By Randy Johnson
Hemispheres Magazine, August 2008.
England’s Dazzling Districts
Take your pick of lakes or peaks for active outings from Manchester.
It’s an easy train ride from the business hub of England’s northwest to outdoor adventure—but the options can take a bit of sorting out. First, the moody, memorable landscapes of the Peak District don’t really include very high peaks. (And the Lake District—yes, has lakes—but is really home to England’s highest peaks.) Head to Peak District summits and you’ll find they’re flat plateaus topped by mysterious moors. Below, sharp stream drainages drop from crags to fertile, sheep-dotted valleys. The Pennine Way, England’s first “long distance” trail (429 kilometres, 268 miles), starts in tiny Edale, just 45 minutes from Manchester’s Piccadilly Station. Stop in at the new Moorland Centre visitors facility, grab a map, and head left at the Old Nag’s Head Pub for an easy out-and-back stroll on the Pennine Way or stay straight up the wild valley for a longer, strenuous circle on the high moors of Kinder Scout. Picnic while you ponder map sites like “grouse butts,” “fox holes,” “sheep folds,” plus the stray “Druid’s stone.” More intrigued by the poetry of lakes, and higher peaks to boot? Follow Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Robert Southey to the Lakes District. It’s a far faster, fancier train to picturesque Windermere (nearly 2 hours from Manchester Piccadilly). Wander down high street, cross the cable ferry, and turn right for an out-and-back lakeshore stroll through lush ferns and towering trees with a gnarled, literary bent. Best option? Peek at the peaks from Orrest Head, an easy walk from the Tourist Information Centre by the train station. Buy the hike brochure for 60p and wind your way past rock walls and an inquisitive donkey to open views. Retrace your route, or keep on. The entire loop is 2 hours and 2 1/2 miles—through England’s most storied landscape.
Choose Your Entrance
For the post-hike peckish, there’s no better pause than the Old Nag’s Head on the way down to the train in Edale. One of England’s oldest pubs and a landmark since 1577, it’s the “official start” of the Pennine Way. Don’t be put off by the two entrances—one marked “Hiker’s Bar,” the other signed “Local’s Bar.” Everyone’s welcome through either door at this friendly, richly atmospheric, and cozy old eating and drinking spot. This is hearty, filling fare, so the “Filled Jacket Potatoes,” with five stuffings (among them Prawns Marie Rose, English Cheddar, and baked beans) are not at all for a stuffed shirt sort of patron. Weekend hikers will love the traditional Sunday roast, or choose from vegetarian dishes, burgers, salads, and traditional main courses. Out back, the inn’s Grindsbrook and Kinder Cottages are 16th century accommodations that make the perfect base for exploring. Tel: 44-1-433-670291.