The unspoiled beauty of the southern Pennine Hills is only a heartbeat from the industrial cities of central England
The farms and villages of rural England merge so serenely into the landscape they could be taken for part of the natural environment. Like chameleons changing colour to match their perches, English farmers have adapted their buildings and blended their fields so perfectly to their surroundings that they seem to spring directly from the dales and moorlands on which they were built many generations ago.
As we drove west from York, across the fertile flatlands in the lee of the Pennines we passed tidy farmsteads with half-timbered houses set among clumps of trees that mimic the patches of original forest. Fences and hedgerows between the lush green fields are covered with green vines and shrubs. Except for sheep dotting the fields it is a landscape rendered entirely in subtle shades of green.
But as we approach the Pennines and begin our climb onto the moorlands both the landscape and the farmsteads change. Scattered thickets of scrub trees are the only evidence of forest and the fertile bottomland of the dales is bounded by rugged fellside cliffs of limestone. The sturdy square farm houses scattered over the countryside, the bridges and walkways, and the buildings clustered together in tiny villages are all built of stone. Even the fields, no longer separated by green hedgerows, are surrounded by clean rock walls. Built without mortar the dry stone walls run for miles, portioning out the land according to some long forgotten pact between neighbouring farmers. This is limestone country and ever since the first tribesmen ceased their wandering and settled in the Yorkshire Dales limestone has been the building material of choice. Now the walls, the houses, the cobbled roads and stone-arch bridges all seem as much a part of the natural landscapes as the craggy heather-covered fells themselves.
At Skipton, near the southern end of Yorkshire Dales National Park, we turned south and, being careful to avoid the congestion of Leeds and Manchester, chose a back route along the crest of the Pennines into Derbyshire and The Peak District. Located in the middle of England's industrial heartland, sandwiched east to west between Manchester and Sheffield, and north to south between Leeds and Birmingham, Peak District National Park is a surprisingly unspoiled expanse of the southern Pennine Fells. The area was designated Britain's first National Park in 1951. Since then it has become one of the country's most popular destinations so popular in fact that it is now the busiest park destination in Europe. During our visit in May the place was serenely quiet but decidedly cool.