11/12/11 - Saturday - The Peak District

The Peak District was the UK's first national park. It is an area right in the center of the country-ish. Basically it is a huge green patch on any map of the UK that you look at. I had done a lot of research but I still wasn't sure what the expect (and of course I have seen Pride and Prejudice). It seemed to vary quite a bit from the north to the south of the park. There are also quite a number of towns throughout the District, which is completely different than National Parks in the U.S. The towns tend to be just outside the park, this was not the case here.

We stayed in Buxton which a good starting point for going north or south in the Peak District but the place we stayed was a little bit old and in need of some serious updating. I would suggest staying at any of the nice looking bed and breakfasts all over the district. It doesn't really matter where you stay if you have a car. There are numerous hikes and walks you can take all, most of them are longer in distance, so if you don't have all day or a couple of days seeing some of the estates is your best bet. You can take in a lot of scenery on the way and while you won't necessarily get up the peaks unless you are walking, it is absolutely still worth it.

Our first stop was the visitor center in Bakewell. We were too early and it was still closed. In a spur of the moment decision we decided not to wait for it to open and head straight for the Chatsworth House which was very well signed. It turned out to be a wonderful decision. We got there and there was a full on Christmas Festival going on. We were lucky enough to be able to park right next to the house. The people we saw on the way out were not so lucky. The traffic back up for somewhere between 3-5 miles trying to get in. It was unbelievable. I mean I was shocked. I didn't even know there were that many people in the area.

 The Chatsworth House is the site they used for Mr. Darcy's House in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. It is so much more awesome in person than it is in the movie ( and I thought it was lovely in the movie). It is huge, the grounds are amazing and it is so peaceful. The gardens go on forever and include a maze, a 100 step fountain, a reflecting pool, a massive rock garden, vegetable garden and a large variety of trees and plants. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire still live there with their family. It is a full working house.

The surprise Christmas Market on the property had a variety of foods, crafts and knickknacks for all. The house itself was fully decorated for Christmas, another bonus. When I say decorated I mean full out, there were numerous trees and too many different types of decorations to count. It was truly a unique experience that happened totally by accident. After we walk through the house with mostly locals, we spent a lot of time wandering the expansive gardens. We topped it all off with a second walk through the market, getting food and poking around. By this time it was mobbed and we were glad we had gone in the house first. From the market you could see the traffic building, it was just crazy! The Chatsworth house is a wonderful stop regardless of the time of year, and it is open every day except Christmas. You can easily spend a whole day there.

We went back into Bakewell to go the visitors center which turned out to be more of a shop than anything else, and it made us even more happy that we had decided not to wait for it to open. Our next stop was to be Haddon Hall but it was closed and would not open again until December for the Christmas Season. Instead we started driving southwest. We drove on some seriously small roads that were on the map, but so not on the map, a lot of them didn't have names, but they got us to where we were going. We went through Monyash and Harwington among other super cute little English towns and rolling farmland. I wanted to stop and take pictures every five minutes.

After we were out of the peak district we drove towards Salisbury. We were on the M (Motorway aka Highway) for a while and then as we got closer the roads got smaller and smaller until we were again on unnamed roads. I personally don't like GPS, but my Dad is a lover of it, so he won out. I prefer look at a map and choose my own route not have it chosen for me. The GPS chose what I can only call the most ridiculous route of all time. The unnamed roads this time were not paved and were mostly one lane. The one lane I expected but the windy dark dirt road was pretty serious. I crawled like I had the night before on the foggy windy road. Luckily we got there safely. I imagine during the day the road was quite beautiful, but at night it was just slow going and nail biting all the way.