William Blake’s famous poem “Jerusalem” has secured for itself a prized place in English culture as the basis for the anthem by that name, the lyrics of which, like Blake’s poem, sing of “England’s mountains green” and “England’s pleasant pastures seen!” It speaks to the image the world has of England and one England has long had of itself of the sylvan Arcadian paradise. Shakespeare described it in Richard IIas “this other Eden,” and D.H. Lawrence in turn referred to that idealised notion of a green pastoral English paradise as “Shakespeare’s England” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
There are few places greener and more representative of that idealised “green England” of lore than the Peak District. Its many miles of sprawling, unspoiled green countryside and its place as a frequent inspiration within English literature and lore have made it one of the more popular vacation destinations in the Pennies region of Northern England.
So, what awaits you amidst the misty moors and grassy fields? Here’s a look at why the Peak District is one of the peak attractions in the Derbyshire area.
History and Culture
Part of the reason the ideal of a “green England” has such lasting appeal is its sense of timelessness. It thus is found in some of the earliest works of English literature, thereby securing a prominent place in the English imagination both at home and in the eyes of the world. Indeed, the greatest claim to fame this region has, by far, is its connection to so many of the great authors who make up the English literary canon and who have in turn immortalised the area for all time.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight marks one of the earlier depictions of the region in English literature, and along with Chaucer’sCanterbury Tales is one of the key texts in Middle English. It’s here that the roots of the Peak District’s famed “greenness” and natural beauty may be found. The colour green looms large throughout the poem, as the title would imply, and symbolises in part the natural world, in contrast to the manmade Camelot. The Peak District’s image as a natural, rural counterpoint to the manmade cities and society of England has only grown with the explosion of cities and urban life. Lud’s Church, a landmark in the region, is thought by many to be the inspiration for the Green Chapel in the poem and is further referenced in other Medieval English texts, including the ballads of Robin Hood, with a site purported to be “Little John’s Grave” in Hathersage.
“The celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, [and] the Peak” are all referenced in Jane Austen’s immortal Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy’s famed Pemberley estate is thought to have been at least somewhat inspired by these Peak District locales and, in an example of life and art bleeding together, Chatsworth House itself, in existence since the Renaissance, served as the film location for Pemberley in the 2005 film adaptation of the novel. As such, parts of the area such as Chatsworth House have a connotative connection to the ideal of the landed gentry and English countryside estate, key elements in both Austen’s works and the English literary and cultural imagination as a whole. Fans of Jane Eyre have also been drawn to the region, as Charlotte Bronte herself had stayed in the Derbyshire area for a time and possibly drew on the area’s misty moorland for the location of her Mr. Rochester’s mysterious Thornfield Hall, which in turn may have been inspired by many homes in the area.
Many of the key Romantic poets, including the aforementioned Blake, likewise sought and found inspiration in the Peak District, with Wordsworth especially finding it a perfect fit for his idealised notions of humanity’s relationship with nature. With the Victorian period serving in literary as well as cultural sentiment as a counterpoint to the Romantics, George Eliot’s Adam Bede gives a view of rural life in the region.
D.H. Lawrence made a career out of depicting life in Northern England, focusing primarily on the mining in the area and the effect it had on the region’s ecology, economy, and industrialised society at the start of the 20th century. Thus, from the tension between the Green Knight and Camelot through the stately Pemberley and Thornfield Hall to the rural cottages and industrialised life in England’s mining districts, the Peak District has come to represent a sense of timelessness in the face of the changing times.
Tourism and Real Estate Today
Much of the tourism in the Peak District is linked in large part to its natural beauty, sense of timelessness, and literary and cultural landmarks including the aforementioned Lud’s Church and Chatsworth House. Tourism in and around the countryside and real-life estates that gave rise to some of the most famous fictional counterparts in English literature is an industry in and of itself. The town of Matlock is also home to both the Matlock Bath and the Mining Museum.
Another of the great attractions to those looking for a vacation in the area is the prospect of living in authentic Peak District cottages. An opportunity to commune with the past and experience a lifestyle which has informed so much of English literature and culture, these cottages are a hot commodity. They tend to be rented out on a weekly basis for a few hundred pounds each. There are differences among the cottages in terms of amenities, with some opting for a more modernised approach and others offering a more authentic, if decidedly rustic, experience, so be sure to check ahead of time to see which of the many available options most suit your fancy. Some of the most popular cottages in the Peak District can be found in villages which have retained the look and feel of the Medieval England of Sir Gawain, King Arthur, and Camelot down through the centuries.
The key to the enduring popularity and beauty of the Peak District is its ability to keep the still-mythologized “England’s mountains green” of lore alive and well today.