As a born and bred resident of England’s north, I often forget that we possess some of the – dare I say – most beautiful countryside in the world. Just half an hour from my city of Sheffield, there is a network of winding country paths snaking over the hills of South Yorkshire, known as the Peak District. The residents of this region jokingly refer to it as “God’s Own County,” as the beautiful land looks like a product of divine creation. Last week, I decided to escape the city and take my dog out into the hills for a long, much-deserved walk.
There are several areas of the Peak District that are popular with walkers and cyclists alike, one of which is Stanage Edge. A sunny and favourably warm Sunday morning offers up an unmissable opportunity for walkers. We arrive in the car and park in a little lay-by at the edge of the road. It’s only just past 9 in the morning, but already there are several people out enjoying the weather: troupes of hardened mountain bikers, dedicated hikers, and casual congregations of families and children.
The hill stretches up to stroke the blue sky, creating a soft contrast from the grey of the slate cliffs. Of course, at this altitude it’s a little windy, but it is this very wind which sculpts the landscape of these moors. At one year old, this was my husky’s first hike, and he was startled to see his first sheep. In the countryside of Sheffield, sheep roam the windswept acres and nibble on the bracken and the heather.
We hike up the initial slope, clambering over rocks on the designated trail for two-legged creatures, while our dog bounds and leaps over larger boulders, panting excitedly. It isn’t too long a walk to the top of the cliffs to which Stanage Edge owes its name, making this an ideal walk for people of any ability or experience in hiking.
The Edge of the World
The strength of the wind ebbs and worsens throughout the walk, never becoming unbearable. We pick our way along the cliffside, passing many people who have come here to enjoy an activity for which the Peak District is famous – climbing. People come from all over the world to attempt the cliffs here, or even to practice on the easier climbs. They bring sacks full of carabiners and helmets and ropes, working together to scale the sheer faces of granite. It’s an impressive sight to see!
In the many spots where there aren’t climbers working, you can stand right on the edge of the rocks and look out over the landscape below. It’s an impressive scenery, especially on a nice day with a blue sky.
The rolling hills stretch as far as the eye can see; a patchwork of different hues of green with splotches of brown and purple. This countryside is what characterises England – you can even pick out the lines of the stone walls cordoning off farmer’s fields. Roads snake their way through the green, winding around the soft slopes of the hills, and the vast expanse of land is dotted with trees and copses of conifers. My dog particularly enjoyed the view, persistently hopping to the edge to turn his face into the wind.
I must admit that England is not very known for an abundance of wildlife, and you would not think that this desolate landscape, void of much vegetation, would play host to animals. However, as I mentioned before there are plenty of sheep. At the beginning of June there are plenty of young lambs finding their feet in the foothills, and even from far away the bleats of the flock carry on the wind.
Additionally, we were even lucky enough to spot a Kestrel hovering on the blustery gusts below the cliffs. Birds of prey such as Peregrine Falcons can be seen sometimes, as well as the occasional small vole or shrew if you have a keen eye.
Generally, England is famous for its characteristically bad weather. If you visited the Peak District in autumn, chances are it would be a bleak, rainy day. Some people enjoy these more challenging hikes, but they aren’t for everyone. British summertime can actually offer up a wealth of opportunities to walk under a sunny sky, even if it may be a little on the chilly side. In terms of gear, I would recommend using a layered outfit so you can take off a layer if it gets too warm as you’re walking, and always take a coat!
Even on the beautiful day we chose to walk, the weather turned sour just as we arrived back at the car after a three-hour walk. Of course, you don’t have to walk as far as we did, but if you’re planning a long trek make sure you’re prepared with water, snacks and appropriate clothing.
However, if you decide to walk in the wintertime, be prepared to find the hills covered by a white blanket of snow. Up in the hills, the snow clouds can be unrelenting and the snow can get deep off the designated trails. Even so, the snow-covered scenery is equally as beautiful.
I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the Peak District if you ever find yourself in England, just to see this hidden gem in the British countryside. If this does not feature in your plans, perhaps this article has inspired you to get out into the wilderness close to where you live! After all, an escape to nature is very therapeutic, and thankfully never too far away.
- Freelance writer and student living in the United Kingdom
- 2017.06.26EnglandEngland’s Wild Countryside