About the walk
The Peak District offers some of the finest walking in Britain. It is centrally located in the heart of England, easily accessible and endowed with fabulous scenery. Compact enough to walk across in a day, yet sufficiently extensive to provide freedom, it has a little bit of everything. There are higher, more spectacular mountains in Snowdonia, the Lake District and Scotland, but in the Peak District you can find soaring limestone ridges, bold gritstone edges, high peat-covered moorland and sylvan valleys within a stone’s throw of each other. The key to this wonderful range of scenery lies in having just the right combination of old rocks beneath the surface, some hard and resistant, others weak and easily worn away. Natural agents of erosion, such as the wind, rain, ice and long-lost seas have sculpted the landscape over millions of years, aided by the hand of man in the most recent past. For those with an interest in combining a good walk with an appreciation of how the landscape formed, the Peak District is the ideal destination.
High Tor and Riber Castle from Masson Hill. © Martin Whiteley
A pedestrian approach
First and foremost, this is a guide for walkers, but as we lead you through some of the finest scenery in the Peak District we will also try to explain how the local rocks and landforms have contributed to your surroundings. There is satisfaction to be gained from knowing something about the rocks beneath our feet. In turn, we can recognise that the rocks and landforms have influenced our heritage and fashioned modern-day living, even though the impact of human civilisation provides a strong overprint throughout the area. It is in the hope that there are many other walkers who share our enthusiasm for knowing more about the ground they cover that we’ve devised The Peak District GeoWalk.
The GeoWalk is a long-distance (215 km) route that may be enjoyed as a challenge over the course of 6-8 days, or as a series of separate outings. One feature of walking in this area is that you’re never very far from local facilities and transport links, so it’s simple enough to tackle the walk in whatever form suits you best. The route is also flexible to some extent. While we have included the best of the stunning views, many of the finest landforms and all of the major rock types in the Peak District, it would hardly detract from the GeoWalk if you chose to skip a section or created your own diversions. Walking, after all, is simply a form of enjoyable exploration and this website attempts to provide guidance, rather than prescription.
The big picture
The GeoWalk is a circuit with a start and finish in Matlock, the attractive county town of Derbyshire. Accessible by road and rail from major centres such as Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby, the only downside to starting in Matlock is that you may be reluctant to leave it. The map shows the walk in the context of the local region, which may prove useful for planning purposes. For convenience the GeoWalk is divided into 14 sections that are numbered sequentially from Matlock, but in practice the route can be accessed anywhere.
The second map is interesting because the walk route is superimposed on a simplified geological map that highlights the distribution of rocks in the Peak District National Park. It’s evident that the GeoWalk traverses most of the National Park and we have ensured that the wide variety of scenery that results from the unique arrangement of Carboniferous rocks in the area is fully represented.
What’s in store
The walk heads off in a clockwise direction, following the Derwent Valley, before turning west towards the limestone country of the White Peak. Breezy upland pastures are then followed by a network of wooded dales that lead to the western flank of the Peak District and the contrasting scenery provided by the rivers that flow through mudstone-floored valleys and wind-sculpted crags of sandstone. Then it’s all change again as you step back onto the limestones that are exposed in fin-like ridges, huge quarries and deep gorges around Buxton.
Now beyond the halfway point, the route heads north towards the Dark Peak. Here the walking becomes more challenging, with alternating layers of sandstone and mudstone producing high, flat-topped hills mantled with peat and dissected by tumbling streams. Beyond the watery world of Ladybower Reservoir the walk becomes more orderly as you follow a succession of gritstone edges towards Matlock, with the wind on your face and incomparable views across the heart of the Peak District.