Edale, a lovely green vale in heart of the Peak District National Park, is a truly beautiful spot. Named as 'Aidale' in the Domesday Book of 1086, this remote valley, with the little River Noe and the Grinds Brook running through it, lies halfway between the pretty little town of Castleton to the south and the fearsome Snake Pass to the north. Because it was settled very late compared to the lands around it (it was part of the Royal Forest of the Peak, a hunting preserve of the monarch), only a few scattered hamlets existed in the early Mediaeval period. These tiny settlements were called 'booths' - as in, 'Barber Booth' - where 'booth' meant a herdsman's shelter! In the early Middle Ages, cattle were raised on the hill farms, but by the time of the Tudors, this had changed to sheep farming - as it still is 400 years later.
Great changes often come with the arrival of a railway, and Edale was no exception. The Midland Railway pushed its Dore & Chinley line along the valley in 1894, drilling a tunnel at the west end, on its way to Manchester. Thus were the two great commercial cities of Sheffield and Manchester linked, and the steel from the furnaces of Sheffield and the cotton goods from the mills of Lancashire were soon travelling in opposite directions! Not only that, but Edale was opened up for businessmen who wanted to live in the beautiful countryside and work in the city, and for those citizens of the Northern working class who wanted to 'take the air' on their only free day of the week, Sunday. As might be expected, these 'ramblers' ran - or walked - into trouble almost straight away. The high moorlands where were the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) lived, and this game bird was 'preserved' and hunted by the very rich, and the aristocratic few (almost interchangeable at this time), who owned thousands upon thousands of acres. It took a LONG time but the climactic act of mass trespass came on 24th April, 1932, when there were violent clashes between ramblers, gamekeepers and the police. Eventually, over many years, rights of way across 'open countryside' were established, and the Ramblers Association was founded in 1935. Now renamed The Ramblers, and over 123,000 strong, their members lead the way in countryside pursuits, 'hiking for health', environmental studies and much more. It is no co-incidence that there is a bronze plaque in a quarry above Hayfield, Derbyshire, commemorating the Mass Trespass, nor that the area centered on Edale became the first National Park in Great Britain, the Peak District National Park.
Edale is dominated by the Iron Age hill fort atop Mam Tor to the south, and the dark, gritstone massif of the Kinder Plateau to the north. Kinder is acknowledged as the southern end of the Pennines, that rocky, mountainous backbone which runs up the center of the North of England. A walker can spend a happy weekend exploring many upland trails and paths across the Peak District from a base in Edale, or he/she can do something VERY ambitious. The 'Nags Head' pub in Edale marks the official start of the Pennine Way, a tough, long-distance path that stretches 268 miles to The Border Hotel at Kirk Yetholm, just over the Scots Border. Many people attempt this - some actually make it!
Walk up from the Edale railway station in this picturesque Derbyshire village, and you will soon spy 'The Rambler Inn', with the lovely sign 'Families, Dogs & Muddy Boots Welcome'. This old stone inn is a absolute gem. There are 9 bedrooms, all en suite, with remarkable views from the beer garden at the rear. Your room key has a wooden fob in the shape of a hiking boot, with real laces! The management has done everything it can to make someone on a hiking weekend welcome, and there are a choice of four eating areas. After a hard day on the hills, I would recommend a glass of 'real ale' ('The Otter' is pretty good) whilst you wait for your meal. I could not resist the 'Beef in Rosemary Casserole' - succulent chunks of prime, local beef, carrots and onions in a rosemary and beef gravy, topped with a chive scone, and served with new potatoes (for my US reader - think 'fingerlings') and vegetables of the day'. For dessert? Given that we are in Derbyshire, there IS only one option - 'Traditional Bakewell Tart' - sweet pastry with raspberry jam, topped with frangipane and fondant icing (frosting), served slightly warm, with a pot of cream' - and I mean a POT of cream.
The Edale rail station is served by Northern Rail, East Midlands Trains and First TransPennine Express. In 2004, there were 44,109 journeys to/from Edale; in 2012, no less than 72,756, and that was in the middle of a recession!
One more thing, every fourth Tuesday in the month, a whole group of people gather on Platform 2C in Sheffield Station, in the middle of this big Northern city. They are going to catch the 7.14pm departure to Edale - 'The Folk Train'. They are headed towards the Rambler Inn, and when they depart on the 9.28pm, they will have had a splendid evening being entertained by everything from bands like 'The Down Trodden String Band' to 'The Crazy Crow', as well as the 'Sheffield City Morris Men' and the 'Handsworth Sword Dancers'.
Edale is many things to many people - but it is fascinating, and peaceful and utterly beautiful.