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Peak Accessibility: The Hope Valley Line

It may have become clear by now that I'm a student. If not - I am, at the University of Sheffield. The stereotype is fully fulfilled: I don't have much money, I don't have a car, I like cheap things and discounts...and as a result, I am incredibly grateful for the Hope Valley Railway Line. These small, hourly trains allow me access to the place that keeps me sane, the Peak District National Park. I don't know if any of you come from Sheffield, but if you do, or if you live nearby or visit relatives there (or have never been, in which case here's your chance to come!) - save the planet, leave the car at home, get this train. 

Sheffield has absolutely fantastic transport links, and there’s no better time to explore them than right now. I know, I know, it’s Winter, and you’re cold, penguins have set up camp in your kitchen, and you don’t remember the last time you wore less than three layers, but hear me out. Even in the depths of British Winter, there’s no place like the Peak District, and you can explore it without freezing to death, I promise.

The Hope Valley Railway Line is one of my favourite things about Sheffield. It runs from Sheffield to Manchester Piccadilly at 14 minutes past the hour, every hour on weekends, and on that journey, it winds its way through some of the most stunning and accessible areas of the Peak District. I'll never stop being grateful for the privilege it is to not only have a National Park on my doorstep, but to be able access it so easily.

If I haven’t been able to interest you already through sheer force of enthusiasm, I thought I’d run you through some of the closest stops on that line, and some of the fun things you can do from them! And don’t be put off by the “outdoorsy-ness” of it all – if you’re not at all into hiking (though if you ask me, it’s always worth it for the views), there are plenty of interesting historical sites, pubs, and cafés galore.



First things first – if you love dogs, get the Hope Valley train at 10.14 or 11.14 on a weekend morning. Never have I got on the train and not instantly grinned at a dog (or four) and their cheerful owners, dressed up for a walk. It’s a tiny Northern train of just two carriages, and more often than not it’s filled with people in woolly hats and coats, excited to get out of the city and into the Peak District.

The first stop is Dore and Totley; as these are Sheffield suburbs, I’ve never explored there so I can’t really say much about it, except that just after this station, there’s an incredibly long tunnel (the longest wholly underland tunnel in the UK, in fact!). At the end of this tunnel, almost immediately, is the station of Grindleford.

Grindleford

It’s a stretch to say that the Grindleford station is in Grindleford; the town itself is about a mile away, and the nearest village to the station is in fact Nether Padley. What the station does have, however, is the Station Café, and the start of a wonderful walk up Padley Gorge.

The Station Café at Grindleford is quite a phenomenon in itself. It belongs to an age I wasn’t quite sure existed any more, covered in handwritten signs (favourites include:  'don't even ask for mushrooms' and 'Some days we are nice to customers. Today is not your day') and information about the National Park. It sells enormous breakfasts, the spring water comes from the very grounds of the café, and the tea comes in pints. A quirky café for brunch it is not, but an incredibly British, slightly grumpy, memorable experience it certainly remains. It’s a bit like marmite – some love it, some don’t; the only way to know what you think is to go. Don’t get caught out like I did – for the most part, you’ll need to pay in cash, so make sure you have some!

After you’ve eaten your weight in breakfast, you’ll need to burn it off, and that’s where Padley Gorge comes in. Famous among Peak District photographers, the gorge is stunning in all seasons, with a well-laid path running up the righthand side. I recommend this route, which I’ve used myself. The gorge always feels magical to me, as if I’ve wandered into a fairytale. The main path has alternate routes signposted as well – Bole Hill Quarry is worth a look, as it’s abandoned and filled with silver birch trees.

At the top of the gorge, you reach Longshaw Estate. The views here are wonderful, and the lodge itself is run by the National Trust and has a tea room, if you weren’t quite full already! From here you can easily walk out on the moors and up to Surprise View, a fantastic view point from which the whole valley is laid out before you. A photographer’s dream, rocks for scrambling, and beautiful ancient woodland – go to Grindleford!




Hathersage

Literary fans, historians, and walkers alike flock to Hathersage, our next stop. For our lovers of the classics, Hathersage is well-known for having been associated with the Eyre family, who were once local landowners. Charlotte Brontë is thought to have used the nearby North Lees Hall as a model for Thornfield Hall, in her novel Jane Eyre. Within the village, the churchyard of St. Michael’s Church reputedly holds the grave of Little John, Robin Hood’s famous companion, and there are other local associations with the legend, including Robin Hood’s Cave. To tie in all these locations, and a walk along the beautiful Stanage Edge (which I’ll come onto in a minute!) I recommend this trail – not least because it starts at a pub!

Walks out of the village allow access to some stunning places. Carl Wark, the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, is worth an explore. Stanage Edge, a famous place for rock-climbing (or watching people rock-climbing), is good for walkers, bikers, photographers, writers…the views are out of this world, and, if you catch bad weather, this only makes the place more atmospheric.




Bamford

My apologies – this is another one where the station is a little walk from the actual town, but the town itself is a treasure, with lovely pubs, cafés, and a bakery. It has its own heritage trail, and runs several events throughout the year. For me though, Bamford will always be the gateway to the beautiful Ladybower reservoir.

Ladybower and the paths up to and around it, form lovely, easy places to walk, with views across the reservoir. If you feel more adventurous, you can head up Win Hill and maybe even down over the other side of it into Hope, our next station.

Another characteristic mixture of moorland, gritstone edge, woodland, and open water, this is a destination that has all the Peak District charm you could want. Here’s a good walk, from the railway station itself!




Hope (and Castleton)

Hope, and its more famous (station-less) neighbour, Castleton, are special to me because they’re where I finished a 24km day of my Gold Duke of Edinburgh…and I still thought they were beautiful then, exhausted to my bones though I was.

The station, once again, lies just outside Hope, but turning right at the bottom of the station road quickly leads you into the village. If the weather’s good, there’s a path beside the river that you can take between Hope and Castleton – and if not, the road has a pavement and is safe to walk along.

Hope itself is a great place to walk up Win Hill, or start the Great Ridge walk, up towards the ‘shivering mountain’, Mam Tor, which dominates views up the valley from this end. Castleton is one of the number one destinations in the Peak District for charm, beauty, and activities – I could quite literally talk about it for hours but in brief: caves, castle, cafés. Find your own favourite café or pub (there are so many and the only way to know which is best is to try them all!) and go for some truly stunning walks.



Edale

Edale is the last station I’m going to talk about. Despite being the furthest away from Sheffield at about half an hour’s train journey, you can get a return ticket here for just £9 if you don’t have a railcard, or £5.95 if you do! Magical.

Edale is most famous for being the start (or end) point of the Pennine Way long distance walk, and for being the base from which to walk up Kinder Scout, the highest point in Derbyshire. The landscape around here is fascinating, the classic ‘Dark Peak’ rugged moorland of heather. Jacob’s Ladder forms a very popular walk and destination for experienced mountain bikers. The climb up Kinder Scout itself can be done by anyone (here’s a route) but really, before you go, do your research, read a few routes, look at a map, and really, know how to confidently use a compass too. Kinder is a boggy plateau and on moors it’s very easy to get lost, even in good weather, so it’s important to be careful. Don’t be scared off though – it can make a great day out!



So, there you have it! The information is laid at your fingertips, the trains are cheap and frequent, and there’s literally nothing standing in your way. There are youth hostels in Hathersage, Castleton, and Edale, if you fancy a whole weekend out there (perhaps later on in the year when it’s warmer and the weather is slightly more predictable!). Get out of the city for a day, go for an explore, and have a wonderful time – see you out there.



Disclaimer: This post isn’t the be all and end all, especially if you’re going hiking – it’s up to you to be prepared and remember that in wild places, you need to keep yourself safe. Wear sensible clothing, know how to navigate and stay safe on the moors, know your train timings, have a backup plan, and let people know what you’re doing and where you’re going. It never hurts to be too prepared 😊 Also, this is just things I’ve done in the Peaks – there are hundreds more fab things to do, and I’m always up for hearing new ideas!



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