Sitting in the heart of the Dark Peak, the pretty village of Edale is both the most logical starting point from which to explore the strange uplands of Kinder Scout and the official springboard for a south-north traverse of the mighty Pennine Way. With Kinder to its north and west, the shapely peaks of the Great Ridge to the south and lovely little Win Hill to its east, the Vale of Edale is almost entirely surrounded by high ground, making it the epicentre of Peak District hillwalking. Let Dan Aspel be your guide...
For those walkers with a penchant for political history, the Dark Peak will be a hallowed site. It was on the rocky slopes and boggy top of Kinder Scout that the 1932 Kinder Mass Trespass was undertaken, in which over 400 walkers and ramblers illegally entered the private land, tussled with defensive gamekeepers and saw a handful of their number arrested for their "crimes". However, their act of civil disobedience was hugely successful and directly led to both the founding of the National Parks in the next decade, and the establishment of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 68 years later in 2000.
Today it's a place that teems with school groups, Duke of Edinburgh teams, families and ramblers alike. Few would argue that it's as dramatic or aesthetically pleasing a place to visit as, say, Snowdonia, Cumbria or the West Highlands, but its queer mixture of rocky edges and black, peaty-soiled moorland summits has its own unique appeal - and its easy accessibility from the conurbations of northern England is no small part of the attraction. The green valley of Edale lies right in the heart of the Dark Peak itself, sits directly at the foot of Kinder Scout, is closely bordered by the (admittedly micro-scale) "Great Ridge" between nearby Mam Tor and Lose Hill, neighbours the villages of Castleton and Hope, and comprehensively caters for day walkers and overnight visitors alike. Many will also know it as the most southerly point of the 431km Pennine Way, a superb two-week epic of a walk that finishes on the Scottish border.
If hillwalking is your game, then, it's fair to say that Edale is the best base in the Peak District.
It is a habitat of grouse and curlew, and on the ground flourish cotton grass and heather and mosses, with patches of bilberry and rare cloudberry adding colour and seasonal beauty... the terrain, everywhere difficult to traverse, rises very slightly to the insignificant summit of Kinder Scout. One wonders how this flat tableland came to ear its name The Peak. Nothing less like a peak can be imagined
Edale in a nutshell
1 Explore the plateau summit of Kinder Scout, a unique and elevated mountain moorland that forms the highest point in the Peak District
2 Visit Kinder Downfall, a 30m torrent that breaks directly from a gritstone cliff. When frozen, the Downfall is a magnet for ice climbers.
3 Walk the child-friendly "great ridge" between Mam Tor and Lose Hill, a classic outing in any season.
4 Begin your 431km walk of the Pennine Way - Edale is officially its southern limit. Alfred Wainwright once famously offered to buy half a pint of beer for any walker who completed the full trail, a promise that reputedly cost him nearly £15,000. These days you'll have to buy your own.
5 Get hands-on with some fun little scrambles including Crowden Clough, Grindsbrook Clough and Ringing Roger
Distinguished from the neighbouring White Peak by the layer of gritstone which covers its limestone bed, the Dark Peak features a wild landscape of sweeping moorland and big skies. Walks here reveal not only the area's wild beauty but also some of its fascinating stories. 10,000 years of history lie waiting to be uncovered – from Neolithic burial mounds and Bronze Age cairns to remnants of the region's more recent industrial past.
Kinder Scout Southern circuit
Kinder Scout is a characterful peak, loved by many for its broad, black-soiled summit plateau and its rock-girt edges, and despised by some others as simply a "bog on stilts". It's perhaps best to visit this strange landscape and decide for yourself. Luckily it's a very straightforward affair, with the ascent from Edale via Grinds Brook making for a pleasingly rocky amble upwards and the walk around the peak's expansive edge to the west taking you to the much-photographed cascade of Kinder Downfall without much difficulty. Whether you choose to return the way you came or via the strange - and maddening - wilds of the "mountain"'s inner plateau is entirely in your hands.
Mam Tor and Lose Hill via "The Great Ridge"
Although "great" might seem a little bit of a stretch for such a relatively modest ridgeline, the high ground between Mam Tor and Lose Hill is such a pleasingly formed piece of landscape that walking it seems a natural and even essential thing to do when in Edale - particularly for those visiting with children. It's probably best to head up onto the ridge via the path near Back Tor, then bag Lose Hill to the east first. That way you can walk the length of the ridge and enjoy the views of Mam Tor's craggy east face during your pleasant amble.
- See our Mam Tor Route Card here
If you're definitely not visiting with children, and you're also raring for an extreme leg stretch, then why not recreate the following 33km fell race at a walking pace? Taking in everything of interest around the entire rim of the Edale valley, this massive circular route is a British classic hill challenge, and arguably the best long day of peak bagging in the Peak District. A one-day round may seem a tall order, but it's just as good done over two with a wild camp mid-way.
- For details see this running-oriented Route Card
At the opposite end of the scale, this family-friendly mini mountain overlooking the mouth of the Vale of Edale and the Hope Valley is worth a few hours of anyone's time. One of the few genuinely peak-like summits in the Peak District, it forms the basis of an excellent short circular walk.
- For more see our Route Card
OS Landranger (1:50,000) 110
OS Explorer (1:25,000) OL1
Harvey British Mountain Maps (1:40,000) Dark Peak
Dark Peak Walks by Paul Besley (Cicerone)
Scrambles in the Dark Peak by Terry Sleaford and Tom Corker (Cicerone)
Photographing the Peak District by Chris Gilbert and Mick Ryan (fotoVUE)
The Edale valley is an extremely small place, but even so there are numerous campsite and other accommodation options to be had - so there's little reason not to base yourself right in the heart of the area when you visit. If you'd prefer then the Hope valley - which you'll probably have passed through to get here - is only a few minutes drive away, where there are yet more places to stay around Castleton and Hope itself. Hathersage lies beyond with yet more places to stay, but there's little reason to position yourself further from Edale than that.
It's hard to think of a place elsewhere in England more densely populated with places to stay than the Edale valley - especially as it's such a tiny place to begin with.
The YHA, meanwhile, has options in both Edale itself and just over the ridge at Losehill Hall.
There are a hundred ways of finding B&Bs or self-catering cottages online, but the Edale Valley Tourist Asssociation has B&B recommendations here and self catering here. You can also stay at either of the pubs listed below.
Rather excitingly, Edale actually has its own train station. It sits on the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield, getting walkers here from the former in only 45-minutes. This is by far the easiest way to get here by public transport, although there are bus options which run to the Edale/Hope/Hathersage area (see here). Those arriving by car will find plenty of public parking near Yeman's Bridge and the train station.
Pubs and food
There are four main options in Edale, with tens more just round the corner / over the ridge in Castleton, Hope and beyond.
The Old Nags Head bills itself as being "child, pet and muddy-boot friendly" and brews its own ale, dubbed The Nags 1577 after the year the inn was founded. You'll find all the usual walkers fare, available from midday to 9:30pm (8pm on Sundays).
The Rambler Inn sits at the opposite end of the village to the Old Nags Head, but offers very much the same services - it even shares the same kitchen opening times.
Penny Pot Cafe (01433 670293) and Cooper's Cafe (01433 670401) are open from morning until mid-afternoon for snacks and food. The former is run by the National Trust.
About Dan Aspel
Dan Aspel is a freelance journalist who specialises in mountaineering, motorcycling and the outdoors. He spends most of his hill time in Snowdonia, where he regularly works as a Mountain Leader.