I have recently started as an Engagement Ranger in the Peak District National Park covering the Bakewell Area. My role includes working to provide the first point of contact with communities, businesses and visitors; and promoting and enhancing the rights of way network. We are trying to enable ALL people to become more engaged with the National Park. It’s a brilliantly varied job, with no two days being the same. I’m passionate about nature and a big advocate for being outside in green spaces for our health and wellbeing.
I thought I knew the Peak District quite well, having visited so many times on family holidays. I have so many fond memories of visiting Castleton as a child, absolutely mesmerised by the caves. I could not believe that part of the Borrowers was filmed in Treak Cliff Cavern. I also had my first ever giant Yorkshire pudding in Castleton, it was filled with mashed potato, sausages and loads of onion gravy. Could life possibly get any better?! I spent many hours wandering happily round (and getting lost on) Kinder Scout with my Dad, as an escape from University life. Mam Tor was a firm favourite and felt like a big achievement to reach the summit – it was the biggest mountain I had ever seen. Then later on as an adult, I visited to come walking, running or climbing in Stanage, Burbage, the Roaches; fulfilling all the clichés.
I had always been lured to the drama of the Dark Peak with its high tops and exciting crags, normally stopping in the White Peak to grab a Bakewell tart on the way north… But I had been missing out! The White Peak is found in the Central and Southern part of the National Park, its name coming from grey or ‘white’ appearance from the carboniferous limestone forming the rocks, crags, buildings and dry stone walls.
Since working with the National Park Authority in April, I have had the chance to explore the White Peak, getting to know the area I cover – Bakewell / Miller’s Dale which includes the ever popular Monsal Trail. You don’t have to go far though to discover pockets of calm and stillness. Tideswell Dale has a sensory trail to follow, where you can discover how to slow down and connect with nature. This trail is also a part of a Miles Without Stiles network to allow and encourage people with all fitness and abilities access to the countryside, which is so important.
I have been really amazed by how gorgeous the Limestone Dales are, you can travel through so many different types of landscape (and weathers) all in a days walk. From the wide-open stretches of Cressbrook Dale and Lathkill Dale, contrasting with exciting sections of narrow gorges in Beresford Dale and Monks Dale. A particular favourite new discovery of mine is Chee Dale, a spectacular deep limestone gorge, with valley walls that reach 200ft above you as you traverse the path along the river Wye. Even more exciting than scrambling up and down the rocky trail, are two sections where the cliffs begin to close in even more, meaning you have to hop and skip across stepping stones sat in the water to reach the next section of footpath.
Another aspect of the White Peak I have found so interesting is the mining history and remaining historic monuments such as mines, rakes and dew ponds. Centuries of mining the mineral veins, particularly lead, in this area have resulted in a distinctive network of mounds and hollows. These often stretch in lines following the veins across the limestone plateau and through the dales. Tideslow Rake is a particularly impressive example of a lead rake and was probably worked between the 12th and 18th centuries. The length of the rake is flanked all the way by shafts, heaps of dressing waste and spoil, numerous dressing and washing floors and platforms for winding gear. Due to the uneven surface the land is often not suitable for farming and therefore, rakes can support wonderfully diverse and rare flora such as spring sandwort and alpine pennycrest.
Dew ponds are artificially made ponds, usually at the top of a hill, for the purpose of watering livestock. They were made as the ground on the limestone plateau is too porous and standing water is scarce. Dew ponds can be seen all around the White Peak and are iconic with the landscape. Some have been taken over by or restored for wildlife such as newts (including great crested newts), dragonflies and invertebrates.
I can’t wait to carry on discovering more about the White Peak, through my job and in my free time, I feel so proud of this area already, and was so excited to learn there were great crested newts here (I could nerd out about GCN all day!) I have a feeling there’s going to be many more adventures in gorgeous places and I feel so lucky to live and work in such an amazing area. I hope to see you here soon!