Just west of Sheffield is the Peaks District of England. We made a short day tour of a part of this area with a driving tour to some of the interesting places near to Sheffield. We left late this morning after taking some time to sleep in and have a relaxed morning.
I have always thought of Sheffield in terms of cutlery. Cutlery is obviously the knives and forks that we use at the dinner table but the term actually means ‘that which cuts’, and it can be anything from pocket knives, to scissors, ice skates and scythes. The first reference to cutlery made in Sheffield was in 1297, when the hearth tax records included Robertus le Coteler – Robert the Cutler. As we travelled across to the Peak District, there were a couple of signposts pointing to little cutlery factories and this very potted version of the history of the cutlery industry here will explain their existence.
Before 1650 steel had to be imported to Britain from Sweden. However, metalworking had long been a key industry in Sheffield due to the availability of nearby raw materials such as iron ore, coal, charcoal and stone for grinding wheels. Sheffield had another advantage; several fast flowing rivers to help power machinery. In 1700 there were 36 water powered wheels in the valleys surrounding Sheffield, and by 1800 this had increased to 97. Experiments by Benjamin Huntsman in the 1740s resulted in the crucible steel process. Blister steel was melted in a crucible with a purifying agent, which allowed the slag and impurities to be skimmed off and the carbon to be evenly distributed in the molten metal. The finished product could also be poured into moulds, to make any shape. Early methods of silver plating were then used and after the 1840’s electroplating became a more common method of silver plating metal items. Then come the addition of chromium to create stainless steel. The increase in mechanised production to meet the demand for stainless steel products meant that many skilled jobs were lost in the interwar period. By the 1990’s there were only around 1000 people employed by a dozen or so in cutlery manufacturers left in Sheffield.
The Peak District is an upland area in England at the southern end of the Pennines. It is mostly in northern Derbyshire, but also includes parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire. An area of great diversity, it is mostly split into the Dark Peak, where most of the moorland is found and the geology is gritstone, and the limestone area of the White Peak.
This area around the Peaks District has been inhabited from the Mesolithic era. Evidence exists from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages. It was settled by the Romans and Anglo-Saxons and although the area remained largely agricultural, mining grew in importance in the medieval era. Richard Arkwright built his cotton mills at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Quarrying became important as mining declined. Tourism grew after the advent of the railways with visitors attracted by the landscape, spa towns at Buxton and Matlock Bath, Castleton’s show caves, and Bakewell, the national park’s only town.
Tourism remains important for its towns and villages and their varied attractions, country houses and heritage sites. Outside the towns, walking on the extensive network of public footpaths, cycle trails, rock climbing and caving are popular pursuits.
The first village that we drove through was Hathersage. It has a prominent history with literary figures – a much-celebrated aspect of the village’s past and present. Characters such as Robin Hood and Little John have strong connections to the area. In fact, Little John’s grave is in the local church yard. Charlotte Bronte also drew inspiration from Hathersage for her novel, Jane Eyre. Its other fame comes from the industrial heritage, boasting a rich history of millstone and needle manufacturing.
The valleys and the towns in this Peak District are stunningly beautiful . I took many photos across fields and farming areas.
We spent a few hours in the village of Castleton where its main street is lined with quaint stone buildings. We had lunch at the 16th century hotel – Ye Old Cheddar Cheese.
We left Castleton by driving up Winnats Pass. This is a hill pass and limestone gorge with a gradient of about 1:5. The road winds through a cleft, surrounded by high limestone ridges. The pass was once thought to have originated as a giant collapsed cavern, however, a more recent explanation is that it was a ravine between the coral reefs that originally formed the limestone here. The name is a corruption of ‘wind gates’. A local legend is that the pass is haunted after a young couple were murdered by miners in 1758.
This road took us past the start of the walking track to Mam Tor, the highest peak in this area. Everywhere we looked, we could see people walking somewhere across the hills. The track to Mam Tor was exceptionally heavy with people. It might have been a good day out for rambling, but there certainly wasn’t any solitude. It was more like a procession with walkers following in the previous person’s footsteps.
Our last stop for the day was in the town of Bakewell. This again, is a very scenic town with a square and streets lined with more old grey stone buildings. It is located on the River Wye, about 21 km southwest of Sheffield. This town is most famous for its pudding – the Bakewell Tart. There are at least two shops in the town that claim to be the original home of this delight. We found a parking spot right outside one of them and purchased a couple of tarts for afternoon tea. We would like to believe that this shop was really the original one. This town was also used in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice under the thinly-veiled pseudonym of Lambton.