The time of year when summer blurs into autumn is when the Peak District is at its best. To be more exact, it’s at around 7pm in the evening, as the sunlight turns golden and shadows stretch to implausible proportions. I should know. I grew up in Sheffield on its eastern boundary and spent almost every childhood weekend there.
The Peak District is something of a communal garden for Sheffielders. It’s the same for Mancunians, whose city borders the western edge, and those from the East Midlands, who live close to the southern perimeter. It even has the M1 running up one side. It’s not known as the UK’s most accessible National Park for nothing.
The Peaks, for me, were instrumental in defining what beauty is: the deciduous overhangs that make tunnels of the roads; the yellowing moor-fringes, the wind-flattened grasses, and the iron-tinged streams that scribble through the valleys. My two children – Martha, four, and Seth, two – are impressed. ‘Wow,’ says Martha, looking out of her window as we descend into Hathersage.
We’re here for the weekend, an opportunity for me to introduce my offspring to the backdrop of my youth. Secretly, though, I’m seeing it as an opportunity to pick up Bakewell puddings from source.
Stunning vistas, though, don’t keep preschoolers interested for long. We carry on to the Chatsworth Estate, where there’s an adventure playground. And, for an hour, we let the kids clamber while my wife and I decide what to do next. She wants to visit nearby Eyam – famous for cutting itself off during the 1665 Plague to prevent its spread.
I have mixed feelings about Eyam. It’s a pretty village, but it will always be the scene my most vivid childhood memory. We were on a school trip there when I was 10 and I innocently asked my teacher what happened to the people.
‘Their groins swelled up,’ she said flippantly. ‘Then their skin decomposed.’
The horror I experienced that day still nags. But my wife doesn’t seem to share my unease. ‘Look at this,’ she shouts excitedly from further down the street. ‘Six died here!’
By the time we drive over Bakewell’s stone bridge, it’s getting close to teatime. ‘Come on,’ I say. ‘Let’s go and get some puddings.’
Note ‘puddings’; not ‘tarts’. Here, the Bakewell tart is seen as an aberration. I take the kids into The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop and let them gaze at the selection of cakes. ‘Daddy,’ says Martha. ‘Can I have an éclair?’
‘No,’ I say abruptly, turning to the lady behind the counter. ‘Three Bakewell puddings please.’
‘But I don’t like Bakewell pudding.’
‘Yes you do.’
We drive back through the grounds of the Chatsworth Estate, Martha happier after being allowed to nibble her dessert. And I realise we’re passing through at the perfect time. It’s just after 7pm, the sunlight is low and the hazy colour of cider. It’s the best time to find yourself in the Peak District. Told you so.
Getting there: East Midlands Trains operates trains from London St Pancras to Sheffield, the nearest major city to the Peak District, from around £25 return. You’ll need a car to explore the national park properly, though. To drive there, simply drive along the M1 motorway and come off at junction 29. From there, take the A617 and A619 towards Bakewell.
Where to stay: The area’s best hotel is The Peacock at Rowsley (01629 733518), just a few miles downriver from Calver. It’s a stylish boutique property with a superb restaurant. Doubles from £160.
Peak Cottages (0114 262 0777) offers cosy four-person cottages in the national park for as little as £350 per week.
Where to eat: The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop (01629 812193).