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Exploring Peak District National Park

Peak District National Park covers some 1,404 sq. km (542 sq. miles), most of it in Derbyshire, with some spilling over into South Yorkshire and Staffordshire. It stretches from Holmfirth in the north to Ashbourne in the south, and from Sheffield in the east to Macclesfield in the west. The best central place to stay overnight is Buxton .

The peak in the name is a bit misleading, because there is no actual peak -- the highest point is just 630m (2,100 ft.). The park has some 4,000 walking trails that cover some of the most beautiful hill country in England.

The southern portion of the park, called White Peak, is filled with limestone hills, tiny villages, old stone walls, and hidden valleys. August and September are the best and most beautiful times to hike these rolling hills.

In the north, called Dark Peak, the scenery changes to rugged moors and deep gullies. This area is best visited in the spring when the purple heather, so beloved by Emily Brontë, comes into bloom.

If you're planning an extensive visit to the park, write for details to the Peak District National Park Authority, Aldern House, Baslow Road, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1AE (tel. 01629/816200; www.peakdistrict.org). A list of publications will be sent to you, and you can order whichever you want.

Getting to the Park -- You can reach Buxton by train from Manchester. It's also possible to travel by bus, the Transpeak, taking 3 1/2 hours from Manchester to Nottingham, with stops at such major centers as Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock, and Matlock Bath. If you're planning to use public transportation, consider the Derbyshire Wayfarer, sold at various rail and bus stations; for £9 for adults or £5 for students, seniors, and children, you can ride all the bus and rail lines within the peak district for a day.

If you're driving, the main route is the A515 north from Birmingham, with Buxton as the gateway. From Manchester, Route 6 heads southeast to Buxton.

Getting Around the Park -- Many visitors prefer to walk from one village to another. In our view, the best and most evocative walk in the entire park district is the Monsal Trail, lying between Buxton and Bakewell . If you're not so hearty, you can take local buses, which connect various villages. Instead of the usual Sunday slowdown in bus service, more buses run on that day than on weekdays because of increased demand, especially in summer.

Another popular way to explore the park is by bicycle. Park authorities operate three Cycle Hire Centres, renting bikes for £14 a day for adults and £10 for children 15 and younger, with a £20 deposit, helmet included. Centers are at Mapleton Lane in Ashbourne (tel. 01335/343156), near the Fairholmes Information Centre at Derwent (tel. 01433/651261), and at the junction of Tissington and High Peak Trails at Parsley Hay (tel. 01298/84493; www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/cycle).

Buxton

Water from nine thermal wells is no longer available for spa treatments, but you can visit the 9.3-hectare (23-acre) Pavilion Gardens (which are open at all times; admission is free). A concert hall and ballroom under an iron-and-glass roof originally stood here in the 1870s. They have given way today to a conservatory, restaurant, several bars, and a cafeteria.

Another sight, Poole's Cavern, Buxton Country Park, Green Lane (tel. 01298/26978; www.poolescavern.co.uk), is a cave that was inhabited by Stone Age people, who may have been the first to marvel at the natural vaulted roof bedecked with stalactites. Visitors can walk through the spacious galleries, viewing the incredible horizontal cave, which is electrically lighted. On a summer day you can take a beautiful walk here by heading south of town for 1.6km (1 mile), following the boardwalk through the Pavilion Gardens and picking up the signposted trail along Temple Road. From Easter to October, the attraction is open daily from 9:30am to 5pm; off-season hours are Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Admission is £7.50 for adults, £6 for students and seniors, £4.50 for children 5 to 16, and free for kids 4 and younger. A family ticket costs £22.

Set about 2km (1 1/4 miles) south of Buxton's town center is one of the oddest pieces of public Victorian architecture in the Midlands, Solomon's Temple, whose circular design may remind you of a straight castellated Tower of Pisa as interpreted by the neo-Gothic designers of Victorian England. Conceived as a folly in 1895 and donated to the city by a prominent building contractor, Solomon Mycock, it sits atop a tumulus (burial mound) from Neolithic times. Climb a small spiral staircase inside the temple for impressive views over Buxton and the surrounding countryside, especially the hills to the west. It's open all the time, day and night, and admission is free. Our favorite walk in the area is from Poole's Cavern , strolling through Grinlow Woods for 20 minutes until you reach Solomon's Temple.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.