logo - The Countryside Agency    
title - Countryside Character Initiative
subtitle - Yorkshire and the Humber

Key Characteristics

• Dramatic character created by sharply defined, elevated and vast plateaux with 'gritstone ridges' and edges and long uninterrupted views.

• Wild and remote semi-natural character created by blanket bog, dwarf shrub heath and heather moorland with rough grazing and a lack of habitation.

• Contrasting valley heads created by combination of sheltered, deeply-incised cloughs with fast-flowing streams around margins of plateaux and greater diversity of vegetation including semi-natural broadleaved woodland.

• Cultivated character of margins created by in-bye with dispersed farmsteads, gritstone wall boundaries and hedgerows in valley bottoms and small scale of enclosure.

• Major valleys some of which are dominated by coniferous woodland and reservoirs.

• Durable and stocky architectural style to dispersed buildings and settlements constructed from local gritstone with typical blackened appearance.

Landscape Character

The Dark Peak is an extensive area of high moorland and adjacent in-bye land within the Pennines comprising a large part of the Peak District National Park. The area lies between the population centres of Manchester, Huddersfield and Sheffield and extends south towards Matlock. It is a highly valued environmental resource and is heavily used for recreation. Much of the area is designated as open access land and the Pennine Way starts in Edale village and rises to cross the Dark Peak on its way north.

This expansive upland area is one of the most extensive semi-natural wilderness areas in England. Altitude and exposure are reflected in the land use and vegetation patterns with grouse shooting and sheep grazing dominating the wild, semi-natural open moors, known as 'gaits'. Dairy farming with some beef cattle is typical in the sheltered valleys around the margins to the plateaux.

The environmental value of the area lies in the contrast between the extensive tracts of wild moorland and the small-scale domesticated farmland within the enclosed in-bye land around the margins. Further contributions to the character are made by the large-scale man-made reservoirs, with wide areas of coniferous planting as can be found in the Upper Derwent and Upper Longdendale valleys, and the consistent stock of traditional farm buildings and dry stone walls constructed from local 'gritstone'.

High altitude together with the broadly rolling plateau topography enables long open views of the surrounding lower landscapes.

Physical Influences

The name Dark Peak refers to the underlying geology of Millstone Grit sandstones ('gritstone') which give the landscape a dark hue, in contrast to the adjoining White Peak. It contains the 'High Peak' with the great mass of Kinder Scout rising to 636 metres.

It comprises wild, open, elevated plateaux of broadly rolling terrain and steep slopes punctuated by 'gritstone' edges and rocky tors. The plateau tops are heavily dissected by drainage channels in the peat (groughs). The blanket bog gives a slightly domed shape to the landform in places.

The Millstone Grit consists of hard 'gritstone' beds with softer shales between. 'Gritstone' outcrops punctuate the extensive rolling moorland tops creating rocky tors. Vertical cliff-like faces of 'gritstones', known as edges, also occur. These can be up to 20 metres high and on the eastern side run for some 19 kilometres along the Derwent-Stanage Edge. The craggy outcrops heighten the wild character of the open moorland areas and increase the sense of exposure. Steep rocky 'cloughs' (small V-shaped valleys) lie within the rounded shoulders of the plateaux. Where rock falls, scree and crags lie within these valleys, this brings the wild moorland character over the edge of the upland plateaux.

Several of the broader valleys have been flooded to form reservoirs, the most notable being those in the Upper Derwent, Upper Longdendale and at Ladybower. Within these valleys, the landform provides a strong sense of containment. Elsewhere on the plateaux the frequent and distinctive ridge formations provide opportunities for long views across and out of the area.

Historical and Cultural Influences

The archaeological importance of the area dates from prehistoric times with Mesolithic remains found beneath the high blanket bog. Neolithic and Bronze Age remains occur on the moors to the east of the area. There is evidence here for considerable activity in prehistoric times. Although little remains to indicate settlement sites there is extensive evidence of burial activity in the form of barrows, which are clustered on high ground, and possibly place name evidence (eg low - a tumulus or hill). The Domesday Book describes a sparsely populated and economically backward area. The present farming landscape has developed over at least the last millennium.

Roads and tracks are infrequent and direct, tending to follow straight lines across the plateau tops and some were former Roman roads or packhorse routes. The open heather moorland areas have traditionally been managed for grouse shooting since the early 19th century in addition to sheep grazing. Shooting rights on the grouse moors are held separately from grazing rights although management of the heather involves all tenants. Management, involving periodic burning and regular grazing, has produced the characteristic land cover and appearance of these moorland areas.

Buildings and Settlement

The highest land of the plateaux is remote, devoid of buildings and man-made structures. Farmsteads are scattered around the more sheltered and lower margins of the plateaux associated with the moorland edge or with small areas of enclosed in-bye land. Traditional buildings are built and detailed in local 'gritstone', often solitary or in a compact cluster. Settlements are mostly villages and restricted to lower-lying valley bottoms and sides. New Mills is one of the larger settlements on the western fringe. The vernacular style is robust with a low profile and often set into or against the landform. Large man-made structures tend to be incongruous and highly visible in this open landscape. Grouse shooting butts, constructed from peat, are low-key, small-scale structures which are sympathetic to the landscape.

Dry 'gritstone' walls are the only traditional form of field enclosure. Enclosures are generally regular in shape on flatter lower margins and larger in scale towards higher ground. Small-scale often older enclosures are associated with the in-bye of isolated farmsteads. Fences are not typical and interrupt the sweeping horizontal lines of the landform.

The substantial engineering works associated with reservoirs, such as dams, bridges and buildings are unmistakable for their robust construction and consistent water authority detailing.

Land Cover

The land cover is homogeneous expanses of unenclosed heather and grass moorland on the rolling upland plateaux, with meadow and pasture on the lower in-bye land. Areas of semi-natural broadleaved tree cover exist in sheltered cloughs and gullies. Extensive conifer planting has generally occurred in those major valleys associated with water catchment reservoirs.

The distinction between these land covers has become less obvious in recent years with moorland vegetation and rough grassland spreading into previously enclosed in-bye land creating a gradation of intensity of use down the slopes. Grassland management has been intensified on the lower accessible land and reduced towards the moor.

The combination of moor and low intensity grassland is of value both visually and for birds. Heather is important as the preferred nesting site and a major source of food for a number of rare birds.

Although much of the area is thought to have been originally under broadleaved woodland, today even individual trees are rare on the plateaux. Occasionally, small windswept groups of sycamore, beech or oak are associated with isolated farmsteads. Silver birch is found in some of the lower areas.

The area includes extensive tracts of cultivated land to the south together with parkland landscapes associated with historic houses such as Chatsworth.

The Changing Countryside

• The boundary between moorland and in-bye land has fluctuated over time according to the economic fortunes of farming. This continual change around the margins is important and should not be fossilised at any one time.

• Traditional farm buildings are becoming redundant because of changing farming practices leading to demands for modern buildings accessible by machinery and capable of housing more stock.

• An increase in intensity of farm production has brought about a decline of wet rushy pastures, herb-rich hay meadows, rough pasture and in-bye land. Also, increased stocking on some moorland (mostly prior to the ESA) has led to conversion from heather to grass moor.

• Access roads and tracks have been provided to assist grouse moorland and woodland management creating visually prominent detractors in wild areas.

• Increased recreational access by walkers, cyclists, horse riding and four-wheel drive vehicles causing erosion of paths and tracks.

• Loss of heather and dwarf shrub species due to wild fire which can result in erosion and/or replacement by species-poor short grasses.

• Loss of tranquillity in the wild areas due to increased recreational use.

• Flagstone restoration of heavily used paths.

• Grazing and stock sheltering in clough woodlands is leading to their long-term decline and loss.

• Increase in housing demand on fringes is leading to loss of pasture and woodland.

Shaping the future

• Sympathetic forestry management is important in the area.

• Managing recreational access would help to ensure recovery of heavily eroded paths and tracks and the sustainable use of all routes.

• The restoration of stone walls needs to be addressed.

• The conservation of herb-rich hay meadows and wet rushy pastures through appropriate management measures needs to be considered.

• There is scope for improved moorland management and restoration, including bracken control.

• Stock exclusion would assist the management of woodlands.

Selected References
MAFF (1994), North Peak Environmentally Sensitive Area, Landscape Assessment, ADAS.

Millward. R and Robinson. A (1975), The Peak District, Eyre Methuen, London.

Peak National Park (1989), Peak National Park Plan - First Review.

Smith. R (1987), The Peak National Park, Webb and Bower, Devon.

Trueman. A E (1972), Geology and Scenery in England and Wales, Penguin Books Ltd, Middlesex.

Whittow. J (1992), Geology and Scenery in Britain, Chapman and Hall, London.


cloughs: ravines; steep valleys

in-bye: enclosed land below the open fell, often surrounding farm buildings

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