7 of the most challenging long-distance walks you can do in the Peak District
From 20 to 268 miles long, there are trails in the Peak District to challenge even the most experienced walkers
1. Edale Skyline – a 20 miles long 1-day challenge
Although it’s the shortest walk on this list, the Edale Skyline is arguably among the toughest. That’s because this 20-mile circular route around the hills and ridges of the Hope Valley is usually done in just one day.
But the pay-off is an exceptional adventure. You’ll get dramatic views across Ladybower Reservoir, the Kinder Plateau and down to Edale village. You’ll also tick off five of the Peak District’s 95 ‘Ethels’, which are hills over around 400m. They’re the mini Peaks equivalent of a Scottish Munro.
Start at Hope, which is on the route and has a train station, and walk anticlockwise. This will lead you via the impressive tops of Win Hill, Brown Knoll, Lord’s Seat, Mam Tor and Lose Hill. The Edale Skyline isn’t waymarked, so you’ll need an OS map, a compass and the skills to use them. And you’ll need to be fit, as there are few possibilities for shortening the route. Most hikers complete the loop in around eight to ten hours.
View the route at: peakdistrictwalks.net
2. White To Dark Way – a 27 mile long perfect Peaks weekend
The Peak District has two distinct personalities. The south of the national park is a softer landscape of rolling green valleys and limestone caves. The north is more brooding, with wild, high moors, gritstone rock, heather and bogs. The 27-mile White To Dark Way links both.
The trail is waymarked and is moderately challenging. It starts in Bakewell (home of the Bakewell tart) and finishes in the charming village of Hope. Both have good public transport links. And there are lots of pubs, cafes, accommodation options and attractions en route. Which makes this an excellent, interest-packed and easily accessible hike, doable over two or three days.
From Bakewell the route runs along the River Wye, then diverts northwest to the disused railway at Monsal Head. It passes Arkwright’s mills at Cressbrook Dale, the pretty villages of Litton and Eyam, and the lively hub of Hathersage. It heads up the great gritstone balcony of Stanage Edge, one of the Peaks’ most striking spots. Then it drops to Ladybower Reservoir before the final climb up Win Hill. Hope’s pubs and cafes provide a happy ending.
View the route at: walk1000miles.co.uk
3. Limestone Way – a 46 mile White Peak wander
The Limestone Way focuses on the southern section of the Peak District National Park. This is the White Peak, where the dominant rock is limestone, formed 300 million years ago.
The route, which runs between Castleton in Derbyshire and Rocester, in Staffordshire, is relatively gentle, with no taxing hills. Rather, it’s a mildly undulating journey via the bucolic Peakland settlements, quiet woodland and sheep-grazed slopes criss-crossed by drystone walls. Most hikers complete it over three or four days.
If walked north to south, you get off to a dramatic start. Just outside Castleton you enter the narrow valley of Cave Dale, overlooked by 11th-century Peveril Castle. You’ll pass pretty villages such as of Monyash, Youlgreave and Tissington, and the historic spa town of Matlock. You’ll squeeze through gorges, cover ground allegedly roamed by Robin Hood and trace sections of the Derwent and Dove rivers. The Limestone Way is waymarked with ram’s-head signs, though you’ll need a map for navigation too.
View the route at: derbyshiredales.gov.uk
4. Derwent Valley Heritage Way – a 55 mile history-filled hike
For most of its length, the Derwent Valley Heritage Way meanders outside the boundaries of the Peak District National Park. But it’s still a treasure of a route, combining beautiful billowing dales and centuries of world-changing history.
It begins at Heatherdene, on Ladybower Reservoir, and traces the Derwent out of the southeast edge of the national park. It continues into the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It finishes just beyond Derby, near Shardlow, where the Derwent joins the Trent.
Using riverside trails, quiet lanes and canal towpaths, the waymarked Derwent Valley Heritage Way is largely leisurely, walkable in four to six days. But do allow time to linger at the many fascinating sites en route. You’ll pass glorious Chatsworth Estate and lively Matlock Spa, one of England’s earliest tourist resorts. You’ll also see Arkwright’s ground-breaking Cromford Mill, the old industrial hub of Belper and Derby’s Silk Mill (now the innovative Museum of Making). Allow time for stops in some excellent pubs too.
View the route at: derwentvalleytrust.org.uk
5. Peak Way – the 153 mile new kid in the park
The Peak Way began life as one long distance walker’s Covid-19 lockdown project. It’s now a wonderful new long-distance loop that takes in some of the best bits of the national park. Along its 153-mile journey, it wriggles via sweeping moorland, gritstone ridges, sleepy dales, stately homes, charming villages and endless drystone walls. It’s a perfect Peaks primer.
The Peak Way starts and finishes in the town of Stockport, just outside the national park but well served by rail and road. The route isn’t currently waymarked, but an official guidebook is available to show you the way. This breaks the route into 13 stages, each doable in a day. There are some challenging sections but in the main it’s a moderate walk. Plus, there are abundant restaurants, tearooms, B&Bs and hostelries en route should you need a rest.
View the route at: peakwaywalk.com
6. Peak District Boundary Walk – the 190 mile round-the-park ramble
Many, many rights of way weave across the Peak District. But this long-distance challenge sticks to the edges of the UK’s first national park. By tracing the boundary, it offers quite a different perspective and a great deal of variety. It also delves into some of the least-visited reaches of the Peaks.
Measuring 190 miles, the Boundary Walk is an incredibly satisfying circuit. It crosses the Pennines in the north and the Derbyshire Dales in the south. It explores Staffordshire’s craggy moors, the rolling Cheshire hills and the urban fringes of Sheffield and Oldham. It hits honeypot spots like the spa town of Buxton, pretty Peaks villages and Walkers Are Welcome towns. It follows canals, cuts through woodland and yomps up ridges. You can tackle the 20 stages on separate day walks or do the whole loop in a two- to three-week trip.
View the route at: cprepdsy.org.uk
7. Pennine Way National Trail – the 268m beginning of the biggie
The Pennine Way runs for 268 miles along the spine of England. Its northern terminus is Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Its southern end is in Edale, in the Peaks. Indeed, the first 28 miles of this monster of a trail are within the Peak District National Park, providing a good standalone challenge. Or a breathtaking beginning to the full Pennine Way, if you want to keep going.
The traditional start-point is at Edale’s Nags Head pub. From here you’re almost immediately faced with the haul up Jacob’s Ladder to reach the Kinder Plateau. This is where the Kinder Mass Trespass occurred in 1932. It was act of disobedience that helped kick-start the formation of the Ramblers and open up access to the countryside.
Beyond, you’ll hit dramatically desolate Bleaklow moor and the hamlet of Crowden in the Longendale valley (where there’s a campsite). Beyond that is Laddow Rocks and the even more desolate Black Hill. You’ll exit the national park somewhere on the Standedge escarpment, below which lies the UK’s longest and deepest canal tunnel. However, diverting to Marsden, where there’s a train station, is more convenient if you’re not continuing further north.
View the route at: nationaltrail.co.uk
We’ve got ideas for hundreds of wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website. Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests.
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