Highlights along the route include four well-lit former railway tunnels, the Headstone Viaduct and Cressbrook and Litton Mills, hulking monsters that played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution.

Hassop Station Cafe is the top spot for breakfast at the start of the trail or lunch at the end. There’s a wealth of outdoor seating, and tandoori chicken kebabs and vegan falafel burritos are menu highlights.

Afternoon

Seven miles north of Bakewell, the village of Eyam would be regarded as idyllic were it not for its grimly heroic past. As many a child in the Midlands who went on a school trip will know, this was the village that sealed itself off in self-sacrifice in 1665 during the Great Plague. Eyam Museum tells the full story. Concisely brutal detail can also be found on plaques outside the Plague Cottages on Church Avenue, where death first struck.

Eyam Parish Church has more information on the victims’ bravery, plus stained-glass windows depicting the morbid tale. Mompesson’s Well, a thigh-burning, 25-minute uphill slog from the church, meanwhile, was where neighbouring villagers left provisions for Eyam’s stricken self-isolation pioneers. 

Evening

There’s a possibility you might want to cleanse yourself after Eyam, and that’s where Hathersage Swimming Pool comes in. Five miles north of Eyam, the outdoor facility comes with views of dramatic Stanage Edge and the surrounding hills. The pool is 30 metres long and heated year-round to 28C, but pre-booking is strongly advised as it gets very busy at the first glimpse of a little sun.

Post-dip, amble through Hathersage, stopping for drinks and dinner at any of several rather loveable pubs. The Scotsman’s Pack Country Inn serves up hearty, gastropub-style food alongside hand-pulled ales. If the weather’s up to it, eat outside on the patio next to the trout-filled stream.

Read more: A traveller's guide to the Howgill Fells, Cumbria

View from Monsal Head, taking in the Headstone Viaduct and Monsal Dale, one of the area's most well-known beauty spots.

Photograph by Getty Images

Five to visit: Derbyshire designers

Bakewell’s corner of the Peak District is idyllic yet industrious. You’ll see signs for all kinds of makers, from stained-glass artists to stonemasons. Many are appointment-only but some are open to all

1. Eyam Hall

Former farm buildings at this historic manor are now the setting for Eyam Courtyard, home to a host of businesses, including restaurants, cafes and a yoga studio. It’s here Ralph Weston creates bespoke jewellery, with Blue John, a semi-precious mineral extracted from the Blue John Cavern at nearby Castleton, often used to dazzling effect. Ralph beavers away in his workshop at the side of the shop, with visitors able to peer in and watch him in action. 

2. Rock Paper Silver

There’s a similar set-up at Caudwell’s Mill in Rowsley. Here, silversmith Rebecca Green uses 5,000-year-old wax-moulding techniques to make jewellery and mini animal sculptures. Peak District hares have become a signature motif, and Rebecca runs jewellery-making classes for anyone wanting to try the DIY approach. 

3. Baslow Pottery

The stoneware plates and vases on display at Baslow Pottery are mainly the work of Ray Gridley, who often uses clay dug from his own back garden. But works from a loose collective of potters, who fire and glaze using the facilities at the back of the handsome ivy-covered building, are also proudly on display. 

4. Richard Whittlestone

On the Chatsworth Estate in Pilsley, wildlife artist Richard Whittlestone huddles in his tiny studio, painting nature-packed Peak District scenes. His first love are birds, though, and the acrylic paintings of owls, oystercatchers, pheasants and kingfishers are the stars of his gallery. All the works have a tiny fly hidden somewhere  within each composition, should anyone wish to set themselves the challenge of spotting them. 

5. David Mellor Design

On the southern outskirts of Hathersage a striking, circular building occupies a space where a gas holder once stood. It’s now a factory that makes equally impressive cutlery, tableware and other kitchen essentials. There’s an adjoining shop, gallery and mini museum. Today, Corin Mellor is the creative force behind the company, but it was his father, David, who blazed a trail here. His work extended far beyond the dinner table. In the 1950s and ’60s, the Sheffield-born designer helped to transform Britain’s streetscapes with his lighting columns, bus shelters and postboxes. 

Read more: What to do in Nidderdale, Yorkshire

Located just north of Bakewell, the Hassop Station Cafe sits on the Monsal Trail and offers cycles for hire. 

Photograph by Alamy

Top five family-friendly walks

 

1. Padley Gorge

Next to Grindleford Station, eight miles north of Bakewell, lies Padley Gorge, a jumble of ferns and mossy rocks. Trails are kept as natural as possible — it’s more a case of finding the gaps in the woods than following a path — and the rock pools in Burbage Brook are perfect for paddling in.

2. Longshaw Estate

The 1.7-mile walking route around this National Trust estate skirts the upper end of Padley Gorge. Children love the stepping stones, but Longshaw is mostly all about the giant fallen trees, left in place for little hands and feet to gleefully scramble over. 

3. Higger Tor

A stack of giant rocks dominates Higger Tor, the best of several lookouts along the Ringinglow Road between Hathersage and Sheffield. Stroll through the adjacent sheep-grazed fields, then let the kids clamber over hundreds of strangely smooth grey gritstone boulders. The views out over the Hope Valley are epic.

4. Stanage Edge

Popular with rock climbers, this gritstone escarpment marks the boundary of the brooding moorland of the Dark Peak escarpment and the grass-covered limestone plateau of White Peak. It’s a six-mile circular walk from Hathersage. Alternatively, park at the Hollin Bank Car Park and huff and puff half a mile to the top. 

5. Chatsworth Estate

A three-mile loop from Calton Lees Car Park takes in a ruined mill, the pretty village of Edensor and views of Chatsworth House. Save the stretch along the River Derwent for last — deer often hang out there.

Top three Peak pub stays

 

1. The Peacock at Barlow

Just outside the National Park boundaries, The Peacock’s key selling point is that it brews its own beers. But the food’s good, too — the pies are a speciality — and the Thursday night quiz is highly entertaining. It has eight boutique bedrooms to choose from, with four set in a converted barn. From £90, B&B. 

2. The Devonshire Arms at Pilsley

Built from gorgeous honeyed stone, this is one of several Chatsworth-owned pubs. Estate produce sprinkles the menu, but the rousing views of valley and escarpment seal the deal. Prices range from £125, B&B, for the smaller doubles, but the £205 four-poster farmhouse rooms deliver the romance factor in spaces. 

3. The Peacock, Bakewell

A higgledy-piggledy, 200-year-old former coaching inn with bags of character, The Peacock is slap-bang in the centre of Bakewell. Beers come from local breweries, traditional British pub meals are chalked on the blackboards and the surprisingly contemporary rooms are at complete odds with the building they’re set in. Doubles from £89, B&B. 

More info

peakdistrict.gov.uk

How to do it

Hathersage is on the Sheffield-to-Manchester train line; local buses serve Bakewell from Chesterfield and Sheffield. For more info on local buses, visit derbysbus.info. 

Published in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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