A Year in the Life of the Peak District
12 Photographs by Phil Sproson that depict a year in the Peak District, each one featuring in the Peak District Calendar 2021
The Peak District National Park covers 555 square miles of the most beautiful areas of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and even parts of Greater Manchester. It was the first National Park ever created in the UK, back in 1951, and it now receives more than 10 million visitors every year. They come here for the stunning countryside, pretty towns and villages, and the freedom to escape and breathe the fresh air on the miles of footpaths, access land and bridleways throughout the area.
The Peak District has a wonderfully diverse landscape, broadly split into two distinct parts, each with its own character and mood. The White Peak to the south comprises gently rolling slopes of lush pasture land, criss-crossed by ancient limestone walls, while the Dark Peak to the north is characterised by wild, heather moorland and dark, brooding, gritstone crags.
It’s a place of ancient civilisation. Throughout the Peak District there is evidence of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements, with mysterious stone circles, standing stones and cairns, as well as hill forts, mighty castles, gracious historic houses and the ruins of a once industrial heritage.
I feel incredibly fortunate to live here, and to be able to document the Peak District throughout the year. Every day I wake up to views that I never grow tired of. The landscape changes with every season, of course, but also, more subtly, with every shift in weather, in light and shade, in time of day.
I produce Peak District calendars every year, not just to bring a little bit of the countryside to your homes and offices, but as a way of chronicling those changes from month to month, year to year, and in tribute to the places that inspire me.
January in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > White Peak Winter
The beautiful patterns of the Peak District hills and fields are never more sharply defined than in winter. The snow softens the ground and picks out every crevice in the stone walls, every branch on the bare trees.
I love this view of the White Peak because it highlights perfectly the intricacy of the field patterns and, although the effect is softened by the mists of snow, it essentially comprises a series of lines; the horizontals and diagonals of the walls against the verticals of the trees. The whole picture is then completed by the hardy sheep in the foreground, picking at the grass through the snow, and the conical shape of the hill in the distance, crowned by the visible trig point.
February in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Hope Valley Frosty Morning
Location: Between Bamford and Hathersage
February in the Peak District provides some of the most fantastic contrasts in light, colour and texture. This winter morning in the Hope Valley was bitterly cold, with mists clinging to the fields and a heavy frost. Yet the rising sun was on its way, just picking out the splashes of colour still clinging to some of the trees.
I love the contrasts of the soft mist against the stark trees, and the white frosted fields against the warm orange leaves. I purposefully included the rocky silhouette of Over Owler Tor on the horizon to echo the curve of the hill in the middle of the image.
March in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Gardom’s Edge Sunrise
Location: Gardom’s Edge, near Baslow
Gardom’s Edge, just above the village of Baslow, is a favourite location of mine. It’s a mysterious landscape, associated with the very earliest settlers in this area, and it’s a place of legend and superstition. It always feels quiet and very special, a place where you can be easily spooked by the slightest rustling.
I love the mix of silver birch woodland, gritstone boulders and moorland in this image, and how the colours of the sky at sunrise are reflected in the pool of water that has collected in the rock hollow.
April in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Mitchell Field Sunset
This shot was taken at the end of a beautiful walk in the countryside around my home in Hathersage, and it was a moment when all the elements of the evening combined perfectly. There was a wonderful golden light across the fields, hitting that pretty farm that’s nestled in amongst the interlocking hills, and the farm tracks that snakes through the scene.
I love the contrast of the rough moorland and the carefully tended pasture, and the way the leading lines of the stone wall and wire fence draw you into the shot. I purposefully excluded the sky to concentrate on shape and form in this image.
May in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Peveril Castle from Cave Dale
The imposing ruins of Peveril Castle are positioned high above the pretty village of Castleton, standing guard on a ridge between the Hope Valley on one side and the deep gorge of Cave Dale on the other. Mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, Peveril Castle is one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses.
This part of the Peak District is on the border of the Dark Peak and the White Peak, and that contrast is really clear in this classic view of Peveril Castle. The limestone cliffs of Cave Dale lie to the foreground, while the gritstone heights of Mam Tor and the Great Ridge make up the bulk in the distance.
June in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Chatsworth Poppies
Every summer bright poppies bloom in the Peak District hedgerows and around the field edges, throwing splashes of scarlet into the mix of green and gold. Even better, several farms leave a few fields to grow wild with poppies, and the display of thousands of bright red flowers is nothing short of magnificent. This particular field in Bubnell is just a dream for any photographer, offering the combination of poppies in the foreground and Chatsworth House in the distance. It’s an unusual view of Chatsworth too, looking down on the grand house within its setting of parkland and wooded slopes. I wanted this shot to be bright and colourful, so I patiently waited for the light to hit the tops of the trees and the fields, making the greens especially vivid.
July in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Minninglow Sunset
Location: Minninglow, just off the High Peak Trail
The mysterious site of Minninglow is a large collection of ancient tombs strewn through woodland on the top of a hill, with a distinctive double ring of beech trees that make it a landmark for many miles around. The tombs comprise a large, Early Neolithic chambered tomb dating back to 3400BC, and two bowl barrows that date back to the Bronze Age. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place.
This shot was taken just off the High Peak Trail, with Minninglow obvious on the hill to the right, and a further Bronze Age bowl barrow, Aleck Low, silhouetted in the gold of the setting sun on the left. I love the leading lines of the walls and the tracks that take your eye into the photograph, the soft seed heads on the grasses, and of course the fabulous colours in the sky.
August in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Winnats Pass Sunrise View
Location: Winnats Pass
Winnats Pass is a deep limestone gorge that stands at the head of the Hope Valley. The limestone pinnacles and ridges were once under a tropical sea, and you can still see fossils in the rocks of the sea creatures that lived here over 350 million years ago. Winnats Pass is also a spectacular spot from which to watch a sunrise, and this was a particularly beautiful morning.
There were amazing colours in the sky from the pinks and golds of the rising sun reflecting in the clouds, and my friend stood by this limestone pillar to add some scale to the long, deep view along the valley. The slopes on the horizon include Kinder Scout, the Great Ridge, Back Tor, Losehill and Win Hill, and Castleton village lies in the early morning mist below.
September in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Over Owler Tor Sunset
Location: Over Owler Tor, nr Hathersage
Over Owler Tor is a collection of gritstone rocks and boulders buried amongst the moorland heather looking out over the Hope Valley. It’s a wonderful place from which to survey the landscape, affording the most magnificent views across the moorland, fields and woods.
In this image I tried to contrast the hardness of the gritstone rocks with the softness of the surrounding heather, bilberry and bracken. It was pure luck that the sky turned to such a deep pinky red, echoing the colour of the heather in the foreground.
October in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Autumnal Wyming Brook
Location: Wyming Brook
Wyming Brook is a wooded ravine on the edge of the Peak District in Yorkshire. It’s an absolute gem, a stunning area of mature woodland, through which a crystal-clear brook tumbles over mossy stones and part-submerged tree roots, criss-crossed by a series of picturesque wooden footbridges. It’s particularly beautiful in early Autumn, when the deciduous leaves are just turning to gold but there’s still plenty of green in the bracken, moss and other foliage.
I composed this shot carefully, with wet feet, to include the foreground rocks, and used a slow shutter speed to show the movement of water around them. There was a fine mist in the air too, which helped with the overall feeling of softness and dampness that I was trying to convey.
November in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Frosty Outseats Gate
This is a spot very close to home, and it’s a favourite view of mine in all seasons and weathers, looking away from Hathersage along the Hope Valley. The warmth and colour in the sky as the sun rose was perfect on this particular morning, contrasting with the cold frost on the ground. I love the detail in the old stone wall and the weathered gate in the foreground, and the lines of trees that punctuate the walls at various points across the fields.
December in the Peak District
Title: Peak District Calendar > Bretton Clough Snow
Location: Bretton Clough
Bretton Clough is a wooded ravine between the little villages of Abney and Bretton. In 1745 it is said that the local farmers drove their cattle into the gorge to hide them from Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Highlanders, who had invaded Derbyshire on their way south through England. Thankfully it’s a much more peaceful place now, and the only sounds on these hills tend to be the calls of birds and sheep. It’s a stunning landscape, a patchwork laid out before you, and in this winter scene you can really pick out the shapes of the fields and the contours of the hills and valleys.
I love the thread of road leading into the secluded valley on the bottom left, and the views to the distant hills across the top of the ridge, with swirls of fine snow in the air.