Camping nearby Manchester is possible! One great way to explore the UK and understand the British culture is to get away from the cities. While more than 80% of the British live in urban areas, the countryside remains a very important part of the English life. In this blog entry I will tell you everything you need to know and do while visiting the vast moorlands that exist towards the west of Manchester. I guarantee that you will find these rural areas very charming.
It turns out that the city is located only 30 miles away from the Peak District National Park. This area became the first national park of the United Kingdom in 1951 and has plenty to offer to the outdoor enthusiasts. I visited the park in mid-October, just 1 month after my classes had started.
If you really want to camp and you are afraid you don’t have the right gear, I would recommend visiting the Decathlon Store in Manchester-Eastlands (right in front of the “Velopark” Tram Stop of the Ashford-Under-Lyne line). This huge store has everything from tents to sleeping-bags and the price to quality ratio is reasonable. If you don’t want to stay the night it is also possible to visit the park and then return the same day. However, I would strongly recommend that you get yourself a good waterproof jacket and a pair of sturdy boots.
Getting there is very easy. If you are old enough to rent a car, the park is just less than 1.5 hours’ drive away. Otherwise, you can travel in the Hope Valley Train line or the Huddersfield Line and get down in any of the small villages that exists within the park. Another very convenient way of getting there is by coach: National Express bus company will drop you in Bakewell, right in the heart of the National Park. The park’s website has a very comprehensive Public Transport guide that can be useful depending of what part of the park you might want to visit.
We rented a car with my husband and got there early. The campsite we choose was located north of the lovely town of Hathersage. The campsite was very comfortable and had toilet facilities (even with hot showers!) For those who are not adventurous enough to camp, the campsite also offered huts that sheltered you and your party from the elements (see my photos).
Once our tent was pitched and we were settled, we drove to a section of the park known as Mam Tor, a nice peak that offers panoramic views of the park and the small town of Castleton. We chose to explore this area because this is one of the highest peaks in the central section of the park. The curious name literally means “Mother Hill”, because it is the most prominent; the lower hills at the bottom of Mam Tor resemble children because they are significantly smaller. We walked alongside the ridge of the mountain for about 2 hours and stopped for lunch (chicken and tuna wraps) with a beautiful view (see video).
After our walk, we also visited one of the several caves that exist within the park: Peak Cavern, near Castleton, is one of UK´s largest caves. The entrance hall to this cave is so huge that they use it as a venue for small concerts.
The weather in Peak District allows for year-round visits. During the winter, the average temperature would range from 4° to 6°. Spring and Autumn have a lovely average temperature of 7° to 15°. If you visit during the summer months, you can expect temperatures between 16° and 19°. The possibility of rain is always present (as in everywhere in England), so make sure to take with you a good waterproof jacket.
The small towns and villages have very cosy restaurants for you to eat or drink a cup of warm tea. We took a little stove with us and cooked a nice warm dinner that consisted of caramelized beef, onion, tomatoes and Doritos.
Sunday morning came, and we got ready to make a tour of other small towns within the park. The English countryside is an area full of history, beautiful villages and lovely people. When visiting this small towns you will feel like travelling back in time. In order to appreciate the rich history of the region, I suggest that you visit the Park’s visitor centre, where you can find a timeline of the park and the people that inhabit it. We then visited Buxton, which is more like a small city and walked through the streets before returning to Manchester.
We only hiked during our stay, but the park is also a cycling paradise. There are hundreds of routes that vary in length and difficulty and you can rent bikes in most towns of the park. There is a route that follows, and abandoned railway and you can cycle alongside it visiting all the villages it connected.
I would say Peak District National Park is a very nice and affordable weekend getaway for those who enjoy breathtaking landscapes. If you are looking forward to get away from the city and explore the countryside of England this would be your first stop.
If planning the trip is not your thing, The University of Manchester Hiking Club makes day trips on a regular basis to this and other National Parks that are close to Manchester.